Lunch time over for Ogle County Sheriff's Department
Training during meals on the taxpayers' dime ends after County Board raises questions about use of credit cards
OREGON – During a countywide review of departmental credit card policies this year, some spending on credit cards of the Ogle County Sheriff's Department was questioned – and then stopped.
That spending included meals at local restaurants, in addition to uniform and equipment purchases. Sheriff Michael Harn and Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker described the meals as meetings, although they were listed as "training" for accounting purposes.
For 2011 and 2012, and the first few months of this year, those restaurant meals cost county taxpayers more than $7,500 – about $5,300 of it at Breakers Saloon and Eatery, which is a block from the jail.
During an interview with Sauk Valley Media this week, both Harn and Gouker defended the lunch training as justified spending.
"The only time I can get together [with staff] is before noon, and then it led into the noon hour," Harn said. "Well, I can't consciously keep people over their lunch hour because when they go to have lunch, they're on my time."
When those meetings, which would begin at the Sheriff's Department, carried over into lunchtime, they often moved to a local restaurant, Harn said.
In 2011, the Sheriff's Department charged more than $600 at restaurants, some local and others outside the county, according to documents obtained by Sauk Valley Media through a Freedom of Information Act request.
In 2012, that spending increased to more than $4,100, and in 2013 the department spent $2,800 – until the practice stopped this past spring.
"The sheriff and I had a discussion about it," Gouker said. "I understand why he was using it. It was a policy that we allowed. ... We had some discussions about it, and I said, 'Well Mike, maybe you should just monitor it a little bit and maybe not do it quite as much.' And he has."
From January through May 2013, the Sheriff's Department charged nearly $2,800 at restaurants on its credit cards. From June through October, after Gouker and Harn discussed the restaurant spending, only $28 was charged, for one meal at Breakers Saloon & Eatery in Oregon, where the majority of the lunch trainings had occurred.
"I haven't changed my policy," Harn said. "I still could do that. I chose, after Mr. Gouker and all the things that happened in Dixon and all those things, like, 'OK, I don't need this.'"
Harn continues to have those same training discussions with his staff, he said, but now more of them happen during phone calls.
"In a public office, there are things that are done that are wrong, and there are things that are done that could be perceived as being wrong," Gouker said.
He said the meals could be perceived as wrong, but that there was nothing actually wrong about them.
Spending comes to light
In March, Ogle County Board members John O'Brien and Dick Petrizzo began having discussions with county departments that had and were using credit cards.
At the time, the county didn't have a credit card policy, and O'Brien said the county auditors had recommended that one be put together.
"When you draft a policy, it has overall applications," Petrizzo said. "You're not looking at individual statements."
But after they spoke with Harn and learned about the lunch training, Petrizzo said, they took the issue to Gouker.
"Both O'Brien and I were new, and we were learning stuff about the board and operations," Petrizzo said. "And when we came across that [lunch spending], we were curious about that. The sheriff defended it by saying that it's a way [they trained people over lunch]. We raised questions about it and whether it was right or wrong."
Petrizzo said he was happy that, for the most part, the lunch training had stopped, adding that he didn't condone the practice.
Harn took office in December 2010, but it wasn't until Petrizzo and O'Brien's general discussion about all department credit card spending in early 2013 that Harn made the decision, after speaking with Gouker, to change that practice.
County Security Committee
Dan Janes is an Ogle County Board member and chairman of the County Security Committee, which oversees the Sheriff's Department and the Ogle County coroner. Each month, his committee reviews each department's bills and receives an update.
Janes said he doesn't "sit down and go through every [credit card] charge in every month," and he doesn't get too involved with the finances as long as the department is within its budget, which the Sheriff's Department has been.
Also on the County Security Committee are Rich Gronewold and Greg Sparrow, who also sit on the county's Finance, Revenue and Insurance Committee. Janes said he assumed they were looking at details of credit card statements.
"I’m just probably somewhat assuming that they’re looking at those more closely," he said.
Sparrow doesn't see the monthly credit card statements, he said, but as the committee chairman, Janes might. If he had been aware of the lunch training, Sparrow said, he might have asked for more detail, but might also defer to Harn as an elected official.
"I would like to hear in more details from him why he feels that way," Sparrow said. "I’m not saying I disagree with him."
Gronewold said he had seen some of the spending and had even questioned other departments, but not every department and not for every charge.
