Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Looking Over Your Own Shoulder...Ethics Reform...

Yesterday, Springfield City Councilors Bruce Stebbins and Patrick Markey announced their plan for an ethics law in the city of Springfield. The proposed ordinance would apply to the City Council, the School Committee, the mayor, appointees, and employees. Provisions also exist for lobbyist registration with the City Clerk's office.

The proposal is an important step for Springfield in its effort to reform its public image as a haven of corruption and municipal malaise. Although it passage is unlikely to change the status quo right away, if at all, it will permit more public scrutiny, available outside the filtered view of some local media outlets. It will force officials to govern better or face political repercussions while in office. If passed this year, added transparency will play role in the 2009 elections, which, if ward-boosters were right, will sport high turnout.

Even though "unethical" officials have remained in office elsewhere in the country, the cloud that descends around them prevents any meaningful action and does yield fines as punishment. Sad as it is, the hit in the wallet may be the biggest inducement in Springfield, where Councilors cried when the FCB considered reducing their pay temporarily.

Councilors Markey and Stebbins said that the proposal would not go before the City Council until May. Although the reason given was related to schedule conflicts at the upcoming April meeting, the effect could be beneficial. It will enable Markey and Stebbins to lobby their proposal to the mayor and their colleagues. Drumming up community pressure might also serve the benefit of ethics reform. Conversely, it might enable opponents time to attack it, but opponents will first need to materialize.

When opposition appears, and it will, then the source must be pinpointed. WMassP&I already imagines where voices of opposition from the City Council may arise. Judgment will be reserved until after they speak up, if at all. Still, if they do speak up it will essential to hammer them with condemnation and demands for justifications and alternatives. This is a battle that can be won, even on Springfield's mean political streets, but it must be done both diplomatically and aggressively.

Success will mean not only a more open Springfield political establishment, but a more credible Springfield before citizens and potential employers and investors.

*Read the Full Text of the Reform Bill Here @ Urban Compass

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