HEBRON, Ky. – Musical chairs has started at the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport—and its not over yet.
After a year of internal board turbulence, lawsuits, escalating board expenditures, Kenton County Judge Executive Steve Arlinghaus said that he hopes to bring more diversity to the board including women, young professionals and Cincinnati-based leaders.
He appointed Bill Robinson III, Kathy Collins and Chad Summe’s to four-year terms on the board Feb. 21. They fill the roles vacated by the former Kenton County Airport Board chairman, vice chair and an executive committee member, all of whom abruptly resigned last week.
The board shakeup follows a turbulent year for CVG that included efforts to oust airport CEO Candace McGraw, an investigation by the state auditor and media reports of repeated outbursts during board meetings.
The airport is key to the region's economic development on both sides of the river. It generates more than 16,000 direct and direct jobs and $2.7 billion in spending by CVG operations, construction and visitors annually—creating an annual $3.6 billion economic impact on the community, according to a 2012 study.
Arlinghaus said diversity is key for the airport to be successful. And that diversity wears many hats, he said, from race, gender, age and geography—not just “all elderly, white-haired male leadership positions.”
“It’s important to have the right people at the table [who] can work together as a team,” Arlinghaus said.
Chair Bill Robinson III
The new board chair, Robinson, who has practiced law for more than 40 years, is the member-in-charge of the law firm of Frost Brown Todd in its Northern Kentucky offices in Florence, Ky. His experience extends into commercial litigation, class action litigation, product-liability defense, environmental litigation and medical malpractice defense.
Robinson, who talked with WCPO Thursday, is no stranger to the board.
He served on the Kenton County Airport Board from 1998-2006, and was chairman of the board between 2004-2006.
"When the judge came to me, I didn't even hesitate," Robinson said. "CVG is a critical component of our economic development and the quality of life, not only in Northern Kentucky, but really in Greater Cincinnati. It is an engine for economic development—commerce coming in and out of the community, travel not only throughout the country, but throughout the world. It is a significant socio-economic organ of the life of this community."
"Travel is the life blood of the economy," he said.
His experience serving as a chairman extends to his role with the Cincinnati USA Partnership for Economic Development. He is also a co-founder of the Tri-County Economic Development Corporation, and has served 27 years on the Tri-ED Board as treasurer and executive committee member.
Arlinghaus said Robinson will "do an excellent job in his new role," adding that he anticipates Robinson and Collins will work very well together.
“They will make proper decisions that are appropriate for the success of this airport,” he said.
Robinson called the appointment a privilege.
"I love Cincinnati—it's a wide stance, but I have one foot on each side of the river and I'm committed to regionalism," he said.
Vice Chair Kathy Collins
Kathy F. Collins, a senior private banker at Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bank, is the fourth female vice chair on the board. She was already on the board on the advisory committee, and was promoted to vice chair in light of Larry Savage’s departure from the role.
“Timing was correct, to bring a woman to a higher position,” Arlinghaus said. “I’ve done a good job in bringing Cincinnati into the equation.
“We need Cincinnati’s involvement with our airport and we need their support,'' he added. "It’s been important for me to reach out.”
CVG needs a “broader regional approach to leadership. If you benefit one side of the river, it benefits the other side,” he said. "Too many times, people have viewed the Ohio River as a barrier, I view it as a corridor that connects us together.”
Executive Committee Board Member Chad Summe
Arlinghaus named Chad Summe to replace executive committee board member Mark Arnzen. As such, Summe becomes a voting board member, as are all executive committee members.
Summe, 33, of Fort Mitchell, Ky., is a Cincinnati businessman who, Arlinghaus said, will bring a young, fresh and diverse outlook to the board, as a voting member.
“You get some folks who are in leadership positions for 20, 30 years and they don’t want to change to new ideas and they become stagnate at some point,” he said. “Change can be good.”
Summe is the director of Strategic Accounts for Coupons, where he led the establishment of the company’s Cincinnati office in 2012. He directs the company’s operations from his office in Mason, Ohio. He is an active volunteer who currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Cincinnati Economics Center for Education and Research and the Board of Panorama Apartments, a non-profit senior citizen housing community in Covington, Ky.
“When you reach our ages of 60 and above, we’ve already traveled the world in many ways and the younger generation has a different outlook on travel and how we communicate with one another.
“Whenever you want to transition a board from today to the future, I think you need to start grooming leadership positions for higher positions for when that time comes,” he said.
Resignations Surprised Some
Chairman Jim Huff, Vice Chairman Savage and Board Member Arnzen submitted letters of resignation Feb. 21. The resignations were effective immediately.
