OREGON – A Rochelle police officer took a big step toward becoming the next Ogle County sheriff Tuesday.
Brian VanVickle, a 37-year-old Rochelle K-9 officer, won a close three-way race in the Republican Party primary. The Democratic Party has no candidate yet. The general election is Nov. 4.
VanVickle defeated first-term Sheriff Michael Harn by 136 votes. VanVickle garnered 3,470 votes to Harn’s 3,334. A third candidate, Joe Drought, of Rochelle, received 2,821 votes.
“I’m so appreciative of all the people who stepped up and took part in this vision,” VanVickle said after the votes were tallied. “It’s all come to fruition.”
Drought wished VanVickle well as he conceded defeat.
“It was a very close race obviously,” Drought said. “We gave it our best shot and thought we could do some good things in the county. The voters have spoken. Congratulations to Brian VanVickle.”
Harn did not answer his phone or return a phone call by 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.
As the early returns came in, Harn led the race by a strong margin — sometimes by as many as 400 votes. However, the tide turned as the votes were counted from the Rochelle area.
VanVickle has served as a Rochelle police officer since 2009. Prior to that he had 13 years of management experience in the private sector.
He and his family live in Rochelle, where he serves on the Rochelle Township High School Board.
Harn was elected sheriff in 2010 after he defeated incumbent Greg Beitel in the primary.
According to state statute, Harn received enough votes to challenge the election results and ask for a recount. He has until mid-April to file a challenge.
Harn, 52, of Forreston has served 29 years with the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department.
He recently weathered criticism over his handling of the department’s off-budget tow fund, which was created a couple of years ago, money from which he used to pay for car repairs, a consultant to update the department’s Facebook page, and flowers for employees, among other things. His department also spent thousands of dollars on its credit card at local restaurants for “training,” and Harn used the card for personal purchases, which he later reimbursed.
As a result of the controversy, the Ogle County Board last month diminished the sheriff’s control over how the money in that fund is spent.
Voter turnout was 30.87 percent, high for an off-year primary, County Clerk Rebecca Huntley said.
“I’m very, very thrilled with the turnout,” she said. “It’s nice the voters of Ogle County decided to have a voice in who serves as our elected officials.”