By Marc Kovac
The Republican state auditor is demanding access to financial documents, Democratic lawmakers are demanding more public scrutiny of the nonprofit JobsOhio, one Republican leader is chastising both of the former, and Gov. John Kasich is calling the whole thing a misunderstanding over a complicated issue.
Such was the status Thursday in a growing controversy over the private office that coordinates the state’s economic development programming, the millions of dollars in public funding it has received and the lack of public information on the nonprofit’s spending and donors.
“Sometimes you read things and it appears one way,” the governor told reporters Thursday. “It’s really just a little disagreement about how we should proceed. The simple fact of the matter is I favor all public money being able to be audited by our state auditor, plain and simple. ... But you don’t want to go in and audit the private books of private industry by the auditor. That’s beyond his authority.”
The brouhaha focuses on JobsOhio, the nonprofit created by Kasich and lawmakers two years ago to reach out to existing companies and firms thinking about expanding into Ohio, negotiating economic incentive packages and helping to commercialize research and technologies developed at the state’s universities.
Most of JobsOhio’s dealings are conducted outside of the public spotlight, a setup supporters say is needed during business negotiations. However, the nonprofit is required to publish an annual report disclosing its completed deals.
According to that report, which was released this month, JobsOhio worked with 277 companies that committed to creating 20,979 jobs and retaining 54,633 more in 2012, with $5.8 billion in new capital investment.
But documents also indicated the nonprofit has received more than $5 million in public funding, and a number of employees received six-figure salaries.
Auditor Dave Yost this week issued a subpoena seeking financial statements, “bank statements for ALL accounts,” lists of JobsOhio contributors and other documents.
The subpoena requires JobsOhio representatives to appear at the auditor’s office March 19 to turn over the documents and provide additional testimony.
“The governor and I have the same goal: to make sure JobsOhio’s money is working for the people of Ohio — creating jobs and growing this economy for our families,” Yost said. “It’s important to look at the total picture. The private bond proceeds trace directly back to the public money.”
Development Services Agency Director Christiane Schmenk sent a letter to Yost earlier this week seeking “agreed-upon procedures” for auditing public grants provided to Jobs Ohio.
And Laura Jones, a spokeswoman for JobsOhio, indicated the office would provide information on public funding.
State Rep. and Democratic Party Chairman Chris Redfern called JobsOhio “Gov. Kasich’s re-election slush fund” and criticized the nonprofit for being “shrouded in secrecy.”