An investigative report shows the majority of members on the state’s private job development company board, JobsOhio, are invested with businesses that are receiving state incentives through that organization.
That has the Democratic gubernatorial candidate asking for a complete ethics investigation. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.
It’s hard for reporters to get information they want about JobsOhio since the agency has been set up as a non-profit, job creation company. Much of the information sought about its business transactions…and the people in charge of them….is kept private. But the Dayton Daily News used security and exchange commission filings, tax databases, Ohio Ethics disclosures, and more to come up with some answers to those questions. Laura Bischoff, the reporter who combed through that information, says her story shows there is a potential conflict of interest at best.
Bischoff – It turns out that 6 of the 9 board members of JobsOhio Board of Directors have financial ties to companies that have received tax breaks, grants, loans or other assistance from the state of Ohio since Governor Kasich took office which we thought was pretty interesting.
Bischoff says her investigation shows Kasich himself received a payment from Worthington Industries for being a former board member of that company while JobsOhio was providing two of the businesses subsidiaries with an incentive package.
FitzGerald – I wish I could tell you it’s somewhat surprising to me but this is what basically I and others predicted would happen when the veil of secrecy was drawn over the whole JobsOhio structure.
That’s Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald who wastes no time jumping on this issue.
FitzGerald – I mean part of what’s frightening about this situation is we don’t even know what other conflicts are out there. We don’t know what other lines might have been crossed. We have to guess based on the disclosures of the privately held corporation.
FitzGerald is calling on Governor Kasich to take the guess work out of the situation.
FitzBerald – I don’t think this is the last time something is going to come up but this is the first time so we’ve got to get ahead of this situation.
FitzGerald says the Ohio Ethics Commission should be called in right now to do a thorough investigation of JobsOhio. And he says Governor Kasich should disclose all of his business connections and should call on members of JobsOhio’s Board of Directors to do the same. There is talk right now that Tom Charles, the former head of the Ohio Department of Public Safety and a former Inspector General, is negotiating with Kasich to take a watchdog role of some type in JobsOhio. But FitzGerald doesn’t like that idea.
FitzGerald – Look I’m not going to discourage them from doing anything in the field of ethics. At least that’s an admission that there’s a problem but that’s too little, too late. But what they really should do is have an independent body, not just one person, why not invite the Ohio Ethics commission in on an ongoing basis to do that?
In a written statement, Governor Kasich’s spokesman, Rob Nichols says jobsOhio board members do not award incentives to companies. Nichols says the state tax credit authority does that. Nichols says FitzGerald’s comments prove quote….he is nowhere near ready for prime time…unquote. Questions about Jobs Ohio are nothing new. Recently, when Ohio Auditor Dave Yost wanted to audit the organization, the Republican dominated state legislature passed a bill to prevent it. Reporter Bischoff says she is not getting answers to her questions.
Bischoff = You know it’s interesting in doing this story, I say that all of these companies got these incentives and in JobsOhio’s annual report, they listed various companies that they have helped but when you go and say there might be a conflict here, they say no, that incentive started on the state side and we had very little to do with it and yet they are putting it on their brag list in their annual or quarterly report so they kinda seem like they want to have it both ways.
Reporters and politicians are not the only ones raising questions about JobsOhio and the lack of transparency. Both ProgressOhio, a liberal think tank, and the Buckeye Institute, a conservative think tank are suing in court over the structure of and lack of transparency in JobsOhio.