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Gov. Kasich’s Bias Toward Secrecy

By German Lopez · August 21st, 2013 · Commentary
commentary 2013-08-21

Like many politicians, Gov. John Kasich touted transparency and openness on the campaign trail, but this year’s JobsOhio controversies have proven that the governor was all talk and no action when he made such claims.

In 2010, Kasich told The Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board, “I’m not worried about transparency. I’m not going to get hung up on that stuff. If you’ve got something you want to know, I’ll tell you. I’m not here to ‘hide the pea.’ My bias is toward openness.”

If only. Today, JobsOhio, the privatized development agency championed by Kasich and other Ohio Republicans, is synonymous with the kind of government secrecy and abuse that leads editorial boards and reporters to ask gubernatorial candidates about transparency.

In the past few weeks, JobsOhio has been mired in scandal after scandal. It started with Dayton Daily News’ discovery that six of nine members on the JobsOhio board have direct financial ties to companies getting state aid at the request of the agency. Most recently, The Associated Press revealed that Worthington Industries, a company from which Kasich received pay through 2012, received in 2012 and 2013 $619,000 in tax credits recommended by JobsOhio, which has its board appointed by the governor. Conflicts of interest ahoy, in other words.

The Ohio Ethics Commission has so far dismissed complaints against the governor because Kasich technically made a clean break from Worthington. But many Democrats claim several ethical questions remain unanswered.

Who’s right? To be honest, I have no idea. JobsOhio is so mired in secrecy that it’s extremely difficult to verify its deliberations. It’s practically impossible to get a clear picture of what’s going on in the agency.

This isn’t some glitch in the privatized development agency, either.

For Republicans, it’s the point. They argue that JobsOhio is a private nonprofit and needs to be secretive so it can move quickly on job-creating development deals. (Kasich has repeatedly appropriated the UPS slogan “move at the speed of business” to explain JobsOhio’s intention.)

The obvious downside is Ohio taxpayers have little idea how JobsOhio is making its recommendations for tax credits. Minutes for JobsOhio’s meetings aren’t released until the end of the year. During that one-year span, JobsOhio recommends millions of dollars in credits — a huge cost to the Ohio taxpayer — with little known justification beyond “job creation.”

In their defense, Republicans have said that the state, through the Ohio Tax Credit Authority, gives the final approval for tax credits. JobsOhio only makes recommendations, they say.

But just like JobsOhio’s board, the governor appoints the Ohio Tax Credit Authority’s board. To suggest that there’s true independence in two boards appointed by the governor is dubious.

Even State Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican, has been snared by JobsOhio’s secrecy. Earlier in the year, Yost pursued a full audit of JobsOhio’s private and public funding, but Kasich and JobsOhio argued that revealing private contributions could break companies’ trust in the agency.

JobsOhio eventually let Yost in, but it’s unlikely he’ll be able to audit the agency in the future. Kasich and Republican legislators passed a law in June that declares JobsOhio’s $100 million a year in liquor profits, which it gets through a lease of the state liquor franchise, as private money that can’t be audited. For good measure, JobsOhio is also refunding the rest of the public money it’s obtained.

Given all the problems, it’s clear now that Kasich was misleading The Enquirer when he said his bias is toward openness. At this point, Ohioans can only hope Kasich pursues what he told the newspaper that naively endorsed him.

Other News and Stuff

• Kasich was apparently angered by George Elmaraghy, chief of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s division of surface water, who told his staff in an email that coal companies are asking for permits that would endanger Ohio’s streams and wetlands and break state and federal laws. It might be easy for someone to side with Elmaraghy, considering coal companies’ history of making acidic water fall from the sky. Still, Kasich pushed Elmaraghy to resign.

• The latest results from Public Policy Polling show Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald leading Kasich 38-35 percent in the 2014 election. Kasich’s approval now stands at 42-47 percent, down 10 points from November. Most respondents still seem unaware of FitzGerald, with 62 percent saying they aren’t sure if they have a favorable or unfavorable view of him.

CONTACT GERMAN LOPEZ: glopez@citybeat.com or @germanrlopez



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