Monday, January 05, 2015

Kenton County, State Auditor Disagree On Allowing Ohio Residents to Vote at Airport Board: Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (KCVG), Covington, Kentucky

Seated at his new perch in the judge-executive's seat, Kris Knochelmann presided over his first Kenton County Fiscal Court meeting on Monday morning and presented the proposal crafted by a task force he launched to restructure the Kenton County Airport Board which oversees the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG).

Though the seats were somewhat rearranged, the tenor and debate was much as it was left in December when Steve Arlinghaus, whom Knochelmann defeated in a Republican primary seven months ago, presided over his final meeting. Commissioner Jon Draud emerged Monday as a committed opponent to Knochelmann's airport plan just as he had been throughout the previous year.

In October, Knochelmann announced the formation of a task force to evaluate the governance of the airport. Currently, the 7-member Kenton County Airport Board has all the voting power and is entirely appointed unilaterally by the Kenton County Judge-Executive. There is an 11-member advisory board that does not having voting authority and whose members are appointed by some surrounding governments.

That would change under the plan presented Monday. The advisory board would be scrapped and the voting board would be expanded to include eleven members: seven appointed by Kenton County, two by Boone County, one by Campbell County, and one by the Kentucky Governor.

There would be no seats for Ohio residents as proposed by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen whose special examination of the Airport Board's expenditures, hiring practices, and structure was presented in a press conference where he was joined by Knochelmann, Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley, and Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore. Though any change would require legislative approval in Frankfort, Edelen also recommended an 11-member board with 3 members each from Kenton, Boone, and Campbell Counties, one appointed by the Kentucky governor, and then one from the Ohio governor, Hamilton County, and the City of Cincinnati. 

Knochelmann had publicly supported the possibility of adding Ohio members and said Monday that he would still like to see that, but legal opinion locally prevents it, he said. The possibility that appointing Ohio residents to the board was illegal was first discussed in October at a Kenton County Mayors Group meeting where Arlinghaus circulated a proposed resolution for each city to consider opposing structural changes to the airport board. Arlinghaus had appointed two Ohio residents to voting roles at the board. Draud said that he thought it was illegal.

"You have to take an oath of office that you live in the state," Draud said at the time. "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."

Knochelmann said at the time that then-County Attorney Garry Edmondson was looking into it and "thought it was an issue".

On Monday, the conclusion was that Ohio had to be excluded.

Edelen disagreed. In a statement issued to The River City News, the auditor said that his office's general counsel had throughly researched the issue and concluded that Ohio residents can serve. He said the Attorney General's office agrees. 

"In addition, Kentucky law does not require KCAB members to take either the Constitutional oath or any other oath," Edelen said. "Various statutes require certain public servants to take the oath, including code enforcement board members, planning commission members and school board members. No statute – including the one used to establish the KCAB – requires a local air board member to take the oath. Further, because the General Assembly would have to approve any change in the KCAB structure, any ambiguities in the law could be addressed in that legislation, as was done when it established the board that oversees the Ohio River Bridges Project between the states of Kentucky and Indiana."

"But as I have said from the beginning, I believe change needs to come from the local level. I would encourage local officials to reexamine this matter and understand that this is nothing more than an effort to derail much-needed reform at CVG in order to preserve status quo and contain political power among a small faction of individuals in Kenton County."

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