First, Ohio Auditor David Yost presented a compelling — and successful — argument that JobsOhio, the so-called private economic development agency, must be audited like any other public agency because it received more than $5 million in taxpayer dollars.
Republican Gov. John Kasich, the mastermind of JobsOhio, at first fought Republican Yost’s subpoena, but ultimately gave in by handing over the entity’s books. Transparency won the day.
Now, the Dayton Daily News has peeled another layer of the JobsOhio covering to reveal that the “private” designation is an exaggeration.
The newspaper analyzed records pertaining to the organization and its predecessor, the Ohio Department of Development, to show that Gov. Kasich’s characterization of ODOD as a “black hole” that failed to even return phone calls was a stretch.
The Daily News’ reporter, Andrew J. Tobias of the paper’s Columbus bureau, recalled a comment Kasich made when he was running for governor in 2010: “The days of trying to connect with business leaders through bureaucrats are over.” Tobias’ story noted that JobsOhio is staffed mostly by former development department employees and other ex-government workers.
And, nearly all those workers also received large raises to leave the public sector, the analysis shows.
But that’s not the only reason the public has a right to know what JobsOhio is up to.
Auditor Yost’s insistence on transparency is necessitated by the reality that $5.3 million in state grants were awarded to the agency and its subsidiary in fiscal 2012. In addition, state liquor profits are used to attract private financing.
This melding of public and private dollars raises all sorts of questions, foremost of which has do with accountability.
JobsOhio says it will refund the $1 million in startup money it got from the state in 2011 and any grant money it received since July 2011 to do economic development work for Ohio.
But reacting to the Dayton Daily News’ revelation about the staffing of JobsOhio, Brian Rothenberg, executive director of ProgressOhio, a liberal advocacy group that is suing the governor over JobsOhio, said:
“This confirms what people thought all along … [JobsOhio] was a ploy to take the Department of Development and privatize it to shield it from public scrutiny. The whole ruse is that the governor was complaining about the people he ended up hiring.”
In creating the organization, the Republican controlled General Assembly exempted it from public record laws and required it to disclose only what is required under legislation that created it.
In other words, secrecy is built in.
And that’s troubling, given that JobsOhio will get its funding of at least $100 million a year from the sale of bonds backed by profits from the state’s monopoly on liquor sales, the Daily News reported.
The annual revenue will be used to award grants and loans for economic development projects and fund a state program that pays for the cleanup and redevelopment of commercial and industrial sites.
To his credit, Auditor Yost points out that his office will continue to have authority to audit JobsOhio’s books because the liquor proceeds are a public resource.
Given this insistence on transparency, there is an attempt to legislatively limit the state auditor’s authority.
Such a blatant act to keep the residents of the state of Ohio in the dark is unacceptable and wrong.