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Get real on ethics reform

Several US cities are way ahead of Congress when it comes to good governance.

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The Democrats won the 2006 congressional elections on two issues: Iraq and cleaning up corruption in Washington. Which problem seems tougher to you? For Congress, ending centuries of sectarian violence and launching democracy in a fractious Middle Eastern nation now looks more likely than agreeing on even modest ethics reform.

Fortunately, while Congress deliberates, the national call for clean government is being heard and heeded in city halls across the country – many of which have much to teach the Hill.

Consider Atlanta. Former mayor Bill Campbell and 11 aides and associates were convicted or pleaded guilty on a range of criminal charges ranging from corruption and racketeering to tax evasion. His successor, current mayor Shirley Franklin, used that experience to set real rules on conflicts of interest and disclosure, give an ethics board the power to investigate and enforce, and beef up ethics staffing and budget. She won back city government's self-respect, not to mention a JFK Profile in Courage Award.

Or look to the city of Oakland, Calif., which in 1996 created an independent, uncompensated public ethics commission whose members are allowed no direct interest in any city business – whether getting elected, getting a contract, getting a paycheck; or supporting, opposing, funding, endorsing or working for any candidate or measure in a city election. Cynics may think all local politics is payola. With independent oversight, the kleptocracy crumbles.

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