Incumbent Campbell County District 1 Commissioner Brian Painter, a Republican, faces a challenge from Democrat Melissa Whalen in the Nov. 8 General Election.
There are three commissioners in Campbell County that cover three different districts. District 1 covers most of Fort Thomas, Highland Heights, Cold Spring, and Alexandria. Commissioners must live within their boundaries, but everyone in the county gets to vote on each commissioner, not just the district’s residents.
A county commissioner is like a liaison between citizens and the county government. You can think of a commissioner as a voting member of a board of directors with a $40 million budget that runs the county government. The budget is distributed for things like the county’s transportation department, police, and senior center. The county clerk, jailer, and sheriff are responsible for submitting budgets to the court, and commissioners vote on whether they’re appropriate.
Painter’s name on the November ballot comes after a months-long dispute in court with his opponent from the May primary.
Painter narrowly defeated Dave Fischer in the May primary by just over 100 votes. Following Painter’s win, Fischer’s campaign filed suit accusing Painter of illegal electioneering after Painter distributed campaign materials at an event for poll workers when early voting had already started.
In June, a Jefferson Co. judge vacated Painter’s win and replaced him on the ballot with Fischer.
Painter’s campaign appealed, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals overturned the lower court’s ruling in August.
Fischer’s campaign motioned for a review of the case from the Kentucky Supreme Court, but that motion was denied, returning Painter to the ballot last month.
Painter resides in Alexandria and has served as District 1 Commissioner since first being elected in 2010. He said he is semi-retired and works as a commissioner full-time. He was a small business owner of Vineyard Hardwoods in Campbell County for 13 years. He received his bachelor’s degree from NKU and master’s degree from Ohio University and is a licensed hydrogeologist.
All things he said make him a better candidate than his opponent.
“I have a 12-year record of public service that I am proud to stand behind,” Painter said. “I bring to bear my professional scientist methods and approach to what I do, and that saves Campbell County money. I have knowledge of what it is like to operate a small business here in the county and try to support others who serve us in that way.”
Whalen grew up in Dayton and lives in Fort Thomas. She is a licensed attorney in Ohio and Kentucky and has practiced in courts in both states for about 25 years. She currently works for the McCalla Raymer Leibert Pierce law firm in Cincinnati.
Whalen said she was raised to value community service. Although she didn’t expect that service to lead to politics, she believes that the best work she can do for the community is to work as a commissioner to form policies that benefit everyone.
Whalen said she is a better candidate for the District 1 seat because she believes that all voices deserve to be heard and, currently, does not feel all voices are being listened to by the Fiscal Court.
“I was raised in a blue-collar family; I am a first-generation college student; I am someone who has sat at the table with some of the most vulnerable members of our community, and I promise I will always listen to you, and I will always vote with your interests in mind,” Whalen said.
Whalen worked as a social worker in Campbell County before attending law school, an experience she called “eye-opening” showing the needs of the people in the county that she said are currently not being met.
She said as a trial lawyer, she frequently fills the role of problem solver, finding creative solutions and negotiating common ground to advocate for her clients. All skills she said will be helpful as a county commissioner.
“I also know the value of hard work and promise I will not be outworked in this position,” Whalen said. “I raised two children as a single mother while working full-time as a trial attorney; I know I am up to the job.”
Should she be elected, Whalen said she would focus on the needs of the working families in the county.
“It doesn’t matter if services are available in the community if they are not accessible,” Whalen said. “I will focus on expanding public transportation so that people can get to the jobs and services they need. I also will address the current affordable housing crisis we are experiencing. The availability of accessible health care, including mental health and drug treatment, is also a concern.”
Painter said he is running for reelection to continue the work the fiscal court has done over the past 12 years, some of which he cites as not overtaxing and working with what they have.
Should he be reelected, Painter said his priorities would stay the same, focusing on continuing safety services with police protection, transportation safety, and using tax dollars efficiently.
“Our utilities will improve, as we are seeing now with water and sewer expansion projects,” Painter said. “We will complete our fiber optics build-out with high-speed internet to every door. Our recreation facilities will continue to get better and operate in the black. This is all by design and with a purpose, and that will continue.”
Painter said one of his most significant accomplishments since taking office was lowering the property tax rate from 17.7 cents per $1,000 to 17.1 cents per $1,000 assessed property value this year.
“This is the result of a decade-long effort to recover from the 2010 recession,” Painter said. “We made our government more efficient and responsive through the years. The result of this hard work culminates in this tax reduction. The taxpayer knows how to spend their money better than the government.”