BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
First District Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason has a new ride.
The former U.S. Navy jet jockey has traded his two-hour drive from Ridgecrest to Bakersfield in for a 30-minute commute over the mountains in a '66 Beechcraft Debonair.
A stop in the Kern River Valley to attend an event? A hop to Delano to meet with constituents?
Gleason bought the plane in December and said it's already making it easier to do his job.
Last Thursday, Gleason had an Eastern Kern Air Pollution Control District meeting at 1 p.m. in Rosamond and a meeting with a group fighting violent crime in Delano later that evening.
Without the plane, he said, he would have had to miss one of the two meetings. With it, he made both.
The Beechcraft has nothing on the A-6 Intruders Gleason flew as a naval aviator in Desert Storm.
But it has a snappy white, red and blue paint job, a new 225-horsepower engine and a new propeller.
It gets the job done.
"It's got enough horsepower that I can get over the mountains reliably enough and if I get into trouble, I can get out of it," Gleason said.
He calls the plane "Air District One."
Gleason paid for the plane himself but he's hoping the county will treat his plane like it did his car and pay him mileage to fly the craft.
On Tuesday, his fellow supervisors will vote on changing their travel reimbursement policy to allow elected officials and county administrators to earn $1.31 per mile for flying a personal aircraft on county business. That's a lot more than the $.327-per-mile reimbursement Gleason gets for driving his Dodge 250 truck.
"It was a nice truck when I started my campaign," he said. Now, two years and 200,000 miles later, Gleason said, "it's just a truck."
Gleason represents the county's 1st District, a sprawling swath of land that stretches from Randsburg on the east to Delano in the northwest and includes the Kern River Valley.
The flight from Ridgecrest to Bakersfield is 70 miles one-way, according to Gleason.
The freeway trip from Gleason's home -- down Highway 14 and over the Tehachapi Mountains on Highway 58 to the Kern County Administrative Center on Truxtun Avenue -- comes in at around 115 miles.
Gleason would be paid $75.21 in mileage for a drive and $183.40 for a round-trip flight.
But Gleason said he hopes to decrease the total amount of money the county has to pay to reimburse his travel.
He can do that, he said, because the plane makes a commute home at the end of the day much easier.
"It takes me about two hours to drive and about 30 minutes to fly," he said.
Currently he stays in a hotel an average of 2.3 nights a week because the county's business keeps him on the valley side of the Sierra Nevada range late.
Those costs rack up, according to county records.
Since he took office in January 2013, Gleason has claimed $21,134 in reimbursement for his travel and hotel costs.
One night in a hotel costs Gleason about $94, records show. But they confirm he often has to stay a couple nights.
Gleason said he hopes to offset some of the higher mileage costs the county has to pay for his plane travel by returning home to Ridgecrest more often and more easily -- and not staying overnight in hotels.
"If I can cut my travel budget, it can be fully justified," he said.
But the bottom line, he said, is that the plane helps him spend more time with his constituents and do his job better.
On Friday, Gleason and his wife, Robynn, flew the Beechcraft from Ridgecrest to the Kern River Valley to talk to businesses about bringing broadband Internet into the communities around Isabella Lake -- something he talked about during his supervisorial campaign.
Then the flew down to Bakersfield to attend a Search and Rescue event.
They hopped out of the plane at the Bakersfield Jet Center, grabbed an overnight bag and headed out to the old white Toyota Camry they leave parked there for ground transportation.
Gleason admits there are personal benefits.
There is no traffic and nobody cuts you off in a plane, he said.
The only time he feels a little stress is when he drops his landing gear and has to make the required visual check to make sure they come down.
Robynn Gleason is a big fan.
"He makes it home before 11 o'clock at night," she said.