Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Businessman Suspects OHP Plane Move Is Politics

By Jerry Bohnen/NewsRadio 1000 KTOK ~ Six years after the state government promised Oklahoma City businessman Miles Dickinson it would not move its fleet of state airplanes from Wiley Post airport if he built a new hangar for the Highway Patrol, he's about to be left with a more than $1 million empty hangar.

"I feel like I've been taken advantage of and taken down this path," lamented Dickinson as the state prepares to move the last of its planes from the hangar he built under assurances by the Department of Public Safety that it would never move.

But last month, State Representative Randy Terrill, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee on Public Safety, announced the fleet of planes would move to Norman's Westheimer airfield where he claimed the savings could total $100,000 a year.

"Yeah, they're saving money but I'm not," said Dickinson. "This smells political, big time."

[A news release stated that the rent for 10,000 square feet of hangar space — along with 5,000 square feet of office, barracks and parts room space — at the Westheimer Airport facility will be approximately $4,000 per month. The agency is paying $15,300 per month in rent at Wiley Post Airport.]

Six years ago, Dickinson learned the state was interested in construction of a new hangar at Wiley Post so he contacted Central Services and learned the contract would be on a yearly lease. When he expressed concerns about building a new hangar with only a one-year State lease, Dickinson said, "They assurred me they would stay there and never leave."

But in May, a representative of the Department of Public Safety called Dickinson and asked to have the rent cut because state budgets were being trimmed.

Dickinson inquired with Central Services, the department with which he negotiated with originally. He was told the Highway patrol could not negotiate and a spokeswoman added, "This deal is squirrelly."

When Dickinson received a 30-day written notice that the patrol was leaving, he contacted Central Services again and was told, "This can't happen--they don't have the authority to negotiate." Finally, the spokeswoman told him in subsequent phone calls, "This is over my head."

The contract with the state expires at the end of June but it was May 13th when Terrill announced the Department of Public Safety was relocating the airplanes to the Westheimer Airport in Norman.

"Even as this move saves taxpayer dollars, it also adds to the prestige and stature of Westheimer Airport and is something the Moore-Norman area can take pride in," said Terrill in the news release.

Senator Anthony Sykes, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Public Safety was also quoted in the announcement. "It makes sense to locate all of these state law-enforcement, public-safety assets in one central location."

Now Terrill is one of three legislators named publicly by Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater in a corruption investigation involving legislator's efforts to create an $80,000 a year job for Senator Debbe Leftwich at the State Medical Examiner's office. Prater would not confirm this week whether Senator Sykes is also a target of the probe that will go next month before a grand jury.

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