RICHMOND, JULY 27 -- In the wake of news articles documenting Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's frequent use of a State Police helicopter for personal travel, the police superintendent has ordered pilots to stop recording on logs where the helicopter flies and whether the governor is on board.
The superintendent, Col. William F. Corvello, said he hoped the change would turn away a "constant stream" of reporters examining the flight records.
But the change instead added fuel to the controversy about the governor's heavy travel and the assertion by Wilder, a Democrat, that taxpayers should pay for his personal trips.
Republicans charged the move was a cover-up, after Corvello's order was the subject of a story in today's Charlottesville Daily Progress.
Later in the day, the governor's press secretary, Laura Dillard, reversed her earlier stand that the governor's private travel was not the public's business. She assured reporters that she would provide the information that Corvello had removed from the helicopter records.
"I will be the repository of that information," Dillard said. There will be no written public record to confirm facts about Wilder's trips.
Corvello said he knew his order, which was implemented July 7, shortly after news accounts about Wilder's helicopter use began, would generate "some heat," but said he did not discuss it in advance with Wilder or the governor's staff.
He said the helicopter logs are kept for maintenance reasons, and information that had routinely been included, such as the flight's destination or whether the governor was on board, "served no earthly purpose."
The frequent visits from reporters to the helicopter's home airport in Chesterfield County near here had become a nuisance, he said.
The logs now list only how long the helicopter was operated and the number of engine start-ups, he said.
Some Republicans said they don't believe Corvello took the action on his own.
"This just demonstrates the incredible arrogance of this governor," said Steve Haner, director of the GOP legislative caucus. "He wants to have a little secret helicopter to fly him where he wants, when he wants at public expense . . . . He shouldn't be flying anywhere he is embarrassed to tell us about."
Dillard has said that Wilder, in using the state helicopter extensively for private travel, is following the same practice as previous chief executives. Spokesmen for the two previous governors, Democrats Charles S. Robb and Gerald L. Baliles, said they rarely or never used the state helicopter except for official business.
When news articles first detailed Wilder's personal use of the helicopter, Dillard declined to comment other than to say "the logs speak for themselves." Corvello said helicopter travel is more secure than traveling by car.
Gossip involving whether the divorced Wilder was having a romance with Patricia Kluge of Charlottesville, estranged wife of billionaire John Kluge, was fueled in part by disclosures -- gleaned by reporters from logs for the state helicopter and plane -- that Wilder had made several unpublicized trips to Charlottesville, including to her Albemarle Farms estate.
While Republicans predicted that legislation will be introduced when the General Assembly convenes in January to deal with the governor's use of the helicopter, a Northern Virginia Democrat came to Wilder's defense.
News coverage of Wilder's travel has been generated by prurient interest in his social life, not by any concern about who's paying for the travel, said state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Springfield).
"I think you all have been wasting a whole lot of time on a non-story," Saslaw said to a reporter.