COLUMBUS — “I’ve unmade a lot of friends in the last couple of weeks.”
The comment from Ohio Auditor Dave Yost drew subdued laughter Monday from fellow auditors, accountants, and fraud investigators as he tried to make a point about the importance of asking tough questions of colleagues seeking sensitive information.
Even as he was negotiating with Gov. John Kasich’s administration and JobsOhio, his GOP colleagues last week pulled an end-run around him to undermine his efforts to audit what he deems to be public funds used by the private non-profit economic development corporation. The bill is awaiting Mr. Kasich’s signature.
“I think there are a few Republicans who are disappointed with me,” he told reporters after addressing the annual fraud investigation and prevention conference about his audit into Columbus City Schools’ scrubbing of student attendance records.
Mr. Yost believed that the profits from the taxpayer-owned liquor system that JobsOhio has leased to underwrite its job-creation efforts are public funds subject to his audit, but lawmakers have said they are not.
The auditor said he has not thought about trying to challenge the law in court.
“The same people who sent me to do this job also elected the General Assembly to determine what the law is, what it should be,” he said. “... My job is to carry out the law, not to determine what it is or what it should be.”
He made it clear he was not clued into what the House planned before the amendment was slipped into an otherwise uncontroversial Senate bill and swiftly sent back to the Senate for a rubber stamp. Republicans rejected his request for a day to give him time to weigh in.
The bill does give the auditor a role in helping to select the independent, private accounting firm that JobsOhio will hire to perform its annual financial audits.
“If there are co-mingled funds, the auditor gets to audit co-mingle funds,” Senate President Keith Faber (R., Celina) said last week. “The auditor doesn’t get to audit private money, and that’s the big distinction here.“
Mr. Yost said talks with the Kasich administration and JobsOhio never settled whether the liquor profits are public funds. “We had found areas of common ground that we were continuing to discuss when this legislation came up,” he said.
Mr. Yost only mentioned the Columbus district in his speech about school-attendance scrubbing.
Toledo Public Schools was among nine districts determined to have manipulated attendance data on state report cards. After the Columbus scheme made headlines, Toledo volunteered that it had unenrolled chronically absent students and re-enrolled them, a move that “scrubbed” their information from attendance data reported to the state.
TPS contends that the practice, now halted, was well known and that it had sought guidance from the state education department.
The investigation in Columbus has gone beyond the issue of data manipulation to the changing of grades to allow failing students to graduate.
“I have said that Columbus seems to be in type and scope far away different than the other districts we’ve dealt with,” he said.
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.