Carmel Clerk-Treasurer Christine Pauley said she “accidentally” found a thank you note a city council candidate sent to Mayor Jim Brainard in a trash can at City Hall, but some elected officials are concerned her discovery is evidence of a bigger issue.
The note sparked speculation and rumors after it was shared on the Concerned Neighbors of Carmel IN Facebook page Feb. 8. In the note, southeast district candidate Adam Aasen thanked the mayor for coming to his fundraiser and stated “I promise I won’t let you down” and “I support you 100 percent.”
Pauley said she found the note Feb. 7 in a trash receptacle near a parking area reserved for Brainard at City Hall that is not accessible to the public. She said she had thrown away several coupons and went back to retrieve one that wasn’t expired when she saw the thank you note and removed it from the trash can.
“I went back into the little trash bin we’ve got there, and that’s when I found (Aasen’s) letter,” she said. “So when I sent it to somebody, they went and ran with it.”
Pauley didn’t disclose who received her image of the note, but she said it was not Rick Smith, who posted it on Facebook. She said she didn’t expect the note to be shared on social media.
After the note was posted on social media, Aasen said his comments reflected his support for Brainard’s re-election bid, not that he would approve everything on the mayor’s agenda if elected.
Brainard did not respond to a request for comment, but other elected officials shared concerns with Pauley’s version of events.
“Even if the city clerk-treasurer stumbled upon the note by accident while going through the trash, it was no accident that she proceeded to take a photo of it,” councilor Laura Campbell said. “I question the wisdom of the clerk-treasurer to share that photo with politically-motivated individuals who were quick to share that photo and use it against a candidate for city council.”
Councilor Ron Carter said he doesn’t buy Pauley’s explanation.
“She was digging through the trash looking for stuff, whatever she could find,” he said. “I don’t think any rational person believes she was just walking through the mayor’s garage and this particular piece of paper just jumped up.”
Carter, who is running for re-election and has clashed with Pauley before, said he believes Pauley’s discovery of the note is evidence of another issue he finds concerning. He said he recently learned that she has access to her employees’ emails and forwarded an email between himself, councilor Jeff Worrell and Deputy Clerk for City Business Jacob Quinn to her personal account before sending it from there to Tim Hannon, a political newcomer seeking an at-large council seat along with Carter and Worrell. She also accidentally sent it to Denise Moe, one of her former political advisors with whom she had a falling out. Moe sent the email to Carter.
Pauley, who is not seeking re-election, said she intended to send the email to Hannon and his wife, Denise, and sent it to Moe by mistake. In the email, Carter stated at one point he hadn’t realized that he was the official city council chaplain, and Pauley said she sent the email to Hannon to show him why she believes the city needs new leadership.
Hannon hadn’t requested the information, Pauley said, and added that he responded “thanks, but no thanks” when he received the email.
Pauley said she requested and received access to her employees’ emails to be able to monitor her department’s business when they are out of the office and that it’s the only time she checks their accounts. She said other city leaders could request the same for their departments.
“If my staff is gone and I need to make sure their responsibilities are covered, the buck stops here with me,” she said. “I need to be aware of what’s in their inbox when they’re not there.”
While emails sent and received from accounts of public employees are public record, Carter described her actions as “unethical at the least.”
“It’s especially reprehensible that she was taking internal emails and forwarding them out to her own personal email account and then forwarding them out to a political candidate,” he said.
Pauley said she spoke with the Carmel Police Dept. on Feb. 12 to explain her discovery of the thank you note and to ease concerns that someone had been digging through the mayor’s trash at his home. She said she has not discussed the matter with Brainard.
Brainard confirmed Feb. 12 that the note had been sent to his home but that he was not sure where he discarded it.
A CPD spokesman said Feb. 13 that detectives are investigating the incident. Because the investigation is ongoing, police are not releasing additional information.