Sunday, February 11, 2001

Sweet deal?

Dems say real-estate buy smells

        Valentine's Day is still three days away, but Kenton County Democrats are convinced the GOP-controlled county fiscal court has given a sweetheart deal to a Republican Party contributor and activist.

        Last week, the Kenton County Fiscal Court voted to buy a downtown Covington office building for $1.5 million. Officials said the office space is needed because of the planned expansion of the county jail at the courthouse. So five offices — judge-executive, treasurer, emergency management, the civil section of the county attorney's office and county commissioners — will move over to the handsome, two-story brick building at the corner of Fifth and Main this summer.

        What has the Democrats' shorts all bunched up is who owns the building, a Taylor Mill resident named Steve Preston.

GOP faithful?

               Mr. Preston is a former member of the Kenton County Republican Executive Committee. He has contributed money to GOP candidates, managed campaigns and helped Republican office-seekers raise money.

        Though Mr. Preston has scaled back his involvement in Republican politics, Democrats are convinced his past activities are the reason the county bought his building.

        As of Friday, the Democrats were weaving a tale that no appraisal was done on the property. Party operatives also produced the tax assessment on the building, which is listed on the county's rolls at $875,000.

        “It doesn't pass the smell test,” said Fort Mitchell Democrat Nathan Smith.

        Republicans think Mr. Smith and his Democratic pals need to take another whiff.

        The property was appraised, and it came in at $1.5 million, Mr. Preston said Friday. And tax assessments are often lower than the actual value of a property, he said.

        “There was absolutely no favoritism at all in this purchase,” said Kenton County Commissioner Adam Koenig, a Villa Hills Republican who toured the building before the fiscal court agreed to buy it.

        Democrats also wonder what the county will do with the building once the jail is completed.

        “It will be used for county offices because we're still going to need space for some offices that won't be in the courthouse,” Mr. Koenig said.

Flagged play

               Democrats, reporters and anybody else has the right, ability and even responsibility to question spending by government officials. The fact that the building is owned by a former GOP activist does raise some red flags that should be addressed.

        But the real story here is that Republicans in Kenton County had better get used to this kind of scrutiny from the Dems.

        A few weeks ago, the Democrats promised a renewed and aggressive party, and they are living up to their word. With county elections less than two years away, the Democrats are already lining up to try to pick off a few GOP seats in November of 2002.

        Republicans already have some big problems, such as raising taxes and taking forever to build a new county jail.

        Buying office space from a former GOP activist may be perfectly legitimate.

        But it sounds bad.

        And the Democrats are going to make sure that people are listening.

       Patrick Crowley covers Kentucky politics for The Kentucky Enquirer. He can be reached at 578-5581, or by e-mail at


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