Nominee McCaleb embattled in Oklahoma

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OKLAHOMA CITY - Following allegations by a member of the Oklahoma Aeronautics and Space Commission that BIA assistant secretary nominee Neal McCaleb used state airplanes for personal use, McCaleb is firing back saying his accusers are trying to "feather their own nests."

Commission Secretary William D. Kendrick requested an investigation into trips in which McCaleb took his family aboard the state aircraft to attend functions.

In letters to Gov. Frank Keating and Attorney General Drew Edmondson, Kendrick alleges McCaleb used the state planes for his own personal use on two trips and asked for, "clarification as to whether this constitutes a violation of state policy or statute."

Kendrick also stated he is concerned about reports that McCaleb may have used state resources to job hunt in Washington, D.C., and asked for an investigation into those allegations as well.

The trips in question were: one to Fort Worth, Texas, June 13, 1999, when McCaleb took his family with him as he participated in the inaugural run of Amtrak's Heartland Flyer passenger train between Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. The second was Sept. 30, 1999, when McCaleb again allegedly took his family aboard a state airplane to fly to a ceremony inducting him into the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame.

Terri Angier, transportation spokeswoman, confirmed that McCaleb and his wife were on both flights because his wife was a part of the celebration. "The invitation was to both of them," Angier said.

Angier could not confirm whether or not the flights had been authorized by state rules which bar all state employees except for the governor and lieutenant governor from having immediate family members accompany them on state airplanes. She said she would have to check into it.

McCaleb's camp now say the charges being leveled at him may have something to do with the fact McCaleb has had an ongoing investigation of Director of Aeronautics Dr. William Miller. McCaleb, in fact, demanded Miller's resignation in February, accusing him of using his position with the commission to promote a private firm called Arrow Wireless Communication Co., in which Miller has a position.

McCaleb accused Miller of using the commission to make significant financial gain and said Miller's actions "appear to be a direct conflict of interest and an egregious violation of state ethics rules."

The Transportation secretary also accused Commissioner Bob Jandebeur along with Miller of using the commission to "feather their own nests."

"I'm up to my craw with him," Kendrick told an Associated Press reporter. "Neal McCaleb has had a burr under his saddle about the commission and Bill Miller ever since I've been on the commission."

Although Kendrick's letter has been forwarded to the Ethics Commission, Gov. Keating's press secretary John Cox said, "The governor has complete confidence in Neal McCaleb. He is an upstanding and outstanding public servant."

There have been complaints about Keating using his state car and airplane for political campaigning during his first term in office. The Oklahoma Legislature investigated use of the plane and allegations of bid rigging in the purchase of Keating's aircraft. Rules were then established which stated the governor could use the state airplane on trips which were not considered politically partisan.

Whether the investigation of McCaleb's alleged misuse of state resources will go that far is unclear.

A little more than a week after the announcement that McCaleb was the Bush administration's choice, the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, headed by Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell, R-Colo., said no formal appointment had been made. There was no indication of when a possible confirmation hearing might take place.