Legislation retooling Cincinnati/N.Ky. International Airport board clears House committee

03/03/2015 03:19 PM

FRANKFORT — A bill revamping membership of the board governing the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport cleared the House Transportation Committee Tuesday.

House Bill 208, sponsored by Rep. Diane St. Onge, advanced on a 17-1-3 vote. The legislation would expand voting membership of the Kenton County Airport Board from seven to 13, and rather than allow the judge-executive of Kenton County to have complete appointment power over the board, the legislation would ensure Kentucky’s governor and judge-executives in Boone, Campbell and Grant counties have representation on the airport authority.

All nominations would be approved by local fiscal courts under the bill.

The bill follows an investigation last year by Auditor Adam Edelen that found the board had become “a political appendage” of the Kenton County judge-executive’s office, as Edelen said in committee testimony.

The Democratic auditor proposed his own fix to systemic issues facing the airport board, but he said he backed St. Onge’s approach “because I think it is an important step in the right direction.”

“I laid out two pretty direct challenges to the leadership in northern Kentucky,” Edelen said. “One was my belief that we needed a new structure that reflected the regional buy-in that’s necessary to have a growing and prosperous airport in the 21st century. The second was that that structure needed to be developed from a consensus from northern Kentucky.”

While HB 208 would strip Kenton County’s judge-executive of sole appointment authority, the bill would give the county judge eight seats to fill on the airport board pending fiscal court approval.

Boone County’s judge-executive would appoint two members while the governor, Campbell County judge-executive and Grant County judge-executive would name one member each.

Republican Kenton County Judge-Executive Kris Knochelmann said reconfiguring the board’s outdated makeup will help the airport in the years ahead, particularly in its workforce.

“The economic development side of things can’t be overstated,” said Knochelmann. “The airport is going through a transition, and some of the opportunities that have been improved by the staff and the management of the airport, with adding airlines, adding flights today, have been the efforts of a very well-run staff.

“One of the things that we are concerned with if we don’t put in a new board in place, you always run the risk of having a staff that isn’t allowed to do their job.”

Nearly every northern Kentucky representative signed on as a co-sponsor of HB 208 with the exception of Rep. Arnold Simpson, who voted against the measure.

The bill is an example of regionalism that others should follow, he said, but approving HB 208 would be a disservice to Kenton County, which technically owns the airport located in Boone County. Simpson, D-Covington, suggested the county be compensated in some way for its investment in the airport, an indeterminate amount in present-day money that would likely be “massive.”

“Renumeration can take the shape of several forms,” he said in explaining his vote against HB 208.

“It could take the shape of Boone County, with the tax dollars that it is deriving by the operation of this airport, furnishing fire protection or police protection. It doesn’t have to go directly to Kenton County per se, but the fact that there’s no renumeration is such that I cannot embrace it.”

Renumeration, much like regionalism, is “a form of goodwill,” said St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park.

“I think that all the counties, in fact I think the entire commonwealth will benefit from this goodwill gesture of regionalism,” she said. “And so I like to equate regionalism in a very optimistic view, but I think a realistic view with funding coming into our state and sources of future revenue.”

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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