Sunlight will finally cut through the shroud that has kept JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic-development arm, from essential public view.
And when the quasi government agency finally experiences the healing power of the sun, credit will go to Gov. Mike DeWine, who let it be known recently that transparency is essential to building public trust.
At issue is JobsOhio’s refusal to reveal its employees’ salaries. It is required by law to disclose employee titles and corresponding salaries, but not the actual names.
Indeed, when former Republican Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio General Assembly created JobsOhio in 2011, they exempted the entity from the state’s public-records statutes and most ethics laws.
But DeWine, who was sworn in as governor in January after two terms as Ohio’s attorney general, says there isn’t a downside to giving the public access to the payroll – names and all.
“There’s no reason that cannot be made public immediately,” the Republican governor said after attending his first meeting of JobsOhio.
In fact, he believes the payroll information and other details about employees and compensation should be made public more often than once a year.
“They should not only be willing to do that once per year,” he said. “It has no impact really on JobsOhio’s ability to carry out negotiations or do any kinds of deals. And that’s just a small example.”
But while we applaud the governor for making transparency a priority, we disagree with him about how to accomplish that goal.
“I don’t think there’s legislation really needed,” he said.
In his meeting with JobsOhio officials, the governor laid out the criteria by which openness could be accomplished.
There is a pathway that would accommodate the need for secrecy in negotiations with prospective job-creators and transparency, he said.
However, legislation would at least remind the folks at JobsOhio that although they work for a private entity, they have the enormous responsibility of spurring job-creation in the state.
Last year, we applauded then Ohio Auditor David Yost, a former journalist, for seeking a one-time performance audit of JobsOhio, which replaced the Ohio Department of Development.
We disagreed with former Republican Gov. John Kasich and others who contended that a private organization unencumbered by state laws governing public agencies is needed to spur economic development in Ohio.
But without access to JobsOhio’s records, the media and the public have no way of confirming the claims of success that have been made over the years.
We also have no insight into how much money is actually spent on salaries and benefits for the 80 or so employees.
A year ago, the Columbus Dispatch reported that JobsOhio low-balled the amounts it paid employees, including 34 individuals who earned at least six-figure annual salaries.
Simply reporting employees’ taxable income does not provide a complete picture because the reports do not include salary diverted to non-taxable retirement contributions and health insurance costs – instead of their gross income.
“State law requires the nonprofit to report ‘total compensation.’ But its practice of reporting only taxable income serves to understate employee earnings by thousands of dollars each,” the Dispatch noted.
Yost, now Ohio’s attorney general, and others recently criticized JobsOhio after its annual filing showed that outgoing CEO, John Minor, made $621,322.62 in total compensation, according to the newspaper.
DeWine and members of JobsOhio board of directors have appointed JP Nauseef to succeed Minor. His compensation has not been announced.
Proponents of privatization of Ohio’s job-creation effort contend that no public dollars are used for the program and, therefore, the laws that govern public entities do not apply.
However, Ohioans contributed millions of dollars in grants awarded to JobsOhio, and state liquor profits were used to attract private financing.
We have never been comfortable with a private organization that operates under the umbrella of state government, but skirts laws, rules and regulations that ensure openness and the proper expenditure of money.
We would urge Gov. DeWine to follow through on his commitment to transparency by endorsing the proposal unveiled last year by then Auditor Yost for a performance audit.