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Concerns about expensive airplane purchase stall Missouri cabinet nominee

Thursday, January 24, 2013 | 5:45 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri senators delayed the 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 had signed off on the purchase of a new King Air 250 plane by the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Nixon flew on the new plane Thursday after holding a news conference about education issues in St. Louis, but it also can be used by other state officials and the Highway Patrol.

Nelson, a longtime Nixon aide, approved the plane's purchase in December while serving as acting administration commissioner. While Nixon selected Nelson to become commissioner this month, Nelson had been carrying out the functions of the office since being named acting commissioner in February.

"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.

Highway Patrol Col. Ronald K. Replogle said Thursday that 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.

Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he and other lawmakers should have been consulted by the Highway Patrol before the plane was bought.

"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 said.

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

"At least when (the Highway Patrol) is transporting prisoners, they will have hot coffee," Silvey joked.

Replogle said the King Air 250 model was chosen because it seats more people and required similar training and pilot certifications to those of the state's older plane, a King Air C90. He said training on the new plane was included as part of 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 C90 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.

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.


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