By Marc Kovac
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ed FitzGerald is calling for increased ethics and open-record requirements and other law changes for the nonprofit created under Gov. John Kasich’s administration to head the state’s economic- development efforts.
During a press conference Monday in Columbus, the Cuyahoga County executive reiterated calls by JobsOhio critics to treat the private board like other state agencies and open its books and dealings to public scrutiny.
“I think for something that has been advertised as the major economic development effort going on in Ohio from state government, it’s entirely the people’s business to ask questions about that,” FitzGerald said.
But Laura Jones, spokeswoman for JobsOhio, said many of the changes FitzGerald is seeking have already been implemented. She referred to the nonprofit’s website — jobs-ohio.com — which includes a section on corporate governance, which outlines accountability measures that are in place.
“We already are committed to transparency and accountability,” she said in a released statement. “I think that in this situation, however, Mr. Fitzgerald is simply unaware that almost everything he is calling for is already being done.”
The nonprofit was created by lawmakers and Kasich to handle behind-the-scenes negotiations with companies seeking financial incentives for expansions.
As a private entity, Jobs-Ohio is not subject to the state’s 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, with executives feeling more comfortable discussing such matters outside of the former approval processes that were more open to public review.
But critics say the setup opens the door for wrongdoing with no real means of keeping tabs on whether incentives are being awarded appropriately.
Democrats, including State Rep. John Carney D-Columbus, who is expected to launch his campaign for state auditor today, have subsequently called for an investigation into JobsOhio.
FitzGerald called on lawmakers and Kasich to change state law to impose public audits, increase oversight, ethics rules and other requirements for JobsOhio, comparable to laws in place affecting other state agencies.