- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 4, 2017

GARY, Ind. (AP) - A city councilwoman in Gary has filed a lawsuit to keep her second job as an employee of the Gary Sanitary District.

State officials are trying to stop Councilwoman Mary Brown from being paid by the district in addition to her salary as a City Council member. She filed the lawsuit, arguing that she isn’t violating the law and shouldn’t have to repay any salary.

The Indiana Attorney General’s Office and State Board of Accounts determined that Brown violated a state law that prohibits elected officials from being employees of the government agencies they oversee. Spokesmen from both offices declined to comment this week on Brown’s case.

Brown argues that the Attorney General’s Office gave conflicting opinions on her status. A ruling in March found that Brown did not have authority over the Sanitary District, yet a letter in June contradicted the original ruling, according to the lawsuit.

Brown’s attorney, Clorius Lay, argued in court that the Gary Sanitary District is not the same as the city departments where the council has direct oversight.

“She does not set salary at the Sanitary District,” Lay said.

Brown was first elected to the City Council in 1999, and she began working for the Sanitary District in 1995, according to court documents. Lay argued that Brown was subject to a grandfather clause in the 2012 ethics law that allows government employees who hold elected office to continue in both roles if they were in office prior to Jan. 1, 2013.

The Indiana code also states that once the official’s term expires, the employee will be subject to the law that prevents a government employee from holding public office.

Gary City Council Attorney Rinzer Williams III agrees with Brown. He told the State Board of Accounts in a letter that Brown’s jobs didn’t violate the ethical conflicts law because the city and the Gary Sanitary District are separate government units.

Williams III, who emphasized that he doesn’t represent Brown in the case, said the federal government is in charge of the Gary Sanitary District’s operations under a decades-old consent decree designed to stop city sewage and other toxic charges from getting into the Grand Calumet River, a tributary of Lake Michigan.

Indiana’s database of employee compensation lists Brown as receiving more than $99,700 in 2015. Other Gary City Council members earn about $29,000 annually.

“Councilwoman Brown has for many years served the city with distinction,” Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said in a statement. “I am confident that the outcome of the process will be in the best interest of the city and the people of Gary.”

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