Seton Hall Law Review
Efforts to foster ethics in government should begin at the local, rather than state or national, level. City officials and employees make a broad range of decisions that affect the welfare of citizens in many ways. Those actions determine to a large extent whether, on an everyday basis, people have equal access to the benefits and opportunities that government provides. Focusing efforts on city government ethics may also be the best way to build public support for high standards of conduct at all levels of government. If the public comes to expect (and demand) fair treatment and ethical conduct from city officials and employees, they are more likely to have the same expectations for those who hold the reins of power in state and national arenas.
However, building an effective legal regime for regulating ethics in city government is a task that is neither simple nor inexpensive. Further, it is an endeavor which cannot even ensure good government. If the persons who hold public positions are unwilling to aspire to high standards and act in furtherance of the common good, no ethics code can fully substitute for that lack of moral ambition.
Yet, the enactment and enforcement of a good ethics code can be an important step in treating individuals fairly, encouraging business growth, fostering institutional strength, and empowering the citizenry. For these reasons, it is appropriate for a city to spend valuable resources on adopting and periodically revising a good ethics code, teaching officials and employees about their responsibilities, and enforcing high standards for the conduct of public officials.
Vincent R. Johnson, Ethics in Government at the Local Level, 36 Seton Hall L. Rev. 715 (2005).