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Report of Spending by CVG Board Becomes Issue in Kenton Judge-Exec Race

An investigation by the Cincinnati Enquirer into expenditures made by the Kenton County Airport Board, the governing body of the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, has become an issue in next year's Republican primary for Kenton County Judge-Executive.

County Commissioner Chris Knochelmann slammed his opponent, incumbent Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus, over what was revealed in reporter James Pilcher's story. Among the findings:

The chairman and vice chairman of the Kenton County Airport Board are in Bologna, Italy, this week at a cost of at least $20,000, having traveled there for a three-day weekend conference that was crafted for airport chief executive officers and human resources officials.

Airport board chairman Jim Huff and vice chairman Larry Savage are staying for 12 days, intending to repay the airport for expenses incurred when not at the conference. The first-class airfares for Huff and Savage total nearly $15,000, according to documents obtained by The Enquirer through an open records request. Admission to the “Leadership for Sustainable Growth” conference put on by industry trade group Airports Council International (ACI) cost nearly $1,500 apiece, and the conference hotel costs nearly $240 a night before taxes.

The report also highlighted Arlinghaus, who, as Judge-Executive, appoints some of the board's members:

The airport paid for four trips since 2011 for Arlinghaus, who does not sit on the board but appoints the executive members to the board. The trips were made before the board altered its policy to allow Arlinghaus to travel at airport expense. Those seven members have final voting authority for all airport issues; 11 more advisory board members are appointed by Arlinghaus as well as Boone County, Campbell County, the Kentucky governor, Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati. Those advisory members can’t vote for final measures but do have voting power in committees.

In a statement to he Enquirer, Arlinghaus defended his trips by arguing that it was money well spent because of what he was able to learn on his trips.

Knochelmann issued a news release Thursday calling on Arlinghaus to request the resignations of Board Chair Jim Huff and Vice Chair Larry Savage. 

"At a minimum, Arlinghaus has shown a lack of leadership when it comes to appointing board members and owning up to his actions," Knochelmann said in the release. "This is apparent when he was quoted in the investigation article on October 30, 2013 as defending his travel and blaming it on the Board and CEO. He should have set the example but the temptation was too great. In an attempt to cover up the judge's travel, it was proposed just this past August to change the bylaws to include the Judge-executive under the Airport Board for travel policies and procedures. The measure passed unanimously."

Knochelmann said that he contacting the state auditor's office and the Kenton County Commonwealth's Attorney to launch audits and a possible criminal investigation, respectively.