Shame some use office for

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 29, 2004

self gains

By Wendell Mitchell

The modern era of governmental ethics law regulation began with the Watergate Scandal of the late 1970’s.

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Prior to that time there were very few ethics laws in the United States which applied to governmental officials and state legislators.

What has been distinctive about the new regulatory schemes is the creation of independent agencies to administer and enforce the law.

Alabama jumped on this bandwagon early on, and presently we have a strong, independent Ethics Commission which administers one of the model ethics laws in America.

This subject came to mind this week because of the many criminal cases which are pending against present and former Alabama government officials, several of which are making daily headlines.

I thought it would be important to cover this topic so we could all be reminded of Alabama’s efforts to curb abuse of office.

Simply enacting new or strengthened ethics laws will prove meaningless unless the regulatory agencies charged with administering and enforcing these laws are empowered to do so.

The effectiveness of an agency depends on its having the necessary autonomy, funding, and enforcement capability.

An ethics agency should be established as an independent authority.

It has to be insulated from any possibility or appearance of undue influence by other government officials.

I am pleased to report that all of this criteria seems to be met with Alabama’s ethics law.

We have an independent Ethics Commission, operated by an executive director who has no ties with the office of the Governor or the State Legislature.

Our Ethics Commission is vested with substantive investigatory and enforcement powers, including the ability to perform investigations, issue subpoenas, write advisory opinions, and refer evidence of criminal activity to appropriate prosecutorial authorities.

Our present ethics director is James L. Sumner, Jr., whom I have the privilege of knowing on a personal basis, and I can assure you that he is dedicated and fair minded.

Jim takes his job seriously and has an outstanding track record of enforcing, in a fair manner, the code of ethics in Alabama.

I think it is shameful that government leaders in Alabama would seek to use their offices for personal gain, or otherwise conduct their affairs to promote their own self-interests.

Democracy is a fragile possession.

It must be carefully maintained and protected.

Empowering state ethics agencies is a crucial step in keeping the public trust and confidence that is essential to the preservation of our democratic institutions.

My pledge to you is that I will continue to support a strong code of ethics for public officials in the state of Alabama.

Until next time, remember &uot;I’ll go with you or I’ll go for you&uot; to help you solve any problem related to state government.

Senator Wendell Mitchell can

be reached at 334-242-7883, or by writing

to P.O. Box 225, Luverne, AL 36049.