Sheriff adds plane to fleet

Published 11:59 pm Monday, January 26, 2009

The addition of aircraft to the Covington County Sheriff’s Office has prompted a new policy requiring agencies to inform the Covington County Commission before adding equipment or pursuing grants.

Sheriff Dennis Meeks confirmed his department recently received a Ximango Power Glider which he says will be used for surveillance and in missing person searches. The aircraft was donated to the sheriff’s office by the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office, who originally obtained the plane from the U.S. Air Force. Meeks said approximately $8,800 in donations from the Andalusia Pilot Club will cover the costs of the aircraft for the next year-and-a-half. Hangar space has been donated by the South Alabama Regional Airport, he said.

The aircraft, which is described as light-weight and with a 58-foot wingspan, can fly at low altitudes and low airspeeds, according to an information sheet Meeks circulated about the aircraft. Meeks is in the process of earning certification to fly the aircraft and said two or three reserve deputies also will be licensed to operate the aircraft.

In light of the county’s current financial situation, Meeks said he was appreciative of the Pilot Club’s generosity. He said the donations will cover insurance, the annual inspection, fuel and training. He hopes to find grant funding for maintenance and operation of the aircraft in the future, he said.

“If at any time we have to ask for money from the county’s general fund to operate it, I’ll get rid of it,” Meeks told The Star-News last week.

Commissioners, who said they didn’t know the sheriff was getting the aircraft until he had it, approved a policy Monday making it mandatory for all department heads or elected officials to notify the commission of his or her intent to seek grant funds or donations.

“We need to know in advance to getting the property so that the proper paperwork is prepared,” Chairman Lynn Sasser said. “The commission owns that property. We have to hold the title. We welcome grants and donations, but they must be approved during an open meeting before they apply for those grants or whatever else.

“We don’t want there to be a liability issue,” he said. “Any elected official or department head must request permission before accepting property, (so the commission can) determine if it’s in the best interest of the county to own the property being donated.”

“The title to this property is to the commission,” Sasser said. “It’s so much easier to do up front than fix it later.”

On Monday, Meeks, who was in Washington, D.C., attending the National Sheriffs’ Conference, offered no comment on why the commission was not told of the acquisition beforehand but did say he would re-evaluate the situation when he returned.