Allison Silberberg, the outgoing mayor of Alexandria, recently suggested that a permanent ethics commission should be established by the incoming City Council, which is something the City Council refused to do during the previous term.
Based on this past, it is unlikely that the new mayor will entertain a Citizen’s Ethics Commission, or (even better) an Ombudsman, so how will Alexandria provide ethics oversight? Other jurisdictions have faced up to this challenge, yet Alexandria remains mired in timidity, indifference and hesitation concerning oversight of ethics.
It is unfathomable that the City Council, city staff and various boards and commissions have never encountered ethics dilemmas, especially concerning management of new developments. As an example, although there are zoning laws that have been in existence for years, a developer need only make a quid pro quo “proffer” of $100,000 or so to Bikeshare in order to build a structure that is at variance from the originally enacted zoning layout of the community. This “pay to play” brings up a number of potential ethics concerns, yet no one seems to curb this business practice that has been tolerated over the years. As the late civic activist Tom Witte once said, “it is not that the City Council sells out, it is that they sell out so cheaply.”
For many years, I have stated that Alexandria needs an Ombudsman to investigate potential fraud, waste, abuse, mismanagement and corruption. This office would operate as an independent directorate. The head should be elected to this job in a non-partisan manner for at least a period of 5 years. The Ombudsman should demonstrate a high degree of integrity, and have professional credentials in accounting, auditing, investigations and public administration. I would envision that the Ombudsman would be performing auditing, inspecting and generally conducting in depth investigations of the city’s programs. There is no doubt that millions of dollars of the taxpayers money could be saved annually.
The website of the Toronto, Canada ombudsman says it all: “We promote fairness in City services. We help the public resolve problems with the City. We help the City serve the public better. We investigate, we mediate, we find solutions and recommend system improvements. We help the City to hold itself accountable in its duty to provide services that work for people. Our work makes Toronto a better place to live, work, play and do business.” Is there any reason why we deserve less?
Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet