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Gouker now supports audit of tow fund

Posted: Thursday, Apr 17th, 2014




IN a change from two months ago, Ogle County Board Chairman Kim Gouker asked the board’s approval Tuesday night to proceed with a forensic audit of the controversial sheriff’s tow fund.

In January, Gouker shot down a request from fellow board member Dick Petrizzo for a forensic audit of the tow fund and the sheriff’s department credit card use, but on Tuesday night the board president was behind the expanded audit.

“I would like to see a full audit of the tow fund from beginning to end,” Gouker told the board during chairmen’s comments. “There has been a lot of questions on if the fund has been managed properly or improperly and an audit would answer those questions.”

Sheriff Michael Harn was not present at the county board meeting, but Gouker told the board he had spoken with the sheriff on his way to the meeting and informed the sheriff of what he was going to propose.

“He is fully supportive and thinks it is a great idea,” Gouker said. “He will fully cooperate.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Harn gave Ogle County Treasurer John Coffman a check for the $51,932.07 for the remaining balance of the tow fund; however, Coffman did not receive any ledgers or records with the check.

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

“I don’t,” Coffman replied.

“I fully support the audit,” Welty added. “The auditors need to walk in and ask for all records from day one. We need a complete record and if any records are missing they can be reconstructed.”

Board member Pat Nordmann questioned what could be done if Harn didn’t turn over the books.

Gouker responded that he had recently received a copy of the fund ledger from Harn.



Board member Pat Nordmann questioned what could be done if Harn didn’t turn over the books.

Gouker responded that he had recently received a copy of the fund ledger from Harn.

Gouker told the board he had spoken with the county’s audit firm, Sikich, and they agreed to do the audit for $7,500.

“If they need to reconstruct any records there could be additional charges,” he added.

Gouker said he will be in contact the auditors to begin the process and a final vote on hiring Sikich will be held at the next meeting, May 20.

“I think we should begin with the tow fund and go from there,” he concluded.

Petrizzo made a motion for a forensic audit of the tow fund and the sheriff’s credit cards at the January 21 meeting. Gouker said the matter could not be voted on that evening because it was not on the agenda.

The audit was discussed in February committee meetings and the board agreed to wait until the regular audit had been done before proceeding. At the February meeting Gouker told the board a forensic audit of the tow fund and the credit card would cost $10,000 from the county auditor.

Tow fee back

In a reversal of an internal memo that Harn put out on April 1, stating that the sheriff’s department would no longer enforce the tow fees, Harn told seven county board members and Ogle County State’s Attorney Mike Rock in an e-mail on Monday that he will once again be implementing the tow fee as it was before.

In the e-mail Harn explained his actions, “I would like to explain briefly what I was attempting to do. In no way was I attempting to hurt the county or any one person. The feedback I was getting was just get away from the tow fund and let the next sheriff deal with it however they wish to deal with it.”

The board approved a resolution Tuesday night that mandates the fund’s deposits are limited to only administrative fees collected when a vehicle is towed, impounded or seized during a criminal investigation. The tow fund was created in November 2011 but the ordinance governing the fund did not actually establish the tow fund.

In February the board took control of the tow fund from Harn and required the fees and transactions be handled by the Ogle County Treasurer’s office rather than the sheriff.

More

controversy

Three Ogle County tow truck owners spoke before the board on Tuesday to voice their concern over being taken off the sheriff’s tow rotation list.

Doug Aken, of Oregon, spoke on behalf of the three, which included Stan Ubben of Mount Morris and Greg Wagner of Polo.

Aken said all three have been on the tow rotation list for many years– Akens, 22 years; Ubben 33 years and Wagner 13 years– but under Harn’s administration they have been used less frequently and believe it is due to political backlash.

Aken speaking on behalf of Stan Ubben, informed the board, that through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by Ubben, he found out he was removed from the list on August 13, 2013.

Ubben’s removal, he believes, stems from a May 2012 tow of an ATV he did for the sheriff’s department. The ATV was not picked up and the administration fee was never paid. When Ubben filed paperwork to claim title of the ATV, a dispute began between he and Harn.

On March 20, Aken received a signed letter from Harn informing him he was no longer on the list. The letter reads, “Effective immediately, Akens Autobody, 93 South Daysville Road in Oregon, is no longer on our tow rotation list. They are only to be contacted by citizen request.”

Although the letter gave no reason, Aken believes he was removed for supporting another candidate in the recent sheriff’s election.

Aken sited an article in “Tow Times” referring to a Supreme Court ruling that forbids political affiliation as a factor in the selection and retention of towing service operators.

“When favoritism is played, response time has increased and this will open the county up to liability,” Aken told the board. “Accidents are on the roadways longer while waiting for out of town tow trucks. You are putting the public and the officers in jeopardy when the weather is bad and trucks are coming from a longer distance. You are opening the county to liability.”

Wagner has not received any notice that he was removed from the list but his tows have dwindled and he too believes it is politically motivated.

Aken urged the board to look into their claims.

“These are issues that need to be addressed. I would like to see more checks and balances on the way the tow list is operated in our county. I live in this county and I don’t want to see you opening yourself up to the liabilities that incur with these practices,” he said.

Harn was not at the county board meeting and did not return a call for comment.












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