Carmel clerk-treasurer alleges harassment by mayor; mayor says 2016 relationship was mutual  

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Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard is facing allegations of workplace harassment from Clerk-Treasurer Christine Pauley, who said Brainard repeatedly invited her on trips in 2016 and didn’t listen when she rejected his romantic advances. Brainard, however, tells a different story and provided emails to back it up.

Mayor Jim Brainard

Mayor Jim Brainard

“Mayor Brainard (used) his influence and power to create a toxic environment at City Hall with a deeper, more persistent attempt to encourage me to do things I did not want to do,” Pauley stated in an email. “Shame on him if he uses the flimsy excuse that ‘we were dating’ for his deceitful behavior. This thought resides in his head and is not true.”

Brainard denied the harassment allegations.

“After I was legally separated at the end of 2015 from my wife of almost 30 years, Ms. Pauley and I saw each other socially for a short time in early 2016 after she took office,” he stated in an email. “It was a mutual and equal relationship.”

Nancy Heck, director of community relations and economic development for the City of Carmel, has worked with Brainard since 1998 and said the situation is unlike anything she’s witnessed before.

“I have never seen anything like the fan-girling that Ms. Pauley displayed toward the mayor,” she stated in an email. “It was clear to me and many of us at City Hall that she was pursuing him in order to get invited to events and meetings she thought were important. Unfortunately, she caught him at a time that he was emotionally vulnerable, having separated from his wife the year prior. Fortunately, after a few months, it was clear he was being used and the relationship ended.”

Invitation to Rome

A March 26, 2016, email from Brainard’s personal account to Pauley’s personal account shows that Brainard pursued a relationship with Pauley. In the email, which Current obtained from mayoral candidate Fred Glynn’s campaign, Brainard outlines how he and Pauley could travel together to Rome for a conference at which he was speaking. He states that the trip could be their “special secret” and that it would not be funded through any tax dollars.

Pauley

“We will be returning five days apart from one another,” Brainard’s email states. “No one will think twice about it here.”

Pauley declined the offer, and Brainard responded, “Got it. Won’t ask again.”

Pauley also shared an email she received from Brainard in May 2016, where he describes a Wisconsin resort that is a “totally isolated lodge in the north woods on a lake” with Memorial Day availability. She replied with, “I will respectfully decline. It looks like a phenomenal vacation.”

Court records show Brainard was legally separated from his now ex-wife, Liz, at the time of the emails, although their divorce wasn’t finalized until July 2017.

Brainard provided an email from his personal account that he sent to Pauley a month before she declined to go to Rome that outlined his invitation to speak there. He wrote, “This should be fun!” and Pauley responded, “I would love to go!” He said this led to March 26 email outlining plans for the trip.

Brainard also provided other emails that he believes show that Pauley did not feel harassed, such as an email she sent him in April 2016 inviting him to join her and one of her employees at a OneZone event and a February 2016 email explaining a trip to Troy where she states, “I just might have to tag along as your Michigan connection.” In another email from April 2016, Brainard and Pauley appear to make plans to drive together to an Indianapolis election night watch party. Also in the spring of 2016, Brainard said he and Pauley drove to Cleveland together so she could check out a venue for her daughter’s wedding.

Heck said she finds it “unconscionable” that Pauley would claim harassment by the mayor.

“Emails from Clerk-Treasurer Pauley to the mayor after the March 26 message clearly show that she was pursuing the relationship,” Heck said. “She shared this email with others to try and embarrass the mayor. It diminishes those who have truly been victims.”

When contacted April 22 about the mayor’s response to the allegations, Pauley referred all questions to attorney Tim Stoesz.

“Unfortunately Mr. Brainard has chosen to attack Christine to divert attention from his questionable behavior,” Stoesz said. “Perhaps when all of the emails that Mr. Brainard sent to Christine become public, Ms. Heck will realize that she should have been more careful about her comments. The emails are rather graphic and go way beyond the professional relationship that Ms. Pauley tried to cultivate.”

Stoesz declined to elaborate and said no further comment will be given at this time.

‘Interesting timing’

Pauley, whom Brainard supported in the 2015 election, made the allegations less than a month before the May 7 Republican primary. Brainard is facing a challenge from Hamilton County Councilman Fred Glynn, whom Pauley is supporting.

“It is interesting timing, that after three years, the Glynn campaign has brought this out two weeks before the primary election,” Brainard stated. “This is clearly a premeditated attack on my character meant to divert voters’ attention from the real issues of the campaign.”

Glynn described the mayor as “reckless” and said his actions are among many “poor decisions.”

“In the era of the ‘Me Too’ movement, Mayor Brainard’s lack of comprehension of the word ‘no’ is extremely disturbing. Regardless of the circumstances or situation that these emails exist, the fact that Ms. Pauley repeatedly said no should have been enough for Jim Brainard to cease his efforts in pursuing her,” Glynn said. “As a father of a beautiful and intelligent young woman, I am embarrassed and ashamed of the actions of this elected representative of Carmel.”

Pauley said she looked into filing charges in 2016 but was told by her lawyers that the law does not address workplace harassment between two elected officials.

