La. Commissioner Returns Truck to State After Criticism

May 9, 2005

Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Robert Wooley has sent his pricey, special edition pickup truck to the state’s surplus property yard, giving up the luxury perk that provoked sharp criticism of both the state-paid purchase and Wooley’s attitude toward the attention it caused, according to the Associated Press.

The shiny new truck with only 4,200 miles on it sat locked in a state warehouse Friday, out of plain sight while the mainly older model station wagons and vans discarded by state agencies sat out in a field on the gated property.

After years of driving state-owned vehicles, Wooley said he now will drive a vehicle he owns—his spokeswoman said Wooley is driving a late 1990s model Dodge van—and will not ask for any type of reimbursement for the cost.

In a quick Friday morning press conference, Wooley called the truck purchase in March a mistake that he was sorry had taken away so much attention from the work of his department.

“I offer my heartfelt apology. I am sorry for the truck and how I have handled the entire matter,” he said. “I made a mistake.”

Statewide elected officials are allowed to buy luxury vehicles on the state’s expense or receive a car allowance, but Wooley’s truck got more attention than any others, partially because it replaced a state-paid designer-edition sport utility vehicle that was only a year old and had only 30,000 miles on it.

The $40,000 special Harley-Davidson edition pickup truck came loaded with a series of special options like heated seats, a camper package and diesel engine. Wooley said he returned both the truck and the SUV to the state Division of Administration.

“With the return of the two vehicles, I hope now we can focus on the true mission of this department, which is to find affordable and available insurance for our citizens, which is what I intend to do,” he said.

Wooley previously had defended the purchase, saying he didn’t abuse taxpayers with the purchase of the two vehicles in two years and noting he drives all over Louisiana on state business. He equated the controversy to “a pimple on a bee’s ass”—comments that were repeated in unfavorable newspaper editorials and radio call-in shows around the state.

The vehicles were locked in a metal building with other state surplus property, according to Edgar Jordan, assistant commissioner for procurement with the Division of Administration. But the truck and SUV are getting special treatment.

“Technically, they’re surplus vehicles, but I feel certain that we’re not going to handle them the way we would handle a surplus vehicle,” Jordan said.

State agencies normally can choose if they’d like to buy the items that are turned over as surplus, and then other local entities can determine if they’re interested. But Jordan said he expects the division probably will choose a third path available to them: auctioning off the vehicles or accepting sealed bids to sell them.

“Someone just called into a radio show and recommended a lottery, but I’m not sure we can legally do that,” Jordan said, laughing.

Because Wooley bought the truck and SUV with self-generated dollars from the insurance department, most of the proceeds of the sales of those vehicles will go back to Wooley’s department, according to Jordan.

Wooley’s truck purchase has prompted legislation by Sen. Art Lentini, R-Kenner, that would require statewide elected officials to get approval from a panel of lawmakers before buying luxury vehicles with taxpayers’ money.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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