Thursday, February 17, 2011

Opinion: Newspapers' criticism of JobsOhio falls flat

The Department of Development is currently the public agency responsible for business and industry development in Ohio. Incoming Governor John Kasich has a new proposal called "JobsOhio" which would scrap the current Department of Development and replace it with a public-private partnership where private CEOs and business leaders (not bureacrats) would drive the ship of business/industry development. JobsOhio is well on its way to becoming a reality after passing both houses of the Ohio Legislature earlier this week.

Along the way, though, members of Ohio's newspaper community have complained that the private nature of JobsOhio would keep some records from the public's view. The editorial board of the Lancaster Gazette recently commented: "We're strong believers in the importance of public records laws to allow for the people of Ohio to watch over what government does with their money." A columnist for Eaton's Register Herald wrote: "Much of their paperwork won't be seen. Records that the department and JobsOhio do not designate as public would remain closed, regardless of who has custody of them." And The Ohio Newspaper Association's current convention newsletter has an article titled "New Bill at Odds With Sunshine Laws," and the issue will clearly be front and center at their upcoming convention.

But how well has the media covered the Department of Development recently? If the media have been thoroughly and aggressively covering the Department of Development, then you - the public - should know all about it, right? So who was the last director of the Department of Development before John Kasich became governor? How many directors served in the last administration? Were there any controversies of note? Can you answer these questions?

During the prior administration, Lieutenant Governor Lee Fisher originally took the job as director of the Department of Development. But Fisher resigned his post in February 2009 in order to pursue his ambition of becoming a U.S. Senator. A man named Mark Barbash was named interim director in February 2009. Barbash lasted only three months and resigned in May 2009 when it was discovered that he owed the I.R.S. over $146,000 in back taxes. Barbash's replacement, a 44-year-old veteran of the office, did not become the permanent director until September of 2009. During this period of chaos (specifically the summer of 2009), DHL closed its operations in Wilmington, Ohio, and NCR announced that it would move its headquarters from Dayton to Georgia - costing thousands of jobs to the people of the Miami Valley.

The Ohio newspaper community covered the news events above, but just barely (did you know Mark Barbash's name before reading this story?). And there was very little effort to delve into any connection between the chaos in the Department of Development and the massive loss of jobs during this same period of time.

The newspapers are now - suddenly - very interested in getting their hands on documents under the new administration. But the loss of DHL and NCR is still, to this day, a very relevant story to the people of the Miami Valley. The newspapers could still cover this story ... still request documents (they're still there) ... and find out what happened during this critical period of time. But our current print media would rather ignore the real story and focus on another hypothetical unknown story of the future. The newspapers have collectively dropped the ball on the Department of Development by failing to follow up when a legitimate scandal occurred - and their sudden interest in the aggressive pursuit of documents stinks of something other than hard news reporting.


  1. I think you're missing the point. The Sunshine Laws are are for all citizens. With the decline of print media, it is more important than ever that citizens have access to public records -- and information about how our tax dollars are being spent.

  2. I don't have a problem with YOU defending the sunshine laws and access to information. I'm saying that it's pathetic for the newspapers to now be making this point after failing to to their job and report on the DOD for the past several years.


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