The New York Times reports that New Jersey’s acting governor, Richard Codey, is proposing a “sweeping” ethics program that will include an “independent agency to enforce ethics laws in the executive branch.” Also proposed are “mandatory ethics training for all state employees, a uniform ethics code, much higher penalties for violations,” and more.
Interestingly, corruption cases in the state have mostly come from local governments, but the “sweeping” proposals are all aimed at the state government: so it would seem the disease is being treated on the wrong patient. Paula Ann Franzese, a Seton Hall University law professor cited by the NYT, sounds rather uncertain whether a problem exists at all.
Although New Jersey’s reputation has been further tarnished by the prosecution of dozens of public officials in the last few years by the United States attorney’s office, Ms. Franzese said, “New Jersey is not the corruption capital of the world.”
“We’re not even in the top 10,” Ms. Franzese said at the news conference announcing the recommendations.
Fired up by Ms. Franzese’s austere moral standards, I came up with a snappy new state motto for New Jersey: “Better than Zimbabwe.” It fits on license plates, too.
To appoint a “wholly independent body to oversee the executive branch” is a wholly bad idea. Independent of what? The democratic process? Members of this body are described as coming from “the public at large,” as if elected officials were grown in petri dishes and kept in crypts.
And does anyone really believe that an adult can be “trained” in ethics? Civil servants should know the law, and understand what constitutes fair process in complex circumstances, such as sexual harrassment cases. But to send legions of bureaucrats to ethics seminars is a bogus gesture, the kind of action petri-dish politicians engage in when they think they’re expected to do something, yet aren’t really sure what or why.
Of course, I could be wrong. In that case, our entire penal system is obsolete. Put Charles Manson in a Trenton classroom for six weeks, he’ll make an impeccable accountant for the new, wholly independent ethics panel.