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CVG Airport Board Reform Bill Clears House Committee, Simpson Votes No

A bill that would reform the Kenton County Airport Board and its governance of the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) Board and i co-sponsored by all but one state representative from Northern Kentucky, cleared the House Transportation Committee on Tuesday without that lone state representative's vote.

Rep. Arnold Simpson (D-Covington) opposed House Bill 208, citing a lack of financial compensation to Kenton County by other government bodies that would be granted access to appointing voting members to the board. Currently, the Kenton County Airport Board is made up of seven voting members all appointed by the Kenton County Judge-Executive, and an eleven-member advisory committee that has no voting power and features members appointed by surrounding counties and the governor.

House Bill 208, sponsored by Rep. Diane St. Onge (R-Lakeside Park) would eliminate the advisory committee and create a board of 13 voting members, 8 appointed by Kenton County, 2 by Boone County, 1 by Campbell and Grant Counties, and one by the governor. All county appointments would require full approval of their respective Fiscal Courts.

The bill developed out of a scathing audit conducted by Auditor Adam Edelen's office following a series of reports in the Cincinnati Enquirer that detailed unusual amounts of money spent by members of the board on travel expenses and food and drink at meetings. Though the money was not from tax dollars, the issue was at the center of last year's Republican primary when then-Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus was defeated by then-Commissioner Kris Knochelmann. Arlinghaus was named throughout the audit for his travel expenses and implications of nepotism when his daughter was hired at the airport. Three members of the board, including the chair and vice chair, resigned. 

Edelen and Knochelmann joined St. Onge in testifying on behalf of the bill before the Transportation Committee on Tuesday afternoon. "The economic development side of things can't be overstated," Knochelmann said. "The airport is going through a transition and some of the opportunities with adding airlines and flights have been the efforts of a very well-run staff and one of the things we are concerned with when we put a new board in place is you always run the risk of a staff not being able to do its job. We want to make sure that the staff moving forward is given the right tools to set a vision for the airport."

"We're not saying this structure is going to solve the airfare problem or number of flights, but we are set up for greater success than the current set-up allows."

When he presented his findings last year, Edelen suggested that the Governor of Ohio, the Hamilton County (Ohio) Commission, and Mayor of Cincinnati also be afforded the right to appoint one voting member each. Knochelmann, who agreed in principle at the time, later determined that that was not allowed under Kentucky law. Edelen acknowledged that the proposal was not his original recommendation but that the bill represented positive steps. "We're going to have an airport structure that speaks for more than just nine-percent of this very important (metropolitan statistical area)," the auditor said. It is also "unprecedented to have a leader like Judge Knochelmann who realizes you gain power by giving more of it away."
 
Edelen is a Democrat and Knochelmann is a Republican. The bipartisan reform effort extends to the bill as well. St. Onge is a Republican are are co-sponsors Adam Koenig of Erlanger, Joe Fischer of Fort Thomas, Tom Kerr of Taylor Mill, Brian Linder of Dry Ridge, Sal Santoro of Florence, and Addia Wuchner of Florence. Co-sponsor Dennis is a Democrat from Wilder. The only Northern Kentucky state representative who did not sign on as a co-sponsor was Simpson who also cast the lone vote against the bill in committee. 
 
"(Boone County) had the opportunity to finance in part, the airport," Simpson said of CVG's development in the 1940s. "It chose not to. Kenton County taxpayers' predecessors stepped up to the plate. Now what do we get? ...The only compensation we received was the exclusive right to name the members of the airport board."
 
All of the taxes generated by the airport are paid to Boone County. Former Judge Arlinghaus was a proponent of offering voting seats on the board to counties who paid a share of the airport's value. On Tuesday, Simpson was of the same mind.
 
"If any county wants to participate, I think they ought to, but I think the taxpayers of Kenton County are worthy of receiving some type of remuneration for their investment," Simpson said.
 
Simpson, St. Onge, Santoro, and Wuchner are all part of the Transportation Committee. The bill now heads to the full House for consideration.
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News