CROWN POINT — Accounting missteps in the Lake County recorder’s office have caused nearly $60,000 in fees to accumulate in its deposit account instead of being sent to the county treasury, according to state auditors.
The mistake was revealed Monday in an annual audit of Lake County finances by the Indiana State Board of Accounts.
State auditors said the recorder’s office failed to conduct monthly reconcilements of its fee books with its bank deposits, as required by law.
Because there were no safeguards in place to ensure collected fees were remitted to the county, the recorder’s office had an excess deposit account balance of $58,760 in 2018, auditors said.
The SBA’s report comes as Recorder Michael Brown is under investigation by the Lake County Council for allegations of chronic absenteeism. Multiple county employees and lawmakers have reported that Brown has been a constant no-show at his government center office since a subordinate sued him for sexual harassment in 2017.
In an interview with The Times earlier this month, Brown conceded he has reduced his office hours, but insisted he is available to his staff. Even so, recorder's office employees and county lawmakers have confirmed that his deputy, Gina Pimentel, has taken over daily management duties and represents the office at County Council meetings.
State auditors discussed the accounting error with Pimentel in an exit conference in June, according to the SBA report. Other county officials with financial oversight responsibility, including Auditor John Petalas and Commissioner Mike Repay, were notified later that month.
Brown was not among county officials who were listed as having participated in the exit conference.
Reached for comment about the audit, Pimentel denied the accounting mistakes were related to Brown’s lack of daily supervision.
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“It had nothing to do with his absence,” she told The Times. “It’s an issue that I am taking upon myself to rectify, based on what the SBA wants us to do.”
Pimentel went on to say that state auditors recommended the recorder’s office follow the same reconcilement procedures used by the county treasurer. The new process is expected to be in place soon and will reconcile the office’s books for 2019, she said.
As for the excess cash balance, Pimentel speculated that it was the result of a “culmination of several years” of errors. If the recorder’s office can’t pinpoint a single explanation for the excess balance, it will cut a check to return money to the general fund, she said.
“I’m doing my best to work on it, but my guess is that it’s a little money here, a little there, that has added up over the years,” Pimentel said.
The reconcilement problem was the only significant deficiency the SBA uncovered in the recorder’s office for 2018. Pimentel credited office staff for working to implement SBA recommendations amid an uncertain leadership situation.
“I’m proud of the work we’ve done, especially considering we’re a small office,” she said.
Meanwhile, a special committee of the County Council is looking into options for reprimanding Brown for chronic absences. Councilman Charlie Brown, D-Gary, has said the committee could go as far as to ask state lawmakers to empower the council to remove the recorder from office.
Michael Brown is currently in the third year of his second four-year term. Under the state constitution, he cannot run for a third consecutive term.
Pimentel told The Times earlier this month she intends to run for county recorder in 2020.