Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sheriff advised against using county funds for pilot’s license: Sheriff Bryan Backus says he would only fly aircraft for police work

 CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Ritchie County Sheriff Bryan Backus disagrees with State Ethics Commissioners who advised him not to use money from the county's concealed weapons permit fund to pay for flight lessons and airplane rentals.

Backus had asked the State Ethics Commission if he could continue using surplus county money to earn his pilot's license, in hopes of one day manning a fixed-wing airplane for the sheriff's department.

Backus said he would fly an airplane to enforce traffic, eradicate illegal drugs and help with search and rescues. The airplane would also provide aerial surveillance while police conduct search warrants and conduct extraditions and transports, he said.

However the Commission issued an advisory opinion on Thursday, concluding that the sheriff's private gain would outweigh any public benefit from his license.

"Most of the stated reasons for the proposed use of aircraft are not critical for law enforcement or are duplicative of services already available at no cost, e.g., drug eradication and searches for missing children," commissioners wrote in the opinion.

Backus would only have about two years remaining in his second term once he obtains the pilot's license, according to the Commission.

Backus told the Gazette-Mail on Saturday that he would continue to work toward his pilot's license, but would pay for it out of his own salary. He disagreed that his license would outweigh the public good and said he did not want it for his own personal gain.

Backus said he plans to stay with the department long after his term as sheriff is over, flying airplanes for official police duties.

"I have 17 years with the sheriff's office and I helped move the office forward by leaps and bounds," he said. "I also call it progressive, but some people don't like progression."

Details of Backus' flying lessons were publicized by Ritchie Gazette owner Rodney Windom this week. Windom had submitted Freedom of Information Act requests to the Ritchie County Sheriff's Department for invoices and receipts related to the sheriff's flying lessons.

Windom said he made the requests after Ritchie County commissioners authorized a $231 reimbursement for Backus' three-night stay at  the Wyndham Hotel in Bridgeport in April. Backus was also reimbursed approximately $26 for dinner at Outback Steakhouse, Windom said.

Backus provided the newspaper with receipts from April through October, in which he had paid a flight instructor from Marietta, Ohio to give him lessons at the North Central West Virginia Airport in Bridgeport.

Backus spent more than $2,100 from the concealed weapons fund for airplane rentals from an Ohio-based flying club, according to the invoices he provided. He paid the instructor approximately $660 and bought equipment from an online flight store totaling about $730.

The concealed weapons fund is used by county sheriffs to issue permits to carry a concealed deadly weapon. County sheriff's may use any leftover money in the fund at the end of the fiscal year to spend on law enforcement activities.

Backus said he does not waste county money and has worked to find ways to cut back on spending. He's received several grants, he said, including fuel upgrades to county vehicles that saved nearly $9,000.

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1 comment:

  1. How about joining the Civil Air Patrol? They wouldn’t squabble about funds used for the good of the county.