Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com

Oct 12, 2018

The job of Ohio treasurer cuts something less than a prominent profile. The treasurer serves as the state’s banker and investment manager. Josh Mandel, who has held the office the past eight years and now faces term limits, has brought more attention to the job, though not always in a flattering way. One good thing he has achieved is the Open Checkbook, state spending online for the public to see.

In this campaign season, the two candidates vying to be his successor have pledged to do more with the Open Checkbook and outlined other expanded ambitions for the office. How much could Rob Richardson or Robert Sprague accomplish? The treasurer’s post hardly has been designed as a policy shop. What is encouraging is seeing two well-qualified candidates thinking about how to deploy the office in new ways to serve Ohioans.

That said, one candidate does make the stronger case. We recommend the election of Robert Sprague on Nov. 6.

Sprague currently is serving his third term in the Ohio House. The Findlay Republican has been a valuable contributor to the Finance Committee and took the lead in chairing the Heroin, Opioids, Prevention, Education and Safety Task Force. He knows the operations of state government.

More, the background he brings to the Statehouse makes him a solid fit in the treasurer’s office. After gaining a mechanical engineering degree at Duke, he entered the problem-solving work of a management consultant for Ernst & Young in Atlanta. He eventually founded his own investment consulting firm. After he sold to a partner, he returned to Findlay with his family.

Once there, Sprague served as city treasurer and then auditor, helping in the recovery from a devastating flood and in navigating rough patches for local companies. Next came the legislature, and now he has big ideas for the treasurer’s office.

Sprague would add a “smart” element to the Open Checkbook, allowing for comparisons across agencies and benchmarking of spending. Most notably, he would explore the use of “social impact bonds,” a funding mechanism for private-public partnerships to solve problems, the state paying for improved social outcomes that result in public savings.

If the project flops, the state would be off the hook. The idea is to take advantage of private sector innovation. Yet what makes Sprague the better choice is his experience, know-how and track record in the nuts and bolts of the treasurer’s work.

Rob Richardson knows sophisticated financing, too. The Cincinnati Democrat is a securities litigation attorney. He gained his engineering and law degrees at the University of Cincinnati. In 2008, he returned to the university as a trustee, with time as board president, helping lead the school in difficult and productive periods.

Richardson sees the treasurer’s office as a vehicle for holding the powerful accountable and expanding opportunity to improve lives. The former involves increased transparency about the flow of public money, say, to private prison firms or for-profit charter schools. The latter translates to seeking ways to ease the burden of student debt.

Both pursuits would push the boundaries of the office. The difference in this race is that Robert Sprague has the greater preparation for the full range of the job.