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Lawmakers say dispute over CVG airport board might require state legislative solution

Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, poses a question during the October meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation in which it was suggested the CVG Airport Board governance dispute may require a legislative solution. (Photo from Ky. Legislature)

Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, poses a question during the October meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation in which it was suggested the CVG Airport Board governance dispute may require a legislative solution. (Photo from Ky. Legislature)

A decades-old dispute over governance of the Northern Kentucky/Cincinnati airport known as CVG landed in Frankfort this week when state lawmakers suggested legislation to change the airport board of director’s structure. This follows a report on accusations of board mismanagement by Kentucky Auditor Adam Edelen.
“I understand the topic we are getting into today is a very touchy topic in Northern Kentucky,” Rep. Hubert Collins, D-Wittensville, said during a meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Transportation. “It seems that one county challenges the other county. It seems the board members cannot get along.”
Collins said if Northern Kentucky leaders could not figure out how to appoint a functional board then the General Assembly might have to figure it out for them.
“If that is not plain enough … I don’t know what else would be,” Collins said to an audience that included Northern Kentucky business and political leaders. “Surely, the people can run their own business. Surely, the people can settle their own matters without having to go through their legislators. I hope that is true.”
Sen. Ernie Harris, R-Prospect, who co-chairs the committee with Collins, said he too would prefer the conflict be resolved without legislative intervention.
Edelen testified before the committee about the results of his special examination of the airport board. Edelen recommended that the Kenton County judge-executive not be the sole person to appoint the seven voting members to a board overseeing an airport located in Boone County.
“One individual literally controls the airport that serves a metropolitan area of 2.1 million people and is critical to the economic vitality of the region and two states,” Edelen said.
Edelen proposed an 11-member board with three appointees from Kenton County, two appointees each from Boone County and the Kentucky governor, one appointee from Campbell County and the remaining three from Ohio.
Rep. Arnold Simpson, D-Covington, said Kenton County tax dollars went toward the creation of the airport in the 1940s. He said the airport terminals still sit on land deeded to Kenton County.
Simpson said the recommendation that Kenton County relinquish control of the airport board “smacked of socialism.”
Edelen disagreed with the notion that the airport is a Kenton County asset. He said nowhere is the airport listed as an asset or liability of the Kenton County Fiscal Court.
“Kenton County Fiscal Court isn’t even a secondary or tertiary guarantor of the debt, or the bonds, that are promulgated by the airport,” Edelen said, adding the airport was largely the result of a $2 million war department grant.
Simpson said he also took exception with assertions that there has been decades of waste and abuse by the airport board, noting his father was chairman of that board in the 1980s.
“You are not only casting aspersions on the individuals who are currently on the board … but I think you are also casting, perhaps unintentionally, aspersions on all of our business leaders in our community that served on that board,” Simpson said. “I don’t think that is just.”
Simpson questioned the wisdom of restructuring a board that has been effective for most of the seven decades it has been in existence. He also said Kentucky shouldn’t voluntarily give away control of its transportation assets.
“The state of Kentucky owns the Ohio River,” Simpson said. “It is a major corridor of commerce. Now the folks in Ohio might want a voice in that … but the fact of the matter is we own it. As a consequence of that ownership, we control it.”
Simpson suggested that Boone County share the occupational tax money it collects from airport employees if it wants a voting member on the board. He added Ohio could contribute money to the airport’s operations if that state wanted members on the board.
Rep. Diane St. Onge, R-Lakeside Park, questioned the idea that board members appointed by someone other than the Kenton County judge-executive would be more effective.
“What benefits the airport benefits everyone – no matter who sits on the board,” St. Onge said.
She also said she wanted to debunk assertions that the current board structure was the reason for high fares and reduced flights from the airport. She said those issues were driven by free-market factors.
In response to Rep. Addia Wuchner’s, R-Florence, question about how other airports are governed, Edelen said the Louisville airport board has appointments made by the mayor, confirmed by that metro council, in addition to appointments made by the governor.
“We found the most successful airports tend to be the ones that have a diversity of opinion,” Edelen said. “I just don’t understand why that shouldn’t be what drives us here. We are better when we pull people together from different communities, from different backgrounds, from different perspectives.”
Collins ended the discussion by stating that if legislation to restructure the board is introduced, the Northern Kentucky caucus better agree on the matter. Collins said he didn’t want to see competing legislation on the issue.
From Ky.gov

Read KyForward’s original story on the Kentucky auditor’s report of the airport board – Auditor calls for CVG to overhaul board governance to clean up decades-old mess.

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