Friday, April 21, 2006 | Scott Lewis tells us
Too much money? There’s an easy answer to that question: How much did bad ethics cost the city? Spending a little more than $1 million a year is a bargain even if it eliminates only half the financial misdealing that ultimately is financed out of the taxpayer’s wallet. Even if an ethics program had cut the size of the pension debacle in half, a mil a year would have been a great investment. Bad ethics is bad government.
Perhaps Lewis’ point is a different one. Perhaps he thinks that, no matter how much is spent, it won’t make any difference – or at least it’s not certain enough that it will work. In this case, then, spending even $1 is a waste. He is careful not to criticize the new ethics and integrity officer, so his criticisms must be about the very idea of the program, not the people chosen to carry it out.
What kind of foundation is this pessimism based on? Has he examined other local governments that have tried this out? Lewis mentions nothing along these lines, despite his long-professed desire to look at the facts of a case.
It could be a strong argument if Lewis surveyed other local governments that had tried this approach and if he found that it failed. But there are plenty of success stories out there: Santa Clara under Judy Nadler’s leadership; the ethics program in Phoenix; and many others. If San Diego’s program accomplishes even half of what it hopes to attain, the city’s money will have been well spent.
When ethics and integrity programs work well, they accomplish two things. First, they increase compliance – fewer people violate the law, and a higher percentage of those who do violate it get caught. Much of the compliance issue is handled in San Diego through the Ethics Commission, but its mandate is severely restricted and it can only respond to external complaints.