COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Ohio’s governor and other statewide officials would be barred from accepting outside compensation from private employers, including those seeking state funds, under a proposal introduced Tuesday by two House Democrats.
State Reps. Ron Gerberry, of Austintown, and Nick Celebrezze, of Parma, said the bill was intended to protect officeholders from undue influence or the appearance of improper business ties. The officeholders would still be allowed to collect their state salaries and any pension and retirement payments.
“This, if anything, protects the government,” Celebrezze said. “It protects our officeholders and it protects elected officials, but most of all it protects our constituents.”
The legislation comes amid concerns over job-creation tax credits that Republican Gov. John Kasich’s administration has awarded to two subsidiaries of Worthington Industries over the past two years – as Kasich still was reporting deferred compensation payments from his time on the firm’s board of directors.
Gerberry said the bill’s sponsors would like to see such payments held in a blind trust until the official leaves public office – as former Vice President Dick Cheney did with his private sector compensation when he took office.
“That is the appropriate way that statewide officials should act,” he said.
Kasich received about $611,000 in salary payments during his decade on the Worthington Industries board. He severed all ties to the company after winning the 2010 election. The final salary installment came in fiscal year 2011, according to the company’s federal business filings.
Kasich’s chief counsel told the Ohio Ethics Commission in a letter last week that the deferred compensation was distributed through an agreement struck in 2008, well before Kasich was governor.
Commission Chairman Merom Brachman said the panel saw no reason to investigate Kasich. He said the compensation appeared appropriate and the governor’s financial disclosure statements were thorough.
Combined tax breaks to the central Ohio steel processor’s subsidiaries worth roughly $619,000 are contingent on meeting job-creation promises. They were approved by a state tax board dominated by Kasich appointees. The deals were recommended by JobsOhio, a privatized economic development board championed and appointed by Kasich.
Gerberry and Celebrezze said the bill was not intended as an attack on Kasich or on JobsOhio.
“As we all know, we both from counties that have unfortunately at times been used to pay-to-play politics,” Celebrezze said, “and this is just another step to restore the faith in our constituents that government is doing the right thing.”
He was referring to Cuyahoga and Mahoning counties, where governments are coming back from sweeping corruption probes that led to multiple convictions of public officials and others.
A message seeking comment on the bill was left with Kasich’s spokesman.
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