CROWN POINT — No work? No pay!
That's the official message the Lake County Council is sending to Democratic County Recorder Michael B. Brown, whose chronic absences from the government center over the past year have forced recorder's office staff to repeatedly do the work of their no-show boss.
The bipartisan, seven-member council voted unanimously Wednesday to reduce Brown's annual salary to $1, starting January 1, 2020.
Councilman Charlie Brown, D-Gary, who is not related to the recorder, initially wanted to set the recorder's salary at $0 for next year, but was advised by Lake County Auditor John Petalas and Ray Szarmach, the council's attorney, that it needed to be at least $1 for accounting purposes.
Charlie Brown said he doesn't think the recorder deserves even a buck if he's not going show up for work and do his job.
"Every day something comes up about what is or is not happening in the recorder's office," Charlie Brown said. "All of our constituents are looking for action on this whole issue. I hope the recorder just calls in and says, 'I'm coming to work,' so we can drop all of this."
The salary reduction still can be changed up until the Oct. 8 final adoption of the 2020 Lake County budget, should Michael Brown resume the duties of his elected position or resign his office, according to Council President Ted Bilski, D-Hobart.
Szarmach said state law also permits the council to restore the recorder's salary next year, if, for example, Michael Brown resigns or is removed from office through the impeachment process and a new recorder takes his place.
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Councilman Christian Jorgensen, R-St. John, is leading the impeachment effort to remove Michael Brown through a grand jury finding of dereliction, followed by a separate jury trial where the county prosecutor would be responsible for making the case that the recorder should lose his office prior to his term expiring at the end of 2020.
The council unanimously endorsed Jorgensen's proposal to subpoena at least four recorder's office staffers, including Michael Brown, to testify Oct. 3 as to what they know about the recorder's whereabouts and what kind of work he has done recently on behalf of Lake County taxpayers.
Jorgensen said the record from that hearing will be provided to Prosecutor Bernie Carter for use in a potential impeachment trial.
The Times attempted to contact Michael Brown before the council's late afternoon meeting in an effort to find out where he has been.
He did not answer the call or reply to the message left on his voicemail.
The recorder has been a near-constant no-show at work since a former subordinate sued him for sexual harassment in 2017, according to multiple recorder's office staffers and county officials who’ve spoken with The Times. That lawsuit was settled out of court in October, but he has remained an absentee boss.
Deputy Recorder Gina Pimentel has taken over day-to-day management of the office and represents the recorder's office at county council meetings, including the recorder's office budget presentation last week, which she said Michael Brown did not ask to see in advance or approve.
Michael Brown is due to earn approximately $65,000 this year. However, state law prohibits adjusting the wage of a local elected official, in most circumstances, after the budget for the year has been set.