The Carmel City Council will likely take a vote at its Aug. 2 meeting about whether to officially launch an investigation into the handling of a personnel matter, although effectively the vote will be on whether to continue digging for more information.
In late 2020, councilors began looking into the city’s handling of a harassment complaint made by an employee of the law department against then-City Attorney Doug Haney. Haney resigned in December 2020, although he returned to work for the city on a contract basis from Jan. 8 to March 20. Earlier this year, the city reached a settlement agreement with the employee who filed the complaint.
Council President Sue Finkam said the council narrowly voted at an executive session, which is not open to the public, to take actions needed to see the settlement agreement between the employee and city, even if it required pursuing a subpoena. She was later told the council can’t pursue a subpoena without taking an official vote in a public meeting to investigate the matter, so she plans to do that at the next council meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. Aug. 2.
Finkam said Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard has refused to allow councilors to see the settlement, citing a confidentiality agreement that prohibits him from releasing the information. Current has reached out to Brainard for comment.
Several councilors, however, believe state law requires the mayor to provide the terms of the settlement, Finkam said. That also is the opinion of attorney Bryce Bennett, whom the council hired to provide legal assistance regarding the matter.
“There’s several on the council who believe the code says that the city should have access to this information as the fiscal and legislative body,” Finkam said. “We should have access to this, and we have not been able to get it. This is our attempt to try to get it.”
Finkam said councilors discussed issuing a subpoena in December, but it was not done at that time because then-Council President Laura Campbell, who led the investigation, was invited to participate in mediation efforts. Finkam said Campbell was later excluded from participating in mediation.
Finkam said she believes rules set forth in the city’s employee handbook for handling complaints were not followed.
“My personal opinion, and that of others on council, is that the nature of this complaint was such that the manager should’ve been put on immediate leave,” she said. “He was never put on leave, and an investigation was not timely. An employee’s significant complaint went unaddressed for several months.”
Finkam said the council has tried to handle the matter as discreetly as possible to protect the employee who made the complaint, which was among the reasons it was previously discussed in executive session. However, she believes not investigating the matter fully would ultimately lead to greater damage.
“There’s been several who have said, ‘We don’t want to drag the city through the mud, because we’re concerned about the brand of the city,’” Finkam said. “However, I feel strongly that the first thing we need to do as employers is protect our employees. Getting more information is part of that process. We want to make sure our employees know that we take our responsibility seriously.”
Finkam said she doesn’t know if enough councilors will vote in favor of the investigation for a subpoena to be pursued, but she believes it’s her duty to find out.
“I don’t know if the votes are there, but there are enough on the council who want to see this through that, as president, I feel we need to put it on the agenda,” she said.