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Edelen Met With Knochelmann Last Week, Pair Stands Together for Airport Board Reform

Two Democrats and two Republicans stood side by side Tuesday afternoon calling for a restructuring of the Kenton County Airport Board.

Inside the Center for Advanced Manufacturing at the Boone County campus of Gateway Community & Technical College, Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen stood with Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley and Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore, a symbolic reflection what the auditor is calling for in the just-released examination of the board, a process that took nine months to complete.

All seven voting members of the Airport Board are appointed by an executive order of the Kenton County Judge-Executive. That board cooperates with an 11-member advisory board appointed by nearby governments but its members do not have voting power. That would change under Edelen's recommendations to include one board made up of 11 members appointed by Kenton County (3), Boone County (3), Campbell County (1), Kentucky (1, by governor), Ohio (1, by governor), Cincinnati (1, by mayor), and Hamilton County, Ohio (1). 

The current board triggered the auditor's investigation following reports of excessive spending on travel to conferences, on food and alcohol served at meetings, and other issues. While Edelen's report includes reform recommendations for the board's spending practices, the biggest suggestion is the change to the 70-year old structure of handing all the power of appointments to one authority. That authority is currently Kenton County Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus.

Arlinghaus was not next to Edelen, Moore, and Cranley.

Kris Knochelmann was. 

The two-term Kenton County Commissioner defeated Arlinghaus in May's Republican primary, armed with the issues at the airport board as his most penetrative weapon.

Arlinghaus stood in the back of the room, flanked by Deputy Judge-Executive Mark Kreimborg and County Administrator Joe Shriver. They watched as Edelen heaped praise upon the next Judge-Executive.

"Kris Knochelmann is to be commended for supporting this plan," said Edelen, a Democrat, suggesting that the Republican would help foster a "new school of politics" in the region, one of collaboration and "common sense problem-solving". He cited Knochelmann's willingness "to give power away if it's good for the region".

(SEE ALSO: Auditor: Questionable Trips, Spending, Hires at Airport Board)

"People are less concerned about who owns the airport and more concerned about being able to afford to fly from it," Edelen said. "The status quo is absolutely indefensible. The Northern Kentucky region is extraordinarily important as an economic powerhouse in the entire state of Kentucky. Without modernization and reform at the airport, we can't have the kind of prosperity the people in Northern Kentucky deserve and the kind that people all over Kentucky would benefit from."

The issue of the airport, its board structure, and its ownership, had been an issue between Knochelmann and Arlinghaus during their bitter campaign last spring. Arlinghaus steadfastly believed that Kenton County should retain full power and control over the region's largest asset while Knochelmann seemed more open to new possibilities.

(SEE ALSO: Airport Board Meeting Turns Heated as Auditor's Report Looms)

Knochelmann proved that openness on Tuesday morning when he stood with Edelen, Cranley, and Moore. "What are you afraid of?," he asked, rhetorically, of those opposed to changing the structure of the board. "The old-style appointment of the board is what has to change. Expanding responsibility to Ohio is not a mistake. ...That will do nothing but strengthen the airport. ...Everyone will have skin in the game."
 
Following the presentation, Arlinghaus departed the building but was approached by The River City News and asked for comment. He said that he had not been given the courtesy of receiving the full report prior to Edelen's presentation. He was frequently cited throughout the report as a catalyst for issues that needed to be changed, according to Edelen. Meanwhile, Arlinghaus maintains his position from the campaign trail. "The airport belongs to the people of Kenton County and I do have a problem with the state giving away control of the airport."

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Kris Knochelmann speaks at Tuesday's news conference/RCN

Not only did Edelen invite Knochelmann to stand with him during Tuesday's presentation, the two met eight days ago in Erlanger to discuss the report and issues surrounding the airport board. Edelen said that Arlinghaus was not snubbed but that it was the responsibility of the board to share any pertinent information with the Judge-Executive prior to Tuesday's official release. The Board will have two months to formally respond to the auditor's report and had received an advanced copy.
 
"We're both reformers," Edelen said of Knochelmann. The auditor said that Kenton County does not actually own the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). While it financed the original creation of CVG in 1943, Kenton County has never listed it as an asset, Edelen said. Rather, the airport is its own special taxing district that issues its own debt and governs itself. That is why other surrounding governments affected by decisions made at the airport deserve to be represented officially, Edelen said.
 
"Ohio deserves a voice," he said.
 
Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, a Democrat, agrees. He had been told about the proposal last week and discussed it with city business leaders such as Bob Castellini and Scott Farmer, among others. "It's worth mentioning that these are the leaders of major corporations that have an interest," Cranley said. "They can be at a disadvantage or advantage based on the availability of flights." Cranley said he would continue discussions with businesses that make up the largest users of the airport.
 
Edelen said that 2/3 of the airport traffic comes from Ohio. Cranley called Edelen's bi-state proposal "courageous" and said that issues at the airport and the lessening of flight options cost Cincinnati Chiquita, the banana company that moved to Charlotte (and then overseas). "There is not a week in my life where I don't hear about business leaders concerned with the future of our airport."
 
"A restructured board won't guarantee those flights will come back but I believe that getting larger companies, the major corporate providers of jobs for our region will be at the table because they care as much as we do. We always agree the one Achilles heel for our region taking off, is literally making sure we have more flights taking off at CVG."
 
Judge-Executive Moore, a Republican, also wants Boone County to have an official vote on the airport that lies entirely within that county.

"It is well past time to change the make-up and the way the board is create," Moore said. "Since being elected, for many years I have advocated that Boone County have a greater voice in the governance of the airport. 7,000 acres all lie in Boone County. All the noise abated areas lie in Boone County. A regional authority can and will work."

Campbell County Judge-Executive Steve Pendery was not present at Tuesday's announcement but told the Cincinnati Enquirer that he needed to study the issue of a restructuring before formulating a position and warned that looking to the General Assembly for a solution could lead to "more than you bargained for". Pendery's Democratic challenger in November, Campbell County Commissioner Ken Rechtin seized upon Pendery's absence, showing that the airport could also be an issue in that county's election this fall. Rechtin called the incumbent "Status Quo Steve" and said, "He should be here".

Any proposed change to the structure of the airport board, and Edelen's is just a suggestion, would have to be taken up by the Kentucky General Assembly. Edelen said that there would be plenty of legislators willing to sponsor a bill inspired by the suggestions when the General Assembly reconvenes early next year.

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Story and photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News