A complaint filed in December with the Ohio Inspector General’s Office has been forwarded to the Ohio Ethics Commission, a government watchdog group that investigates inappropriate and unethical behavior.
It alleges that C. Todd Jones, a State Board of Education member and lobbyist, “clearly has conflicts of interest.”
The complaint, which Sarah Roberts of Vandalia originally filed Dec. 21, draws on recent media reports, Ohio law and details from state school board meetings. She indicates that the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio (AICUO) has employed Jones to lobby on its behalf.
Jones is the president and general counsel of the association. In May, he commended the Senate Finance Committee for its efforts to work with the association in developing dual-enrollment options for high school students to take college courses.
These courses, Roberts writes, benefit students by offering college credit in advance of high school graduation. “These programs also benefit members of AICUO,” Roberts continued. “To avoid a conflict of interest, as a member of the state Board of Education (BOE), Mr. Jones should not have standing in any writing of or voting on BOE policy regarding these programs.”
Jones’ organization has an interest in post-secondary education, a program that allows high school students to also take college-level classes, earning dual credit for high school graduation and toward a college degree. Local tax dollars from the school district pay for the courses.
While serving on the state board, Jones has filed disclosure statements and has been quoted publicly as lobbying for post-secondary programming and funding, but said his organization hired another lobbyist last spring to take that off his plate to avoid direct conflicts.
Jones noted in a Beacon Journal interview, however, that the subject came up in a meeting with the governor’s office over the summer.
The Beacon Journal made public records requests of the governor’s office and the Ohio Department of Education on Dec. 10, seeking communications between Jones and state officials to determine if he had discussed his organization’s interests. Both the governor’s office and department rejected the Beacon Journal’s requests for records, saying they were too broad.
The Beacon Journal submitted a revised request and asked for clarification Dec. 24. No records have been provided, although one official — an attorney in the governor’s office — said he would look into the revised records request.
In addition, the Beacon Journal reviewed minutes and recordings of state school board meetings from 2013 and found that Jones attended a meeting of the Capacity Committee, to which he did not belong. The topic of discussion was post-secondary education. However, it cannot be determined what, if anything, Jones said because the committee met in a room with no recording devices, and minutes do not reflect detailed conversation.
Jones is the chair of the state school board’s Achievement Committee, which provides guidance for gifted programming, including dual-enrollment options for high school students to attend public or private colleges.
In November, Jones presented an updated draft of rules and standards for gifted education, again including programs that financially benefit colleges and universities. Language in that draft was created by Jones, who told the state school board on Tuesday that he used his home computer to draft much of the additional language.
At the same time, Jones’ employer — the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Ohio — was working with the Ohio Board of Regents to create a “College Credit Plus Program,” which would address dual enrollment.
Phone messages left with Jones on Thursday were not immediately returned.
Roberts asserts that Jones has “suppressed committee votes” regarding dual enrollment and gifted education, as well as provided “questionable information” and has used “intimidation as a tactic to silence Board members and others with who he disagrees.”
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.