By Job Tate
Thankfully, Vermont is no “banana republic”—corruption, conflicts of interest and abuses of power by our elected officials are few and far between; and we continue to have one of the most accessible legislative bodies in the world. However, as the public trust continues to be tested by a mounting stream of either questionable or outright illegal behavior in Montpelier, the time for a Vermont ethics panel is long overdue.
Currently, Vermont holds a D+ grade with the Center for Public Integrity—we are one of just three states in the country that does not have an ethics panel or a financial disclosure policy for our elected officials. We also lack a “revolving door” policy for elected officials and other ranking government officials—such a policy would require a waiting period after leaving office before taking jobs with lobbying firms or organizations that do business with the State, especially in areas that the official used to oversee.
Last week, through a bombshell SEC court filing, we learned of the devastating developments in the Northeast Kingdom where over $200 million gathered through the EB-5 program was pilfered and misappropriated. It appears that the day after news of the looming court filing reached higher levels of government, the asought to have the email communications of five former staffers destroyed. This request, and its timing, could be pure coincidence and it’s possible that nobody in our government is culpable in any way, large or small. But this event, and many others, are prime examples of why we need an independent body to thoroughly oversee the ethics of our government on behalf of the taxpayer.
Having a government watchdog, requiring a financial disclosure statement and barring State officials from immediately profiting from their positions in the private sector make good sense. In my opinion, none of these provisions would discourage people from public service or prove overly-burdensome to those in office. Nor is it a heavy lift with little to go on. We have 47 other states with established policies we could draw from and I have been proud to sponsor legislation that would set up a fair and transparent ethics panel. Having such a panel would go a long way towards providing the public with a renewed sense of trust in our government and it would give us the tools needed to police unethical activity. And as most of us can attest, trust and tools are the two things most missed when one most needs them.
As I said before, we do not have an ethics crisis in Montpelier and I am fortunate to work with a body that is made up of fellow citizen legislators who are deeply passionate about serving the State that they love; however, we owe it to the good name of Vermont and her people to provide as accountable and transparent a government as possible.
We should do so quickly.
Job Tate is the Representative for Rutland-Windsor-1. Tate resides in Mendon.