Airplane concerns stall Nixon's cabinet nominee

Friday, January 25, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Missouri senators delayed confirmation of one of Gov. Jay Nixon's top appointees Thursday, citing concerns that he had approved the purchase of a $5.6 million state airplane without first informing them.

Although senators approved other Nixon appointees, they set aside the confirmation of Doug Nelson as commissioner of administration because he signed off on the purchase of a new King Air 250 plane by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Nelson, a longtime Nixon aide, approved the plane's purchase in December while an acting administration commissioner.

"If this is the type of behavior we have seen as acting commissioner on a $5.6 million purchase, I have great concern on how he will act the next four years," said Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City.

Nelson needs the Senate to approve his nomination by Feb. 7 to stay in office.

The commissioner of administration oversees state purchases and manages contracts.

Nixon flew aboard the plane Thursday after a news conference about education issues in St. Louis, but it also can be used by other state officials and the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Patrol Col. Ronald K. Replogle said the plane was bought to upgrade the patrol's fleet and he would answer senators' questions.

"I have nothing to hide and we will be up front with how we did this and why we did this," Replogle said.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer said he and other lawmakers should have been consulted by the highway patrol before the purchase.

"This is an issue of essentially failing to recognize or intentionally not caring about the General Assembly's role in how public money is spent," Schaefer, R-Columbia, said.

Silvey visited the plane at its hanger Wednesday and said he was concerned about its extravagance. The new nine-passenger plane was purchased without a competitive bidding process.

"At least when [the Highway Patrol] is transporting prisoners, they will have hot coffee," Silvey said, joking.

Replogle said the King Air 250 model was chosen because it seats more people and required similar training and pilot certifications as the state's older plane -- a King Air 90C. He said training was included with the purchase. The King Air 250 was purchased from Kansas-based Hawker Beechcraft Corp., the only manufacturer of the model.

The Highway Patrol plans to keep the 14-year-old King Air 90C that had been used to transport government officials. The patrol has been responsible for flying state officials since 2006.

"At some point you have to upgrade if you are going to continue with this service," Replogle said.

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