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Senate Approves S.B. 239 to Improve Accountability, Transparency of Council of Government Organizations
Columbus – Legislation approved by the Ohio Senate today to improve accountability of Council of Governments (COGs) will give the Ohio Auditor of State new power to force the consortiums to make their existence known.
Under current law, COGs are required to notify the Auditor’s office of their existence and submit their bylaws but frequently do not do so because there is no enforcement mechanism. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Matt Dolan, R-Chagrin Falls, would prohibit a COG from taking any legally binding action, other than formation, until it notifies the state Auditor of its existence.
The new requirements would further strengthen changes Auditor Dave Yost championed in 2012 to better regulate COGs. While the Auditor’s office is responsible for auditing these consortiums, some have operated without the office’s knowledge because there was no penalty for failure to notify the state of their existence.
“This is an overdue improvement to state law,” Auditor Yost said. “We can’t audit what we can’t see. This legislation would force all COGs to come out from the shadows and operate under the light of day.”
In addition to prohibiting the COG from taking legally binding action prior to notifying the Auditor’s office, the bill also prevents officers from asserting the trade secret exception to the public records act to avoid disclosure of public documents (such as the names of the member government entities). S.B. 239 also prevents officers and employees of a COG from asserting sovereign immunity when they are not public officials and are operating the enterprise, should they commit an ethics violation due to their participation or relationship with the COG. The legislation also would make COG members who are not public officials subject to Ohio’s Ethics laws, but not the financial disclosure provisions of the ethics laws.
“On behalf of all Ohioans who believe transparency is required of government, I thank Senator Dolan for his work on this important issue,” Auditor Yost said.
COGs are groups of governmental entities that form a council to achieve various objectives, such as regional planning, coordination, technical assistance or joint purchasing.
The Auditor of State’s office, one of five independently elected statewide offices in Ohio, is responsible for auditing more than 5,900 state and local government agencies. Under the direction of Auditor Dave Yost, the office also provides financial services to local governments, investigates and prevents fraud in public agencies and promotes transparency in government.