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Candidate calls for ethics probe

Not clear under state law if Ohio Ethics Commission has jurisdiction over JobsOhio.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ed FitzGerald is calling on the Ohio Ethics Commission to investigate financial ties between JobsOhio board members and companies that have received assistance from the state or JobsOhio since Gov. John Kasich took office in January 2011.

The Dayton Daily News this week detailed that six of nine JobsOhio directors sit on the boards of, are employed by or hold stock in companies that got state assistance. Also, JobsOhio helped line up tax incentives for two subsidiaries of Worthington Industries, a company that had ties to Kasich. Kasich served on the Worthington Industries board of directors from 2001 to 2010 and received a deferred compensation payment from the company last year.

JobsOhio spokeswoman Laura Jones said that agency staff recommends tax incentive packages to the state Development Services Agency — not board members. Plus, the assistance to these businesses was renderedbefore JobsOhio was fully operational, she said. Jones said there is no conflict of interest.

FitzGerald, a former FBI agent and current Cuyahoga County executive, said a lack of transparency lead to self-dealing that is not in the best interests of taxpayers.

“I don’t think this is the last time something is going to come out. It’s the first time. We have got to get ahead of the situation,” he said.

He called on Kasich and JobsOhio directors to self-disclose in “real-time” any conflicts they may have. Annual ethics disclosures filed with the Ohio Ethics Commission by the governor are public records but ones filed by the JobsOhio board members are confidential.

He also said Kasich needs to revisit his position against public audits of JobsOhio. While the agency receives a private audit, Kasich signed a bill into law that ensures that the $100 million a year JobsOhio receives from the state’s liquor profits is considered private money and can’t be audited by the state auditor.

Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols strongly rejected FitzGerald’s assertion that the board members’ connections to businesses receiving state assistance amounts to a conflict.

“Decisions about which companies are awarded incentives are not made by the board members of JobsOhio. In fact, those decisions are not even made by JobsOhio,” he said. “They are made by a completely separate state entity — the state Tax Credit Authority — which is separate by design to provide oversight and serve as a check on JobsOhio’s recommendations. The fact that he doesn’t know this shows he is nowhere near ready for prime time.”

FitzGerald said he would ask the Ethics Commission to investigate whether the board’s business connections violate JobsOhio policy governing conflicts of interest.

Ohio Ethics Commission Director Paul Nick said the commission would review any requests to determine whether it has any authority to investigate.

State law specifically exempts JobsOhio employees and directors from Ohio ethics regulations. The law includes a conflict of interest policy for JobsOhio that calls for self-regulation — directors have a duty to disclose to the board any potential conflict and the disinterested directors make a determination of whether one exists.

In 2011 Ethics Commission officials urged lawmakers to not exempt JobsOhio from the ethics laws.

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