Friday, June 06, 2008

eau de Entitlement

Education Commissioner Jon Draud is still in a bind over his state car - a Chrysler 300 C with a navigation system and bluetooth capability that put the price tag at about double what the state hopes to spend on cars for executives.

"It is what it is," said Draud

And what it is looks bad...on a few counts.

First there's the cost - during a tight budget and in the face of a governor's order to watch spending. This morning's cartoon in C-J pretty well nails that one. It infers a sense of entitlement.

And, there's the fact that we newsy types will hang it around his neck every time another issue comes up regarding fiscal matters. Even now, it's hard to find a news story that doesn't bring up his prior request for additional sick days (an unfortunate reminder of near-commissioner Barbara Erwin) even though he wisely withdrew the request the next day.

But then there's the appearance of obfuscation. That's a little tougher because it goes to credibility.

Paul Cleaver, head of Freedom Dodge...told KSN&C that there were a bunch of emails on the transaction. C-J went and got them.

Those emails revealed that in March, when the order for the car was initially being made, Draud was warned of the costs and was given a chance to reconsider his request.

In late March, state Deputy Finance Secretary Glenn Mitchell advised Fleet Management and Finance Cabinet officials, "[Draud] said he fully understood that he might be criticized, but that he felt he had sufficient justification for the car he has requested and the equipment he has requested."

In May, Draud told C-J's Toni Konz (who broke the story) he didn't know anything about the cost. Tuesday he told C-J he didn't recall approving the price. Then the emails refreshed his memory.

Now, the Kentucky Board of Education will have something else to talk about at next week's meeting.

KDE Communications Director Lisa Gross told KSN&C, "I have not heard directly from the board chair [Joe Brothers] that the issue will be discussed, but it is likely to come up. The board can choose to enter into closed session to discuss the matter (citing an appropriate reason) or discuss it in open session."

Brothers told C-J that both he and Draud have inquired about returning the car. "What we have learned is that since the car was actually purchased; there is no going back."

So now KDE has the car, and someone will drive it.

It seems to me that the resolution to this situation lies in some kind of prorated reimbursement (based on a figure in the neighborhood of $15,000) that Draud should make to the state. That leaves him (at age 69) in a car that he feels safe in for his 25,000 miles of travel, properly equipped, and the state isn't out the difference.

He can afford it.

Then, he should remember what he already knows - not to off-handedly respond to press inquiries without reviewing his data first.

As Joe Brothers told C-J, "We are not talking about big dollars in terms of the overall budget, but we are talking about how this appears, and it makes an awfully good person look bad."

When this story first broke, I got the impression that the addition of the navigation system and bluetooth capability were the problem. But they weren't. It turns out it was Draud's specific desire for a Hemi V-8 engine that was deemed a safety feature and drove the cost through the roof.

KSN&C previously opined that there surely will be repeat instances of this kind of thing. It baffled me why the procurement folks didn't say to the commissioner, "Sure, we can get you what you need in an Impala." Then, go get it in the after-market. Well, it turns out that in other cases they do. And in this case, they kinda did.

Mitchell told KSN&C that "options were mentioned; not by our staff, but by his staff" - in over 100 pages of email exchanges including several pages of specifications for the car Draud wanted. KDE staff "were quite thorough," Mitchell said, in pointing out the options.

KSN&C contacted Jack Burford Chevrolet in Richmond to find out if it was possible for the commissioner to get what he felt he needed in a stock Impala - and it's not. The salesman said the Impala does not offer a navigation system. It does have OnStar, with turn-by-turn directions, but that is a text file downloaded to a small screen on the front of the radio. I'm pretty sure trying to read that would put me in a ditch. The Impala is not bluetooth capable either.

But both can be added as aftermarket items and it doesn't require an engine upgrade to do it. In fact, it's more easily done in the Impala than the Chrysler 300, according to Steve Thomas of Stereo Warehouse in Lexington.

Thomas told KSN&C that Draud could have gotten the technology he wanted for less than $2,000. "We would take out the original radio and replace it with a new system that has both navigation and bluetooth," Thomas said. Asked what his top-of-the-line unit was, Thomas said there were lots of choices but he recommended the Kenwood DNX 8120 at a cost of $1,399, plus labor, parts at $250 max ...all in for less than $1,800.


Added to an Impala, we'd have a car costing the state $15,600 + $1,800 = $17,400....and we wouldn't be having this conversation.

But the real cost culprit in this deal is not the bells and whistles - it's the insistence on a big engine. I think if it was one of my children driving, I'd want them in a car powerful enough to get them out into traffic safely. But how much power is necessary?

An Impala with its V-6 engine creates 211 horsepower @a weight of 3790 lbs. Is 211 hp enough to be safe?

But the Chrysler 300 C with the smaller 5.7 liter Hemi V-8 produces 340 hp @ a weight of 3725 lbs.

Heck...that's more power at less weight than the BMW X3 with its Inline 6 which puts out 260 hp @ a weight of 4012 lbs. And I know it will scoot into traffic safely.

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