Lake County Recorder Michael Brown, who has been called on the carpet for his absenteeism, didn’t come into work Tuesday but will receive a raise in fiscal year 2020.
The Lake County Council approved a balanced budget for fiscal year 2020, which included a $66,240 salary for Brown. His salary includes a 3% raise that most county employees will receive next year.
When asked to speak with Brown at the Recorder’s office Tuesday at the Lake County Government Center in Crown Point, a Post-Tribune reporter was taken to Chief Deputy Gina Pimentel’s office. Brown came into work Sept. 26 through Oct. 7, but he did not come into the office Tuesday, she said.
“He did tell me he wasn’t going to be here today,” she said.
Brown couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Tuesday.
The council agreed to a $1 salary next year for Michael Brown during a Sept. 11 first reading of the fiscal year 2020 budget because he hadn’t been showing up to work.
In a 6-1 vote Tuesday, the council approved reinstating the recorder’s salary for fiscal year 2020, which also reflects a 3% raise that most county employees received for next year.
Council attorney Ray Szarmach said the council is required, by state statute, to give Brown a raise when other employees receive it.
Szarmach said Brown didn’t report to work for 18-months. Brown was re-elected as recorder in November 2016 after first winning the seat in 2013. But in a Sept. 26 call with the Post-Tribune said that he won’t seek reelection.
Before the Tuesday vote, Councilman Charlie Brown asked if the council will receive “some assurances” that Brown is in the office.
Council President Ted Bilski said he believes “the salary has to be put back into play," but that the committee investigating the excessive absenteeism will remain in place and impeachment is an option.
“I think the reassurance, Councilman Brown, that we have is that if, for any reason, the recorder chooses not to hold up his end of his term in office then that committee reconvenes and takes that information to (the prosecutor’s) office,” Bilski said.
Brown voted against reinstating the salary because “the recorder, Mike Brown, was not fully honest when he came in” for a Oct. 3 hearing in front of the council.
“We have already paid him for almost a full year, in fact a year and a half, when he was not performing his duties,” the councilman said.
During the Oct. 3 hearing, Michael Brown told the council he “sincerely apologize(s)” for putting the council in this position to address his absenteeism.
“I have increased my office hours to appease the public, the council and Charlie Brown,” he had said. “I’m here to serve the council and the public.”
He said he was proud of the work he’s done, but admitted that he “began to reduce” his hours “for obvious reasons” at the beginning of his second term following a lawsuit filed against him by a woman in the office.
However, he said he was in contact with his staff whenever he wasn’t in the office.
Before Michael Brown spoke in the Oct. 3 hearing, three of his employees listed the few times they had contact with him in the last three years.
In May 2017, Estela Montavlo, of East Chicago, filed a lawsuit in federal court that alleged she was forced to leave her part-time job at the recorder’s office because Michael Brown sexually harassed her, according to court documents.
The county settled the case for $185,000 in October 2018. The settlement included no admission of guilt on the county’s part.
Michael Brown said, at the time, that he fully cooperated with a state police investigation, which found no wrongdoing, and with the county’s own investigation.
At the Oct. 3 hearing, Councilman Daniel Dernulc reminded Michael Brown that he has one year and three months left of his term and asked if he’ll continue coming into work.
“I plan on being here 4 to 5 times a week,” Michael Brown said.