On a rare split vote, Monroe County commissioners have approved $9,249.50 in per diem pay for Monroe County clerk Nicole Browne, from 2016 to 2021.
The per diem pay in question covers voter registration duties associated with the clerk’s office.
It is based on a state law [IC 3-7-12-22] that says in a county like Monroe, where the county clerk serves as voter registration officer, the clerk is entitled to per diem compensation.
Browne had not been paid a per diem for voter registration activity since the time she was caucused into the position in 2016, after Linda Robbins resigned. Brown won reelection in 2018 and again this year.
The total amount comes from applying a daily rate of $6.50 to 246 work days per year for a total of $1,599 for each year—except for 2016, because Browne was not sworn in until March 21, 2016. The prorated amount for 2016 works out to $1,254.50.
In voting against the settlement, Githens said she objects to the idea that Browne would be paid a per diem for vacation days on which she worked as a substitute teacher for Monroe County Community School Corporation.
Githens said, “I’m against paying people per diems for days that they’re not working for the county.”
Jones expressed some concern that in years when there were no elections—that’s 2017 and 2021—the per diem amount was the same as in other years. Jones said, “I am a little surprised that the amount is the same for the year when we don’t have any elections. I do realize that voter registration still continues during that time, but I’m sure it’s at a much lower rate.”
But Jones still supported the settlement of the issue.
The wording of the agreement approved by commissioners on Wednesday describes it as a “settlement”—and includes a section titled “No Admission of Wrongdoing.” That points to the fact that the issue of per diem pay had grown contentious enough that Browne retained legal counsel. No lawsuit was filed.
Browne asked to receive the per diem pay for voter registration work, after she became aware of the state law that say clerks are entitled to such pay. She learned about it at a statewide conference for clerks.
In February of 2022, Browne sent an email to county councilors Trent Deckard and Jennifer Crossley—they are the council liaisons to the clerk’s office—about the topic of per diem pay. “I would like to ask your best advice as to how I should go about getting the per diem for this year, getting the per diem folded into future salaries (on the presumption that I will be re-elected in November), and how to get the per diem for 2016-2021,” Browne wrote.
By May 2022, Browne had received some responses to her concern about per diem pay that she did not consider satisfactory. In May, Browne wrote, “The response leads me to believe that this is not a simple oversight (which I could easily comprehend) but an intentional side step to avoid paying the additional per diem for which I will need to pursue outside counsel to protect not only my interests but the interests of future Monroe County Clerks.”
The 2023 salary ordinance that was approved by the county council includes the $6.50 daily per diem amount. For the 2022 salary ordinance, a week ago, on Dec. 6, the county council approved an amendment that added the per diem payment to the clerk for voter registration work. They also approved the back payment of the per diem amounts. There was no discussion on Dec. 6 by county councilors before they agreed to the settlement by unanimous consent.
Under the 2022 salary ordinance, the clerk’s base pay is $69,033. In the 2023 salary ordinance, the clerk’s pay increased by about 2 percent to $70,516.