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Concerns raised over Ohio disclosure exemptions

Associated Press

DAYTON: Some kinds of public officials in Ohio are exempt from financial disclosure rules, raising concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

The Dayton Daily News reports that nearly half of the Ohio Ethics Commission’s caseload stems from possible conflicts between duties and personal business interests. Township trustees and charter schools don’t have to file financial disclosure forms, although they accounted for nearly a fourth of 185 cases handled by the commission this year.

State Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, has promoted legislation to apply the same disclosure rules to townships that city officials have.

“I think that it would make sense if you apply one standard, you apply it across the board,” Lehner said.

She said given the Daily News’ findings on ethics cases, charter schools should be included, too.

But groups representing townships and charter schools say the disclosures are unnecessary and intrusive, and could make it tougher to attract officials.

“People are going to say it’s not worth it, if I have to disclose who I owe money to, who owes me money, who holds my mortgage, what my investments are,” said Matt DeTemple, director of the Ohio Townships Association.

He said there are small townships that already have a difficult time attracting people to run for trustees, and are scraping to provide road maintenance and other township services.

“There’s not a lot of wining and dining that goes on at that level,” DeTemple said.

More than a third of Ohioans live in one of the state’s 1,308 township governments, according to the association.

Lehner has tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation requiring financial disclosure for officials in townships with more than 5,000 people. Some large townships have multi-million-dollar budgets.

“I just can’t find a rational reason why you would exempt this group of public officials,” she said.

The Daily News reported there have been occasional ethics findings against township officials, such as one in southwest Ohio last year for a township official charged with steering hundreds of thousands of dollars in business to his son’s engineering firm.

The newspaper reported there also have conflict charges against some charter school officials.

Ron Adler, president of the charter school advocacy group Ohio Coalition for Quality Education, said there could be more screening of new charter schools, but “I don’t think you should keep raising the bar for everybody else that’s been doing things right over the years.”

Ohio Ethics Commission executive director Paul Nick supports expanding the disclosure requirements, saying they inform the public and can head off potential conflicts of interest.


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