Helicopter Bid

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sheriff: DeSoto helicopter ‘in our possession’

By Billy Davis
and Jason Mattox

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Panola County supervisors on Monday authorized a bid advertisement for a sheriff’s helicopter, with a bid opening set for December 1.

The bid advertisement is set to run two times in The Southern Reporter, the Sardis newspaper.

Meanwhile, the sheriff already has possession of a helicopter.

The helicopter was flown to Pope School last Friday, where Sheriff Hugh “Shot” Bright and pilot Bill Camp showed the chopper to school children for Red Ribbon Week, a drug awareness campaign. Other emergency vehicles were also displayed, including a medical helicopter.

A reporter who attended the event snapped a photo of the sheriff’s helicopter as well as other displays.

“It is in our possession but we do not have ownership,” Bright said about the helicopter when reached after Monday’s supervisors meeting.

“We are waiting on the Department of Defense to sign off on it,” the sheriff added, referring to federal rules about such transfers between authorities.

DeSoto Sheriff Bill Rasco, also reached Monday, said he considers the helicopter “on loan” to Panola County until the federal agency authorizes the transfer.

“Panola County is responsible for the insurance,” Rasco said, when asked about that responsibility.

No money has changed hands until the transfer is authorized, the DeSoto sheriff said. 

Monday’s board of supervisors meeting included board action related to the helicopter, beginning with the hiring of Camp at $3,500 a month. Camp had served as a volunteer aviator for DeSoto County.

Camp’s hiring had been included in the sheriff’s budget, so the board’s action on Monday was not the approval to hire him but to spread the action on the board minutes, county officials said after the meeting.

The board vote to advertise for bids came about an hour later, when board attorney Bill McKenzie requested permission.

Bright did not mention a change of ownership as he sat through the two-hour meeting.

The first-term sheriff has been seeking the purchase of a DeSoto County helicopter for $150,000 with plans to purchase it with drug-seized funds. The sheriff told supervisors in October, however, that he wanted to borrow county funds to make the purchase then refund the payment when the drug-seized funds are released from a federal court.

Supervisors last month agreed to loan Bright the funds but were advised by McKenzie that a bid advertisement was a necessary step in order to satisfy state laws.

Bright has said the helicopter would be used only for emergencies such as searching for fleeing suspects.

After the Monday meeting adjourned, board president Gary Thompson was asked by a reporter why supervisors had authorized Camp’s hiring as a pilot when the county was just now advertising for bids for a helicopter.

“That’s a good question. That’s putting the cart before the horse,” Thompson said, adding that Camp was also hired as a sheriff’s deputy.

Thompson, then answering a second question, said he was unaware that Bright had taken possession of the helicopter last week.

“I had no first-hand knowledge of that,” the board president said.