“I could have filed a civil suit in 2016, but knowing I had three more years of working in these conditions would have been made worse by filing a lawsuit directly against Jim Brainard,” Pauley said. “Knowing the extent of his influence, power and financial resources, dealing with a long civil lawsuit was daunting as I had just lost my mother to cancer, and I, too, was dealing with potential pancreatic cancer. I knew I had an obligation to do my best for the citizens of Carmel.”

Carmel Clerk-Treasurer Christine Pauley and Mayor Jim Brainard at an appearance by Carly Fiorino on May 2, 2016, at Soho Cafe and Gallery. (Photo submitted by Dan McFeely)

Pauley is not running for office this year. Her position of clerk-treasurer will be replaced with an elected clerk and appointed controller in 2020 because of Carmel’s transition to second-class city status. Glynn said he’s spoken with Pauley about her interest in the controller position but that he never offered it in exchange for support. He said it’s far too early to make staffing decisions.

Some believe Brainard would appoint Ann Bingman to the controller role if he wins another four years in office, although Brainard said he has not offered the position to anyone. Pauley fired Bingman, the city’s director of internal controls, on April 17 in a move Bingman said was politically motivated. The city council is holding a special meeting April 23 to investigate the matter and how it affects an ongoing audit, for which Bingman was responsible.

Ethical implications

The City of Carmel does not have a policy that outlines how to handle romantic relationships between employees and/or elected officials. But Heck said that the mayor and clerk-treasurer are “separately elected officials and neither supervises or answers to the other” and that their budgets are approved independently and not by each other.

While a dating relationship between two elected officials isn’t illegal, experts said it could raise several concerns.

“An elected official is supposed to represent their constituents in their decision-making,” said Abraham Schwab, a professor of philosophy at Purdue University Fort Wayne. “If they have a romantic relationship, much like if they have a financial interest, there’s a theory that their personal interests will lead them not to make the decision that’s in their constituents’ interest. Their decision-making would be biased.”

Schwab said even if both parties pursued the relationship and took precautions to not let it affect their roles in office, research has shown that it still would affect their judgment.

“It compromises their ability to do their job, even if they’re well-intentioned,” Schwab said.

Kendra Reed, a clinical professor at the Kelley School of Business at IUPUI, said a relationship between two people who work closely together presents a conflict of interest because of the resulting appearance of collusion, whether it actually occurs or not. The aftermath of breakups are a cause for concern, too, she said.

“(A concern is) the creation of an environment that promotes any type of coercion, manipulation or hostility,” Reed said. “It’s always important that companies take action to prevent these types of situations before they happen.”

ROCKY RELATIONSHIPS?

Christine Pauley was among the mayor’s slate of candidates to be elected in 2015. Since then, her relationships with other elected officials has been said to be a bit rocky.

  • May 5, 2015 – Christine Pauley defeats incumbent Diana Cordray in the Republican primary to become clerk-treasurer of Carmel. She didn’t face a challenger in the general election.
  • Jan. 1, 2016 – Pauley officially becomes Carmel clerk-treasurer.
  • Feb. 19, 2016 – Brainard emails Pauley about being invited to speak in Rome
  • Feb. 20, 2016 – Pauley responds to the email by stating, “I would love to go!” 
  • March 27, 2016 – Mayor Jim Brainard sends an email to Pauley inviting her on a trip to Rome. She declines.
  • Oct. 3, 2016 – Pauley claims gender discrimination after the city council discusses giving raises of more than 20 percent to all elected officials except the clerk-treasurer, for which they proposed a 2 percent raise.
  • Oct. 17, 2016 – City council approves a 2 percent raise for Pauley, Brainard and City Judge Brian Poindexter and a 15 percent raise for councilors. City council denies claim to have city pay Pauley’s legal fees for considering a discrimination lawsuit against the city. City council cuts $200,000 from Pauley’s requested office budget for 2017.
  • Nov. 7, 2016 – City council decides not to report Pauley to the State Board of Accounts for attempting to have the city pay her legal fees for potential discrimination lawsuit
  • Jan. 9, 2017 – City council passes an ordinance that essentially removes the clerk-treasurer from the dais at meetings and eliminates the position’s allotted speaking time.
  • Jan. 10, 2018 – Pauley announces her candidacy for the Hamilton County Council.
  • May 8, 2018 – Pauley loses in the Republican primary to Ken Alexander for a seat on the Hamilton County Council.
  • Feb. 7, 2019 – Pauley claims she accidentally found a note from city council candidate Adam Aasen to Mayor Jim Brainard while searching for a coupon in a trash can near the mayor’s parking spot in a city hall garage.
  • April 17, 2019 – Pauley fires Ann Bingman, Carmel’s director of internal controls, and declines to comment on a personnel matter.
  • April 18, 2019 – Bingman claims firing is politically motivated.
  • April 22, 2019 – Accounts Payable Administrator Connie Murphy resigns from the clerk-treasurer’s office.
  • April 23, 2019 – City council to hold special meeting to investigate Bingman’s firing, citing concern about the ability of the clerk-treasurer’s office to conduct its business.
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