COLUMBUS- Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio testified before the House State Government and Elections Committee on House Bill 489, which would create additional loopholes in open meetings and public records laws. HB 489 is a follow up to a 2011 law that established JobsOhio, a non-profit organization that replaced the former Ohio Department of Development. Government watchdogs warned legislators when JobsOhio was created that it was largely exempt from public accountability.
“Ohio legislators have a simple choice: transparency or secrecy,” said ACLU of Ohio Associate Director Gary Daniels. ”JobsOhio is already exempt from far too many public records and open meetings laws. Taxpayers are entrusting millions of dollars to this organization, and yet we cannot get equal access to the same records we would expect from our schools, Governor, or city councils.”
Under current law, JobsOhio is exempt from nearly all of Ohio’s public records and open meetings laws, except for a few limited items. In addition, documents that JobsOhio creates or receives that are in the possession of other government agents are also exempt from public records requests. HB 489 goes an additional step by reinforcing the exemptions and stating that JobsOhio would also be exempt from a section of state law requiring non-profit organizations performing government work disclose financial records.
“Perhaps most troubling is that JobsOhio would be insulated in several layers of secrecy by allowing government officials to avoid public records requests as well,” said Daniels. “JobsOhio will be buried so deep, it may be impossible for the public to ever truly know what it is doing and how their money is being used.”
“In the wrong hands, JobsOhio could be ground zero for unchecked corruption and abuse. The scandals that embroiled state government in the early and mid-2000s should remind legislators that sunshine is the only remedy for dishonesty. Without vigorous public accountability measures, it is only a question of when—not if—there will be misuse of taxpayer money,” concluded Daniels. “