After lawsuit, war is still being waged between mayor and clerk-treasurer
Even though their offices are right next to each other, Carmel’s mayor and clerk-treasurer couldn’t be further apart.
Lately Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard has had quite a few run-ins with clerk-treasurer Diana Cordray. Attacks have been leveled in the media and a lawsuit was even filed last week.
City Councilor Rick Sharp said everyone has noticed the battle.
“I was working out at the Monon Center and everyone kept coming up to me saying, ‘What’s going on? Why can’t people just sit down and talk anymore?’” Sharp said.
Cordray has said on numerous occasions that she thinks Brainard’s administration hasn’t been 100 percent transparent when it comes to city finances.
Lawsuit over snow removal?
In the most recent battle, Brainard said Cordray was playing politics by refusing to sign a purchase order for snow removal on sidewalks. He filed a lawsuit against her on Nov. 21.
Cordray claimed her staff simply had a question about if it was proper to use the motor vehicle highway funds to pay for this work. She said she never refused to approve it.
It wasn’t until reading each other’s comments in newspapers did the “miscommunication” get cleared up and the lawsuit was dropped on Nov. 25.
After ending their legal battle, both sides claimed victory.
“Although it took legal action on my part, the City of Carmel can now sign the contract for snow removal in the Arts & Design District and at The Palladium, ensuring safety for pedestrians in the event of snow,” Brainard stated.
Cordray said: “We feel our office has been vindicated.”
Sharp said he thinks it was unnecessary to jump to a lawsuit when other means could have been used to resolve this issue.
“I think it’s completely politically motivated,” he said. “It’s obvious that the clerk-treasurer’s office was working cooperatively. I think this is nothing more than an attempt to sabotage the reputation of the clerk-treasurer.”
Furthermore, Sharp said there was no “snow emergency” and business owners are already legally required to shovel their own sidewalks.
But Brainard said that fact doesn’t matter. He said it was approved by the council and it’s a legal use of funds. Brainard said it’s not the clerk-treasurer’s role to make funding decisions.
“As CEO of the city, that’s one of the things I get to decide as long as the money is available,” he said. “Her job isn’t to say yes or no to that. Her job is to make sure the money is available.”
Brainard and Cordray have both accused the other of going directly to the media with complaints or concerns instead of just walking down the hall to talk to each other.
Mike Shaver, president of Wabash Scientific and consultant to Cordray, said Brainard took legal action just a day after Cordray’s staff met with Carmel’s Street Dept. to clear everything up.
He was surprised to see a lawsuit the next day with a news release quickly sent to newspapers with a statement from Brainard asking for the clerk-treasurer to “fulfill her duties.”
On the other hand, Brainard said Cordray secretly “went straight to the media” to express the concerns about the special benefits tax instead of discussing the issue.
“When someone does that, it is clear that this conversation is focused more on embarrassing this administration and casting doubt on our redevelopment projects rather than what we should be focusing on, which is working together to ensure successful projects for Carmel so that we can continue our positive growth and attracting economic development,” Brainard said. “I am disappointed in this action because it suggests her motives are not to find answers, but stir up controversy.”
Indeed, Cordray did release a report asking for an audit to assess the risk of a Special Benefits Tax, which could be levied if Carmel had no money to pay its debt. But much of the focus of the report was lost by media outlets when a “joke” was accidentally left in. If Carmel didn’t have enough money to pay off its debt, an attached flow chart instructed people to “Shoot council, castrate mayor, Put head between legs, Kiss [explicit]goodbye!”
Shortly after, Brainard released a statement, saying: “This is typical of the sloppy work she has provided the council and the taxpayers.”
City Councilor Ron Carter, an ally of the mayor, released a critical statement of Cordray.
“I have said for years that Mrs. Cordray is not competent to be the Clerk-Treasurer of a city the size of Carmel, either from a professional experience standpoint or from the standpoint of having the temperament to work with others for the common good of all our citizens,” he said. “For years the Mayor has had to cover for her in many instances when she advertised the city’s budget improperly. This blunder is just one in a long line of incompetent and politically motivated things that have emanated from her office.”
When asked about Brainard’s comment, Cordray simply replied, “I don’t have any comment on that. I just want to move on and get back to serving the people of Carmel.”
Brainard has suggested that Carmel become a “second-class” city which would mean the clerk-treasurer’s elected position would be replaced by a mayor-appointed controller.
There’s also talk of running a Brainard-friendly candidate against Cordray in the next election. Sources say a candidate has been identified but will wait until after the holidays to make an announcement.
Shaver said that the Clerk-Treasurer’s Office doesn’t dictate policy, but that questions need to be asked in the name of transparency. He said it’s important to highlight Cordray’s transparency, “even when she is being sued.”
But Cordray’s staff feel the tensions. Shaver was admiring seven plaques on Cordray’s wall for “Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting.”
One staff member, frustrated at the criticism, said, “If you talk to Ron Carter, he’d say you might as well throw those out.”