Huff and Savage said in a joint statement that they left for the same reason they joined the board: To make a positive impact on the board and their community.
“It is our hope that our resignations will enable CVG to address the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead,” Huff and Savage said in the statement.
Arnzen said he had worked very closely with Huff and Savage in the past and supported the reasons for their resignations.
“Both Jim and Larry have devoted significant time, without pay, to the betterment of our airport,” Arnzen said. “Their decisions to move on will be a loss to both the airport and our community.”
Arlinghaus said he is sorry to see them go.
“Under their leadership, the airport has made great strides, including attracting two new low-cost carriers, overseeing a $100 million expansion of the DHL hub [and] growing the number of passengers at airport by 59,000 last year," Arlinghaus said.
Boone County Gets One Appointment
In addition to Arlinghaus's appointments, Boone County Judge-Executive Gary Moore is allotted one appointment. His appointee to a two-year term, Bryan Carlisle, was sworn n February.
“We only get one shot. We have to have someone there that can be strong, whose voice can be heard and effective—the need for a person with the ability that Bryan brings,” Moore said.
Carlisle replaced Advisory Committee Board Member Bob Zapp, president of the Bank of Kentucky, who left the board after moving out of Boone County.
“He is a part of that next younger generation. He has a great business background. He adds another dynamic like Chad Summe,” Arlinghaus said.
Carlise is the senior vice president for his family-owned business Maxim Crane Works. He has also served on the TANK board, serving as its chairman from 2007-14, but will soon step down.
Carlisle will not be a voting member, but will make his voice heard, Moore said.
“Bryan is a person who is not intimidated by a situation or other people. And he speaks his mind and pleads his case,” Moore said.
Carlisle turned Moore’s offer down the first time he asked.
“When I talked to him, he told me no. I actually liked that because he doesn’t have an agenda going in. Bryan made the comment to me, ‘Because I’m running two companies, I don’t have time to travel like they do’. And I knew I had my guy when he made that comment."
Since Carlisle is in the private sector, which involves extensive travel, Moore said, he understands the need for more passenger service and recognizes the cost challenge and affordability. He is directly impacted in his own business by the advantages of more frequent flights, more cities served and lower-cost carriers, he said.
“Bryan is the kind of guy that won’t look back, but rather look to the future. He can’t change anything that has happened, but make sure what happens from here forward will be effective as possible," Moore said.
Past Board Spends Nearly $700,000
The turbulent year has cost an estimated $700,000 out of the airport’s overall operational budget of $100 million, according to a WCPO analysis of records.
The board has spent nearly $195,000 on fees tied to a federal lawsuit filed by Huff against an airport employee, $375,000 on internal spending audits and $111,000 on experts to evaluate the airport CEO’s performance. The board also hired an outside spokesman, records show.
“Anytime a public agency is spending public money on anything that is outside of their public mission, taxpayers should be concerned. Public agencies exist to serve a public mission,” Stephenie Hoelscher, spokeswoman for the Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen, whose office is currently reviewing those, and several other expenditures, in a special investigation into the airport board’s spending.
“If public money is being spent on anything other than its mission, taxpayers ought to be asking questions,” Hoelscher said.
And while the internal bickering among the previous board may seem like inside politics, the spending hits the flying public's pocketbook.
When more money is spent on outside expenses, she said, airlines’ landing fees escalate to make up the difference in the budget, and that is passed along to ticket expense. CVG is already among the most expensive of which to fly from, surveys show.
“The flying public will be paying for this every time they buy a ticket,” Hoelscher said.
The airport is also key to supporting the economic vitality of the region and if not run well businesses may not want to locate or stay in the area, the state auditor said.
"CVG serves a metropolitan area of 2.1 million people and is critical to the economic vitality of Northern Kentucky and Cincinnati,” Edelen said. “Making sure this asset is run efficiently and effectively is a necessary step toward attracting businesses, adding jobs and growing the economy of the region.”
More Changes Coming
In addition to the new appointments, the board will welcome three more new members, all of whom Arlinghaus will appoint. He said he is currently talking with candidates and hopes to name them in the near future.
“It’s like a football team—it has to be the right players to be a team, not just the captains of corporations.”
In an interview with WCPO Thursday, airport CEO McGraw said she didn't want to discuss the past. Instead, she pointed to March when the airport will be mortgage- and debt-free. That will mean the airport's landing fees will be 30-percent lower in 2014.
"We're in a good financial position," she said.
"The glass is not half full, it's three-fourths full," Robinson said.
"...and it keeps filling up," McGraw chimed in.
For more stories by Jessica Noll, go to www.wcpo.com/noll. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaWCPO.