My long, and sometimes lonely, quest to establish an Ethics Commission and develop a conflict of interest code of conduct for elected and appointed officials in Vermont finally came to fruition this year.

As background, in July 2013, the Telecom Czar appointed by Governor Peter Shumlin resigned to take a senior position with VTel, a company that had received $8.5 million in state funds in the two years this person was a voting members of the state board that authorized the funds.

In February 2014, a sitting Democratic legislator was hired as a director of a special interest group having just led the passage of the organization's legislation the prior year.  Her responsibilities as a new employee (while she was also a legislator) were to work with lobbyists to prepare for any future legislative action.

And, in March 2014, the Vermont House Majority Whip, a Democrat, resigned mid-term to become executive director of a single-payer health care advocacy organization.

While in my mind, and the mind of others, these - and other similar instances - raised significant ethical questions perceptions of conflicts of interest, there was no support in Montpelier for putting into place an independent ethics commission or code of conduct for our elected and appointed officials.

Yet, I continued my quest anyway - year after year!

After all, we hear over and over again the distrust the public has for politics and politicians.  While politics should be regarded as a noble profession, as it is a critical way to ensure government works for the people, it has been reduced, with good reason in many cases, to the butt of late-night talk show jokes.

While ours is a small state, and our public officials are very accessible, that does not mean that transparency and accountability are always present.  And, it certainly doesn't mean that conflicts of interest don't arise.

Instead of Vermont leading the way in this regard, though, we were far behind most states.  We were one of only five states that did not have an Ethics Commission, and was last ranked 37th in government integrity from the Center for Public Integrity.

I was very happy, therefore, that in 2017, the Vermont House and Senate passed its first Ethics Bill.  And the Governor happily signed it.  While the final piece of legislation is not all I had hoped for, it is an important first step to ensure accountability and transparency in our government.