UPDATE: Agency paid for Gov. Nixon's travel aide

Wednesday, November 9, 2011 | 1:33 p.m. CST; updated 2:22 p.m. CST, Wednesday, November 9, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has a new right-hand man who accompanies him almost everywhere he travels. But until recently, that aide's salary was paid by the Department of Economic Development — an arrangement that key lawmakers say may violate state budget restrictions.

State personnel records show Jeff Gettys, a former Missouri football player, officially began work in the governor's office last month. But state flight records obtained by The Associated Press show Gettys was regularly traveling with Nixon as early as July while he remained on the payroll of the state's economic agency.

The Missouri budget specifically prohibits the Department of Economic Development, as well as most other state agencies, from paying for the travel or staffing costs of the governor's office or other statewide officials.

Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said Wednesday that he didn't believe the administration violated that budget law with Gettys' work arrangement.

"That period before he came on the payroll when he was traveling with the governor, I would best describe that as a period of transition — of moving him into the governor's office and doing some of the logistical and operational support," Holste said.

That is exactly the type of cost-shifting that the budget restrictions were intended to prevent, said House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City. The restrictions were imposed with bipartisan support this year by lawmakers who had grown frustrated by Nixon's habit of billing other agencies for his state airplane flights and the salaries of some aides.

"Unfortunately, we've seen that King Jay is going to do whatever King Jay wants to do," Silvey said of the governor. "Clearly, if the guy is on the payroll of the Department of Economic Development but he's attached to the hip of the governor in all these various circumstances that aren't related to economic development, that's another instance of the governor trying to hide staff."

Gettys, a reserve linebacker and special teams player for the Tigers from 2007-2010, graduated from the university in May 2010 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and was hired this past January as an intern earning $9 an hour by the Department of Economic Development, according to state and university records. In May, he was promoted to a department position paying more than $3,300 a month. State records show he joined the governor's office as an "operations assistant" on Oct. 3.

But state flight records show Gettys began traveling with Nixon on July 6. Over the ensuing three months, Gettys accompanied Nixon more than anyone who actually worked in the governor's office. He joined Nixon on 34 of the Democratic governor's 40 flights from July 6 through Oct. 2, including many whose listed purpose on state records made no mention of the Department of Economic Development. Gettys went with Nixon to survey flood damage, meet with local law enforcement officials, attend the State Fair, honor a deceased soldier and visit Joplin schools that had been destroyed by a tornado.

Department of Economic Development spokesman John Fougere said Gettys traveled with the governor so frequently because "some of Jeff's work related to inter-departmental efforts on a variety of issues." While at the department, Fougere said, Gettys also helped with a variety of legislative matters, compiled background information for profiles of Missouri businesses and helped coordinate an announcement of Missouri's involvement in the federal State Small Business Credit Initiative.

Nixon is an MU alumnus and an avid Tigers fan who frequently attends MU athletic events. Holste said the fact that Gettys was a Missouri football player had no role in the decision to hire him at the governor's office.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Kurt Schaefer, a Republican from Columbia whose district includes the university, said Gettys' summertime travels with the governor raise questions about whether he really was a Department of Economic Development employee or was essentially an employee of Nixon's office.

"It's incumbent on us in the General Assembly to make sure the public has a good understanding of how public funds are being spent. If the message was not received that we need transparency in the governor's operating budget, we may have to go back and revisit that," Schaefer said.

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