Just when it seems like so many good things are happening - from the recent summer-like weather to the NCAA madness of four Ohio schools marching to the Sweet Sixteen to the start of an amazing Cleveland International Film Fest - someone had to rain on the parade (which itself was a standout moment on St. Patrick's Day).

The culprit? Don't laugh, okay? Just please, promise not to laugh and stick with me.

Integrity.

(I hear you laughing - just so you know.)

I know, I know - me? Have surprise? That something involving integrity might rain on an Ohio - a Northeast Ohio no less - parade?

Yeah, I am surprised.  Not so much in the "noooo! that cannot BE!?" way of being surprised. But more in the, "You have GOT to be kidding me - the hits just keep coming, don't they!?" way of being surprised.

And really, as in, "Why can't improvement just. take. hold. Like, for real, like across everything? Just once?"

So let me step back for a minute and explain the rain:

First, on March 12, State Auditor Dave Yost issued a press release signaling a disappointment in the public records request response rate across the state. From his press release:

“The good news is, 6 out of 10 cities responded to our request within the reasonable time we specified,” Auditor Yost said. “Many of them did it in only one or two days, several even the same day.

“The bad news is, far too many cities failed timely response. A very few failed to respond at all, despite three additional requests.”

More importantly, for those of us who seek to enhance and increase civic participation, the auditor points out this:

“Those reporters made their requests [in a 2004] as members of the public, in order to test the system,” Yost said. “Within the reasonable time, we were only 10 points better than 2004, and we asked as the Auditor of State. If my office gets only 60 percent, what is the response rate for a lone citizen?”

Darn tootin'. What is the response rate for a lone citizen - nevermind journalists or people with a state auditor's letterhead?

So that was strike one against Better Days.

Strike two came when the the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (or PIRG) gave Ohio a "D" grade for transparency of spending information made available to the public online.  Lovely (and this is something I work to champion as a city council member all the time).  Where do we go wrong? From the Marietta Times:

According to the report, many of those points were lost because Ohio has failed to keep up with other states in making online spending information available and easily accessible down to the "checkbook level."

...

The U.S. PIRG report also noted Ohio lost some points after removing online information about how the state's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds were being spent.

That removal was challenged but to no avail.

This week, strike three was thrown: The Center for Public Integrity is involved in a project called State Integrity Investigation (in collaboration with Global Integrity and Public Radio International). On Monday, we learned that Ohio received an overall grade of "D" for its anti-corruption efforts (or lack thereof, apparently).  You can read the full monty post from the investigation here. It's not happy reading at all and everything you'd expect to be in there is.  In sum, they write:

Ohio‘s citizens – a population now estimated at 11.5 million —  have no shortage of ethics laws to help protect them, including financial disclosure requirements and whistleblower safeguards.  But Ohio has a history of state officials violating them – most notably the campaign finance law and a requirement to disclose meals, lodging or gifts worth more than $75.

And although reform of the system has been attempted, it hasn’t always played out as it was intended.

Tell us something we don't know. For example, tell us how we can do better - how to get our electeds to do better in particular.  Making an example of them and sending them off to jail - whether it's Tom Noe or Jimmy Dimora - isn't enough. 

Before you think this can't be done, take note of which state got the best grade - New Jersey. Yes, New Jersey. And here's why, according to the report:

Yes, Gov. Chris Christie made his reputation by busting more than 100 public officials when he was a U.S. Attorney in the state. And yes, at least five state legislators have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to official misconduct since 2004. And yes, others were investigated for lesser misdeeds or resigned before being charged.

There was also a string of costly procurement debacles involving the motor vehicle inspection program, implementation of a toll road payment system and state-funded school construction.

But thanks largely to these moral missteps and hard work by good-government groups and legislators, New Jersey now has some of the toughest ethics and anti-corruption laws in the nation. The Garden State ranks first in the integrity probe for ethics enforcement, first for executive branch accountability and fourth for procurement practices.

With all the points made at the beginning of this post as to why, in so many ways, Ohio is doing better, and so many more that we document at the Civic Commons in blog posts, on the radio show and in conversations, we know Ohioans do care. But certain people somewhere aren't carrying through on their end of the deal. And we need to do better in making them know that it matters to us that they hold up their end.

It's another gorgeous day outside, in Ohio. Let's make the insides of Ohio just as gorgeous.

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Copyright © 2012 Jill Miller Zimon; available under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

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