He wasn't aware of the extent of lunch training, Gronewold said, but he didn't think such local training several times a week would be necessary.
"I wouldn't think that would be appropriate," he said. "I wouldn't see why he would have to buy lunch for those people."
Bobbie Colbert, another member of the County Board and the County Security Committee, said she wasn't aware of the lunch training and doesn't think it would be appropriate.
Colbert also said she didn't think the lunch training had been discussed or explained during the committee meetings, but she had heard rumors about it the past week or so.
"I'm sure [the committee] would be questioning, ‘Hey, what's going on at Breakers?’” she said, adding that she would be curious about the time of the charges.
Harn has had conversations with County Security Committee members about his policies and procedures, he said, but many other County Board members don't seek him out to learn what's going on in his department.
"A lot of people on the board don’t call and don't ask and don't know," Harn said. "It's kind of hard to share all the information with people and they don't care."
The Sheriff's Department's training budget in 2013 was $9,615, and it's set at $7,615 for 2014.
In 2011, Harn's first year as sheriff, the training budget was set by his predecessor, Greg Beitel, at $44,560. In 2012, the training budget had been cut to $11,615.
Jerry Brooks, a member of the Ogle County Board and County Security Committee, said Harn had done a good job with the reduced budget. Brooks said he was aware of the lunch training and didn't have a problem with it.
"I, overall, I have never seen anything that I felt was inappropriate," he said. "But that doesn't mean I've seen everything."
Lee Meyers, a member of the County Board and County Security Committee, said he had asked Harn about individual purchases in the past, most of the time for bigger charges, he said, but wasn't aware of the lunch training.
Patricia Nordman, a member of the County Board and County Security Committee, didn't immediately return a call for comment Thursday.
Restaurant spending details
The P's, Rockford, $14.64
G's Chicken, Freeport, $29.22
Red Lobster, Springfield, $79.19
Applebee's, Freeport, $71
Outback, Springfield, $54.12
Maxon Riverside Restaurant, $45.08
Chile Pepper Cafe, Oregon, $31
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $60.78
Maxson Riverside Restaurant, $43
Logan's Bar and Grill, Freeport, $80.16
Maxson Riverside Restaurant, $54.49
Alexander's Steakhouse, Normal, $35.53
Lefty's Bar and Grill, Forreston, $21.71
Applebee's, Freeport, $76.17
Maxson Riverside Restaurant, $71.28
Culver's, Lake Delton, Wis., $61.80
Arthur's Garden Deli, Dixon, $16.61
Maxson Riverside Restaurant, $221.65 (four charges)
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $188.47 (four charges)
Spring Valley Family Restaurant, Oregon, $16.73
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $228.90 (five charges)
Logan's Bar and Grill, Freeport, $104.87
Hooters, Springfield, $66.19
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $136.15 (three charges)
Spring Valley Family Restaurant, $24.82
Angelo's, Dixon, $22.66
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $222.12 (six charges)
Maxson Riverside Restaurant, $42
Sunrise 3 Restaurant. Oregon
$18.82 (once, listed as training)
Arthur's Garden Deli, Dixon, $236
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $196.40 (four charges)
McDonald's, DeKalb and Winnebago, $30.36 (two charges)
Spring Valley Family Restaurant, $22.74
Dairy Queen, $11.48
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $198.77 (five charges,)
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $165.52 (four charges)
Applebee's, Freeport, $61.72
Pizza Hut, Oregon, $22.53
Breakers Saloon & Eatery
$298.07 (seven charges)
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $704.16 (14 charges)
Jackass BBQ, $46.75
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $512.60 (nine charges)
Jackass BBQ, $44.09
Spring Valley Family Restaurant, $30.18
Maxson Riverside Restaurant, $25.61
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $539.09 (10 charges)
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $681.99 (15 charges)
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $552.30 (13 charges)
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $492.40 (12 charges)
Swedish Pancake House, Byron, $23.73
Pizza Hut, Oregon, $17.96 (once, listed as training)
Breakers Saloon & Eatery, $475.22 (12 charges)
Breakers Saloon, $28
(31 months – April 2011 to October 2013)
April 2011: $43.86
May 2011: $0
June 2011: $0
July 2011: $0
August 2011: $0
September 2011: $204.31
October 2011: $86.08
November 2011: $103.78
December 2011: $191.89
January 2012: $225.86
February 2012: $426.85
March 2012: $399.96
April 2012: $183.63
May 2012: $282.94
June 2012: $521.96
July 2012: $198.77
August 2012: $249.77
September 2012: Missing
October 2012: $298.07
November 2012: $750.91
December 2012: $586.87
January 2013: $539.09
February 2013: $681.99
March 2013: $552.30
April 2013: $534.09
May 2013: $475.22
June 2013: 0
July 2013: $28
August 2013: 0
September 2013: 0
October 2013: 0
BREAKERS SALOON & EATERY SPENDING
TOTAL: $5,320.94, or 70.3 percent of all restaurant spending.
