10 Investigates uncovered questions about trips taken by the Ohio Department of Education superintendent and his staff, 10 Investigates’ Paul Aker reported on Thursday.
ODE Superintendent Stan Heffner and his staff took trips for work on behalf of two educational organizations operated by the American Institute for Research (AIR).
AIR has been paid $203 million in education-related services since 2009, according the Department of Administrative Services 10 Investigates’ Paul Aker reported.
Documents obtained by 10 Investigates shows that AIR officials cut the “actual reimbursement checks” for the trips.
According to the Ohio Ethics Commission, public officials should not take anything of significant value from the companies with which they do state business.
Catherine Turcer of the government watchdog group Common Cause said the payments raise suspicion.
“It certainly makes you wonder what is going on over at the Department of Education,” Turcer said.
Turcer said that there is a big problem with accepting money from contractors.
“We really don’t want even the appearance of quid pro quo, meaning giving something, expecting something from a government official, expecting they get something back,” Turcer said.
Heffner’s ethics disclosure statements shows that he received at least $1,500 worth of travel and lodging for three trips in 2011. According to Heffner’s spokesman, the trips were taken to Chicago and possibly Minneapolis.
The Ohio Department of Education said that the total received by AIR for all staff was more than $9,800, Aker reported.
In April, an ODE attorney filed a letter seeking an opinion from the ethics commission about the situation. The attorney also said that, “Due to the current uncertainty regarding whether it was actually proper for Superintendent Heffner and ODE staff to accept the reimbursement from the AIR affiliates, I have recommended (disclosure). In addition, ODE will begin reimbursing the AIR affiliates.”
“The letter raises so many questions,” Turcer said. “It raises more questions than it answers. So, what we need now is answers. So, we need these folks to (tell) Ohioans what’s going on.”
ODE spokesman Patrick Gallaway said that the department made the reimbursement on June 20, shortly after 10 Investigates first interviewed ODE officials about the issue.
An ODE spokesman defended the department and said that it voluntarily disclosed the travel and asked for an opinion about whether it was proper from the Ohio Ethics Commission, Aker reported.
Ethics commissions representatives declined to comment while it reviewed the issue.
Heffner also declined an interview with 10 Investigates.
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