Member Login

New Campaign Website Creates Additional Ire Between Kenton Judge-Exec Candidates

A new campaign website launched by Kenton County Commissioner Kris Knochelmann was described as "a cheap shot" by Judge-Executive Steve Arlinghaus on Tuesday morning. 

"If he wants to go after me, I can grapple with that, but don't go after my kids," Arlinghaus said after the two appeared at a debate hosted in Park Hills by the Northern Kentucky Business Political Action Committee.

"Steve Arlinghaus Airlines" is the name of the new site Knochelmann's campaign launched Monday and sent to the news media on Tuesday. "Over the past four years, Steve Arlinghaus has consistently misled, misrepresented, and straight up lied to protect his image, power and influence," read a news release from the Knochelmann campaign announcing the new site. "Kenton County is tired of his backwards good-ole-boy tactics of deception and bullying. It is time Steve Arlinghaus is held accountable for who he is and what he stands for."

Knochelmann and Arlinghaus are tangled in a bitter battle for the county's top elected position and with just a few weeks to go before the May primary the stakes and emotions are high as there will likely be no general election challenge for either Republican in November. The match-up is likely the most talked about race in Northern Kentucky and when the polls open on May 20, a divided Republican Party in Kenton County will determine who fills the seat for the next four years.

Each candidate's list of supporters includes high-profile developers, business leaders, and politicians in a fight that began before Arlinghaus even took office four years ago. Knochelmann was a supporter of Arlinghaus's 2010 Republican challenger, then-Deputy Judge-Executive Scott Kimmich. In the years since, Arlinghaus and Knochelmann have had disputes over the funding of a merged emergency dispatch center, budget processes, and the CVG Airport board, among other issues. With Commissioner Jon Draud in Arlinghaus's corner and Commissioner Beth Sewell in Knochelmann's, the Kenton County Fiscal Court, made up entirely of Republicans, is a divided house.

The division and contention only grew on Tuesday morning.

"I think it speaks to the characteristics of the individual," Arlinghaus said of Knochelmann's new site. "He owes my daughter an apology."

"Steve Arlinghaus Airlines" criticizes the judge-executive for what Knochelmann calls a culture of corruption, aims at Arlinghaus's previous time as a county commissioner when he held office as a Democrat, and hammers controversies at the CVG Airport Board which is in the midst of a state audit following questions about its spending practices that preceded the resignations of three members.

Arlinghaus dismissed most of the site's content as "a bunch of garbage" and "political stunts", but did not take kindly to references to his daughter who was hired as a field maintenance department assistant at the airport board in August of 2012 at an hourly rate of $17.40. "After getting this job, she is still working for Arlinghaus Realty," the site claims. 

As Kenton County Judge-Executive, Arlinghaus is empowered with tremendous influence at the airport. He appoints all the voting members of the board, but said that he did not use any of that influence to land Shawnna Arlinghaus her position. He shared an email with The River City News that he sent to CVG Airport CEO Candace McGraw on August 13, 2012, three days before the position was offered to his daughter.

"I am not sure if she is qualified for the open position or not. However, I would like to say, please do not consider hiring her as a special favor just for me," Arlinghaus wrote. "I would not want to place you or the staff at CVG, nor myself in an awkward position unnecessarily. Please consider hiring her on her qualifications only."

During the debate's closing moments, Arlinghaus brought up the subject. "I find it very distasteful that someone would have the nerve to attack another's children. I'm discouraged by that kind of leadership," Arlinghaus said. "If that's what we're looking for in Kenton County, I shouldn't be here. We don't need those kinds of people in public office."

Arlinghaus's response followed Knochelmann's closing statement that implied the current judge-executive uses bullying, intimidation, and arrogance in office. "We're not going to have news articles around the state about CVG and about lawsuits and about investigations by the state auditor," Knochelmann predicted if he should win in May and assume office next year. He accused Arlinghaus of embarking on "frivolous trips" in his capacity at the airport board. "What we're going to do is make sure we balance our budgets and make sure we include all parties. We're going to expose every bit of county government to make sure expenditures are understood."

Knochelmann also promised a focus on economic development and improving government operations. "That's going to take a very knowledgeable and cooperative and quite frankly, a humble leader to make sure we do what is right for the community as a whole," he said.

Knochelmann called the hiring of Shawnna Arlinghaus at the airport "an additional smoking gun", and though he said that she probably does a great job, he contends that she should not have been hired.

But the launch of SteveArlinghausAirlines.com is not the only secondary campaign site making the digital rounds in this increasingly contentious race. 

"Why did Kris Knochelmann and the Kenton County Fiscal Court sell this county-owned property valued at $350,000 for just $1?," asks a post at KnochelmannRecord.com, published by the Arlinghaus campaign.

