COLUMBUS- The American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio expressed disappointment today regarding the lack of transparency and accountability measures in Ohio House Bill 1, which would privatize the state’s Department of Development. Under the legislation, JobsOhio would be allowed to operate secretly, with only quarterly public meetings. The legislation also exempts the organization from parts of state public records laws. The limited records it is required to disclose would only be released annually and not subject to immediate records requests.
“Government should be run efficiently, but not at the expense of the public’s right to know,” said ACLU of Ohio Executive Director Christine Link. “The state’s work on business development is unquestionably significant, and deserves to be scrutinized by government watchdogs, the media, and others.”
In addition to transparency concerns, the bill would also provide exceptions to parts of state ethics and lobbying laws. It would also prevent the state Inspector General from investigating potential wrongdoing by members of JobsOhio.
“Officials have a duty to ensure the public’s resources are spent wisely and ethically. It is nearly impossible to guard against corruption when agencies are permitted to work in secret and are immune from independent investigation,” added Link. “Proponents have trumpeted the need for speed in business, but they have a higher duty to be responsive to the public. Releasing only a few superficial details in an annual report is simply unacceptable.”
The Ohio House State Government Committee began hearings on the legislation on January 25, which was the first day the bill was available to the public. Leaders in the Ohio General Assembly have indicated they expect H.B. 1 to be voted on quickly.
“The state’s economic woes are indeed troubling, but we cannot ram legislation through without a vigorous public debate,” Link concluded. “Attempts to lock the public out of any government business ultimately create a cloud of suspicion and will tarnish any work done by the agency.”