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Travel, entertainment at issue for JobsOhio board

- Associated Press - Thursday, February 3, 2011

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An apparent loophole in legislation creating Ohio Gov. John Kasich's new semi-private job-creation board could allow panel members to take job-seeking trips paid for by corporations without having to report them to the public.

The bill establishing JobsOhio requires that only "actual expenditures" on travel, meals or lodging be reported. That phrasing would seem to exclude plane rides, dinners and hotel rooms that companies may offer to Kasich's economic development team as they seek to bring jobs to Ohio.

The legislation approved by the Ohio House this week and sent to the Senate exempts designated public employees on JobsOhio business from state conflict-of-interest and other laws restricting gifts of travel, food, drinks and lodging. It appears Kasich, who would chair JobsOhio, would still have to report those gifts, but others may not.

Columbus lobbyist Robert Klaffky, a Kasich confidante who helped research and draft the bill, told The Associated Press he believed its intent was for corporate-paid entertainment expenses to be included in a yearly summary of JobsOhio activity. He conceded the wording requiring only "actual expenses" to be reported may not achieve that goal.

A spokesman for Kasich did not offer immediate comment.

The loophole is only the latest accountability concern to arise for JobsOhio. The nine-member board would be chaired by Kasich and its remaining eight members would be hired and fired by him at will under a yet-to-be-determined arrangement with the Ohio Department of Development.

The Ohio Ethics Commission scheduled a meeting Thursday to review the bill, which contains broad exemptions from public records, open meetings, ethics and collective bargaining laws.

After a change added in the Republican-led House, the state watchdog will now have authority to investigate JobsOhio's activities — but only if a complaint is filed. The state auditor also has authority to audit public funds that come through the board.

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