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The San Jose Mercury News (California)
Sep 07, 2007 - 01:00 AM

by Kimberly Kindy, MediaNews Sacramento Bureau

Governor refuses to release paper trail on GM fleet buy

SACRAMENTO, CA -- Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration is refusing to release documents that reveal the level of its involvement in crafting a controversial and lucrative vehicle fleet contract that allowed only one major auto manufacturer -- General Motors -- to secure the deal.

State Sen. Dean Florez, D-Bakersfield, had asked for the documents following a hearing in July during which he expressed concern over the contract -- especially because GM is a longtime major contributor to Schwarzenegger's private charities and political campaigns.

On Thursday, Florez called another public hearing, for Sept. 24, where he will ask representatives from the governor's office to explain their legal reasons for withholding the documents.

"I'm shocked at the administration's decision," Florez said. "This is a public contract and deserves a public airing of the circumstances surrounding this contract. From their own letter, it appears that high-level administrative staff... may have been involved in the procurement of vehicles from General Motors."

Florez has also asked the administration to turn over, by Sept. 14, a log of the documents that would provide the following details: subject of discussion, date of document, type of document, and names of people who wrote, responded to or who were sent copies of the written materials.

Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor's office received Florez's latest requests Thursday afternoon, were reviewing them, but did not have a response.

Schwarzenegger's legal affairs secretary, Andrea Lynn Hoch, said the administration has a legal right, under the government code, to withhold internal records that "reveal the deliberative process within the administration," according to a letter she wrote this week to Florez.

McLear said that neither the governor, nor officials directly assigned to his office, were involved with the contract negotiations. However, he acknowledged that other administration officials working in state agencies and departments involved with vehicle buys would have taken a lead role in the purchase of the alternative-fuel vehicles and possibly briefed Schwarzenegger. He would not say if the withheld documents included any such briefings.

Florez said the role the governor and his officials may have played in the car purchases should be made public because contract specifications were dramatically altered from past fleet purchases. Those changes resulted in just one model of car and truck -- both made by GM -- that met the requirements for the multi-million-dollar contracts.

The legislative hearing led by Florez in July was prompted by a Mercury News investigation that showed the Schwarzenegger administration had spent $17 million to purchase 1,138 alternative-fuel vehicles from GM, trumpeting the buys as a major breakthrough for the environment.

State fleet managers who bought the cars and trucks were given "green" awards and told they were advancing "the governor's goal of reducing petroleum consumption," a state Web site shows.

However, two years after the administration began buying the GM cars and trucks, the vehicles had traveled a collective 10 million miles, but had run on nothing but gasoline.

Not one drop of high-grade ethanol was used in the state's regular fleet. A small pilot project in the Department of Transportation, which falls outside the regular fleet, used some of the E85 - 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline.

The Legislature is now considering a bill that would force the vehicles to be pooled into centralized locations where they could be filled with E85.

Currently, there is no way for most of the cars and trucks to use the fuel since only one public E85 station exits in the state, in San Diego. A few dozen are scheduled to open in December 2009 to the public, plus the Department of General Services now plans to open E85 pumps in its state-run garages.

To read the MediaNews "flex fuel" investigation go to: www. mercurynews.com/greenenergy. Contact Kimberly Kindy at kkindy@mercurynews.com or (916) 325-4314.




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