Capital Editorial

Our say: It’s time for a review and update of county ethics law, Capital, October 19, 2015

Snider Commentary on the Editorial

“There is every indication that the Ethics Commission is doing its job as currently defined.”

How would the Capital know? Last I checked, it rarely if ever asked to review the public data collected by the Commission about elected officials but only accessible by making a formal written request. That includes shortly before an election when many newspapers conduct due diligence regarding candidates’ potential conflicts of interest.

The general public is also unlikely to know. The system has been custom designed to intimidate the average citizen seeking financial disclosure information related to elected officials. They must physically go to the Ethics Office and their requests must be disclosed not only to the Ethics Office but all those covered by the request. Then the Ethics Office is liable to ask (just casually, mind you) why you want the information. Since elected officials quite reasonably assume that it’s an act of hostility when someone requests this information about them, most people who care about being on good terms with the powerful aren’t stupid enough to do this–at least without hiding behind some hard-to-trace surrogate.

Alas, the Ethics Commission leadership is desperately in need of new blood and meaningful outside oversight. The Commission appears to do a good job supervising low level employees; the difficulty has been getting it to do its job with the powerful while making itself transparent and accountable. A good starting point would be monitoring that the ethics officials show up to work when they are supposed to, file documents where they are supposed to, use reasonably modern information technology, treat people impartially who make requests, avoid practices that intimidate requesters, and vastly improve the information they post online.