Secty of State: Brunner (D) Unveils "Blueprint for Business" Plan
Yesterday Secretary of State candidate Jennifer Brunner (D-Columbus) announced her five-point "Blueprint for Business" plan for "making Ohio a more efficient and welcoming place for businesses to locate and succeed." At the press conference, Brunner said:
The Office of Secretary of State should be a catalyst for improving the ease for new start-up businesses and for companies to move to Ohio. As Secretary of State, I will work with our business communities to create a business climate that makes it easier to create more jobs for Ohioans.The most striking part of the plan is undoing current Secretary of State Ken Blackwell's pernicious trick of paying for his burgeoning outsourcing of office functions by dramatically increasing filing fees (which go into special funds), so he can brag that general revenue funding for his office has decreased. That claim makes it sound like he's made the office more efficient, when the opposite is true. By making businesses pay for his increased spending, Blackwell has damaged Ohio's business environment and deceived the public. As explained by Brunner:
While the current Secretary of State touts level or decreased general revenue funding for the office in the past few years, the real story is told by looking at the increased spending by the office through these special funds. The funding for this increased spending is on the backs of business in Ohio, making it even more difficult to do business in this state and to compete against businesses from other states or nations who do not similarly share this burden.The full text of Brunner's plan, with a lot of detail on particular items like the electronic signature issue, is available in .pdf format here. In brief, the five points of the plan are:
1. Eliminate the current “one size fits all approach” to forms and filing fees by revising forms for better legal compliance, and restructuring filing and document fees to better reflect a business’ ability to pay and the urgency of the need for documents. This is where undoing Blackwell's inflated filing fees comes in, replacing them with a variable fee structure adapted to different kinds of filers.It's not reflected in the bullet points, but the full text of the plan spells out Brunner's determination to cut down the outsourcing of office functions that Blackwell loves. Here is an excerpt where Brunner details the problems with this outsourcing:
2. Support small business growth and development by providing specific, useful information in an easy-to-use online format and access to customer service technicians who can be reached by telephone, electronic mail and walk-in service. The e-mail part is a very good idea.
3. Create an International Business Relations Office, housed within the Secretary of State’s office, to facilitate and encourage international investments in Ohio. This is such an obviously good idea it's amazing that it hasn't been done before.
4. Research and determine the value of electronic signature implementation, which would allow for the use of digital signatures in electronic commerce, using a system based on stringent certification and operating standards. This is the wave of the future, and it's just the kind of thing to which our present do-nothing Republican administration is completely oblivious.
5. Create a Secretary of State’s website that is simple, secure and easy to use.
The outsourcing of business services in the Secretary of State’s office has made many business service functions less accountable to the public. No longer are state employees who must answer to the Secretary of State providing critical services to Ohio’s business customers. When things go wrong—and they have—service is slower to address business complaints, because there are more layers of people to get to the heart of the problem and address it, than when state employees are providing the services. Current and unnecessary problems that have resulted for businesses include:It may be especially skocking to me because I practiced law for a decade, but that's a nightmarish litany of incompetence, delay, and expense for a public service agency that ought run smoothly and efficiently.
§ The placement on the Secretary of State’s website of 1.2 million social security numbers in Uniform Commercial Code filings, for which a federal class action was filed to remove those numbers from the public domain.
§ Over-standardized business forms that limit language on formation documents that is required by the Ohio Corporation Law (OCL) and the Uniform Corporation Code (UCC). As a result, these standardized forms are requiring the corporate attorneys to file amendments to the formation documents in order to comply with other federal and state requirements. These amendments create additional costs to a corporation and often hinder time-sensitive business mergers and acquisitions.
§ Turnaround time for many documents has decreased to the point that to get reasonable service a corporation has to pay nearly twice the amount listed on the fee structure to expedite documents. Currently, corporations pay an additional $100 to expedite document turnaround, and the quickest time is next day. Many times same day service is necessary but not available. A graduated fee for expediting document turnaround based on time sensitivity should be examined.
Brunner's opponent, Hamilton County Clerk Greg Hartmann (R-Cincinnati), has been touting his own 20-point plan to improve the Secretary of State's office, so I checked his web site to see how his ideas stack up against Brunner's "Blueprint for Business" plan. Of Hartmann's 20 points, only four concern business services:
* Increase the online availability of forms that are filed by businesses and establish the Secretary of State’s Office as the entry point for doing business in Ohio, through an in house one-stop-shop.Not a whole lot of creativity or innovation there. As to the first point, Ohio already has a "one-stop" web portal for doing business in Ohio (called the "Ohio Business Gateway"), so I don't see how a separate "one-stop" page at the Secretary of State web site makes things more efficient. The second point is vague but okay, although I notice he didn't think of adding e-mail communication. As to the third, blogging is trendy but I don't see what a blog would add to the "Special Features" updates that already appear on the Secretary of State site. Finally, that last bit isn't an idea, it's an IOU. Nothing here about restructuring filing fees, reducing out-sourcing, helping international businesses, or technological advances like electronic signatures.
* Restructure the Secretary of State’s customer call center to achieve greater efficiency and a higher level of quality service for customers.
* Create a business blog that will be a daily resource center dedicated to updates pertinent to Ohio’s business community.
* Advocate for more timely changes to Ohio law as business technology changes.
Not much of a contest.