State withholds records detailing what Leftwich did for $114K job

His work is considered a ‘trade secret,’ Kasich administration says

The state Development Services Agency refuses to disclose what Jim Leftwich did as an intermittent state employee, saying the entire balance of his work is a “trade secret” that can be legally withheld from public disclosure.

Leftwich, the former director of the Dayton Development Coalition, was paid $114,850 over 13 months to help convince the Federal Aviation Administration to designate the Dayton-Springfield area as a testing site for unmanned aerial vehicles.

“That is a perversion of the use of the term ‘trade secret,’” said Brian Rothenberg of Progress Ohio, left-leaning political group based in Columbus. Progress Ohio has sued to block implementation of JobsOhio, the private non-profit job development arm created by Gov. John Kasich’s administration.

“Clearly, somebody who is doing work for a public entity should be responsible for being public about what they do for the public money,” Rothenberg said.

The Daily News wanted more details about what Leftwich did for $85 an hour, particularly since the FAA has yet to make its picks for the testing sites. Getting a designation is considered crucial for the area to become a national hub for UAV research, development and manufacturing.

Emails show that Ohio had been dangerously close to being sidelined in the race to land a designation. Joe Sciabica, who at the time was director of the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, said in a Sept. 2, 2011 email to the Ohio National Guard top brass that the guard and Kasich administration needed to “big time to engage in this as a whole.”

He warned “If Ohio can’t get its collective storyline/team together by mid -September, we are out of this ‘airspace’ game…”

The Kasich administration put Leftwich on the case, citing his experience as Dayton Development Coalition director and connections to Wright-Patterson. Leftwich also served as director of the Ohio Department of Development from March to July 2011.

But at the same time that Leftwich worked for the state on the UAV issues, his consulting company, Viance Partners, had a $20,000-a-month contract with Wright State University. The Daily News reported in November that the dual role led the Kasich administration to terminate Leftwich’s employment and refer the matter to the Ohio Ethics Commission.

Chris Schmenk, Leftwich’s successor as state development director, said in a letter to the Ohio Ethics Commission that Leftwich “worked diligently with my agency, other state agencies, the U.S. Air Force and the Dayton/Springfield business community to lay the groundwork to further develop the region as a national center for the aerospace technology R&D.”

Schmenk asked the Ohio Ethics Commission for guidance on whether Leftwich’s dual employment as a state worker and a private consultant ran afoul with ethics laws. The commission declined to comment on whether an investigation is underway.

Schmenk went on to say that Leftwich’s intermittent employment was terminated Oct. 5, 2012 by mutual agreement to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. “By that date Mr. Leftwich had essentially achieved our objectives for his participation in this project,” Schmenk wrote.

Lawmakers consider the FAA designation and potential UAV economic spin off so important that they formed an “aerospace caucus.” After Leftwich’s departure, the Kasich administration spread the duties out over several department rather than assign a point person, spokesman Rob Nichols said.

But the specifics of what Leftwich did to press Ohio’s case with the FAA are top secret.

Development Services Agency spokesman Todd Walker said in January that Leftwich’s emails, memos and progress reports produced while on the state payroll is a trade secret until after the FAA makes its picks for UAV testing sites. DSA put the denial in writing this past week.

Meanwhile, Viance Partners continues to consult with Wright State University on technology it may be able to spin off into commercial ventures. Its contract with Wright State runs through June 30.

Leftwich and Viance Partners are charged with identifying university-owned technology research that can be spun off into start up companies and developing a structure to support the new businesses.

Wright State University also hired another former director of the Dayton Development Coalition, Ron Wine, as a consultant. Wine is being paid $88,500 over six months to position the Wright State Research Institute to get state funding from the budget bill and capture other research and funding opportunities, according to a one-page, heavily redacted document released by WSU to the Daily News.

Sam Gresham of Ohio Common Cause said the state needs more transparency and accountability when it comes to how public money is spent, not less.

“There is enough tension and insecurity about development and how it is being done in Ohio. We need to have some clarity on how things are being done. The more lack of clarity, the greater your suspicions,” he said.

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