Stories spark ethics reform

February 19, 2008 5:03:32 PM PST
Recent 13 Undercover stories have triggered a season of scandals. Now there's some evidence that county officials are listening to the growing chorus for ethics reform.

Financial disclosure for public officials is nothing new, but did you know that many county officials and department heads don't have to do it?

That could soon change.

In the movie What About Bob, it's all about taking healthy baby steps for sick psych patient Bob Wiley.

Amidst a season of scandals, Harris County commissioners are preparing to take a baby step on ethics. It's one that most of the big urban counties took years ago. One Harris County government could legally take 19 years ago.

"With all the issues that have been raised around us in the last two or three weeks, I think it's important that we send a signal to the public that we are willing to be about open government and transparency," said Harris County Commissioner Sylvia Garcia.

If adopted in two weeks, all elected officials and department heads would have to file financial disclosure. Commissioners already do it.

But that won't resolve many of the ethics questions being raised.

It wouldn't require County Commissioner Jerry Eversole to disclose how much he paid the founder of a county contractor to design his house. Or for the sheriff to disclose how much he paid the same man to redesign part of his ranch house.

"Voluntarily we can add anything to the list and we can put that on the list," said Garcia.

But it is a baby step for a county government under increasing fire for alleged cozy dealings.

"I can almost smell the county building from here," said taxpayer advocate Bob Lemer.

County Judge Ed Emmett wonders when the next shoe will drop in a string of revelations about county government. We're working on it.

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