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Gouker asks for tow fund audit in Ogle County

Published: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 3:27 p.m. CDT

In an apparent reversal of its stand 3 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 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 made a motion for a forensic audit of the tow fund 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 fund’s 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 fee be handled by the Ogle County Treasurer’s office, rather than the sheriff, as in the past.

While a check for $51,932.07 was turned over to him Tuesday, Treasurer John Coffman said he did not receive any two fund revenue or expenditure records from the sheriff’s department, only the check.

“How do you know it’s correct?” board member Bill Welty asked.

“I don’t,” Coffman replied.

“Do we have the tow fund books?” board member Pat Nordman asked.

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 of Oregon, spoke for the three, which also included Stan Ubben of Mt. Morris and Greg Wagner of 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.

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 by Rochelle police officer Brian VanVickle in his bid for a second term in the three-way race.

Aken said Harn removed Ubben from the tow list in May 2012, after Ubben towed an all-terrain vehicle at the request of the sheriff’s department and a dispute ensued.

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