Tennessee economic officials rely on state planes — records
Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2008 7:23 am
NASHVILLE (AP) — Tennessee economic development officials have taken dozens of flights on state planes this year — but why some of the trips were taken is not clear, records show.
Between January and July, state officials took about 580 flights on five state-owned planes, which the Tennessee Department of Transportation keeps records for. A few other parts of state government also have their own aircraft.
The Tennessean reports about 150 of those flights were charged to the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development for events ranging from ribbon-cuttings to groundbreaking ceremonies.
The purpose of some flights, however, is not always obvious. The agency considers documents that make virtually any reference to corporate business deals to be privileged tax information, and therefore confidential.
When Volkswagen announced July 15 it would build a new plant in Chattanooga, ECD commissioner Matt Kisber was vacationing in Destin, Fla. Days before the German automaker’s decision, he requested a state plane — a six-seat Beechcraft that costs about $600 an hour — to pick him up and take him to Chattanooga.
After the announcement, he reboarded the same plane and flew back to Destin. The plane returned to Nashville empty, records show.
The department request form says “Confidential Prospect Visit” even though Kisber was in Chattanooga for a well-attended public event. The return flight is described as “Return from Confidential Prospect Visit.”
Kisber told The Tennessean the use of the state plane to pick him up was unusual, but he said it was important he get to Chattanooga quickly.
Many other flights have a similar veil of confidentiality. On Feb 20, assistant commissioner Paul LaGrange requested the state’s eight passenger, $825-per-hour Beechcraft B200 to fly to Chattanooga alone.
He left with six people on board, including four confidential clients. All six flew to Clarksville and then back to Nashville.
Two requests for flights in February list “2 Germans” among the passengers. And on May 16, Kisber requested a plane to fly from Nashville to Chattanooga to Washington, D.C., then back to Nashville.
The trip was labeled a “confidential prospect visit,” and it’s not clear if any state officials were on board. None of the six passengers was named on the manifest provided by the department.
Other plans are more clear. On March 4, assistant commissioner Mark Drury and another ECD official accompanied a Fortune magazine writer from Nashville to Knoxville to Chattanooga and back to Nashville for looks at Oak Ridge and other sites as part of a special advertising supplement in the magazine.
Kisber called it “a very important marketing tool.”
“We wanted the reporter to be able to see and meet with the CEOs and see the communities that he was going to be writing about, so that we could really get the best from his one and a half to two days the state could offer,” he said.
Published in The Messenger 9.9.08