Missouri senators have delayed the confirmation of one of Gov. Jay Nixon's top appointees, 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. Nixon selected Nelson to become commissioner this month, but Nelson has been carrying out the functions of the office since being named acting commissioner last 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, a Kansas City Republican.
Highway Patrol Col. Ronald K. Replogle said the plane was purchased to upgrade the patrol's fleet.
"I have nothing to hide," Replogle said. "We will be up front with how we did this and why we did this."
Senate Appropriations Committee chairman Kurt Schaefer said he and other lawmakers should have been consulted by the Highway Patrol before the plane was purchased.
"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," said Schaefer, a Columbia Republican.
Silvey visited the plane at its hangar 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 requires similar training and pilot certifications as the state's older plane, a King Air 90C. 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 90C that had been used to transport government officials. The patrol has been responsible for flying state officials since 2006.
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.