An Evansville City Councilwoman is in the clear after a lengthy investigation determined she didn't break state law when she secretly recorded a confidential meeting with state auditors concerning the state of the city's finances.
Councilwoman Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley had been under investigation after recording and later releasing contents of a March exit conference concerning the city's 2012 audit done by the State Board of Accounts.
Brinkerhoff-Riley never denied recording the meeting and remained firm on her belief that the public had the right to know.
The five page report authored by Gibson County Prosecutor Robert Krieg, the special prosecutor in the case, said as the state law is written, Brinkerhoff-Riley did not violate the law. The state statutes covering the confidentiality of exit conferences only applies to the auditor or examiner and not those who attended the conference, Krieg said in his report. Krieg also concluded that the duty of confidentiality does not apply to Brinkerhoff-Riley in her role as a councilmember.
"[The lead examiner of the audit], Mr. Linneweber responded by stating that although Ms. Brinkerhoff-Riley's actions were concerning, it had not prevented, delayed or interfered with his team in completing the audit," Krieg said in his report. "Mr. Linneweber further stated that the final audit report that was published in June was virtually the same as the preliminary report reviewed at the exit conference in March."
The 2012 audit determined the city had not properly record payroll funds by under paying pensions and over paying certain employees. he councilwoman points out the alleged money mismanagement is in lieu of the city spending nearly $2 million on software support, hiring an extra full time employee, and spending money to hire outside accounting firms.
The report seemingly has ended the two-month-long controversy that also resulted in Brinkerhoff-Riley resigning as council vice president.
"It's been a test of my perseverance as well as my patience that I have had to overcome," Brinkerhoff-Riley said. "You have to hope. You have to have faith that, despite the hysterical allegations that you've done something horrible, that the truth will come out in the end."
Brinkerhoff-Riley remained defiant through the whole ordeal and remains determined now. The democrat still believes the audit exit conferences, which have historically been confidential, should be open to the public.
"The public should be able to ask questions," Brinkerhoff-Riley said. "It shouldn't be just me that has the ability to know these things. If someone has a problem with me and how I represent them, then we'll settle it in the ballot box in 2015. I'll accept those consequences just like any other politician."
Mayor Lloyd Winnecke has previously stated that Brinkerhoff-Riley's actions were 'disappointing.' Despite Krieg's conclusions on the case, Winnecke said the controversy brought negative attention to the city while also possibly undermining the city's standing with the State Board of Accounts.
"Regardless of the legal opinion, Councilwoman Stephanie Brinkerhoff-Riley's actions clearly damaged the city's credibility with the State Board of Accounts and created an unnecessary atmosphere around our annual audit process," Mayor Winnecke said in a statement. "In my opinion, her actions did not meet the ethical standards for a public official and it is my hope that this embarrassing situation can be a lesson learned and we can focus on the city's business at hand."