HEBRON, Ky. – As the state auditor prepares to release an audit expected to be critical of the Kenton County Airport Board, the board chair on Monday told board members that only he and the airport CEO could comment publicly on airport-related issues.
Board chair Bill Robinson told the other 17 board members at Monday’s meeting that since there was no policy in place for the board on who should speak on behalf of the airport, he was implementing a new policy, which would grant commenting privileges to only he and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport CEO Candace McGraw.
This motion comes in light of the Kentucky state auditor Adam Edelen’s report that is due out Tuesday and expected to be highly critical of the board's governance of the airport.
“I’ve never been on a board that this wasn’t the policy,” Robinson defended his proposal to the board.
But his proposal generated a heated debate.
“The airport hasn’t changed,” O’dell Owens, a non-voting board member, said.
“I’m uncomfortable. If this board should be restructured, where Ohio would have equal vote, I don’t know what the official word will be from you,” Owens said. “If you disagree, are you going to go out and say something on behalf of the board?”
“I don’t have a vote in this room,” Owens continued. “You’re asking me not to talk about what I can’t vote for.”
Robinson said the auditor’s report is not the reason for the new policy, but he was advised by the auditor’s office not to talk publicly about the report.
“Gag order… I think not,” Nathan Smith, a non-voting board member, who was appointed by Gov. Steve Beshear in 2009, piped up. “You can pass it all you want. I will never adhere to this.”
“I don’t have a vote and you’re going to take my freedom of speech away? What? Are you going to take my salary away? That’d be zero for zero,” Smith quipped to Robinson.
“If I think there’s something to comment, I will comment,” Smith said.
Robinson, who has had the auditor’s report since Wednesday, Aug. 13, said that the timing is coincidental.
The rest of the board, which has not read the report, is expected to review and discuss Edelen’s report upon receipt Tuesday morning, including his recommendations, and collectively submit a final report within 60 days to Edelen’s office.
During Monday’s meeting, board members asked when consultant Clark Schaefer Hackett, a CPA firm in Cincinnati they retained earlier this year, would be presenting their own audit report. Airport attorney Will Ziegler divulged that the firm was paid to assist the board after the audit came in, but there would not be a report.
The cost to retain that firm was not to exceed $25,000, however, a similar investigation by the state auditor prompted the Lexington Blue Grass Airport to do the same thing in 2009, costing more than $40,000.
The board also has an annual fixed-fee contract with an outside auditing agency, Blue & Co., LLC. According to their contract, which started in 2007 and runs through Dec. 31, 2016, the board pays the firm $98,800 annually.
That is in addition to the two internal auditors on CVG’s staff, who have a combined annual salary of $166,617.
After a brief but intense debate, six voting members voted in favor of the motion to limit public comments from anyone other than the board chair and CEO. Board member John Mocker abstained.
Stay with WCPO.com for the latest updates on CVG and the Kentucky state auditor’s report due out Tuesday, at 10:30 a.m.