CREDIT CARD BILLS
April 2011: $626.51
May 2011: $3,891.63
June 2011: $4,680.51
July 2011: $1,687.20
August 2011: $5,565.86
September 2011: $2,593.86
October 2011: $8,448.09
November 2011: $2,497.71
December 2011: $4,015.60
January 2012: $2,917.85
February 2012: $3,577.99
March 2012: $3,152.49
April 2012: $2,876.12
May 2012: $3,766.09
June 2012: $5,070.93
July 2012: $2,727.23
August 2012: $2,882.64
September 2012: Missing
October 2012: $2,387.28
November 2012: N.A.
December 2012: $6,653.43
January 2013: $4,434.96
February 2013: $4,264.09
March 2013: $8,921.44
April 2013: $1,612.70
May 2013: $6,305.98
June 2013: 995.89
July 2013: $69.96
August 2013: $402.70
September 2013: $2,165.52
October 2013: $88.34
Other credit card charges
Below are several other charges on the sheriff's credit cards, along with the sheriff's explanation.
Lucky Brand Jeans, $160.74, July 15, 2012, in Aurora:
– On most days, Harn doesn't wear the full uniform, he said, and instead wears jeans and a polo shirt. This charge was for three or four pairs of Lucky Brand jeans that were on sale, he said.
Under Armour, $259.70, July 15, 2012, in Aurora:
– The purchase was for the polo shirts Harn wears, he said, which also are embroidered with the department's name on a sleeve.
Hennepin Marine, $326.29, March 2, 2012, in Hennepin:
– The department no longer has a boat it can use, Harn said, so when an incident requires one, the department will ask a nearby fire department or resident to assist. In those cases, the Sheriff's Department provides oil or gas to replenish what was used, Harn said.
Men's Wearhouse, $1,193.28, $1,106 and $129.87, Oct. 22 and 23, 2012, in Rockford:
– These purchases were for suits, shirts, ties, pants and shoes for Harn and Michael Schabacker, a detective who's required to be in a suit at work, Harn said.
OnStar, $249, $28.90, $28.90, $28.90 and $11.40, charges in 2011 and 2013:
– Harn had an OnStar subscription in his Sheriff's Department vehicle for navigation purposes, he said, and there were other charges for hands-free dialing minutes in case he needed them in an emergency, he said.
Harley-Davidson, $384.83, $154.04 and $63.94, charges in April, July and October 2011, in Peoria and Sauk City, Wis.:
– Harn purchased clothing and gear from two Harley-Davidson retailers for when the department had a Harley-Davidson motorcycle it used for parades, he said. When the lease ended, it wasn't renewed, Harn said, but the clothing still is at the department as Sheriff's Department property.
SiriusXM Radio, $213.51, $172.83 and $28.28 in April 2011 and 2012:
– Harn had a 1-year subscription to Sirius radio for his department vehicle. When it automatically renewed, he had it canceled and obtained a refund, he said.
Hooters, $66.19, March 4, 2012, in Springfield:
– The restaurant was across the street from his hotel in Springfield where he attended a conference, Harn said. He said he was there with other law enforcement personnel.
LensCrafters, $514.79, July 15, 2012, in Rockford:
– A department employee's prescription glasses were stolen, Harn said. The employee paid for the frames and the department paid for the lenses. The employee was working at the time of the theft, Harn said.
iTunes, several charges, including $31.86 and $5.30 in 2012:
– These charges were for navigation and work-related apps, Harn said, and weren't games or other apps.
Frank's Car Wash in Freeport
– There are several charges for Frank's Car Wash, which, Harn said, are for his department vehicle. He has had it washed in Freeport because he lives in Forreston and it's close, he said. Freeport is in Stephenson County.