By Vinde Wells
In an apparent reversal of its stand three months ago, the Ogle County Board authorized Chairman Kim Gouker Tuesday to proceed with getting a forensic audit of the sheriff’s Tow Fund.
“I would like to see a full audit of the Tow Fund from beginning to end,” Gouker said.
He said the audit will determine whether or not Sheriff Michael Harn has misused money from the Tow Fund, and lay to rest the questions brought up over the last several months.
Gouker said Harn is also eager to have the matter resolved.
“I spoke to the sheriff on my way here and told him what I was going to propose,” Gouker said. “He thinks it’s a great idea. He’s fully cooperative.”
Harn has come under fire in the last few months over expenditures from the Tow Fund, which included purchasing a new vehicle, flowers for Secretaries Day, a tent at the county fair, and $4,000 for the department’s Facebook page to be managed.
Gouker said he has an estimate for the forensic audit of $7,500 from Sikich, the firm that does the county’s regular annual audits.
Because it was not on the agenda, the board will have to wait until its May meeting to vote to hire Sikich for the forensic audit.
Board member Richard Petrizzo, Davis Junction, made a motion for a forensic audit of the Tow Fund as well as the sheriff’s credit card expenditures at the board’s Jan. 21 meeting.
However, Gouker said the matter could not be voted on then because it was not on the agenda.
Petrizzo’s subsequent efforts to have the matter placed on the agenda were unsuccessful.
In February, the board diminished the sheriff’s control over the Tow Fund by limiting how monies could be spent and requiring the approval of expenditures by the county committee that oversees the sheriff’s budget.
At Tuesday’s meeting the board approved a resolution establishing the Tow Fund.
Gouker said that although the board approved implementing administrative tow fees in 2011, the ordinance governing that did not actually establish the Tow Fund.
The new resolution also mandates that Tow Fund deposits are limited to only administrative fees collected when a vehicle is towed, impounded, or seized during a criminal investigation.
It further requires that the Tow Fee will be handled by the Ogle County Treasurer’s office, rather than the sheriff, as in the past.
Treasurer John Coffman said the Tow Fund was turned over to him on Tuesday, when he received a check for $51,932.07 from the sheriff’s department.
Coffman said he did not receive any Tow Fund revenue or expenditure records from the sheriff’s department, only the check.
“How do you know it’s correct?” asked board member Bill Welty, Chana.
“I don’t,” Coffman replied.
“Do we have the Tow Fund books?” asked board member Pat Nordman, Oregon.
Gouker said he had recently received a copy of the fund ledger.
In a related matter, three tow truck owners went before the board to voice their concern over being taken off the sheriff’s tow rotation list.
Doug Aken, Oregon, spoke for the three which also included Stan Ubben, Mt. Morris, and Greg Wagner, Polo.
Aken said all three have been on the rotation list for many years but found themselves being called less frequently under Harn’s administration.
“Since Sheriff Harn has taken office my tows have dwindled,” Aken said.
Then on March 20, Aken said he received a letter from Harn informing him he was no longer on the list.
The letter gave no reason. However, Aken said he believes it was because he supported another candidate in the March 18 Republican primary.
Harn was defeated in his bid for a second term in the three-way race.
Aken said Harn removed Ubben from the tow list in May of 2012 after Ubben towed an all-terrain vehicle at the request of the sheriff’s department and a dispute ensued.