State official from Paso Robles approved his own take-home ride

Three months after the governor moved this summer to slash the number of state workers allowed to drive government cars between their homes and offices, a top Schwarzenegger administration official personally approved his own take-home vehicle deal.

Fred Aguiar, then secretary of the State and Consumer Services Agency and now deputy chief of staff to the governor, received a special state permit that authorized him to use a $34,000 state Honda Accord hybrid for weekend trips between Sacramento and his Paso Robles home.

Aguiar, 60, signed and approved his own 12-month, take-home vehicle permit Oct. 8.

It was backdated to July 1, 16 days prior to the governor’s executive order, according to a copy The Sacramento Bee obtained under the California Public Records Act. The permit was co-signed by Scott Reid, then Aguiar’s undersecretary.

“The Secretary travels to his home in Paso Robles on Fridays and returns to Sacramento on Mondays,” the permit states. “The nature of the business requires the Secretary to be available at all times, 24/7, to attend late night and weekend meetings, events, etc. with and on behalf of the Governor.”

On July 17, amid concerns about the budget deficit and complaints about abuse of the state’s take-home vehicle policy, Schwarzenegger issued an executive order requiring all state departments and agencies to cut their state vehicle fleet by 15 percent and cut the number of take-home car permits by 20 percent, targeting those that were “unjustifiable.”

The governor named Aguiar as one of two top officials in charge of approving any exemptions.

Aguiar declined to be interviewed for this story, but administration officials defended his use of the car.

Schwarzenegger spokes-man Aaron McLear said the governor — who takes no salary and pays for his own commutes to Los Angeles — thinks it’s fine for Aguiar to drive the vehicle on his weekly eight-hour, 534-mile-round-trip commute.

Though Aguiar drove home without a take-home permit for six months, McLear said he had the administration’s tacit approval to use the Honda hybrid for his weekend trips south.

“It’s appropriate. During the week, he lives in his own apartment in Sacramento. We’re allowing him to keep his car so he can drive home on weekends to see his wife,” McLear said.

McLear said the administration is lucky to have “such a valuable and experienced public servant.”

“Not all the best public servants in California happen to live in Sacramento,” he said.

McLear said Aguiar pays for all of his gas. But he acknowledged that a state garage filled his gas tank last month. He said the car was topped off without Aguiar’s knowledge or approval, and that the secretary wrote the state a $22.62 refund check for “the inadvertent fill-up.”

The date typed next to Aguiar’s signature on the permit is June 30, the day before the permit was to take effect.

But McLear said that was “a clerical error.” He blamed state clerks — he wouldn’t identify them — for failing to give Aguiar the proper permit form to fill out when he was assigned his state car April 1 and for putting wrong dates on it. He said there was no June 30 date on the form when Aguiar signed it.

Erin Shaw, a spokeswoman for the State and Consumer Services Agency, said Aguiar needed a state car with him on weekends as a Cabinet secretary this spring and summer because of work.

But she declined to name an emergency, meeting or event that he used his state car to reach on weekends from his Paso Robles residence.

Shaw said Aguiar has not kept or filed monthly mileage logs, as the state requires, but will do it now after an inquiry by The Bee. His October permit says he clocks 2,500 miles a month.

The governor’s inspector general, Laura Chick, also has a state-issue Honda Accord hybrid vehicle, which she uses as part of her job overseeing federal stimulus spending.