By Vinde Wells
The Ogle County Sheriff’s Tow Fund is one step closer to being completely scrutinized.
The county’s Executive Committee voted Tuesday night to approve hiring Sikich LLP, Naperville, to do a forensic audit of the controversial Tow Fund from 2012 up to the present.
The full county board is expected to vote on the measure at its May 20 meeting.
Board chairman Kim Gouker, Byron, said the fee for the initial investigation is $7,500. If fraud is uncovered during the audit, the costs will increase.
The initial investigation will document procedures used in the Tow Fund since it was implemented in 2011 and identify any abuses.
“As I understand this, they won’t be looking at anything in particular. They will be looking at everything,” Gouker said. “One of the things we get out of this study is a reorganization of this fund.”
Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn came under fire in the last several 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.
In what seems to be a reversal of his previous stance, Gouker called for the forensic audit at last month’s county board meeting.
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 it could be spent and requiring the approval of expenditures by the county committee that oversees the sheriff’s budget.
Harn was defeated in the March 18 primary election in his bid for the Republican Party nomination for sheriff by Brian VanVickle, a Rochelle police officer.
At its April 15 meeting, the county 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 mandated 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 his office April 15 when received a check for $51,932.07 from the sheriff’s department.
Gouker said Tuesday that the forensic audit will verify that the amount of the check was correct.
In a related issue, Gouker said the Executive Committee will study removing some departments from the sheriff’s oversight. He said the changes will be made in the next few months.
The changes come on the heels of a recommendation from the Ogle County League of Women Voters that the sheriff should have fewer duties.
League member Diane McNeilly, Rochelle, told the county board in April that a recent study of several neighboring counties showed that the Ogle County Sheriff is responsible for more departments, employees, and money than his counterparts.
Besides overseeing the Sheriff’s and Corrections Departments, Harn is also in charge of the Ogle County Emergency Management Agency (OCEMA), the county’s Buildings & Grounds, Information Technology, telecommunications, and security for the courts as well as all county properties.
Gouker said some departments — OCEMA, Buildings & Grounds, Information Technology, and Building Security — will be realigned so that the sheriff is no longer in charge of them. Instead the heads of those areas will report to a county committee.
“This has nothing to do with the job the current sheriff is doing. It’s too many duties,” Gouker said. “This has morphed over the last two decades when a lot of extra duties were given to the sheriff. Instead, we want these entities to report to the board through a committee rather than through an elected official who didn’t have that statutory authority.”