Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Avoiding the Appearance of Impropriety

In my legal career I have lived by certain standards. One of them is to not just avoid improprieties, as all lawyers should, but to also avoid situations that even create an appearance of impropriety. (I know at least one person who disagrees that I do so, but s/he is, in a word, wrong.)

Case in point: I serve on my local library board and am a director of my homeowners association. I also have the privilege of having been appointed to the county's regional planning commission, which studies and makes recommendations about macro land use issues in the area. Because of that appointment I have regular contact with elected officials and with county staff that might have an impact on matters involving my subdivision, which is in unincorporated territory. Although I didn't have to, out of an abundance of caution I have recused myself from any dealings with the county that involve my subdivision lest I be accused of trying to influence people improperly. I have refused to take on legal matters that I certainly could have for similar reasons. Has it cost me money? Absolutely. But I sleep better at night.

I'm sure my former state representative, Careen Gordon, is an honorable person. I admittedly did not vote for her in the last election because I never saw her touch on the issues; all I read and heard were ads that basically said to me, "Don't vote for my opponent because she is married to a doctor and lives in a big house." Since I am married to a doctor and live in an above-average sized house, I didn't think that was a good reason to disqualify a candidate from office.

After losing in the 2010 election, Gordon's was the crucial vote that raised our state income tax from 3% to 5% in a lame duck session, a vote with which I disagreed for philosophical and political reasons. Two days later, the governor nominated Gordon to serve on the Prisoner Review Board, a position from which Gordon wisely withdrew her name from consideration and to which she may well have not been confirmed.

Well, now we get word that Gordon has been given a state job that does not require any confirmation: as an associate general counsel in the Illnois Department of Professional Regulation, apparently to work on matters related to real estate. Hopefully she can start by fixing some of the changes for which she voted that are causing nightmares with small homeowners associations, or so I am reading from my listserv colleagues.

In both instances there were numerous complaints that the appointment/job amounts to a quid pro quo: trading the tax hike vote for a government gig. I cannot opine on that. What I can say is that I would not have accepted the position, at least not so soon after being voted out of office and changing my mind on a critical issues such as this. But that is me. And I wonder aloud whether we need legislation prohibiting those voted out of office from accepting any paid government position for, say, two years after leaving office. It sure would look better while not permanently depriving us of talented people in civil service.

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