President of Indy City-County Council claims misspending and coverup

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.-- The Reverend Stephen Clay has been president of the City-County Council for less than a month and already he has offended his supporters, been targeted with a no confidence vote, called for an audit of council finances, fired top council staff and allegedly discovered suspicious document shredding and unreported raises behind the council’s back.

The council clerk Clay fired said she did everything by the book.

Clay met with reporters and displayed a trash bag full of shredded documents he said was collected from the floor of the council office the day after he fired Attorney Fred Biesecker, Clerk NaTrina Debow and Deputy Clerk SaRita Hughes last week.

The east-side democrat said council staff alerted him to the find on Feb. 1.

“During the course of their duties they noticed the following: a file cabinet open that several years of files had been removed from, further they observed that the office shredder machine was left in the on position. They noticed a pile of shredded papers in the bin. The file tabs on the empty files were noted as historical pay information of employees and employee timesheets of the years 2010, 2011 and 2012,” he said.

Republicans controlled the council in 2010 and 2011 with Democrat Maggie Lewis sworn in as president in January of 2012.

Employees familiar with council operations said such shredding of older documents would be commonplace and the information contained would be recorded elsewhere in city government.

Clay said he also discovered pay raises granted without council notification to Debow and Hughes by Lewis in 2016.

“I have discovered that a 24 percent raise totaling over $9,000 was given to one former staffer in July of 2016 and another former staffer received an 18 percent raise totaling of over $10,000 in January of 2016.

“It appears these raises were given by the former president in non-compliance of section 192.205 which is a notification of certain salary increases that are greater than ten percent,” he said.

Section 192.205 of the Municipal Code reads, “Whenever a city or county employee receives a salary increase equal to or greater than ten (10) percent…the elected official for whom the city or county employee works shall, within ten (10) days of the effective date of the salary increase or increases, notify the clerk of the council in writing.”

While she was one of the recipients of the raises, Clerk Debow appeared to have advised the Council’s Administration & Finance Committee on Aug. 30, 2016, that a reduction in staff required two employees to take on additional work and made them eligible for raises in excess of ten percent.

“You’ve done an increase for staff salary?” Councilwoman LaKeisha Jackson asked Debow at that budget meeting.

“Only specific staff that took on the additional duties that were included in the fiscal and policy and analyst position,” answered Debow.

Hours after Clay leveled his allegations, Debow met reporters with an attorney by her side.

“That shredder was used to shred any type of documents, maybe personal things, what have you, and as far as it being full, generally we didn’t empty until it was full which would be once every two or three months depending on how many things were put into it,” said Debow. “All of the files that are kept in the council office are simply copies of original HR files and so if there is anything that is not in there it would definitely be in the HR file.

“With regard to salary increases, both my increase as the clerk as well as the assistant clerk’s increase, were justified with a memo that was sent to the employment compensation manager.  Those can also be obtained from HR and it was in accordance with section 192.205 and to my knowledge they were also advertised,” said Debow. “I informed the councilors at that meeting that staff had received some raises due to attrition.”

While Clay claimed he announced his findings in the name of transparency, “in the people’s house,” and has received free legal advice about proceeding with his investigation and purge of the staff, the newly elected and embattled president refused to reveal the names of the attorneys with whom he has consulted after firing the council’s lawyer last Wednesday.

Last week the council, including some members who originally supported his defeat of Lewis to become president, voted no confidence in Clay and set up a Feb. 19 council meeting to vote him out of the lead chair.

Clay vows to continue with his attempted “forensic audit” of the council’s books, “as long as we are president.”

When asked what she made of Clay’s accusations, his purge of the council staff and refusal to identify the lawyers advising him on council business, Debow's attorney Octavia Florence Snulligan said, “It was Stephen J. Clay.

“Res ipsa loquitur,” said the lawyer in Latin which translated means, "the thing speaks for itself."