Don’t Keep Loan Details Secret

Ohio state Auditor Dave Yost is right to wonder why a panel seeking repayment of a $5 million government loan is shutting his office out of the process. After all, as William Owen, chief legal counsel for Yost’s office, put it, “When public money goes to private institutions, our job is to determine that the money was spent on the right things.”

That may not have been the case with the $5 million loan to a solar energy company in Perrysburg. The state Air Quality Development Authority provided the money to the Willard & Kelsey Solar Group, which also got $5 million from the state Department of Development.

Willard & Kelsey has missed several payments on the authority loan. Both it and the other $5 million are supposed to be paid by Sept. 30.

As far as spending the money “on the right things,” that is questionable. According to a published report, Willard & Kelsey spent $1.4 million on payments for company officials and bought airline tickets and furniture for their family members. Meanwhile, it fell far short of the 450 jobs the firm pledged to provide; at last report, 32 people worked there.

Concern among Air Quality Development Authority officials about the loan is understandable, then. But the panel has refused to provide Yost’s office with financial information and barred his representatives from attending a closed-door meeting last week. An authority member claimed it “would be unfair to the company” for information about its finances to be disclosed.

Perhaps so – were the information to leak to the public. Again, however, it is the auditor’s job to review such information and act as a watchdog for taxpayers.

Why are authority members trying to keep information about what seems to have been a bad deal for taxpayers secret? At some point soon, Ohioans should demand full disclosure concerning the deal.