Gov. Mary Fallin's $273,000 in taxpayer-funded travel draws scrutiny
BY MEGAN ROLLAND & PHILLIP O'CONNOR NewsOK.com
Sunday, October 14, 2012
10/14/12 at 7:57 AM
OKLAHOMA CITY - She traveled to energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens' Texas ranch to relax, to Arizona for college football bowl games and Ireland for her daughter's wedding.
She flew to England to tout the state's aerospace industry, Detroit to lobby for compressed natural gas vehicles and Williamsburg, Va., where she was named the vice-chair of the National Governors Association.
Since taking office 21 months ago, Gov. Mary Fallin has spent more than $273,000 on travel paid for by taxpayers, an analysis by The Oklahoman has found. During that time, Fallin logged 56 trips, more than half of which were unrelated to state business.
Gov. Fallin's travel is drawing criticism from some who say it undermines her call for austerity in state government. Other critics say she needs to spend more time in Oklahoma tending to state business.
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When Gov. Mary Fallin travels by air, it's often aboard a multimillion-dollar state aircraft named Spirit of Oklahoma.
Earlier this year, the interior of the 1990 Beechcraft King Air 350 underwent an $82,000 refurbishment that included new leather seat covers, lighting, wall and ceiling panels, carpet and veneer woodwork. Mechanics rebuilt the twin engines at a cost of about $1.2 million. It's the plane's first overhaul since shortly before the state bought the aircraft in 1997.
The white turboprop airplane with black and gold trim bears the registration number N1OK. It can fly in excess of 350 mph and has a range of about 1,200 miles, allowing the governor to fly nonstop from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C., New York or Los Angeles.
The aircraft has 11 seats, including two for the pilots, both of whom are Department of Public Safety employees. One pilot has more than 17,000 flight hours. The other has more than 10,000 hours.
Brand new, the plane would cost about $7 million. Its current market value is about $2 million to $2.5 million, said Capt. Charles Strasbaugh, who oversees the department's aviation unit.
The airplane is housed at an Oklahoma Highway Patrol hangar at the Max West-heimer Airport in Norman. For security reasons, the governor's preferred seat aboard the aircraft is not disclosed.
- PHILLIP O'CONNOR, The Oklahoman
House on Grand Lake
Gov. Mary Fallin; her husband, Wade Christensen; and their children have visited their house on Grand Lake over 21 weekends at a cost of $12,083 to taxpayers, security records show.
On four of those trips, the governor flew to Ketchum, near Grand Lake, on a state plane that cost about $1,200 a trip.
"The state plane is available for her to use, and it cuts down on travel time and allows her to spend more time at her office," said Alex Weintz, a spokesman for the governor. "It's just a more efficient way of getting there."
Fallin and her family's official residence is the state-owned mansion on NE 23rd Street, adjacent to the state Capitol.
But Fallin and Christensen purchased the house on Grand Lake in July 2011 as a second home for weekend getaways.
- MEGAN ROLLAND, The Oklahoman
Some security costs associated with the governor's travel can't be scrutinized.
Department of Public Safety officials refused to release detailed receipts for lodging, meals and other expenses incurred for the Highway Patrol security detail that travels with her on most trips. They also declined to provide the payroll costs or compensatory time earned by members of her detail. Doing so might enable someone to detect the number of security people assigned on any given trip and put the governor in jeopardy, a department spokesman said.
"We have a duty to avoid compromising the governor's security detail by not making public certain costs associated with security staffing," Lt. George W. Brown said.
Disclosure of such information proved an embarrassment for the department in the past.
In 2005, an Oklahoman investigation found the troopers assigned to executive security ate $100 dinners at high-end steakhouses, charged thousands of dollars worth of "travel-related" meals at restaurants within a few miles of the Capitol and submitted receipts that lacked details the law required.
- PHILLIP O'CONNOR, The Oklahoman
Original Print Headline: Analysis puts Fallin's travel costs in spotlight
Gov. Mary Fallin: Since she has been in office, Fallin has made 56 trips. Less than half of the trips were related to state business.
When Gov. Mary Fallin travels by air, it's often aboard a multimillion-dollar state aircraft named Spirit of Oklahoma. STEVE SISNEY / The Oklahoman
Gov. Mary Fallin bought this home on Grand Lake in July 2011 for weekend getaways. She flew on the state plane for four of 21 trips to the home. GARY CROW / for The Oklahoman