OPD helicopter tour as auction item raises questions

Posted at 10:10 PM, Apr 12, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-12 23:10:24-04

A charity event at a local high school leads to a complaint involving a top Omaha public official.

An auction donation to Roncalli High School from Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer is raising eyebrows. 

The item hitting the auction block is a police helicopter tour of the city and dinner with a starting bid of $875. 

It raised more than $5,000 according to the school website. 

A viewer who went to the auction reached out to 3 News Now with concern about the auction item asking -  can and should city leaders be donating the use of city resources to private charities?

A "unique and breathtaking" view of Omaha in a helicopter tour for two. It was supposed to bring in thousands for Roncalli Catholic but at what cost to the city?

Jack Gould works for watchdog group Common Cause.

"There's all kinds of liability questions," said Jack Gould, Common Cause Nebraska. 

Questions that come after Police Chief Todd Schmaderer, a Roncalli graduate, offered the ABLE-1 tour for auction at the school's Festa de Leone fundraiser April 1st. 

"Can the police do their jobs if they have raffle winners in the helicopter with them?" said Gould.

"If you say to any charity that you're going to allow them to provide raffle tickets for a flight in a police helicopter on a routine tour, you're saying to all other charities this an opportunity for us as well." 

3 News Now reached out to the the Police Chief who deferred all questions about the auction item to City Attorney Paul Kratz.

Kratz declined to speak on camera but says ABLE-1 ride alongs are granted on a case-by-case basis and they're done during regularly scheduled flights at no extra cost to tax payers. 

Liability waivers are signed. 

But it appears the proposed donation was in violation of several city ordinances and a state law that bars public officials from using public resources for purposes other than specified by law. 

"I just think it was police officers and the Police Chief being good citizens as it relates to police community relations," said City Council President Ben Gray. 

"This may have gotten away from the Chief a little bit,  but we'll review it and if there needs to a different policy,  we'll address that."

City Council President Ben Gray says even if the intentions were good: "We do things and in an effort to please the public. In a lot of instances, we do things that may be in violation of ordinances or state law and we just have to remind people that there's a state law and an ordinance that governs this"

"Right now, we may be in violation and need to correct it," said Gray. 

"Allowing private charities to use public helicopters or any other property that's public, it's in violation of not only the law but of ethics in general," said Gould.  

Douglas County Treasurer John Ewing - a veteran of OPD - was chair of the Roncalli auction. He says he was at the auction and was not aware of the item up for bid.  

A complaint was called into the Mayor's Hotline about auction item. Mayor Jean Stothert is aware of it and says the City Attorney is looking into it. 

Her office issued this statement: "Mayor Stothert is aware of the email to Mayor's Hotline and the City Attorney is looking into it."

Mr. Kratz says the helicopter tour hasn’t taken place.