Our Opinion: Contrails of controversy follow plane purchase

News Tribune editorial

Exercising what is authorized does not always equate with exercising good judgment.

That difference is at the heart of a controversy concerning the Missouri Highway Patrol’s purchase of a new, $5.6 million airplane.

The purchase has prompted state lawmakers to call patrol officials, and an interim state agency director, on the proverbial carpet.

Is the scolding warranted?

Based on authorization, probably not.

The patrol’s budget, approved by lawmakers, contains an Automobile, Aircraft and Watercraft Revolving Fund. Patrol Superintendent Ron Replogle asked the interim director of the Office of Administration, Doug Nelson, to use those funds to acquire the plane.

For his action, Nelson has faced an inquisition from lawmakers and a delay of his confirmation to be the permanent, not interim, commissioner of Administration.

Under questioning, Nelson explained: “Our (OA’s) role in the particular purchase was to verify the funding sources with appropriate funds, which there was; appropriation language which allowed him (Replogle) to make the purchase, which there was; and then to procure that aircraft in a manner that complies with state procurement law, which it was.”

Since the purchase clearly was authorized, the issue is one of judgment.

Was good judgment used in making a purchase destined to arouse public concerns and, consequently, legislative second-guessing?

The state now is beginning to pull out of a fiscal (pardon the pun) nosedive.

An Associated Press story published in Wednesday’s edition began: “With Missouri’s budget prospects improving, dozens of advocates of social services and education crowded a Senate committee room Tuesday asking for more money for things such as Medicaid and college scholarships.”

Therein lies the disconnect.

With advocates for education, health care and human services pleading at the Legislature’s door, purchase of brand new, multi-million-dollar state plane just looks bad.

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