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Friday, October 24, 2014

Judge/Exec candidates focus on differences in final debate

Democrat and current county commissioner Ken Rechtin (left) is challenging Republican incumbent Steve Pendery for Campbell County Judge/Executive/Provided

Candidates for Campbell County Judge/Executive met one final time Thursday night, in a final effort to sway voters. Incumbent Republican Steve Pendery faced off against Democratic challenger and current county commissioner Ken Rechtin.

"The theme of tonight is 'differences,'" said moderator and FTM Chief Mark Collier early in the discussion, setting the tone for what was the candidates' third meeting, one in which they couldn't even agree on how much they've agreed with one another as colleagues on fiscal court.

When asked how many times over the incumbent's 16-year tenure did he disagree with Rechtin, who has served on fiscal court for over a decade himself, Pendery said, "In the last 12 years, 95% of the issues we've agreed on... It's actually closer to 100%."

"I was a little puzzled when he decided to run against me," Pendery said of Rechtin, working to position his candidate as a less-experienced version of himself.

Rechtin sees things differently, though, as he worked vigorously throughout Thursday night's forum to distinguish himself and his vision from his opponent's.

To that same question of disagreement on fiscal court, Rechtin was quick to point out his and Pendery's differing opinions on the county-wide smoking ban, which Rechtin said he opposed when it was on the docket years ago. "That's the beginning of the disagreements between Steve and I," he said. "More recently, there's been more disagreement."

What is or would be your leadership style as the "CEO of the county"?

With this question, Rechtin found what seemed to be his preferred method of distinguishing himself from his opponent.

"I'm a hands-on CEO," he said, referring to his decades of experience managing businesses in both the private and not-for-profit sectors. "I prefer the MBWA way. That's 'managing by walking around,'" he said, pointing to his signature red sneakers and touting his on-foot campaign strategy and the 5,000 doors he's knocked on throughout the year.

"You will find me very visible in the county," he said, taking a jab at Pendery, who Rechtin believes has been too detached from Campbell County. "The function (of the Judge Executive) is day-to-day."

Pendery disagreed and seized the opportunity to again distinguish himself from his opponent, saying that it's the Judge Executive's job to be an ambassador, rather than a player in the county offices' day-to-day.

By establishing an administrative staff he trusts, "I'm free to do what I consider more important work," Pendery said.

"I don't see ambassadorship as part of the role," Rechtin fired back.

What's your position on regionalism?

"If you're going to have influence, you have to be out there," Pendery said, pointing once again to his work with Northern Kentucky's regional economic development organization, the Tri-County Economic Development Corporation, or Tri-Ed for short.

"(Judge Executive is) not just sitting behind a desk," he said.

"How well is he advocating for us in Campbell County?" Rechtin charged in rebuttal, kickstarting a common accusation among fiscal court candidates, here directed at his opponent, that Pendery's efforts at regionalism have been at the expense of Campbell County's interests.

"Of 130 (Tri-Ed) projects, less than 10% are in Campbell County," Rechtin said just before pointing out what he sees as the county's unfair representation on the Sanitation District (SD1) board.

Pendery fired back, as he did in the previous debate, arguing that Northern Kentucky jobs -- not just Campbell County jobs -- and primary jobs, or those that create other jobs, are the key to the entire region's growth.

Is Northern Kentucky winning the war on heroin?

"We're not winning the war on heroin, but we're taking the steps necessary," Pendery began, touting the number of dealers his administration has seen put behind bars, more than 300 he said.
"It's the education and treatment pieces that are the bigger issue," he said.

Here, Rechtin struggled to disagree with his opponent. "We're fighting a good fight," he said.
"But we need more structure to allocate resources to effective efforts," the challenger argued, accusing the incumbent of taking a shotgun approach to the problem.

How can we streamline the permits, taxes, licenses, etc., required for county businesses to operate?
With this question, Rechtin took the opportunity to slam the tax collection software recently developed and implemented by the county as ineffective and costly.

"It does nothing to make it simpler for the business community," Rechtin said, calling for a county-wide round-table for Campbell County mayors to discuss and plan a system that would approach tax collection in each city uniformly.

"Tell me how to keep track of 10 different cities and their tax systems," Pendery charged back, calling the new software an "investment in making life simpler" for taxpayers.

What is the no. 1 issue facing Campbell County?

Here the candidates drew the boldest lines in the sand, but also defaulted to their baseline campaign messaging.

"That's clearly heroin," Pendery said, pointing then to jobs and economic development as his second priority.

Rechtin took this final opportunity to disagree with his opponent, pointing to the region's access to clean water, calling recent issues with SD1 "the overarching issue, from north to south."

Specifically, Rechtin pointed to the federally mandated pipeline slated to cut through Camp Springs in southern Campbell Co.

"We also have all these new subdivisions," Rechtin continued. "They were promised new sewer systems, but never got them."

"Now he's just pandering to people who are rightly disappointed," Pendery said.

Voters will decide between the two candidates November 4.

Thursday's forum was hosted by the Independent Business Association of Northern Kentucky.

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