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Airport Board Meeting Turns Heated as Auditor's Report Looms

With just about fifteen hours before Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen visits and releases the findings of his office's special examination of its spending practices, the Kenton County Airport Board met for its regularly scheduled meeting Monday night. And things got tense.

"You had it for six days and never shared it with any of us and now you want a gag order? I think not," said Nathan Smith, a non-voting member of the board. His anger was directed at Board Chairman William Robinson, the attorney from Frost Brown Todd who assumed the role earlier this year. After going into executive session, the Board reconvened its public meeting ninety minutes later and Robinson was armed with a resolution.

Who speaks for the board? 

Turns out, there is no formal policy, so a resolution was drafted that designated CVG Airport CEO Candace McGraw and Robinson as those who would speak on behalf of the organization following Edelen's report Tuesday morning.

That did not sit well with Smith, of SSK Communities, or O'dell Owens, president of Cincinnati State Technical & Community College. Both objected to being told that they could not or should not speak. Neither votes at the board, serving instead on the advisory committee and not the 7-member board that casts binding votes.

"I'm uncomfortable because if the presentation tomorrow says that this board should be restructured where people in Ohio will have a deeper vote or at least the governor, county, mayor have the right to appoint someone with a vote, I don't know if the official word will come from you. What if you disagree with that?," Owens asked Robinson. "The irony is, I can't vote for this. No taxation without representation. I can't vote for this, right? So, you're asking me to adhere to something I can't even vote for."

"My answer is going to be, the board doesn't have a position," Robinson responded. "I can't say what feels good to me. I can only soeak about what's the position of the airport, if the airport has taken a position on it. Otherwise, my answer is, the airport doesn't have a position."

Owens asked, what if questions from the press or the report surround excessive spending or on trips that individual members of the board took part in. "You're saying you can't defend yourself?," he asked.

"You can defend yourself. If the question is to you, you're speaking for yourself," Robinson said.

"I'm not going to adhere to this," Smith said.

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Kroger executive J. Michael Schlotman suggested that if the board has duly enacted a policy, its members are bound by it. "Aren't we bound by the laws and whatever, if this is the policy of the airport and the board?," he asked.

"I would think so, but I guess we're going to have to find out," Robinson said. 

"What are you going to do? Take my salary away," Smith joked, a nod to the board's volunteer, unpaid status. "I'm not going to sit back -- I've watched this crazy stuff go on and if there is something in that audit and I think it's appropriate for me to comment, I will comment."

"I think lawfully you're required to abide by the policy of the board," said Schlotman, a voting member.

"You can ask the governor to remove me if you like," Smith said.

At that point, the motion passed six to zero with one abstention. Robinson then presented a second motion that asked whether the board should contract with a public relations firm to bolster the work of internal staff members at the airport. The board had previously contracted with Strategic Advisers for similar work, but that relationship has ended.

Robinson said that he and others, including McGraw, had interviewed two firms and would recommend Wordsworth Communication. "They worked with the airport when Delta pulled out years ago," Robinson said. "We recommend that we retain them and see how well they work with our communication staff."
Again, Owens was not happy with the proceedings. He pointed out that the board was coming in with a resolution to support the idea of hiring a firm, and also with a recommendation for a specific firm. "This board hasn't changed," Owens said.
Schlotman recommended that the issue be sent to committee, where advisory board members can vote. The motion passed unanimously and no action was taken on the public relations firm.
The meeting adjourned shortly after and Robinson and Owens talked privately as the room cleared. Each then spoke to reporters and Owens walked back his statement that the board had not changed under Robinson, who replaced former Chair Jim Huff who resigned with two others midway through the auditor's examination. "I might have, in the emotion of the moment, misspoken a little bit," Owens said, "because the board certainly has changed. Some tension is gone from the board."
Neither Owens nor Robinson will attend Edelen's presentation at Gateway Community & Technical College's Boone County campus on Tuesday morning. The report is expected to include the recommendation that the board be restructured, allowing voting members to be appointed from outside the control of the Kenton County Judge-Executive who currently appoints all seven voting members. The Governors of Kentucky and Ohio, the Judges-Executive of Boone and Campbell Counties, the Mayor of Cincinnati, and the Hamilton County (OH) Commission would also appoint voting members.
Though he will be working on Tuesday morning and not at the presentation, Robinson is looking forward to more discussion about a public relations firm. He said the move to send the resolution to committee proved that the board's processes are orderly.
"This is about more than a press conference tomorrow," Robinson said. "It's about developing a messaging plan."
Story & photos by Michael Monks, editor & publisher of The River City News


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