Santa Clara University

Ethics Center Blog
Bookmark and Share

At the Center

Capturing the lively discussions, presentations, and other events that make up the daily activities of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University.

The following postings have been filtered by category Government Ethics. clear filter
  •  Campaign Ethics

    Friday, Nov. 22, 2013 3:03 PM

    Even before they are elected, public servants face important ethical questions about the way they run their campaigns.   How honest will they be in their campaign materials?  How can they address an electorate that is increasingly disenchanted with government?  And will campaign contributions affect the way they do business after they are elected?

    Rich Robinson, expert in strategic planning, public policy development, and government relations, and founder of Robinson Communications; and Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, addressed these and other campaign ethics questions at the most recent meeting of the Public Sector Roundtable. Judy Nadler, senior fellow in government ethics and former mayor of the city of Santa Clara, moderated the panel.

  •  Dealing With Disaster

    Friday, Nov. 22, 2013 1:52 PM

    Kenneth Feinberg, the dispute mediator and attorney who directed the victim compesation programs after 9/11, the Boston massacre, the Sandy Hook shooting, and other disasters, talked about the importance of examining the ethical issues behind the difficult decisions he had to make at a recent talk for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

    Praising the Ethics Center for providing a forum for this exploration, Feinberg detailed some of the tough situations he confronted:  Why, for example, did the family of someone who died at the World Trade Center on 9/11/2001 get compensated, while another family, whose loved one died at the 1993 bombing at the same location not receive anything?  Should someone who was disabled in a disaster receive more or less money than the family of someone who died?  How do we understand fairness when dealing with the victims of a catastrophe? 

  •  Ethics and Law in Public Service

    Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013 1:36 PM
    L-R: Joan Cassman, partner, Hanson Bridgett; JoAnne Speers, executive director, Institute for Local Government

    Not every legal action a government official may take is also ethical. Law provides a floor of minimum standards, but public officials who are concerned with ethics may want to go beyond what is simply legal when they consider how to act in the public interest.

    The interaction of law and ethics was explored at the August 2013 meeting of the Center's Public Sector Roundtable by panelists Joan Cassman, partner with Hanson Bridgett L.L.P. in San Francisco, and JoAnne Speers, executive director of the Institute for Local Government in Sacramento.

    Meeting Summary

  •  Mickey Edwards Speaks on Partisanship

    Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 4:52 PM

     Former member of the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives Mickey Edwards spoke Friday on the influence of partisan politics on the US government.  Edwards, author of The Parties Versus the People, described how party loyalty is interfering with problem solving.  (Hear the talk)

    Edward's appearance was sponsored by the Center's Public Sector Roundtable and the Silicon Valley Chapter of the Commonwealth Club.

  •  Good Enough for Government Work?

    Wednesday, Mar. 20, 2013 11:29 AM


    Arguing that only the highest quality is "good enough for government work," Center Senior Fellow in Government Ethics Judy Nadler questioned whether a report that borrowed heavily from Wikipedia met the minimum standards for a contract issued by Orange County, Calif., to Anaheim City Councilman Jordan Brandman.  Brandman, who was to produce a report on whether the county clerk should open a new office in western Orange County, got the assignment under no-bid contract granted by his mentor, former Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly.

    Nadler told the Voice of OC:

    The county has to figure this out. They have to justify putting out the contract awarding the contract in the first place, and they have to come up with a justification for selecting this person in the first place.  What does a $24,000 contract look like, and what are the qualifications for the people who get these? Because if it doesn't require a lot more than this, I think there are a lot of people who are going to be asking for contracts.

  •  How the State Legislature Impacts Local Governments

    Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2013 1:00 PM

     As someone who has served  on a school board, city council, board of supervisors, and in the state assembly and senate, Joe Simitian has the experience to comment on how various levels of government can work together more effectively.  

    At a recent meeting of the Center's Public Sector Forum, Simitian offered some guiding principles for local officials working with the state legislature.  He argued that empathy is an important characteristic for politicians as it allows them to imagine the constraints and difficulties of another official's position.

  •  Beyond Bell, California: An Ethical Journey

    Monday, Feb. 4, 2013 3:30 PM

    Last month, six former councilmembers from Bell, California, went on trial for misappropriating public funds, as part of a corruption scandal that made the Latino suburb of 38,000 people the poster child for outsize government pay checks, waste, and fraud.

    Center Senior Fellow in Government Ethics Judy Nadler was one of four experts addressing the topic, "Beyond Bell: An Ethical Journey," part of the League of California City Managers annual meeting in January.  The presentation allowed panelists to reflect on the importance of strengthening and reclaiming good, open and transparent government. Participants also gave advice on identifying red flags of an unhealthy environment. Also on the panel were presider Arne Croce, former interim city manager of Bell; Jan Perkins, International City Manager Association Senior Advisor; and JoAnne Speers, executive director of the Institute for Local Government.






  •  Discretionary Funds

    Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013 1:48 PM

    The Arizona Republic recently ran a series of articles on discretionary funds, "pools of money, often taken from a city’s general fund, that [are] set aside for an individual council member to use at his or her discretion. It’s a common practice among city councils around the country."  These funds are not closely monitored, and they may go for items that individual members might want but the full council might not approve.

    The Republic analyzed expenditures from discretionary funds and raised the question, In tough economic times, when cities are cutting basic services, does it still make sense to allow this discretionary spending?  Center Senior Fellow in Government Ethics Judy Nadler responded, 

    We’ve reduced police forces. We’ve reduced the hours at the library.  So we cannot afford to waste one dime on expenses that are not legitimate and that do not advance the work elected officials are charged to do on behalf of the public.”

  •  Santa Clara County Board President Shirakawa Subject of a Critical Audit

    Friday, Dec. 14, 2012 3:13 PM

    The Santa Clara County Finance Agency has determined that Board President George Shirakawa Jr. has been imprudent in his use of public funds.  According to the San Jose Mercury News:

    Since taking office in 2009, Shirakawa used his county credit card for 174 meals at local restaurants, later reporting he had lost most of the required itemized receipts. He also billed taxpayers for out-of-state casinos, golf fees and rental car upgrades -- in some cases reimbursing the costs months later, only after being questioned. 

    Shirakawa also allowed his staff to use county monies to make donation to his favorite charitable causes.  In an interview with the Mercury News, Center Executive Director Kirk O. Hanson commented:

    It's clearly improper for public officials to use public monies for charitable causes....  The channeling of public monies by a single public official outside the appropriation process becomes a backdoor way of funding the charities that either are the favorite of a public official, or are useful to the public official in their election efforts.

  •  Government Ethics Resources

    Friday, Dec. 7, 2012 10:24 AM

     All of the Ethics Center's materials on government ethics have now been sorted into a new system of categories that makes it easier for visitors to our Web site to find articles, videos, and podcasts on these areas:

    General Topics in Government Ethics: Unavoidable ethical dilemmas, codes of ethics, and leadership

    Campaigns and Elections: Campaign finance, contribution irregularities, hit pieces, and attack ads

    Conflicts of Interest and Undue Influence: Lobbying, favoritism, financial and other interests

    Gifts and Bribes: Quid pro quo arrangements and political perks

    Transparency: Open meetings, sunshine laws, the Brown Act

    Professional Ethics for Public Officials: Civility, councilmanic interference, and the personal lives of public officials

    Budgeting as a Reflection of Values: Weighing public goods, pension reform, auditing, redevelopment

    Zoning: Marijuana dispensaries, religious institutions, big box retailers

    Government and Media: Relations with reporters, social media, leaking, whistleblowing