The site accuses Knochelmann of working with Kimmich and former Judge-Executive Ralph Drees in 2007 of selling 2.7 acres of commercial real estate on Kentucky 17 to Kimmich's relatives for a dollar. According to Arlinghaus, county records show that the state paid $100,000 an acre for the property located next to the one in question.

Shortly before Arlinghaus assumed office, the county purchased the property back. (Knochelmann provided documentation disputing this claim about the property, which is located in Nicholson. The property was sold in 2005, before Knochelmann joined the fiscal court.)

KnochelmannRecord.com also accuses the county commissioner of wanting to give away CVG Airport, which is owned by Kenton County. The governance and structure of the airport board has come under increased scrutiny since last fall when a series of reports in the Cincinnati Enquirer uncovered the amount of money spent by board members on overseas and domestic travel as well as for post-meeting meals that often included alcohol. 

Despite calls for more regional authority over the airport's governance, Arlinghaus said Tuesday, "I have no desire at this point in time, nor is it my place to give up control of the airport to Cincinnati or anywhere else. The airport belongs to the residents of Kenton County."

Knochelmann called the airport board issue "the elephant in the room" at Tuesday's debate. "We need to evaluate the structure and we need to include our partners," Knochelmann said. "I'm not going to have the answer over selling a share or a vote. All of that should be discussed."

Arlinghaus called the airport a $1 billion asset for the county. "It's not mine to give away," he said. He also said that the board's chairman and vice chairman, who resigned amid the ongoing examination by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen's office, were appointed by his predecessor, Drees, a Knochelmann supporter.

The airport has been criticized for years for its prices and decreasing flight options, an unattractive situation for businesses. 
 
Improving the airport and the economic development environment in the county was also discussed Tuesday, not even a full day after the devastating announcement that Toyota would be closing its Erlanger headquarters as part of a corporate consolidation that will move a thousand workers out of Kenton County to Plano, Texas and hundreds more to the Japanese automaker's plant in Georgetown.
 
"We have got to reinvent our model for economic development," Knochelmann said. "Toyota's exit is a wake-up call. We can't just ride the wave of a large corporate citizen to come in and do the kinds of things Toyota has done. We have to focus on everybody else as well."
 
Arlinghaus said a stronger push must be made toward workforce development. 
 
"Our high school students are still stymied and scared about manufacturing jobs," he said, adding that there is an unfair negative image associated with factory work. Arlinghaus also called for more regional collaboration saying that new jobs landing in Boone or Campbell County would also be good for Kenton County.
 
One area where each candidate agrees is that tolls should not be used as a financing option for the $2.6 billion Brent Spence Bridge project. Both also called for more influence in Frankfort. "We have to have representatives who go to Frankfort and are respected and treat our representatives respectfully," Knochelmann said. "We have to get out to the polls in statewide elections. If we go to the polls, we can make the impact that drives the dollars to come back to our area. Northern Kentucky consistently doesn't show up in statewide elections."

Arlinghaus argued that when folks from Frankfort visit Northern Kentucky, the region spends too much time showing them what it does have instead of what it doesn't. They are not shown a struggling Madison Avenue in Downtown Covington or blighted neighborhoods or the numbers where businesses are hurting he said. "We're showing them all the good things so they don't think we need any help," Arlinghaus said. "It's like you're talking to the wind. They don't get it. As soon as you're done talking, they can't wait to get out the door and head to the Aquarium and get free drinks handed to them and be treated like royalty."

Despite the rare occurrences of agreement, the differences between Arlinghaus and Knochlemann are driving not only their campaign, but also the three races for the county commissioner seats. All face competitive primaries on the same day and none will have a Democratic challenger in November. 
 
In the meantime, county government work continues. Arlinghaus and Knochelmann sat next to each other in Park Hills to start Tuesday, and will end the day next to each other in Covington for the fiscal court meeting. The most important development inside the County Administration Building right now is the construction of the county budget. Knochelmann accused Arlinghaus of presenting a budget to the commissioners that had a more than $7 million deficit. Arlinghaus said it was a draft budget will all of the department heads' wish lists included and that it has already been trimmed to a less than $2 million deficit with more cuts to come.
 
The campaign trail has often run through regular fiscal court meetings in recent months and with just a pair of meetings to go before voters head to the polls, governance and politics will likely continue to mingle, particularly during the budget process.
 
The budget has been a consistent theme in Arlinghaus's campaign where he often recites a list of fiscal challenges he said he faced when he assumed office, including overtime costs at the new jail and difficulties at the golf course. That position contrasts with Knochelmann's, who served his first term before Arlinghaus took office and said that the county was in the best financial shape in its history in 2010.
 
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News
 
Photo: Arlinghaus (right) and Knochelmann debate Tuesday/RCN