Campbell County Republican Party votes to remove leaders; chair claims meetings are invalid

Haley Parnell
Haley Parnell
Haley is a reporter for LINK nky. Email her at [email protected]

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The Campbell County Republican Party voted by secret ballot to remove Chairman Anna Zinkhon and Treasurer Stephen Cunningham during its special meeting Thursday night.

The party needed 2/3 of their quorum, or 2/3 of the 33 precinct captains who attended the meeting to vote to oust the pair. Of the 33 that voted, all voted “yes” to oust Cunningham, and all 33 voted “yes” to remove Zinkhon.

But according to Zinkhon, the meetings held on March 2 and April 13 were invalid and void.

The meeting April 13 meeting agenda. Photo by Haley Parnell | LINK nky

Thursday’s meeting was held to allow the petitioners to lay out their case against the chair and treasurer and give Zinkhon and Cunningham a chance to speak; however, neither Zinkhon nor Cunningham were in attendance at the meeting. Vice Chair David Fischer was also absent.

According to precinct captains at the meeting, their votes will now go to the Republican Party of Kentucky, which has 10 days to make the removals official. Zinkhon said otherwise.

In a response Zinkhon sent out after the April 13 meeting she said both meetings were not sanctioned or properly called meetings of Campbell County Republican County Committee.

She said only the chair of the county committee has the authority to call a meeting. Zinkhon said that individual precinct captains may petition the chair to call a meeting, but only the chair may call a meeting of the county committee for a regular, special, or emergency meeting.

Further, she said the notice of the gatherings, even if legitimate, was not served on all precinct captains in a method required by the rules governing the county committee.

She said the relevant rule states that the petition must be transmitted to the county chairman which she said it was not.

On Feb. 23, Campbell County Republican Party precinct captain Virgil Manzione emailed all precinct captains for a special meeting on March 2. The petition was signed by five committee members: Virgil Manzione, Art Kunath, Harriet Arrasmith, Jerry Olson, and Kim Zimmerman.

“More importantly, as the rule only grants the chair the discretion and authority to call a special meeting upon petition, I did not convene the gathering on March 2,” Zinkhon said. “This is reasonable and makes common sense so that rogue elements of the county party cannot disregard our rules and procedures on a whim due to inability to work as a team.”

Zinkhon said she has been in consultation with the Republican Party of Kentucky on how to proceed going forward.

“I am confident any actions taken at the gatherings will be promptly rejected under the plain reading of our rules by the state central committee and party staff,” Zinkhon said.  

During the meeting, it was announced that the next Campbell County Republican Party regular meeting would most likely be held next Thursday, where people would have the chance to nominate a new chair and treasurer. Though nothing was made official, it was requested during the meeting that they not vote for replacements at the next meeting to give people a chance to hear from those who want to run.

Zinkhon said she would be calling a regular meeting “in the very near future” and the agenda items will include the acts of “disloyalty, defiance, and malfeasance and address the removal of the few participants of these acts.”

At the meeting, it was said that now that Zinkhon and Cunningham were voted to be removed, Fischer must call for meetings to occur. Should he choose not to, that authority would be passed down to Secretary Martie Bessler.

The vote comes after a special meeting held on March 2 to provide a 30-day notice of a vote to remove Zinkhon and Cunningham after issues in the Campbell County Republican Party began in February with the cancelation of its Winter Mixer and conflicts with Youth Chair Jessica Neal having webmaster authority over the party site.

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Precinct Captain Jerry Gearding gave the presentations at the meeting, stating why some members wanted Zinkhon and Cunningham removed.

“What have we really accomplished in two years?” Gearding said. “Have we brought more people into the party? Have we got young people involved?”

He said their party has been a “laughing stock” because they do not donate money to local or statewide candidates which he said should change.

Precinct captain Kim Zimmerman stated her dismay at Zinkhon and Cunningham not attending their special meetings.

“I think it’s very evident and very telling when the two officers who know of this meeting and knew of the last meeting are not present,” Zimmerman said. “That’s not leadership. That’s not responsible.”

