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Elected officials need commitment to taxpayers

After the Ogle County sheriff accepted a separate full-time job, Ogle taxpayers are correct to question whether they are getting their money’s worth. The Legislature should address the issue.

Published: Tuesday, June 10, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, July 18, 2014 8:14 p.m. CDT

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Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth from elected and appointed public servants?

That question should be in the back of the minds of all citizens, all the time.

When questions arise over public servants’ conduct of their duties, the question needs to be asked publicly.

The sheriff of Ogle County, Michael Harn, recently accepted a new job. As reported May 24 in SV Weekend, Harn was hired to be the full-time maintenance coordinator for a school district based in Forreston, his hometown.

The job started June 2. Harn is being paid $17 an hour. He is expected to work 40 hours a week, acting Superintendent Jane Eichman said.

It’s a big job. Harn will be in charge of buildings and grounds maintenance for two elementary school buildings and the combined junior and senior high school complex. He will supervise the district’s custodians.

And while doing that, he will continue to be sheriff of Ogle County.

Harn, you will recall, was defeated in the March primary in his bid for the Republican nomination for a second 4-year term.

That defeat came after questions were raised over his handling of the sheriff’s department’s administrative tow fund, and his use of a county credit card for private purchases, for which he then reimbursed the county.

The county board voted to rein in Harn’s authority over the tow fund. It also voted to conduct a forensic audit of the fund.

Meanwhile, Sauk Valley Media reported that Harn showed up at the sheriff’s department in Oregon only three times in the month after his primary defeat, according to a confidential source. The same source said he had come to work three or four times a week beforehand.

Being sheriff of Ogle County is a big job, in and of itself. A recent study by the Ogle County League of Women Voters reported that the Ogle sheriff is responsible for more departments, employees, and money than his counterparts in seven regional counties.

The sheriff oversees his department and the corrections department, not to mention:

The Ogle County Emergency Management Agency;

The county’s buildings and grounds;

The county’s information technology;

The county’s telecommunications;

Security for the courts; and

All county properties.

As sheriff, Harn is paid $87,000 a year.

He apparently will continue in that job for nearly 6 more months. (Harn won’t respond to SVM’s requests for comment.)

While earning $1,673 a week as sheriff until his term expires Nov. 30, Harn will also earn $680 a week as maintenance coordinator for Forrestville Valley School District.

Did we mention that Harn is also village president for Forreston? He was unopposed in the April 2013 election.

In consulting state law, we learned that a person is prohibited from being the county treasurer at the same time as being sheriff. A sheriff is also prohibited from serving as an attorney before the court. Harn’s gig as village president is not addressed.

And, there appears to be no law that prohibits a sheriff from holding down an additional full-time job, either publicly or privately.

That brings us back to the question, Are taxpayers getting their money’s worth?

We encourage the Legislature to examine putting some basic minimum requirements into the law that would require elected public servants, such as county sheriffs, to show up regularly, do the job for which they are paid, and limit their outside employment.

Such clarification would better assure taxpayers that they, indeed, will get their money’s worth from their public servants.

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