Saturday, April 15, 2017

Omaha, Nebraska, questions use of helicopter

OMAHA — Omaha officials are reviewing the police department's practice of offering rides in its helicopter to the highest bidders in at least a half-dozen fundraising efforts.

City Council President Ben Gray began questioning the rides after Police Chief Todd Schmaderer donated a helicopter tour of Omaha two weeks ago to a fundraiser for Roncalli Catholic High School, Schmaderer's alma mater. The event raised money to support the school.

Gray said offering an inside look at police work is well meaning, but that the ride "went a little far." Gray added that he didn't believe anyone needed to be punished over the incidents.

City Attorney Paul Kratz said the City Law Department approved donating helicopter rides on a case-by-case basis. He said a police helicopter ride is educational and provides citizens with an "inside look" into how Omaha police serves the community.

"We schedule ride-alongs when the helicopter is in service so no tax dollars are being spent," he said.

Still, city officials have canceled rides recently won by bidders.

Jack Gould, chairman of the government watchdog organization Common Cause Nebraska, said offering public equipment for a payment — even for charity — is illegal.

"The law says you use public property for the purpose it was created," Gould said. "It wasn't created as a money-raising or a fundraising purpose. It was created to protect the public. ... Entertaining raffle-ticket holders is not in the best interest of the public."

Gould said the practice is also ethically concerning because not all charities can benefit from the practice, nor do all taxpayers necessarily agree on a charity's mission.

"It's the public's equipment," he said. "The law's gotta be even for everybody."

Original article can be found here:  http://columbustelegram.com

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