CROWN POINT — The Lake County Council has agreed to investigate chronic absences by county Recorder Michael B. Brown, following reports the embattled official rarely shows up to work at the government center.
In a late addition to the council’s public meeting agenda Tuesday, Councilman Charlie Brown, D-Gary, proposed the formation of a three-person committee to look into the extent of the recorder’s alleged absenteeism.
Charlie Brown’s proposal cites a section of Indiana Code that empowers the county council to investigate other county offices “for the purpose of correcting deficiencies and ensuring adherence to law and county policies and regulations.”
Joining Charlie Brown on the committee are Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, and Councilman Christian Jorgensen, R-St. John. While the county council has no authority to remove Michael Brown from office, the special committee could ask state lawmakers for a legislative reprimand including impeachment, Charlie Brown told The Times.
Michael Brown’s job attendance first came under scrutiny in 2017, when part-time employee Estela Montalvo sued him for sexual harassment. Montalvo alleged her boss had sex with her on multiple occasions, including at the government center, as part of a quid pro quo arrangement that would lead to her promotion as a full-time staffer.
The lawsuit touched off an investigation by the Lake County prosecutor's office and state police into whether Michael Brown had committed sexual or official misconduct. The prosecutor’s office ultimately declined to file charges, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to prove the county recorder had solicited sex from employees in return for promotions.
Michael Brown denied Montalvo’s accusations and said he was prepared to defend himself in court. At the advice of counsel, the county opted to settle out of court and paid a $185,000 taxpayer-funded settlement to Montalvo and her attorney in October.
Since the lawsuit, Michael Brown has rarely appeared at his government center office, according to multiple recorder’s office employees who spoke with The Times. His deputy, Gina Pimentel, has taken over day-to-day management duties and represents the recorder’s office in county council meetings, the employees said.
Michael Brown was paid a salary of $62,667 in 2018, according to the county auditor’s office. This year, he has been paid $34,529 through the first week of July.
Reached for comment last week, Michael Brown told The Times he has tried to be “more private" since the Montalvo lawsuit and no longer keeps the same office hours he did after being elected to his first term in 2012. He also claimed he is “available” to his staff on days he isn’t in the office.
Even so, county lawmakers have taken notice of Michael Brown’s infrequent appearances at the government center. Both Democratic and Republican council members agree that a closer look at the recorder’s job performance is warranted, according to Dernulc.
“I applaud Charlie Brown — he’s been working on this for some time,” Dernulc said. “It shows that there’s bipartisan support (for an investigation).”
“I personally like Michael Brown, but we need to find out why he’s not coming in,” he added.
Michael Brown is in the third year of his second four-year term. By state statute, he is ineligible to run for a third consecutive term in 2020.