Ethics Reform: You've Got to Know What Needs Changing Before You Can Change It

Categories: City Hall

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Ethics: They're hidden somewhere in City Hall, and it's a tough case to crack.
Since becoming Mayor, Mike Rawlings has been consistently passionate about a few key things: South Dallas, DISD, pizza, economic development, Halloween, ethics reform -- not necessarily in that order. On Rawlings's issues hit list, ethics reform is perhaps the most high-minded and difficult to pin down, even for the Ethics Advisory Commission.

The conversation at yesterday's ethics commission meeting raised a few interesting questions, among them: "What needs to be changed, exactly?" and "What can an advisory committee with no enforcement power do to create the changes they deem necessary?"

The commission's role has allegedly become more significant since Rawlings made their focus his focus. "He really emboldened and bolstered the Ethics Advisory Commission's role," said commission chair Randy Skinner. Rawlings tapped council member Jerry Allen to lead the ethics charge, and Allen called upon the ethics committee to create a list of best ethics practices.

Previously, commissioners mainly served to review ethics complaints and advise council when asked, but now they're more hands-on, and there's a sense that someone's at least listening ... maybe? But as for what that change might look like and the issues it might involve, no one seems to know ... yet?

"Are we accomplishing what we were created to accomplish?" commissioner Mickie Bragalone asked, pointing out that the committee has almost no authority. She repeatedly questioned whether the role of the commission, as an advisory body established by and for city council, was defined in a way that would allow them to actually impart change at City Hall. "Have we been created in a way to do what we need to do to fill those gaps?" she asked.

Other commissioners appeared to be experiencing an existential crisis.

"I'm unclear about the role of this commission," Commissioner Roger Wedell said, questioning what, exactly, they had set out to change. "The conversation began with 'We're going to change' ... indicating that there's something that needs to be changed ... I just remain unclear about what the goal is and why we started with the assumption of change."

"What does the culture of ethics look like? How do we define it?" asked commissioner Linda Camin.

A few commissioners pointed out that once they have more information to work with, they'll be better equipped to define and tackle the issues. The City Auditor is preparing a report that will identify gaps in the Dallas ethics code, taking into account how other cities handle the issue.

Next month, the City Attorney's Office will offer recommendations to the commission on how to curtail baseless ethics complainers without ostracizing citizens with valid concerns. First Assistant City Attorney Chris Bowers said his office is comparing the ethics codes of peer cities to determine how best to conquer the issue. He said he would have that information prepared for the next meeting in January.

Skinner tells Unfair Park that there's been an issue with a handful of people filing unjustified ethics complaints about city employees. Skinner said certain people will file a complaint, taking city staff's time to examine the issue and respond, only to refile a slightly different complaint at a later date, wasting more time and resources.
Skinner said that while the committee is at a crossroads now, waiting on information from the city attorney's office and the auditor, the group will be able tackle issues more effectively once there's information on the table for discussion. After all, "ethics reform" sounds great, but you can't change something if you can't define what's wrong in the first place.



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14 comments
RTGolden
RTGolden

I think your first clue that something unethical might be afoot is when the leaders of City government create and empower a panel to investigate and advise on ethics in city government.  The commission owes its existence to the very body it is supposed to police.  How has self-enforcement worked for, say, the Oil and Gas Industry, the Financial Sector, Congress, Churches, etc?If a commission has to look at what other cities are doing in regards to ethics in order to formulate their own approach, it doesn't say much for the ethical depth of the commission in question.

guest
guest

Ethics! We don't need no stinking ETHICS

SteveT
SteveT

I think having the City Attorney's and City Auditor's reports in January will help them focus.  The Auditor has an investigative unit that was once quite robust (three investigators and a manager with regular training from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners and the National White Collar Crime Center); but it's been reduced in size for several years now. 

JimS
JimS

It's the eudaimonia, stupid.

Elsando
Elsando

They might want to start with a look at the culture that allows an IT preacher to hire consultants from his church who have little experience with IT, and pay them nice salaries, for a lengthy period of time. This malfeasance will cost the city big bucks. It seems to be viewed as "no big deal".

Aunt Sissie's Mother
Aunt Sissie's Mother

If you have to ask what ethics are you don't have them.  There is an inate trait among too many in politics today that do not have anybbthics.  They were born into the system and they pall it on to future generations.  Unfortunately, the only way to rid ourselves of unethical politicians is to vote it out, butto do that,you have a majjority that cares enough to vote.

Gangy
Gangy

The commission shouldn't sweat it - it's all just window dressing.

james
james

as per the last paragraph....maybe they feel their claims of no ethics are justified and maybe they ain't ever gonna quit complainin' until (never) it's made right.

james
james

my take on this is you've got to know what ethics are before you can instill them.

Watching South Detroit
Watching South Detroit

Plus when he was finally forced to resign, Suhm let him have the resignation date 3-4 months later - so he could suck up more months of taxpayer funded salary.  Ethics starts at the the top and Suhm is a very poor example to follow.  Either she has low ethics or is ignorant of what ethics is.  Stuff that happens in city of Dallas goernment should not happen in an ethical organization.

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