COLD SPRING, Ky. — Campbell County’s role in the greater Northern Kentucky community was the central topic of debate at a recent public forum between Campbell County Judge-Executive incumbent Steve Pendery and challenger Kevin Sell.
Both Republicans will appear on Tuesday’s primary election ballot.
This is not the first time these two candidates have faced off for the Judge-Executive seat, the first being in 2010, which Pendery won by a narrow margin.
The forum, sponsored by the Independent Business Association of Northern Kentucky (IBANK), was held at DeVanna’s on U.S. 27 and moderated by editor and publisher of FortThomasMatters, Mark Collier.
Throughout the evening's discussion, a clear sequence of events emerged early: Pendery outlining where he feels Campbell Co. has succeeded under his administration, followed by Sell insisting that the incumbent's achievements are not proportional to the time spent in office.
Collier kicked off the debate by asking: “What is the proper balance between ‘what’s good for the region,' and 'what’s good for Campbell County'?”
“We compete best by cooperating,” Pendery said. “Regionalism has produced results.” Pendery, who has held the Judge-Executive seat since 1999, applauded Campbell County’s role among the three northernmost Kentucky counties, citing job growth in Campbell County as consistently one of the highest in the state.
Sell sees thing differently, though, challenging the true effectiveness of Pendery’s time in office, as well as indicting the Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corporation (Tri-ED), on which Pendery serves as chairman, and which Sell says has favored development in Kenton and Boone Counties over Campbell County.
“Regionalism is only as good as its weakest link,” Sell said, “and Campbell County has been the weakest link,” arguing that Pendery could have done more to encourage job growth on this side of the Licking.
Pendery refused to accept Sell’s point of view, pointing out his administration’s cooperation with the state to bring more jobs to Campbell County than all but one, state-wide. Many of the state grants also came with local complementary incentives for local, small-business owners. “We are not the weak link in the chain, nor are we third in the region,” he said.
Sell shot back, however, saying, “We shouldn’t be leaving it up to the state to help those businesses looking to expand (in Campbell County).”
Sell proposes the Judge-Executive office activate a business relationship program, in which a high county-level official would serve as liaison between government and local businesses and prospects.
Sell’s criticism of Pendery’s administration continued into the discussion of the region’s heroin epidemic, saying Pendery’s support for the Northern Kentucky Heroin Impact and Response Workgroup — a regional task force working to combat drug trafficking throughout Northern Kentucky — has not been focused specifically enough on the county.
“Campbell County has the highest rate of drug overdoses in the region. That’s unacceptable,” he said. Sell advocates working more closely with county schools and local law enforcement for an educational, preventative approach.
“I want people to know that, when you come to Campbell County (with heroin), you’re going to face quite a hassle,” Sell said.
Sell did not explain at the forum how he would finance these new county roles and initiatives, while also stating in his platform that he seeks to cut government expenditures.
Pendery closed his comments by saying, “I have been around for you for a long time. The things I’ve worked for I want to see through to their conclusion.”
Ultimately, the voters will decide what, and who, Campbell County needs.
The winner of Tuesday’s primary will face Democrat and current Campbell County Commissioner Ken Rechtin in November.
Photo: Steve Pendery (left) and Kevin Sell (right), Republican candidates for Campbell County Judge-Executive/photos provided