As a candidate for the Republican nomination for Ogle County sheriff, Michael Harn wrote these words in a column to Sauk Valley Media in January 2010: “Fiscal responsibility is a necessity today for everyone. The sheriff should not be exempt from being held to the same standards.”
We agree with those words of Mr. Harn, who went on to defeat incumbent Sheriff Greg Beitel and take office in December 2010.
Thus, we are troubled by certain spending decisions made by Harn since he became sheriff.
Credit card receipts and other Ogle County financial documents, which were obtained by Sauk Valley Media through a Freedom of Information Act request, show a pattern of spending that certainly seems out of step with the fiscal responsibility promised by Harn.
The creation by the Ogle County Board in October 2011 of a new revenue source – a $350 fee charged to drivers whose vehicles must be towed, with the money designated to an off-budget Administrative Tow Fund – and spending decisions made by Harn regarding that money also seem out of step with Harn’s pledge of fiscal responsibility.
Credit cards issued to the sheriff’s department were used to pay for more than $7,500 in restaurant meals in 2011, 2012, and the first 5 months of 2013. Of that amount, about $5,300 was spent at Breakers Saloon and Eatery, a block from the Ogle County Jail. Harn defends the Breakers spending, saying it involved lunchtime training sessions.
Then there were clothing purchases made by Harn, charged to the county, for Lucky Brand jeans, Under Armour polo shirts, Harley-Davidson clothing and gear, plus Men’s Wearhouse suits, shirts, ties, pants and shoes for Harn and a detective. Added together, it’s an additional $3,452 charged to taxpayers.
Harn spent money for OnStar ($347) and Sirius XM Radio ($414) and charged it to the county.
And while he was in Springfield for a conference in March 2012, he charged a $66.19 Hooters restaurant bill to the county.
Ten months after Harn become sheriff, the Ogle County Board approved creation of the aforementioned Administrative Tow Fund, with the money to be used “at the discretion of the sheriff.” This fund, by the way, is not reported on the county’s annual budget.
Harn decided to spend $22,947 of that money on a 2013 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck. He spent $5,437 for 1,500 “foldable Frisbees,” 1,500 plastic bags and 1,000 coloring books to hand out at the fair and other events. He paid $4,000 to Bob Coine to run the department’s Facebook page. He spent $170 for flowers for Secretaries Day.
Harn’s credit card spending had not been questioned until earlier this year. Two new County Board members, John O’Brien and Dick Petrizzo, became curious about the lunch spending and started asking questions about it.
Harn’s credit card spending slowed significantly after a spring meeting with County Board Chairman Kim Gouker, which coincided with revelations in Dixon of questionable credit card spending by then-City Engineer Shawn Ortgiesen, who resigned and repaid thousands of dollars in personal expenditures charged to the city.
We applaud newcomers O’Brien and Petrizzo for asking the questions that other County Board members should have asked a long time ago.
We encourage Gouker to continue with his quest to place off-budget county funds, such as the Administrative Tow Fund, on the budget to ensure greater scrutiny.
The Ogle County Board must exert greater oversight on all county spending, as well as advise Sheriff Harn, who makes $87,000 a year, whether it is appropriate to charge the county for jeans, polo shirts, and a meal at Hooters.
At $3.5 million, the Sheriff’s Department’s annual budget is the county’s largest. Harn promised fiscal responsibility. The County Board must hold him to that pledge.