Kenton County Airport Board member calls for reform of board that oversees CVG

Is it time to ‘blow up' the airport board?

HEBRON, Ky -- A Kenton County Airport Board member is calling for a shakeup of the organization, two days after a heated debate erupted over the possible dismissal of the CEO of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport.

“I would blow it up and start it all over,” said Nathan Smith, an advisory board member since 2009, appointed by Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. “It’s not set up correctly in today’s government environment for an airport.”

Some area business leaders worry that the board's behind-doors bickering and apparent dissension could stymie efforts to increase flights and attract business, which is vital to the economic health of the region. The board oversees the airport.

Smith said board members discussed airport CEO Candace McGraw’s fate in a closed-to-the-public executive session, which was called to discuss personnel matters during the board’s regular monthly meeting Monday.

McGraw declined comment Wednesday.

Several of the board’s 11 advisory members were involved in the discussion, he said, but only seven members on the executive committee have the voting authority for decisions like ousting McGraw, who has been in her job for two years.

“The system is broken. It doesn’t make sense,” said Smith, a partner in SSK Communities, an Erlanger –based developer of manufactured homes.

Board Chairman and voting member Jim Huff said that while the board discussed better communication between McGraw and the board, no votes were cast and no action was taken.

“You have to have a board and CEO [who] work together on everything and have to coordinate and that’s all we’re working on. Same page. Same step,” said Huff, President of Huff Realty.

“[There are] bumps in the road… [We’re] trying to make everything smooth.”

But Smith said everything is not OK and there was no resolution to the discussion, including whether or not to hire a CEO coach for McGraw.

Smith pointed to several achievements during McGraw's tenure including the expansion of DHL, the addition of Frontier Airlines and Ultimate Air Shuttle flights and the addition of a Delta international flight. In the last five months and under her stewardship, the airport has improved passenger travel and growth in flights that originate out of CVG, he said.

“The board is dysfunctional. It’s a mess,” said Smith. “How do you fire someone with that kind of positive movement?”

Smith fears business for the airport will be the board’s next victim if they cannot work together.

“How do you bring in new airlines?” he said, when the board continues to evaluate the CEO — including three times in 18 months.

It makes businesses and prospective airlines question, ‘Who’s in charge?’ he said.

'Our Port To The World'

Cincinnati business leaders have long been frustrated by the Kenton County Airport Board because of continued shrinkage in the number of flight options from Hebron and a lack of decision-makers on the board who represent major users of air service.

Several local executives have left the board after one term due to its time commitments and frustration over its governance structure.

The original six-member board has expanded over the years "to give surrounding counties a greater voice in the operation of the airport," according to the CVG website. 

But the board's voting power continues to reside with seven members, all of whom are appointed by Kenton County Judge Executive Steve Arlinghaus.

Cincinnati Business Committee Chairman Tom Williams called for restructuring of the Kenton County Airport Board in a 2011 speech, but the idea hasn't taken hold.

"The question is glaring as to whether this current board structure is most effective," Williams said in that 2011 speech to United Way fundraisers. That speech led to the formation of the Cintrifuse start-up initiative and a business-backed study of ways to attract new flight service options.

Williams said in an interview Wednesday that the board restructuring idea could be raised again this fall, when he expects airport officials to brief CBC members. The powerful CBC includes the CEOs of the region's biggest companies, including Procter & Gamble, Macy's, Western & Southern Financial Group and Williams' company, North American Properties.

"It’s important that there is a broad-based representation on the board of constituents in the community, business and otherwise and on both sides of the river," he said.

"Representation on the board should be voting representation, yes. Absolutely,'' Williams said. "This is the most important asset that we have. I mean, let’s face it. It is our port to the world."

Currently, the Kenton County Airport Board, which owns and operates the airport, is comprised of 18 members, who are appointed. Seven sit on the executive committee and have the power to vote on CVG decisions, as well as set policies and oversee development and goals for the airport.

In addition to Arlinghaus' appointment of the voting members, he also appoints six advisory members. The Hamilton County Board  of Commissioners, Cincinnati mayor, Kentucky governor, and judge executives for neighboring Boone and Kenton counties each get one advisory board member appointment. 

Smith suggested making the board smaller with 13 all-voting members, giving Kenton County judge executive just seven of those appointments.

Beshear has the executive authority to restructure the airport board as he deems necessary.

“The Northern Kentucky Airport is very important to the economic vitality of both Kentucky and southern Ohio, and Gov. Beshear will continue to work with both the board and its management to ensure the airport’s long-term success,'' said Kerri Richardson, the governor's spokeswoman. "The governor is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the facility, and does not plan to be.”

Kenton County Judge Executive Steve Arlinghaus met with McGraw and airport board members Huff and Larry Savage Thursday. He released a statement saying he "made clear in this meeting that I expect - and our whole community expects - that airport management and the airport board of directors to work hand in hand to move our airport forward."

Read the full statement here:


Current Kenton County Airport Board Members

• Chairman — James Huff, Huff Realty (Executive Committee member)

• Vice Chair — Larry Savage, Regional CEO, Humana Inc. (Executive Committee member)

• Dorothy H. Air, Associate Senior Vice President, Entrepreneurial Affairs, University of Cincinnati

• Mark G. Arnzen, Principal, Arnzen, Molloy & Storm (Executive Committee member)

• James A. Berger, Executive Vice President, Chas. Bilz Insurance Co.

• Kevin W. Canafax, Vice President of Public Affairs-Midwest Region, Fidelity Investments

• Kathy Collins, Vice President Private Banking, Fifth Third Bank

• Merwin Grayson Jr., President, Central Bank of Northern Kentucky

• Franklin S. Kling Jr., CEO & Chairman, FK Holdings Inc. (Executive Committee member)

• Timothy S. Mauntel, Retired Senior Vice President, Morgan Stanley (Executive Committee member)

• Paul A. McElhinney, President & CEO, GE Aviation – Services (Executive Committee member)

• James A. Miceli, Retired Air Traffic Controller, Federal Aviation Administration

• Joseph E. Michels, Vice President, Paul Michels & Sons Inc.

• John A. Mocker Jr., Vice President & Partner, LB Industries Inc. (Executive Committee member)

• O’dell M. Owens, M.D., M.P.H., President, Cincinnati State Technical & Community College

• Nathaniel G. Smith, Partner, SSK Communities

• Paul T. Verst, President & CEO, Verst Group Logistics

• Robert Zapp, President, Bank of Kentucky

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