The state spent more than $342,000 in 2011 for staff, maintenance and repairs at the Ohio Governor's Mansion despite Gov. John Kasich not living there.
The figures don't include security costs for the mansion or Kasich's private home in Genoa Township because the state refused to release them citing security concerns, Watchdog10's Kurt Ludlow reported.
The 25-room, Tudor-style Bexley mansion has served as the official home of Ohio's governor since 1957 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
According to records obtained by Watchdog10, three fulltime staff members work at the Governor's Mansion, conducting tours and managing the day-to-day operations. Two others who work for First Lady Karen Kasich also have offices there.
Since April 2011, there have been 255 events at the residence, Ludlow reported. While 8 percent were political in nature, 22 percent of them were tours. Thirty percent of the events were redacted by Kasich's lawyers, leaving Ohioans with no idea of what happened inside the house taxpayers helped fund.
Henry Eckhart, an attorney with Common Cause, a non-partisan advocacy group, said the high number of redactions bring up questions about transparency.
"Private hideaway is what they're using it for," Eckhart said.
Eckhart accused Kasich of using the residence to hold secret meetings, something the administration does not necessarily deny.
In a letter to Watchdog 10, a lawyer for Kasich wrote some appointments were redacted, "because they would reveal confidential business meetings and trade secret information which, if disclosed, would seriously harm Ohio's competitive position vis-a-vis current and or potential companies who wish to do business with Ohio."
Three of the redacted meetings were un-redacted after Watchdog10 challenged them.
Kasich held meetings at the residence with Calisolar Inc., a solar manufacturer that plans a $700 million plant in Richland County. He also met with Shell Oil Co., which wants to build a petrochemical plant somewhere, and Chesapeake Energy, which is now drilling for oil and gas in Ohio.
According to Eckhart, the meetings that were un-redacted should be held at Kasich's office.
"But those people don't want to be seen in the public buildings," Eckhart said. "They want to be out there on (North) Parkview (Avenue) in this gated house that nobody can get into except the people that they let in."
A Kasich staff representative insisted to Ludlow that secret business meetings have taken place at the Governor's Mansion under Republican and Democratic administrations for years.
As Kasich pushes more Ohio services to the private sector, Eckhart said he wonders if it's time to put the Governor's Mansions into private hands.
"They want to sell the highways -- they want to sell the liquor profits -- they've gone to (The Ohio State University), wanting to sell the parking on the campus. Why don't they sell the mansion? No. They want to keep it so they can have secret little meetings with energy people," Eckhart said.
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