Render Openness a Bit More Open
Gov. Bev Perdue this week proposed some impressive steps toward toughening the ethics rules for elected and appointed officials.
These reforms would be even more praiseworthy if they went further and required that any questionable factors in a potential appointee’s background be revealed not just to the governor and her inner circle but also to the public at large.
Perdue’s proposals are fine as far as they go. They indicate that she is sincere in wanting to clean up the sleazy atmosphere in which North Carolina’s formerly squeaky-clean ethical image has been sullied by a series of Chicago-style accusations and convictions. During the week in which she spoke, for example, the former counsel in the ethically challenged administration of her gubernatorial predecessor and fellow Democrat, Mike Easley, appeared before a federal court to plead not guilty to dozens of charges of fraud and corruption.
The governor could initiate some of the changes on her own hook; others would require legislative approval. Already, predictably, some Republicans in Raleigh are criticizing her plans, not so much because of their content as because of who has suggested them. Surely there are principles at stake here that go beyond the usual tiresome partisan politics.
Among other things, the proposed policy overhaul would widen the ban on accepting gifts to cover more employees, including legislative staff members. It would make it illegal for people doing business with the state to donate to the same politicians who have oversight over their contracts. And state employees convicted of corruption would have to forfeit their pensions.
We also like the part that would require board and commission employees to answer more questions than they now must about any criminal records in their past or potential conflicts on interest in their present. But current North Carolina law, unlike that in many other states, keeps applications for jobseekers confidential within the governor’s office. As a recent series in The News & Observer of Raleigh made clear, mischief can be avoided when the public has access to crucial personal information on appointees. The state needs to consider changing its personnel laws in that regard.
The governor is to be applauded for urging a “new process of requiring full disclosure.” We just wish the disclosure could be a little fuller.
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