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No one wants to fork over cash for services not rendered.

And many folks renting from an absentee landlord know of the frustrations that can ensue.

The bad news is Lake County taxpayers apparently have been experiencing both scenarios for the past two years as elected Recorder Mike Brown rarely shows up to work, according to multiple accounts of other public officials and government center employees.

The good news, according to those same public officials and employees?

Deputy Recorder Gina Pimentel is keeping the office running for about $20,000 less per year in annual compensation than taxpayers are paying elected Recorder Brown to not show up to work much.

Brown's near-constant absence from the office has been observed by multiple employees inside the Lake County Government Center and Times reporters and editors, who have visited the taxpayer-funded office more than a dozen times within the past year.

By numerous accounts, Brown, the man Lake County voters elected to run the office at an annual salary of more than $62,000, hasn't shown up at the office much since 2017, when he was sued for sexual harassment following an alleged affair with a subordinate. Some of the trysts occurred within his government office itself, the lawsuit alleged.

That annual salary isn't the only money being reduced to ashes in Brown's name.

An out-of-court settlement in the sexual harassment lawsuit rang up a $185,000 price tag for the county.

When I spoke with Brown Friday, he vehemently claimed he has been available to his staff the whole time.

But being available for employees to hunt him down isn't the same as being present and leading.

Brown also noted he has tried to be "more private" since being sued by former office employee Estela Montalvo, who accused Brown of using a sexual relationship as a precursor to possible elevation of status in the recorder's office.

He noted he doesn't keep long office hours like he did in his first term as recorder, which began in 2012.

Then he listed a litany of "great" things he's done for the office, including getting an old paper-driven office into the digital age by creating searchable databases for the deeds and other documents under the auspices of the recorder's office.

But employees and public officials say Brown doesn't really show up at all anymore.

"I've rarely seen him in recent years," said Lake County Councilman David Hamm, who chairs the council committee that oversees the budget for Brown's office.

Hamm noted Brown stopped representing the office at county council meetings and committee functions around the time the sexual harassment lawsuit was filed.

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"It's frankly a betrayal of public trust," Hamm said. "He's not there doing the work."

Fortunately for taxpayers, Hamm said Deputy Recorder Gina Pimentel is leading the office.

Hamm said Pimentel, who has worked in the recorder's office for five years, has competently handled budget matters and management of the office.

Several other public officials and employees of Brown's office, who did not want to be named for fear of being fired, agreed with Hamm's assessment.

Pimentel refused to comment about her absentee boss.

But she did note assuming the reins of the office has trained her to become the main recorder, a position she said she intends to seek in the 2020 election. State term limits mercifully prevent Brown from running for the office again in the next cycle, even if he wanted to.

The fact Pimentel has held things together while her boss sunk into scandal and absenteeism means voters should give her a serious look.

By all accounts, she has stepped up and helped usher in improvements in office technology and staff efficiencies.

For his part, Brown said he's done with local politics.

He believes the lawsuit filed against him was politically motivated, designed to sully his reputation.

But essentially going into hiding and mailing it in have only worsened Brown's reputation at the Lake County Government Center, and that's all on him.

When I visited the recorder's office Tuesday, Brown was absent, as expected. Pimentel was present, and employees there clearly were following her lead.

When I contacted Brown on his cellphone Friday, I asked if he was in the office at that time.

He said he wasn't but had just departed.

Employees in his office, with whom I spoke after that conversation, hadn't seen him in the office at all Friday.

It's good Brown is talking about hanging up his political cleats in general.

Hamm is right. Brown has given Lake County residents serious reason to harbor trust issues.

Local News Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 933-3327 or marc.chase@nwi.com. Follow him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/marc.chase.9 or Twitter @nwi_MarcChase. The opinions are the writer's.

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