Gearding said during the meeting that the party reorganization, which is when new people are elected, is two years away, and things needed to change now.

“We’re two years away from the reorg. If we don’t change things now, and we don’t accomplish things in the next two years, we’re going lose this party again,” Gearding said. “It’s going go back to the establishment Republicans that ran it before, and we’re going to get shut out, and we have far too much to fight for.”

Zinkhon said ahead of the March 2 meeting that no one had told her why they wanted her removed from the chair position.

“They have yet to tell me what I did wrong other than they don’t like that I stood up to them and make sure we’re doing things the right way,” Zinkhon said.

Cunningham told LINK nky last month that the group of people that want him and Zinkhon out of their positions want to take over and do things their way.

“The only reason that I haven’t resigned is because I don’t want one of the crazy people to take my place,” Cunningham said.

At the time, he said there was a group of about 15-20 people who want him and Zinkhon out of their positions. Cunningham said he was not sure who they wanted to replace him with.

“This is an educated guess that they want Jessica Neal (CCRP Youth Chair) to become the chair and then I have no idea who they want to replace me with,” Cunningham said.

Here is a timeline of events that occurred leading up to the meeting for removal:

On Feb. 13: The Campbell County Republican Party sent an email that said its Feb. 16 regular meeting was canceled due to a scheduling conflict, despite an upcoming Winter Mixer slated to host several Republican candidates running for statewide constitutional offices. 

“At this time, it appears the next Campbell County Republican Meeting will be held on April 21st,” the email reads. 

Three hours later, another email showed that the meeting would still be held but instead would be at the Newport Branch of the Campbell County Public Library. 

At 6 p.m., another email showed updated information for the Winter Mixer, which was scheduled to be held March 2 at the Newport Syndicate — the same night the party was slated to vote on whether to oust Zinkhon and Cunningham. 

On Feb. 14: Zinkhon sent an email that, per parliamentary procedure, the February meeting was canceled. 

“Per proper Parliamentary Procedure and in accordance with Republican Party of KY Rules, since the venue for the February meeting is unavailable, the February meeting for CCRP is canceled,” Zinkhon wrote. 

Zinkhon confirmed with LINK nky that she had to cancel the meeting because the location at the Newport Elks was overbooked. She said that by the time she learned about it, she only had four days to provide notice for a new meeting, and the law requires a minimum of five days.

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On Feb. 17: Zinkhon sent an email for an emergency meeting to be held on Feb. 20. 

“An Emergency Meeting is being called to reclaim our electronic assets, to decide whether to hold the Winter Mixer and understand the financial responsibility of not being able to sell tickets via the website and the financial risk of $8,175 to CCRP,” Zinkhon wrote. 

Four Republican gubernatorial candidates were slated to speak at the mixer: Kelly Craft, Mike Harmon, Eric Deters, and Ryan Quarles, with two tentatively scheduled — Alan Keck and Daniel Cameron. 

Two Republican Secretary of State candidates — Stephen Knipper and Allen Maricle — and state Treasurer candidate Andrew Cooperrider were also set to speak. 

The agenda for that meeting showed that recently elected Youth Chair Neal — a former Senate District 24 Candidate who contested the election results in court — “was asked to relinquish her website update access back to original webmaster on Feb. 16, 2023, and has not responded.” 

The next item said, “Online purchasing for Wintermixer via website has been delayed by Jessica Neal not relinquishing webmaster authority.” 

The next item questions whether or not to pursue legal action against Neal to address the issue. 

The last three items state: “d. Do we cancel Wintermixer? e. Website can’t sell tickets/collect money f. How does the assembly want to handle the financial risk for contract of $8,175?” 

On Feb. 18: Neal emailed all precinct captains arguing for her side of the story. 

“I am writing to address some of the actions you have likely witnessed over the past week and share with you my side of the story of what is going on behind the scenes,” Neal wrote. “I know it has been confusing to get so many emails, culminating in an emergency meeting notification, and I wanted to provide some context.” 

