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Sheriff's handling of money unclear in Ogle County

County treasurer: $3,754 cash refund ‘totally inappropriate’

Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn (left) and Ogle County Treasurer John Coffman.
Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn (left) and Ogle County Treasurer John Coffman.

OREGON – The Oregon Park District issued a $5,000 check to the Ogle County Sheriff’s Department last September, as part of an agreement for the department to provide “reactive patrol support,” among other policing services.

That money was never deposited.

A year earlier, the department had received another $5,000 check, made out to Ogle County Sheriff Michael Harn. That money was deposited, according to public records the park district released to Sauk Valley Media more than 2 weeks ago. Where that money was deposited, however, is unclear.

On March 28, the Sheriff’s Department decided to void the undeposited check and return the money that was unspent from the first $5,000 payment. That refund amounted to $3,754, according to the park district, which Sheriff Harn paid in cash.

Such a payment in cash is “totally inappropriate,” County Treasurer John Coffman said Wednesday.

The county treasurer has no record of the county receiving either $5,000 check, though the money could have bypassed the treasurer’s office by going, for instance, to the controversial, off-budget administrative tow fund, over which the sheriff had wide spending discretion.

On Monday, Sauk Valley Media sent Harn a Freedom of Information Act request for information on the checks. The sheriff has not responded to questions about the matter.

On Tuesday, the park district board ended its agreement with the sheriff’s office and approved a restructured one. The original pact, approved in 2012, was set to expire next year.

According to a park district news release. Harn told the district March 27 that he planned to terminate the existing agreement. He returned the money the next day.

“Sheriff Harn no longer considered the payment to be necessary for the services offered by his department,” the release said.

The restructured agreement eliminates the annual payment for services. Instead, the park district will beautify the Ogle County Courthouse lawn as payment for the sheriff’s police services.

In an interview late last month, Dan Griffin, the park district’s finance and technology administrator, acknowledged that terminating the agreement had been discussed.

He said the district was not sure what had happened to the checks, adding, “That’s what scares us.”

The district, Griffin said, feared that it would be “tarnished” because of the questions over the status of the checks.

“We want to keep our noses clean,” he said.

Treasurer Coffman said it would have been better, for the sake of accountability, if the $5,000 checks had gone through his office. He said he didn’t know where the $3,754 refund to the park district came from.

“That would be something the [Ogle County] board members may want to look at,” he said.

After Sauk Valley Media published stories about the tow fund in December, the Ogle County Board decided in February to tighten its grip on the tow fund. It limited the fund’s expenditures to police cars, their maintenance and equipment, and fuel. All spending now has to go through the treasurer’s office.

As of Wednesday, the sheriff had yet to turn over the tow fund to the treasurer’s office, Coffman said.

Harn lost his bid for re-election in the March 18 Republican primary election.

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