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Potential Conflicts of Interest at JobsOhio Raise Red Flag

Internal procedures should show conflict-of-interest determinations, lawmakers renew call for JobsOhio Accountability Act
September 27, 2013
Democrat Newsroom

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On Wednesday, a disturbing news report came out highlighting what Democratic lawmakers have believed for some time; JobsOhio is not even following its own lax ethics laws. According to JobsOhio’s own conflict of interest policy, recently renewed with the Development Services Agency (DSA) and on file with the controlling board, JobsOhio’s directors and officers are required to disclose any conflict or potential conflict to fellow board members for formal consideration of whether or not a conflict exists.

The Ohio Ethics Commission (OEC) announced Wednesday that potential conflicts of interest do exist at the controversial state economic development entity. Yet records show that the JobsOhio board has not disclosed any potential conflicts.

State Rep. John Patrick Carney (D-Columbus) filed a public records request in August with DSA to obtain documentation of the initiated conflict of interest policy. No such records were ever returned, and JobsOhio later publicized their belief that no potential conflicts of interest existed to ever trigger the ethics policy.

“It is one thing to have relatively low ethics standards at JobsOhio, but when they can’t even follow their own internal policies it’s a giant red flag,” said Rep. Carney. “This is proof positive for Governor Kasich and the GOP that it’s time for accountability and transparency at JobsOhio. JobsOhio has had numerous chances to do the right thing, but they just won’t play by the rules—even when they write the rules apparently.”

House Democrats have made numerous calls for transparency and accountability at the state’s controversial economic development entity, but Gov. Kasich and legislative Republicans have only passed legislation to further secrecy at JobsOhio. The JobsOhio Accountability Act remains stalled in State Rep. Mike Dovilla’s (R-Berea) Policy and Oversight Committee.

“The fact that JobsOhio can’t even play by their own rules is an indication that it is time for Gov. Kasich and legislative Republicans leaders to get serious about requiring transparency and accountability from the struggling organization,” said Rep. Connie Pillich (D-Montgomery). “We were second in the nation for job loss last month. It seems that they’re more concerned with public relations than they are with job creation. It’s shameful when those tasked with creating jobs in our state can’t see past the tip of their nose.”

The OEC report of potential conflicts of interest at JobsOhio follows an investigative report from the Dayton Daily News that highlighted numerous instances in which JobsOhio directors and Gov. Kasich may have had personal financial interests with businesses seeking help from the controversial economic development entity. JobsOhio has since hired a public relations firm to repair its poor public image in addition to bringing on long-time Republican operative Tom Charles to lead the entity’s response on breach of ethics allegations.

“Frankly, the latest controversy surrounding JobsOhio is not surprising, and it confirms what we have been saying all along,” said Rep. Denise Driehaus (D-Clifton). “JobsOhio is in desperate need of accountability and transparency so that these inexcusable missteps do not continue to occur. At this point, the only way to restore the public’s trust in JobsOhio is to put firmer, more transparent policies in place.”

The JobsOhio Accountability Act was introduced in June after reports of millions of dollars in misappropriated tax dollars surfaced. The bill, if passed, would restore state ethics and public records standards, require a full public audit by the Auditor of State, create a website to track the dollars, reinstate the Inspector General’s authority and ensure whistleblower protections. 

“It is JobsOhio’s veil of secrecy that allows them to essentially break their own ethics requirements,” said Rep. Matt Lundy (D-Elyria). “It’s paramount, now more than ever, that we pass the JobsOhio Accountability Act to ensure that JobsOhio acts in the public interest and not personal interests. Ohio lost 8,200 jobs last month, so it should be clear that secrecy and lax ethics laws don’t really contribute to job creation.”