CROWN POINT — Lake County Recorder Michael B. Brown pledged, in person, to the Lake County Council on Thursday that he will begin regularly showing up for work. This promise came after admitting he stayed away from the county government center for much of the past three years.
In a candid statement, Brown apologized for his rampant absenteeism and attributed his failure to come to work to health issues he said originated in 2017 after he was sued by a former subordinate for sexual harassment. The county paid $185,000 to settle that lawsuit one year ago.
"Through that experience and just through that whole process, I've honestly developed a very embarrassing file, I'd say, of mental anxiety and mental health issues in relation to my safety in my workplace, co-workers, mentors, politicians, friends, family," Brown said.
"After I experienced what I experienced, I had to often take moments to re-analyze situations, my safety, my future. It was never like I planned to drastically reduce my in-time office hours. I felt safer working through the chain-of-command with my staff, reducing my face-to-face time and liabilities with others."
Brown said there were many days since 2017 when he planned to come in to the office and work eight hours. But he simply couldn't bring himself to do it.
Going forward, however, Brown vowed that will change, and he said he plans "on being here at least four or five days a week."
"I've enjoyed being recorder. I love my job. Through these trials and situations, I don't think the service in the recorder's office has suffered," Brown said.
"It was never my intention to upset the council or the public in any way. Everything I did, I did in the best interest of taxpayers, my office, good government and my family."
The County Council decided in July to investigate Brown's work attendance after word reached several councilmen that Brown seldom showed up at the Lake County Government Center.
Three top-level recorder's office employees, including Deputy Recorder Gina Pimentel, separately told the council Thursday they've rarely seen Brown in the office over the past three years, and they only had intermittent telephone or email contact with him.
For example, Pimentel said she's prepared the office budget, overseen employee hiring, attended the annual statewide recorder's conference in place of Brown, as well as represented the recorder's office at County Council meetings.
Brown, who did not hear Pimentel's testimony, claimed that despite not coming to work he's still met regularly with recorder's office employees, had daily contact with its information technology director and various vendors and oversaw all staffing decisions.
"No one would be hired or fired in the recorder's office without my knowing or approval," Brown said.
Neither Pimentel nor Brown was under oath to tell the truth at the hearing. Councilman Charlie Brown, D-Gary, said he has no doubt that Mike Brown, who is not related to the councilman, was lying.
"You have done totally the wrong thing as it relates to your sworn duties as the recorder, and yet sit here and tell us something totally different from what your staff has told us relative to your performance and your duties. That's offensive to me," Charlie Brown said.
In response, Mike Brown again apologized for his absenteeism and promised that his work during the 15 months remaining in his second and final term will be more like his efforts between taking office in January 2013 and 2016.
"I'm eager to continue the great work that we've done in the office, and to just not taint that with my health issues being an inability for me to work the hours that I worked during my full first term," Mike Brown said.
Councilman Dan Dernulc, R-Highland, who joined Charlie Brown in leading the council's investigation of the Democratic recorder, said he might request Mike Brown's health records if he again stops showing up for work and continues claiming that's the reason why.
"I did not enjoy doing this. This is unnatural. You see this stuff going on in Washington, and it's horrible," Dernulc said.
"The good news is the seven of us out there, for the most part, get along pretty well, and we want what's right for our county. We have different opinions on some things, but we did this because it's part of our responsibility."
Last month, the council unanimously voted to reduce the recorder's salary to $1 for 2020 as an incentive to get him back on the job.
With Mike Brown's attendance pledge in hand, the council is expected to restore his annual salary to approximately $65,000 when it approves the final county budget for next year Tuesday.
At the same time, the council agreed to forward the records of its investigation to Lake County Prosecutor Bernard Carter, who is authorized under state law to seek Mike Brown's removal from office through a complicated indictment and trial process.
Carter, who was on hand to see Mike Brown address the council, demurred afterward when asked whether he will act to try to prematurely end the recorder's term.
"We will review and see if he violated any state laws by not attending during the times that clearly some of the witnesses say he was not there," Carter said.
Pimentel said Brown also has failed to fulfill the annual continuing education requirements for Indiana county recorders, which could open another option for seeking his removal.
Brown, though, insisted he's in compliance with all state training mandates for his office.
Either way, Dernulc said it's unlikely that Brown will be forced from office before his term ends, even if state Rep. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, succeeds next year at the Statehouse in making the removal process for nonperforming local elected officials more efficient.
"We have his word. We shall see what happens," Dernulc said. "Honestly, I'm just kind of sad that we had to go through this."