Rupert Howell’s column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Newspaper’s job to question use of public’s money

Whatever the deal is with the helicopter that the Panola County Sheriff’s Department is seeking to buy from Desoto County, this newspaper has never come out against it.

We reported the sheriff requesting to buy the helicopter at a board of supervisors meeting and how he proposed to pay for it. We asked some questions, (that’s what a newspaper is supposed to do).

We called knowledgeable sources and asked the same questions and reported different answers to a few of those questions.

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This newspaper is not opposed to the Panola County Sheriff’s department having access to a helicopter. Contrary to what some may think, the use of a helicopter would be a tremendous asset to Panola, its municipalities and surrounding counties for many uses including fugitive pursuits, missing persons, surveillance, traffic control and crime deterrence.

What we reported was long-term cost associated with older model helicopters such as maintenance and replacement.

What we reported is that the helicopter would be purchased with seized drug money.

What we later reported was that the sheriff’s department wanted to borrow funds to pay for the helicopter from the county’s general fund until the drug-seized funds could be released by the courts.

What we reported was parts were hard to find but later published that there are plenty of them.

What we reported was that the equipment was in possession of the sheriff’s department before the legal advertisement asking for bids was ever published.

What we reported was a pilot had been hired for $3,500 a month.

What we also reported is that commander of the Desoto County Sheriff’s office said the OH-6 helicopter “was in good shape.”

We also reported that the helicopter had 300 more hours of flying time before needing an overhaul estimated to cost $150,000.

We also reported that the Desoto sheriff had been offered more for the helicopter than Panola County was asked to pay for it.

What we reported, at the request of the Panola County Sheriff, is that drug seized money cannot be used for salaries or fuel, but it can be used for equipment (such as helicopters).

We also reported that an estimated cost of $500 per hour for operating a helicopter which would include the cost of fuel, maintenance and upkeep and a pilot’s salary.

What we are receiving  back from the Panola Sheriff and some of his staff are unprofessional remarks towards our reporter because we raised questions about the costs associated with a helicopter’s purchase and operation. Another reporter of this newspaper is routinely subjected to the snide remarks on a regular basis while covering his beat, whether at a crime scene or at a public building such as the Panola County Jail.

We will continue to ask the questions concerning local government and its expenditures. And when we ask, it’s not just to satisfy our newspaper’s curiosity. We represent the citizens and taxpayers who are our readers. They have the right to know. After all, whether funds are raised by forfeitures, taxes, fines, grants or loans, it’s their money.

(Rupert Howell is managing editor of The Panolian and can be reached at or by writing at Box 1616, Batesville, MS  38606)