Sunday, June 23, 2013

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon accounts for 83 percent of 2012 flights

Gov. Jay Nixon leaves the airport in Jefferson City on June 30 using a state-owned plane. 
Photo Courtesy/Credit:  Julie Smith.

By Bob Watson 
Sunday, June 23, 2013
Gov. Jay Nixon was the most frequent flier of the 125 flights the Missouri Highway Patrol flew last year.

Records for 2012 show Nixon and members of his administration used the patrol’s 1999 King Air airplane 104 times — or 83.2 percent of the flights.

First lady Georganne Nixon was listed as a passenger on 19 of the flights.

The patrol measures its flights in hours, not miles — the governor’s trips used 173.1 hours, or 80 percent, of the total 215.9 hours shown on the patrol reports provided to the News Tribune under a Sunshine Law records request.

By contrast, the patrol’s records show six flights total made last year for the state Transportation department, two on behalf of University of Missouri doctors, one for Attorney General Chris Koster and four for the state Public Safety department and various law enforcement agencies.

Only seven of all the flights were out-of-state, including a Nixon trip to Detroit and another to Washington, D.C., for meetings.

The records don’t include any campaign flights made during last year’s gubernatorial race, because the Highway Patrol can’t provide a plane for election campaign flights.

Six months ago, the patrol paid $5.6 million for a new, larger, turbo-prop King Air 250 — stirring a controversy among a number of lawmakers who thought the purchase was unnecessary.

Patrol Superintendent Ron Replogle told reporters last January that Nixon did not ask the patrol to buy the plane.

Instead, he said then, the agency had been considering getting a second plane for several years.

“We are the transportation for all of state government,” he said. “We have turned flights down, in the past. ... We have turned criminal-related flights down, in the past, because we didn’t have an airplane available.”

The Office of Administration used to provide those flights but, Replogle said in January, the patrol took over in 2006 when budget cuts forced OA out of airplane “business.”

“The current (1999) King Air that we have is an aging aircraft,” the colonel said, “and if we’re going to continue to be the flight services for the state, we’ve thought for years about upgrading our fleet.”

In addition, the colonel told reporters in January, “We use the plane extensively for out-of-state flights for criminal interdiction work.”

Flights on the 1999 plane cost about $650 an hour, Replogle said.

Spokesman Tim Hull said: “The other state agencies who use the Patrol’s flight service are billed directly for the service,” both for the flights themselves and for the time of the pilots who fly the plane.

It’s a practice that also has generated complaints against Nixon for sharing the costs of his flights with other state agencies.

The governor’s flights generally included at least three other people — administration representatives from the governor’s office or state agencies and, usually, a communications spokesman — plus one or more troopers assigned to the governor’s security detail.

Patrol spokesman John Hotz said: “We do not provide specific information about the security detail.”

The MoDOT flights usually involved carrying one, or two, commissioners from their homes to the department’s Jefferson City headquarters.

The law enforcement flights involved several people and, in two instances, brought suspects back to Missouri for continuing criminal investigations.

According to the patrol’s records, Nixon flew on:

• 11 (17.3 hours) of the 16 flights (24.4 hours total) in January, 2012, with MoDOT using the other five.

• All 9 of the flights (20.3 hours) in February.

• 8 (11.6 hours) of the 12 flights (17.2 hours total) in March, with two for MoDOT and one each for MU doctors and Attorney General Koster.

• 11 (14.9 hours) of April’s 13 flights (17.0 hours total), with one for MoDOT and one for the Public Safety department.

• 14 (20.6 hours) of May’s 17 flights (30.4 hours total), with two flights for MoDOT and a 6.9-hour law enforcement round-trip flight to Texas for a homicide investigation.

• All 8 flights in June (12.2 hours).

• 15 (29.0 hours) of July’s 17 flights (32.0 hours total), with MoDOT using the other two flights.

• 13 (20.5 hours) of the 15 flights in August (27.1 hours total), with MoDOT using one flight and law enforcement the other.

• All 7 flights in September (12.4 hours total).

• All 7 flights in October (11.1 hours total).

• One flight (3.2 hours) in November — after the election — with MU doctors using the other flight (4.6 hours total).

• No flights in December, although a Highway Patrol investigation used two flights for a total of 7.2 hours.

Last year — well before the patrol’s purchase of the new plane was made public in January — State Auditor Tom Schweich announced his regular audit of patrol operations would include airplane usage and school bus inspections.

That report has not been released yet.

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