It’s a win for citizens and taxpayers
Over a year ago, sharp-eyed researchers from the Tea Party in Northern Kentucky raised serious questions about the continued need for the Northern Kentucky Area Planning Commission (NKAPC). This zoning and planning commission appears redundant in the one remaining county it now serves and there are even questions about the legality of its continuing operation as a separate, taxing agency.
Based on what it found, the Tea Party launched an effort in accordance with state law to place a voter recall item of the NKAPC on the Kenton County election ballot.
The Tea Party along with Northern Kentucky area contractors, who also felt the NKAPC had outlived its usefulness, began collecting the thousands of signatures needed – more than 19,000 Kenton County residents needed to sign – to place the recall on the ballot.
Collection of so many signatures, one quarter of all the votes cast in the last presidential election, was a daunting task. So the contractors brought in a commercial canvassing firm, AZ Petition Partners, to help.
Collection was made more difficult when several signature collectors reportedly were harassed by local law enforcement at the instigation of the Kenton County Attorney, Gary Edmonson.
Despite the challenges, Kenton County Clerk Gabrielle Summe was eventually presented with over 24,000 signatures from citizens requesting an NKAPC recall item on the next ballot. It looked like significant signature overkill, but never count out politics.
Clerk Summe eventually ruled thousands of the signatures were invalid, so many that too few valid ones remained to place the issue on the ballot. That triggered a lawsuit from the outraged Tea Party, which is still in court over this extremely contentious clerk action.
However, that wasn’t all the legal activity involved. A second lawsuit was also filed. This one was filed by Kenton County Attorney Gary Edmondson. He charged the Petition Partners firm and independent contractors who supported it with racketeering under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) for collecting fraudulent signatures. Although only the commercial firm and its contractors were named in the suit, many Tea Party members also felt threatened. After all, if the commercial firm were found guilty, might Edmondson then place Tea Partiers to his litigious sights?
On August 22, 2012, US District Judge David L. Bunning of the US District Court in Covington rendered his verdict. He found in favor of Petition Partners. The Edmondson suit was dismissed with prejudice, which may block Edmonson from bringing the same lawsuit against Petition Partners again.
The NKAPC originally was created to act as a coordinated zoning and planning agency for multiple Northern Kentucky counties, mainly Boone, Kenton and Campbell. The state law that allowed NKAPC’s creation stipulated that at least two counties had to be members and the area served had to include at least one city with at least 50,000 population.
The NKAPC was to be governed by a board appointed by the elected officials in the counties served. NKAPC was also granted self-taxing authority even though it and its governing board were not directly elected by the public. That created an organization with very little taxpayer accountability. Still, such an arrangement made some sense, so long as multiple counties were involved.
However, Boone County never joined the NKAPC. Then, years ago, Campbell also dropped out. In addition, the population in Kenton County’s largest city, Covington, has dropped well below the 50,000 figure.
That leaves the NKAPC with dubious authority over just one county, Kenton, which also has its own planning commission (albeit presently mostly a shell office).
No accountability leads to inefficiency
Thanks to a large measure of insulation from the taxpayer, the NKAPC budget has grown out of line with the costs of its corresponding agency in Boone County. As Jim Waters, now president of the Bluegrass Institute, pointed out in a Bluegrass Beacon article:
“Kenton County’s planning budget is $4.8 million, while Boone County gets by on $1.6 million. Planning costs each Kenton County resident $30.39 per year; Boone County residents pay only $13.75.”
Waters’ article also points to the serious inefficiency in the NKAPC compared to Boone County:
“The Boone County Planning Commission staff of 15 handles 300 percent more work than the area planning staff of 42 strong – with their Cadillac benefit packages.”
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