For seven years, JobsOhio, the state’s privatized economic- development endeavor, has been shielded from public view, much to the displeasure of open-government advocates.
Indeed, the media have consistently challenged arguments presented by the proponents of secrecy and have demanded accountability and transparency on behalf of the taxpayers.
Not surprisingly, such demands have fallen on deaf ears.
But that could change if a proposal being pushed by Ohio Auditor David Yost, a Republican, is adopted by the GOP-controlled General Assembly and signed into law by Republican Gov. John R. Kasich.
Yost, a candidate for Ohio attorney general this year and a former journalist, is seeking a one-time performance audit of JobsOhio, which was created by statute in 2011 to replace the Ohio Department of Development.
Kasich and others contend that a private organization unencumbered by state laws governing public agencies is needed to spur job-creation 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 81 employees.
As the Columbus Dispatch reported March 12, JobsOhio continues to lowball the amounts it pays employees, including 34 individuals who earn at least six-figure annual salaries.
Here’s what the Dispatch wrote:
“In its 2017 filings with the state, Gov. John Kasich’s privatized economic development agency again reported employees’ taxable income – which does 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 filing for 2017 shows that John Minor Jr., JobsOhio’s president and chief executive officer, received a raise of $32,256, or 7 percent, last year to $516,458.
“Yet, his actual compensation likely is significantly higher.”
There’s another problem with Jobs-Ohio’s so-called disclosure of compensation. There are no names on the chart. The list reveals only the job title and salary for each position.
That is why state Auditor Yost’s push for a performance audit is timely and necessary. The Republican majority in the General Assembly will stand accused of supporting secrecy in state government if it does not enact the necessary legislation.
“I really looked askance at its lack of accountability,” Yost said of the Jobs-Ohio program. It is exempt from open records and ethics laws, and its books are not publicly audited.
But officials involved in the program have long insisted the nonprofit adheres to the highest standard of accountability, transparency, ethical conduct and responsible business practices.
Yet, the day-to-day operations are conducted in darkness.
The proponents of privatization of Ohio’s job-creation effort continue to argue that no public dollars are used for the program. But as we have pointed out in previous editorials, Ohioans contribute millions of dollars in grants awarded to JobsOhio, and state liquor profits are used to attract private financing.
According to the Dispatch, the state auditor’s desire to “check the numbers” is endorsed by the Ohio chapter of Americans for Prosperity, funded by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers.
The newspaper quoted the chapter’s state director, Micah Derry, as saying, “Since most of JobsOhio’s activities are shielded from public view, a performance audit is a welcome first step toward providing greater transparency for what we believe to be a flawed program.”
We are well aware that economic development cannot always occur under the glare of public scrutiny and that secrecy is often demanded by prospective job creators.
But having a private organization operating under the umbrella of state government is bad public policy.
We opposed the creation of JobsOhio from the outset and that put us at odds with the Kasich administration.
The governor now has the chance to lift the veil of secrecy by supporting Yost’s push for a performance audit.
The state auditor should be given the authority to seek requests for proposals from national auditing firms and then to select the one he believes would give Ohioans the best review of JobsOhio.