• Tue. Nov 29th, 2022

Lieutenant Governor Husted: Outside work on a bank board is educational

ByChad J. Johnson

Jul 1, 2022

Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted said Thursday that a controversial job he took on the board of directors of a community bank was highly educational and would pay around $20,000 a year.

Husted’s decision to serve on the board of Heartland Bank sparked controversy when she went public last month for at least two reasons: His office would initially not disclose how much the gig paid, and it could be a conflict of interest because the governor’s office controls the state agency that regulates banks.

Just after chairing an InnovateOhio meeting on Thursday, the lieutenant governor shed some light on the first question. He said he was elected to the Heartland board after investing in the bank and only plans to serve for a few years.

“Compensation is based on my level of participation,” Husted said. “So there’s no set compensation, but it will be…probably around $20,000.”

Others criticized him for accepting outside work in addition to his duties as lieutenant governor and head of InnovateOhio, which together pay $176,000 per year. But Husted said his work on the Heartland board helps him with his other duties.

“What you do in a community bank are very micro issues,” he said. “It’s loans for people’s cars, it’s farmers who borrow money, it’s restaurants and businesses that need capital. It’s a great opportunity for me to learn all of this, and for many years it’s something I’ve wanted to do, but never really been able to prioritize.

He added: “I only intend to do it for a few years to gain experience, to understand, and that’s why I did it. I think it’s a great educational experience and would recommend it to any decision maker.

However, there remain questions about possible conflicts of interest — possibilities that are not unique to Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration.

The person DeWine appoints to chair the Public Utilities Commission took $4.3 million from a utility, then helped draft a law for the benefit of the utility which federal prosecutors say was part of what was probably the biggest corruption and money laundering scandal in Ohio history.

DeWine himself owns stock in a company that is about to get a $2 billion incentive package of the state, but refuse to say how much he owns.

His son, Ohio Supreme Court Justice Pat DeWine, refuses to recuse himself from a case in which his father and other Republicans on the Ohio Redistricting Commission passed legislative maps that a The court’s bipartisan majority has repeatedly ruled it unconstitutional. Although ethics experts say they have a clear conflict of interestPat DeWine voted to support her father’s cards.

And the person DeWine named to head the Ohio Department of Medicaid declined to disclose how many shares she owned in two health care companies as she awarded them billion dollar contracts.

Despite those controversies, Husted said Thursday that the administration is deeply concerned about compliance with the law.

“Before I (taking a seat on the board of Heartland Bank) I checked to make sure we were following all ethics laws, that I knew what I might be involved in and couldn’t be involved and we are certainly following everything under the law to the letter,” he said.

Asked about the potential for conflicts of interest, Husted repeated that he would recuse himself from any activity involving the bank.

“It’s the only company in Ohio that the lieutenant governor can’t help in any way,” he said. “I’m proud to help create a great business environment in this state, but it’s a business I can’t help. I can’t be involved in what they do and it’s legal.

But that ignores the potential for another unspoken conflict.

A big part of Heartland’s game plan is to grow, in part through mergers and acquisitions.

“Heartland’s continued growth strategy over the past few years has focused on both organic expansion and strategic acquisitions,” Chairman and CEO G. Scott McComb said in a 2019 Press release announcing its acquisition of Victory Bank, located in Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.

Such movements must be approved by the Financial Institutions Division of the Ohio Department of Commerce – an agency whose director is appointed by the governor.

Husted was asked twice if anyone in the agency that regulates Heartland is unlikely to know that administration official No. 2 DeWine is also a member of Heartland’s board of directors. He did not respond directly.

“They don’t respond to me, they respond to the governor and I can tell you that the governor of this state and the lieutenant governor of this state want people to follow the law to the ‘T’,” Husted said.

Follow the OCJ journalist Marty Schladen on Twitter.

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