Recently, two new bills were introduced to make significant revision to JobsOhio. There is a lot to dislike about these bills and JobOhio; our position on JobOhio has always been pretty clearly against.
Hidden within the Legislation is an exception to Ohio public records laws for records created or received by JobsOhio. The proposed provision would exclude from Ohio’s Public Records Laws any “Records created or received by” JobsOhio, “regardless of who may have custody of the records . . .”
This would significantly limit the scope of the information about JobOhio that is subject to Ohio public records laws.
Under current law only certain records of JobsOhio and its contracts are deemed public records. The proposed law would extend that exclusion to every other part of state government.
What does this mean in practical terms? Consider the following: A Governor’s Office Staff Member sends an email to JobsOhio stating, “Please consider providing funding to Company X. The CEO of Company X just made a large donation to the campaign.”
Under current law, while a public records request to JobsOhio for this email would likely be denied, a public records request to the Governor’s Office would reveal this email. Under the new law, the email would be exempt from disclosure because this would be a record “received” by JobsOhio.
The proposed exception to the Public Records Law for JobsOhio would seem to exempt any record in any state agency dealing with JobsOhio from public scrutiny, so long as the record is sent to or from JobsOhio. This means everything, including environmental reports, proposals from the Department of Transportation . . . you get the idea.
The most troubling aspect is that Kasich administration officials, cabinet members, legislators would all be able to lobby and push projects to JobsOhio outside of any public scrutiny. This creates a huge loophole in the public records laws that will allow lobbyists to inject (more) money and politics into the decisions made by JobsOhio.
Everyone in Ohio – progressives, moderates, and conservatives – should be alarmed at this development. Last year even the Columbus Dispatch noted that public records requests have been denied by the Kasich administration as “overbroad.”
The Ohio Public Records laws are predicated on the principal that that government records belong to the people. The Public Records laws have historically been applied to not only all governmental officials and agencies – from local dog catcher all the way to the Governor – but also private entities that are the substantial equivalent of public institutions, and other persons responsible for public records.
The proposed changes to JobsOhio turn this principal on its head. The statute is written to blatantly sidestep the public’s right to know exactly how JobsOhio operates. That is a bad idea.