Indiana has initiated efforts to collect more than $130,000 from a Gary councilwoman the state says she shouldn’t have received.
Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill Jr. on Monday said that his office began recovery proceedings to collect $132,742.35 in salary from Gary Councilwoman Mary Brown that the state has says she received while working for the Gary Sanitary District. The state says that because Brown was on the Common Council, she should not have worked for the Sanitary District.
Brown did not respond to calls for comment Monday.
“No citizen is above the law, even if that citizen happens to be a public office-holder,” Hill said in a statement. “You can disagree with a law. You can lobby to change it. But you cannot ignore or disobey it.”
“In this case, we are taking action to make sure the law is upheld and that financial restitution is made for monies that were misappropriated,” Hill added.
Brown resigned from the Sanitary District in June 2018.
Brown, who was first elected to the council in 1999, had worked for the Sanitary District since 1995, according to court records. Brown’s salary as the 3rd District councilwoman was $28,726.88 in 2017, according to city records, and $73,109.85 for her job in customer service at the Sanitary District.
The state said because Brown was on the Gary Common Council, she should not have kept her customer service job with the district after June 2016.
During a Sept. 20 exit conference with state auditors, Brown objected to their report.
“My attorney and I disagree with the findings of this report from the unit City of Gary,” said Brown and her attorney, Clorius Lay, in a letter to the State Board of Accounts.
Brown had challenged the state’s position that the Gary council has authority over the Sanitary District in a 2016 lawsuit.
The lawsuit asked a judge to find that she was not in violation of the law by retaining both her positions, according to court documents, and should not have to repay any salary. Court filings claim the Attorney General’s Office gave her conflicting opinions on if the Common Council is the overseeing body of the Sanitary District, which would determine whether she should resign.
Lake County Judge John Sedia last year ruled against Brown and agreed with the Attorney General’s Office’s opinion that the Common Council has authority over the Sanitary District.
“These statutes are clear and unambiguous,” Sedia said, in his order. “All of their words and phrases, when taken in their plain, ordinary, and usual sense, mean: The Gary Sanitary District performs its statutory functions as a department of the City of Gary.”
Brown’s attempt to retain both positions did not challenge the Indiana law that blocked municipal employees from also having a position on a governing council.
Brown did not join Matthew Claussen, of Hobart; Michael Opinker, of Hammond, Susan Pelfrey, of New Chicago; or Juda Parks, of East Chicago, in a lawsuit that challenged the constitutionality of that law. Those four held jobs in their respective municipalities and served on the governing councils.
Following a 2016 ruling that affirmed the law, all four resigned from their governing capacities. Claussen has since retired from the Hobart Police Department and is again on the City Council.