Directors of JobsOhio deserve scrutiny for conflict of interest
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, Republican Gov. John Kasich and his allies in the General Assembly will insist it’s an elephant. That’s what they’ve been doing with JobsOhio, which by any measure is a public agency, but in the governor’s world is a private entity that just happens to spend public dollars.
As we’ve argued time and again in this space, Kasich and the Republican majority in the Legislature have strained credulity by enacting legislation that says JobsOhio is a private group and, therefore, does not have to adhere to state laws that guarantee transparency and public scrutiny.
The GOP has gone so far as to ensure that the Ohio Ethics Commission will not have the authority to investigate alleged violations of state ethics laws.
JobsOhio is a testament to one-party control of state government. Republicans occupy every statewide administrative office, have the majority in the Ohio Senate and House and the Supreme Court.
That’s why the governor can get away with wrapping the state’s economic development agency in a veil of secrecy. Of course, Republicans in the General Assembly are his enablers.
When the public — read that taxpayers — is kept in the dark about the inner workings of an entity that spends public dollars, bad things happen.
The Dayton Daily News, which has been unyielding in its push to blow the lid off JobsOhio, recently revealed that six of the nine members of the board of directors have direct financial ties to companies receiving public money.
The News had to undertake old-fashioned reporting — as opposed to having the information dropped in its lap — and what it came up with should send shock waves throughout the state.
The paper revealed that the board members represented Ohio corporate heavy hitters Bob Evans, Procter & Gamble, Sherwin-Williams and Marathon Oil.
Among the directors cited in the newspaper report are Steven Davis, chief executive officer of Bob Evans Farms, Inc., and former Ohio State University President Gordon Gee.
JobsOhio is responsible for marketing Ohio as a place to do business. It helps arrange loans, grants and tax breaks for businesses that would create jobs in Ohio.
A spokeswoman for the agency said the Dayton Daily News’ analysis encompassed incentive packages that were granted before JobsOhio existed or had a board. She said the office requires directors to abide by a strong conflict of interest policy.
But the reality is that unlike other government agencies that must adhere to Ohio’s public records and open meetings laws, JobsOhio operates in total secrecy.
Indeed, when Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, the Democrat campaigning to unseat Gov. Kasich next year, asked the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate the agency, he was told that Republicans in the General Assembly passed legislation that specifically exempted JobsOhio from the ethics commission’s prying eyes.
Why should taxpayers care? Because in 2012, $5.3 million in state grants were awarded to JobsOhio and its subsidiary, and state liquor profits are used to attract private financing.
There is a Republican officeholder who has not been shy about challenging the governor and others over JobsOhio’s status.
Auditor David Yost has made it clear his office has a right to audit the agency’s books because it received more than $5 million in taxpayer money. Yost’s refusal to back down resulted in the governor ultimately agreeing to having the auditor look at the books.
But, that concession to transparency has been fleeting.
The secrecy surrounding JobsOhio is unacceptable and sets a dangerous precedent. Advocates of open government must keep up the pressure to make JobsOhio transparent.