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Audit of tow fund is the obvious choice

Since questions were first raised about Ogle Sheriff Michael Harn’s handling of the administrative tow fund, the need for a forensic audit of that fund has been obvious. On Tuesday, Ogle County Board members should approve the audit.

Published: Saturday, May 17, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

Ogle County Board members are on the verge of approving a forensic audit of the controversial administrative tow fund.

The need for the audit has been obvious to many observers since reports were made public this past winter, through Sauk Valley Media and Ogle County Newspapers, about how Sheriff Michael Harn had spent some of the tow fund receipts.

From the $350 per towed vehicle that his department began collecting after the administrative tow fee was created in 2011, Harn paid for a new pickup truck, flowers for Secretary’s Day, a tent for the county fair, and $4,000 in management fees for the department’s Facebook page, among other things.

In its first 2 years, by the way, the tow fund’s income was $210,400.

As early as January, several Ogle County Board members began calling for a forensic audit of the fund.

Politics became a factor in the decision, as Harn was in the midst of a three-way Republican primary race for renomination to a second term, and no audit action was taken in February.

However, the board acted to rein in the sheriff’s control over the tow fund. Formerly given complete discretion on how the money was spent, Harn was ordered by the board to restrict tow fund spending to the purchase, repair and maintenance of police vehicles and vehicular equipment, and to buy fuel. He was told that future spending required the approval of a county committee, and he was ordered to transfer the money to Ogle County Treasurer John Coffman.

This Harn did, but not until April 15, when he turned over a check for $51,932.07. In the meantime, voters defeated Harn in the March 18 primary, nominating instead a Rochelle police officer, Brian VanVickle. Harn will serve until the end of November; a new sheriff will take office the first of December.

Last month, Kim Gouker, chairman of the Ogle County Board, concluded that a forensic audit was a good idea, as board members continued to ask questions about the tow fund’s ledger and other records. As recently as February, Gouker referred to calls for an audit as “a witch hunt.” But in April, he announced his support for the forensic audit, and followed through this week as the county’s Executive Committee voted to hire a Naperville auditing firm at a cost of $7,500.

Sikich LLP would document procedures used in the tow fund and identify any abuses. The audit’s cost would increase if fraud is uncovered. One expected benefit of the audit is a reorganization of the fund.

Gouker has said that Harn supports the audit.

We think a lot of other people support it, too.

Harn and the county have been under a cloud. Lingering questions about the tow fund have not been answered satisfactorily. The forensic audit will clear the air and continue the move to professionalize the fund that started when the treasurer’s office took it over last month.

Board members have begun to aggressively exercise their oversight authority regarding the tow fund. Granting approval of a forensic audit is the next logical step. We encourage the board to make the obvious choice.

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