Potential conflicts of interest at JobsOhio uncovered by the Ohio Ethics Commission comes as no surprise given that in August a newspaper revealed that six of the nine members of the board of directors have direct financial ties to companies receiving public money.
But having the ethics commission confirm what the Dayton Daily News found through its own investigation is significant.
It means that the dismissive attitude of JobsOhio officials, Gov. John Kasich and members of his administration now lacks credibility.
What is even more telling about the recent development is that Ohio Auditor David Yost, who won a battle with the governor over auditing JobsOhio’s books, is now looking into the conflict-of-interest findings by the ethics panel.
“We’ll use that information as part of the internal testing in the audit we are doing,” Carrie Bartunek, spokeswoman for the state auditor, told the Columbus Dispatch.
So far, so good.
However, Gov. Kasich could still have the last laugh — even if Yost’s examination confirms the conflicts. The Republican governor and the Republican controlled General Assembly have made sure that neither the ethics commission nor the state auditor will have oversight with regard to JobsOhio.
If the auditor’s office issues its findings, it would be up to the ethics commission to take action.
There is a law on the books that says JobsOhio is a private group that does not have to adhere to state laws that guarantee transparency and public scrutiny.
It doesn’t matter to Kasich et al that the entity spends public dollars and that it is the state’s chief economic development agency.
The secrecy surrounding JobsOhio has not only led the public to suspect that those directly involved in its operation are up to no good, but it has given Democrats an issue they will carry into the 2014 statewide election.
Like the Dayton Daily News, which has been unrelenting in its coverage of JobsOhio, the state ethics commission found potential conflicts for nine of the 22 officials required to file financial disclosure statements for 2011 or 2012, including six of the nine board members.
Not surprisingly, a spokeswoman for the agency said an internal review of the material released by the ethics commission found “no conflicts based on looking at those letters (from the commission).”
“We proactively go through and conduct our own review as well,” said Laura Jones. “So we already have addressed any of those potential conflicts of interest, and there were no conflicts of interest.”
Pardon our cynicism, but JobsOhio does not have a stellar record when it comes to openness and transparency. Indeed, the governor has argued that it is a private entity and, therefore, does not have to adhere to the state laws pertaining to ethics, sunshine and public records that governs other public agencies.
But, since the state auditor would submit his findings to the ethics commission, which has no authority over JobsOhio, does it really matter if the conflicts of interest are confirmed?
Yes, it does. Given that the 2014 election is on the horizon, the governor and his Republican allies would not want to be politically burdened with charges pertaining to the agency’s operation.
Politics might force the GOP to give the public an up-close-and-personal look at JobsOhio.