COLUMBUS, Ohio - A Democratic challenger to Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed stronger ethics and transparency rules Monday for Kasich's privatized job-creation office, saying they are needed to protect against conflicts of interest and corruption.
Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald pledged to pursue the proposed policy changes for JobsOhio if elected next year.
They include eliminating JobsOhio exemptions from public records and lobbying laws, requiring more thorough and frequent disclosure of its job-creation activities, and returning the state auditor's authority to review JobsOhio's private books.
"This is not one of these small details where we have the luxury of not being absolutely on our A game, and we haven't been," he said at a news conference. "If JobsOhio's a success story, they should be proud to tell it. The fact that they're not is leading to, I think, well-deserved skepticism among citizens and other people in Ohio."
Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said FitzGerald's criticisms of Kasich's economic development strategy are hollow.
"This man's job creation efforts have flopped so badly that for the last three months he's been responsible for the worst local economy in the nation and his own job creation agency can only find 32 jobs that it's created," Nichols said. "And yet he thinks that qualifies him to give advice on how to run a jobs creation agency? It'd be hard to make something up that sounds sillier."
FitzGerald's proposal follows legal and conflict-of-interest questions facing JobsOhio after news reports that state economic help went to companies in which members of the JobsOhio board have financial interests and state tax incentives went to subsidiaries of Worthington Industries as Kasich was receiving deferred compensation from his time as a member of its board of directors.
An ethics review requested by FitzGerald on both issues was swiftly rejected by the Ohio Ethics Commission, which said lawmakers had exempted JobsOhio from such a probe.
JobsOhio is funded through the sale of bonds backed by 25 years of state liquor proceeds. Agency officials say the money generated through sale of those bonds is no longer public but private money. Ohio Auditor Dave Yost was driven to subpoena JobsOhio's private books to conduct a state audit. State legislators have since shielded the records from future audits.
JobsOhio spokeswoman Laura Jones said the agency is already meeting stringent transparency and accountability standards.
"I think that in this situation, Mr. Fitzgerald is simply unaware that almost everything he is calling for is already being done," she said.
JobsOhio board members are prohibited from seeking employment at businesses that receive state incentives, must file financial disclosure statements with the Ethics Commission, and it reports certain tax and performance data that state agencies don't.
FitzGerald's proposal came as the Ohio Republican Party plans to file an elections complaint Tuesday, alleging FitzGerald failed to properly refund an improper campaign contribution from a banker he nominated to a county economic development fund.
FitzGerald said a delay in returning the contribution does not represent corruption.
FitzGerald received the $1,000 contribution from banker J.W. Sean Dorsey, a week after making the nomination. But campaign finance guidelines FitzGerald implemented prohibit donations from a politician's appointees. Republicans and FitzGerald have asked the county watchdog to determine whether FitzGerald's receipt and failure to promptly report Dorsey's donation violated the county law.