Court: JobsOhio exempt from public-records laws
By Marc Kovac
The Ohio Supreme Court dismissed a lawsuit seeking to force JobsOhio to fulfill a public-records request.
A one-page judgment entry signed by Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor and filed Tuesday noted that the private nonprofit was exempt from public-records laws.
Six members of the court signed onto the decision. Justice Terrence O’Donnell did not participate.
The suit was brought by a Columbus attorney against JobsOhio and John Minor, the group’s president and chief executive officer, after the nonprofit failed to produce requested documents in a reasonable period of time, according to documents.
JobsOhio was created by lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich to handle behind-the-scenes negotiations with companies seeking incentives for expansions.
As a private entity, Jobs-Ohio is not subject to open-meetings and records laws and other requirements that generally affect state agencies. Instead, it is required to conduct a handful of public meetings and annually disclose information about incentives awarded through its efforts.
Supporters believe the nonprofit is better positioned to work with businesses considering expansions or relocations in Ohio, with executives feeling more comfortable discussing such matters behind closed doors.
But opponents say the setup is unconstitutional, funneling public resources to a private organization that is exempted from portions of the state’s open meetings and records laws. They also say the Ohio Constitution prohibits the state from establishing such private enterprises.
The state Supreme Court still is considering whether a liberal advocacy group has standing to challenge the constitutionality of JobsOhio. Oral arguments in the case took place last month; there is no timeframe for justices to issue their decision.
The dismissal was on a separate case, with attorney Victoria Ullmann arguing that JobsOhio “is the functional equivalent of a government agency or division of an agency and therefore is subject” to public-records requirements.
Legal counsel for Jobs-Ohio countered that Ullmann’s public-records request “was improper and contrary to statute. The legislation enabling the creation of JobsOhio ... could not be clearer in pronouncing that JobsOhio is not a ‘public office’ [and, therefore, not properly subject to a public-records request] and that documents requested from JobsOhio are not ‘public records.’”