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Cities Encouraged to Oppose Auditor's Airport Board Recommendations

"Whereas, we believe it is counterproductive to the health, welfare and financial interest of the citizens of Kenton County to have our rightful ownership of CVG compromised by having our control stripped away for political reasons as outlined by the State Auditor of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, himself a resident of the City of Lexington, and supported by his political allies present and future, as well as those hoping to gain an interest for FREE..."

Kenton County Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus offered a preview of the resolution he plans to introduce before the Fiscal Court at its October 28 meeting. The outgoing county leader stood before the Kenton County Mayors Group during its monthly meeting, held Saturday at Taylor Mill's Pride Park.

The topic of the Kenton County Airport Board which oversees the Greater Cincinnati/Nothern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) has dominated political and government discussions in the county all year. First, a series of articles in the Cincinnati Enquirer emerged, critical of the board's expenditures on travel and meals. The articles preceded the resignations of three board members and an examination of the board by State Auditor Adam Edelen. It was arguably the main issue in May's Republican primary for Judge-Executive between Arlinghaus and County Commissioner Kris Knochelmann who went on to win.

Edelen's returned a report critical of the expenditures and of Arlinghaus who appoints all seven of the board's voting members, and also sugested a restructuring of the board that would eliminate the non-voting advisory committee and expand the voting board to eleven members. Those members would be appointed by all three Northern Kentucky counties' respective Fiscal Courts (3 for Kenton, 2 for Boone, 2 for Campbell) as well as the Governor of Kentucky (1), the Governor of Ohio (1), the Mayor of Cincinnati (1), and Hamilton County, OH (1).

Knochelmann, who will become Judge-Executive in January, announced last week a local task force to review those recommendations and ultimately work toward the creation of legislation that would be considered in Frankfort when the General Assembly convenes early next year.

"My thing is this," Arlinghais said. "If the board is restructured and there is a task force put together, we understand, to look at this, this task force needs to be aware that this is an asset of Kenton County."

Edelen said in his report that the airport does not belong to Kenton County, though it was created with Kenton County money in the 1940s and has been governed by it since.

"If they divvy this thing up and take away control from the citizens of Kenton County, in my opinion, it's a taking."

Arlinghaus has maintained that the county does own the airport and that it is valued at between $1 and $1.4 billion. He said that he had previously offered to sell voting membership on the board to surrounding government entities based on that estimated value. "You can't just give it away," he said. If seats were sold, "We've got $700 million sitting in the bank and could go twenty or more years without raising property taxes in Kenton County or pay off the debt of the county jail. This money belongs to you guys and the citizens we all represent."
 
The judge-executive summarized his resolution which charges that Edelen and Ohio media seek to "seize control of the airport". He had previously blamed the Enquirer's coverage, which he said was slanted and inaccurate, for his May defeat. Arlinghaus urged Kenton County's cities to pass similar resolutions.
 
Kncohelmann, who stood shoulder to shoulder with Edelen when the examination's results were announced, was als present Saturday. "I have never supported Kenton County not having a majority of votes -
 
"That's not what you stood there with the auditor and said," Arlinghaus interrupted. 
 
"Steve, please, I let you speak," Knochelmann said. "The issue is, I have always supported having Ohio represented on the board."
 
Arlinghaus appointed two Ohio residents, Cincinnati business executives, to voting roles on the board, an apparent violation of the board's oath of office that mandates Kentucky residency, but an act of good faith to the state north of the river. Knochelmann said that he congratulated Arlinghaus on those appointments.
 
County Commissioner Jon Draud said that he does not believe it to be constitutional to allow non-Kentucky residents on the board. 
 
"You have to take an oath of office that you live in the state," Draud said. "For me, it amazes me that the state auditor doesn't know more about the state constitution and he's in a state position. If the Kentucky General Assembly wants to change the constitution, then they can allow people from other states to be on the airport board. I can't understand the absurdity of making that recommendation."
 
"That's crazy. I just don't understand how a state official can come up with something like that."

Arlinghaus explained that when he read the oath of office to swear in the Ohio residents on the board, he deliberately left out the line about being a resident of Kentucky.

"And he's going to be indicted after he leaves office," Draud said as the room laughed.

But that could possibly be no laughing matter. Sheriff Chuck Korzenborn was also in attendance Saturday and weighed in. He said if someone were to complain to the Kenton County Attorney that the oath was not delivered properly and that the constitution was violated, he would have to serve a summons or warrant. "I'm just warning everybody here," Korzenborn said.

Knochelmann said that County Attorney Garry Edmondson was asked to review whether it was legal to appoint Ohio residents and the attorney, Knochelmann said, "thought it was an issue".

"I think having someone on the board from Ohio doesn't hurt us a bit," Knochelmann said. "Whether it can be done legally in the future, we don't know yet."

He went on to say that he always believed that Kenton County owns the airport and that he was not in complete agreement with Edelen's recommendations. "Nothing changes without legislative action," he said. Knochelmann said it was critical to change the appointment process from the judge-executive having absolute authority, to making it required to have full Fiscal Court approval, something that the Fiscal Court unanimously approved in the form of a resolution recently. "At the end of Steve's term I will note," Knochelmann said. He also said the voting and non-voting structure of the board is something that would need to change, too.
 
Two priorities of the recommendations would be to keep Kenton County in a majority position and to have all members with a vote, he said. Knochelmann added that he is ready to move on from the issues of the immediate past.
 
"I've been saddened by it a little bit. Instead of talking about the future -- I want to leave the past behind, quite frankly," he said. "I don't care who possibly did anythign wrong. To me, that's the past. It's history. I want to have a conversation about producing a high-performing board."
 
"I'm confident what's going to come out of this is a unified bill that will be able to fly through Frankfort."
 
"If Commissioner Knochelmann is now in support of Kenton Countians still being control," Arlinghaus said, "supporting this resolution should not be an issue for anyone."
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News

Photo: Knochelmann watches Arlinghaus pass out copies of his proposed resolution/RCN