The vote was evenly split, but the result was that the Carmel City Council will not issue a subpoena to force Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard to produce the terms of a settlement between the city and an employee of the law department who officially filed a harassment complaint in 2020 against then-City Attorney Doug Haney.
Instead, the council voted unanimously to conclude its investigation of the city’s handling of the complaint with a report that will include specific recommendations to prevent this type of situation from happening again.
The 4-4 vote at the Aug. 2 city council meeting that essentially blocked the possibility of the council issuing a subpoena came after a lengthy and contentious debate centered around the victim’s privacy and the responsibility of the city council to fully investigate the matter to better protect all city employees from a similar fate. A tie vote means the measure did not pass.
Haney became Carmel’s city attorney in 1997, one year after Brainard became mayor.
“Here was a special relationship between the chief executive and chief counsel, which really muddied how this was handled,” said City Councilor Tim Hannon, who joined councilors Sue Finkam, Laura Campbell and Tony Green in voting in favor of pursuing a subpoena. “Because of that, first of all we need to know the extent of what actually occurred. To do that, I believe, and some of my fellow councilors believe, we need to get access to the settlement.”
Other councilors, however, said they did not support issuing a subpoena because the matter has already been investigated and Haney is no longer employed by the city.
“I think there is too much risk of damage to the employee,” said Councilor Jeff Worrell, who joined councilors Kevin “Woody” Rider, Adam Aasen and Miles Nelson in voting against the subpoena. “We know what happened, so to say we don’t know what happened and that’s what the investigation is about is not true.”
Councilor Adam Aasen said he’s concerned the council’s handling of the matter in a public setting will deter other city employees from coming forward with complaints in the future.
“Would they be hesitant or afraid to come forward if they have an HR complaint knowing we would go against their wishes and make everything public in a public forum? I want every employee in the City of Carmel to feel safe, comfortable and respected,” he said. “Doug Haney acted inappropriately, but I’m disappointed in how some of this process is going, because I think we’re really going against the wishes of the victim, and I’m not really sure for what reason.”
Campbell said the opposite of Aasen’s concern about deterring complaints has happened, as several current and former city employees have reached out to her after seeing news reports about her investigation of the matter to share their own stories about hostile work environments in the City of Carmel.
She said it’s possible to respect the victim’s privacy and obtain relevant information in the settlement at the same time.
“I don’t think the employee’s identity has to be exposed, but I think it’s important for the city council to know the details of the settlement and what was promised in that settlement. Is it a job we’d have to consider in the next budget session?” Campbell said. “I don’t understand why several councilors think the identity (of the victim) has to be exposed by getting this information. I feel like it’s a cop out.”
Hannon said bringing the matter to a public meeting was a last resort, taken only after the mayor’s office refused to provide terms of the settlement.
Councilors did not share details of the complaint other than to describe Haney’s actions as harassment and bullying, but Campbell outlined the process that led to it coming before the council. She said the victim approached her in November 2020 to express concern about the lengthy amount of time that had elapsed since she raised concerns about Haney. Campbell said a “hostile work environment” continued to escalate for the victim and that the victim was told she could go on leave during the city’s investigation of the matter. Meanwhile, Haney was permitted to continue working at City Hall.
Campbell said she notified the City Council, Mayor Jim Brainard and Carmel’s Director of Human Resources Barb Lamb on Dec. 16, 2020, that she would conduct her own investigation of the city’s handling of the complaint on behalf of the city council. Haney submitted his resignation four days later, but was soon hired by the city on a contract basis. That contract ended March 20.
Campbell said her investigation revealed that certain policies in the employee handbook regarding the handling of complaints had not been followed, such as a policy requiring a written report of the initial complaint investigation. After the meeting Brainard denied those claims, saying all employee handbook policies had been followed and blaming the delay in handling the complaint on the COVID-19 pandemic and scheduling conflicts.
Brainard said the victim’s privacy is among his top concerns.
“When an employee has an issue, you want to protect that and handle those complaints on the executive side as much as possible to protect the employee,” Brainard said. “It’s very easy to turn it around and say, ‘something’s not transparent’ when the intent was solely to protect the employee.”
Brainard said he supports working with a third party to set up a hotline for employees to report complaints. Once a complaint is made, his office, the city council and HR director would simultaneously be notified.