COLUMBUS, Ind. — The Indiana Public Access Counselor has withdrawn a formal complaint against Bartholomew County Auditor Pia O’Connor over alleged violations of the state’s public record law after she provided a list of overtime wages for sheriff’s deputies to The Republic after initially refusing to do so for weeks.
In letter on Wednesday, Indiana Public Access Counselor Luke Britt said that the complaint filed by The Republic had been withdrawn because O’Connor had eventually provided the information requested.
However, Britt also stated in the letter that “the requested information is disclosable, and the request should have honored in a reasonable time subsequent to the submission of the request.”
The complaint stemmed from O’Connor’s refusal to provide the amount of overtime wages that six sheriff’s deputies whose total 2022 compensation ranged between roughly $78,000 and $121,000 for the year.
O’Connor did not provide a legal basis for her refusal, simply stating: “I’m not going to provide that information.”
The auditor’s office keeps the county’s financial records regarding payments to employees and disbursements of county money, which are public records, according to Indiana’s Open Records law.
The Republic filed a formal complaint against O’Connor with the Indiana Public Access Counselor, and then reached out to Bartholomew County Sheriff Chris Lane, who immediately agreed to provide overtime wage totals for the department and talk about staffing issues in 2022 that led to the overtime payments.
The Republic used that information to publish a story that the department accumulated about a half million dollars in overtime last year, much of it being paid to road deputies and jail correctional officers who were required to work additional shifts due to staffing shortages, after the Bartholomew County Council denied a request for additional staff.
On Feb. 15 — just over two weeks after refusing to provide the information — O’Connor disclosed the overtime wages.
The figures provided by O’Connor showed that one sheriff’s deputy made $44,286 in overtime wages in 2022, as well as another who earned $23,983 and two others whose overtime wages were around $11,200.
In total, the six deputies made about $101,144 in overtime wages in 2022, according to the figures provided by O’Connor.
“Since the records were eventually provided, the formal complaint that alleged a violation of the Access to Public Records Act by the Bartholomew County Auditor’s Office has been withdrawn,” Britt states in the later. “…That stated, I will note that the requested information is disclosable, and the request should have honored in a reasonable time subsequent to the submission of the request.”