In her email, Neal claims that the original canceled meeting was peculiar because the original location — the Elks — was already booked. She found it strange that Zinkhon had canceled the meeting just four days before. 

“The following day, on Monday, a notice was sent out to members canceling the meeting, with no officer discussion entertained on the matter,” Neal wrote. “Knowing that answers to Winter Mixer planning questions had not been adequately addressed in our officer’s meeting the week prior, I consulted with Vice Chairman David Fischer and Secretary Martha Bessler to get their agreement on hosting the meeting anyway since a room was booked that was both free of cost to use and available to hold our group.” 

Zinkhon told LINK nky that Neal said she would find another room to use for the meeting, and Zinkhon explained to her that the location was not the issue; they needed more days for a meeting notice.

“She went ahead and used the website again and sent out a notice to members as if she were me and gave the meeting a new location,” Zinkhon said.

Neal emailed the alternate location at the Campbell County Public Library. 

Zinkhon told LINK nky that Neal was given access to their website to help with updates under her guidance, “I asked her, please do not change anything without going through me. That’s how we’ve been doing it because we’re new; we’re learning our ropes.”

She said that instead of using the ID they provided her, Neal created her own ID and assigned ownership of the software and licensing to her ID. Therefore, they still had access to the website but couldn’t remove her access.

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Neal continued explaining that on Feb. 17, she planned to give credentials of the website back to the county party, but not before she read the email from Zinkhon threatening legal action. 

Zinkhon said that Neal tried to give her ownership up but did it incorrectly, and they didn’t regain access until days later.

“As you all have likely read, the agenda was insinuating that I was holding the website ‘hostage’ and preventing Winter Mixer plans from moving forward when I was still within the 3-day window Anna gave me (see attached email screenshot) to get things transferred back,” Neal wrote. “Please note this email appears to have been sent to the entire email list for the party, some 300+ people, most of whom are not elected precinct captains (I had previously emailed out the meeting location update ONLY to captains)…”

Zinkhon said that the cancelation of the Winter Mixer was due to losing a week of website ticket sales, two weeks before it was set to take place, caused by the situation with Neal “abusing the website.”

Neal wrote that the Winter Mixer issues were not her fault before laying out her argument against the canceled meetings. 

“I believe most of you know the care and integrity I bring to anything I do,” Neal wrote. “If you don’t know me that well personally, you likely saw how I ran my campaign for State Senate and how I fought for the right to an election recount while representing myself in court without a lawyer for the majority of my hearings and managing tens of thousands of dollars to secure that opportunity. It is disheartening to have my name smeared in this fashion to not only our elected precinct captains but also to anyone whose email address is on the mailing list.” 

In March: Zinkhon said they lost their deposit of $2,000, but that was better than the $8,175 they stood to lose if they went through with the event.

Precinct Captain Tammy Nolan said at the March 2 meeting that she could only speak for herself, but she was unaware that there had been a vote to approve $10,000 for the Winter Mixer.

“They were allowed to spend $2,000,” Nolan said. “But once we get the email that there’s another $8,000 being added, and it was going to be $10,000. We didn’t vote to approve that.”

Nolan said she thinks someone needs to be held accountable for the $2,000 lost.

Cunningham said ahead of the March meeting that the party members that wanted to remove him and Zinkhon did not care about the mixer being canceled.

“They didn’t take the time to think that our biggest annual fundraiser is coming up, and maybe the party shouldn’t be at war with each other,” he said.

Nolan argued that it was Cunningham, not Neal, who was to blame for the failure of the mixer.

“Jessica was not responsible for the Winter Mixer failing at all,” Nolan said. “It was Steve Cunningham, the treasurer who was responsible, who hadn’t sold one ticket. When we had our emergency meeting, there wasn’t one ticket sold, and he said that in that meeting.”

After losing their biggest fundraising event of the year, Gearding said at the March meeting that he hoped they could get more fundraisers on the schedule before the end of the year to get the “train back on track.”

Cunningham said he is also being blamed for making them “bankrupt;” However, he said he just writes the checks.

“All the spending is based on what the committee decides,” Cunningham said.

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