Before dismissing him and referring his case to the Ohio Ethics Commission, the Kasich administration paid former state development director Jim Leftwich $85 an hour to lay out Ohio’s strategy to win a coveted drone testing site designation and size up the competition, according to 45 pages of public documents released this month.
In the end, though, the federal government passed over Ohio and named test sites in Nevada, New York, Virginia, North Dakota, Alaska and Texas.
In November 2012, the Dayton Daily News requested public documents detailing what Leftwich did to earn $114,850 during his 13 months as an intermittent state employee. Leftwich had been serving a dual role as both a state worker and a private contractor for Wright State University.
The state initially refused to release the records, saying Leftwich’s work constituted a “trade secret” while Ohio was still seeking the FAA test site designation.
But four months after the FAA snubbed Ohio’s bid, and 17 months after the Daily News requested the records, the development agency released the documents.
The records show:
- Leftwich produced a 23-page report, an eight-page update on his work and a seven-page “road map for an unmanned aerial systems strategy.”
- His supervision by Ohio Development Services Agency officials — on paper, at least — was minimal. Leftwich exchanged emails with DSA officials on just three dates over 13 months.
- Leftwich reported that New Mexico was the greatest competitive threat to the Dayton region winning a test site. New Mexico, however, was not among the six selected.
The Kasich administration worked with the Dayton Development Coalition to prepare the 6,000-page proposal to the FAA. It is unclear how much the state spent on the effort overall.
Leftwich did not return email and phone messages left seeking comment.
When Kasich administration officials learned that Leftwich was serving as both a state employee and a private contractor for a public university, it terminated his employment and asked the ethics commission to investigate.
Leftwich originally joined the Kasich administration in March 2011 as state development director but abruptly stepped down six months later. A month later, his former department, which was renamed the Development Services Agency, hired him back as an intermittent employee.
Ohio Development Services Agency spokeswoman Lyn Tolan said the ethics investigation is ongoing.
Like many universities, WSU wants to increase revenue by commercializing technology research and growing technology startup companies. Wright State hired Leftwich and his consulting company, Viance Partners, to help. Viance Partners was to be paid $277,5000 over 15 months, according to the contracts, which ended in June 2013.
As a state employee, Leftwich was required to follow state ethics laws, which require disclosure of outside work. A spokesman for Kasich has said that Leftwich did not inform the governor’s office about the consulting contracts with Wright State.
Here is a history of Jim Leftwich’s dual role with state government and Wright State University, which resulted in the termination of his state job and the matter being referred to the Ohio Ethics Commission for investigation.
March 2011: Gov.John Kasich taps Leftwich to be director for the Ohio Department of Development.
Aug. 1, 2011: Leftwich abruptly steps down, and the work is transitioned to the new JobsOhio, led by venture capitalist Mark Kvamme.
Sept. 1, 2011: Leftwich hired as “intermittent employee” at Ohio Department of Development advising the governor on aerospace and defense issues. He was paid $114,580 for 1,348 hours of work between Sept. 1, 2011, and Oct. 6, 2012, when the job was terminated. The administration will not say what he did during that time, describing it as a “trade secret.”
May 4, 2012: Wright State signs first contract with Leftwich’s company, Viance Partners, which covers period from March 1 to June 30, 2012. The contract, which paid Leftwich’s company $12,500 a month, called for him to “drill down to a better understanding of the university’s commercialization opportunities and agree upon the focus of the next phase.”
July 19, 2012: Wright State signs second contract with Viance Partners. This contract, covering July 1, 2012, to June 30, 2013, pays the company $20,000 a month, and calls for Viance to develop a structure for supporting WSU’s new start-up companies. Although not specified in the contract, Leftwich and Wright State Vice President for Research Robert Fyffe collaborate on a “technology commercialization model” that calls for Viance Partners to receive a 25 percent ownership stake in the start-up companies.
August 2012: Kasich appoints Leftwich to Third Frontier Advisory Board. Three weeks later, Leftwich writes email to Fyffe suggesting Third Frontier funding for start-up efforts.
October 2012: Kasich administration terminates Leftwich’s job at the development department and refers matter to Ohio Ethics Commission. Leftwich resigns from Third Frontier Advisory Board, saying he didn’t have enough time to “serve meaningfully.”
December 2013: Federal Aviation Administration passes over Ohio and picks six other sites for unmanned aerial vehicle testing.
Our Columbus Bureau broke the story of how former Dayton Development Coalition director Jim Leftwich held dual roles as a state employee in Columbus and as a consultant at Wright State University — an arrangement that led to a referral to the Ohio Ethics Commission for investigation. Our team filed public records requests to document Leftwich’s business dealings. After some records were initially withheld, we pressed the Kasich administration to release records that would document what Leftwich did to earn $114,850 in taxpayer-funded wages over 13 months.