The State Elections Enforcement Commission is investigating the conduct of New Haven’s Deputy City Clerk Sally Brown after allegations that she falsified a number of official documents, including those pertaining to absentee ballots for last April’s presidential primary.
The SEEC launched the investigation on Oct. 12 after City Clerk Michael Smart sent a complaint to the Office of the Secretary of the State on Aug. 1 that claimed Brown had insubordinately bypassed Smart’s authority by signing ballot paperwork, appointments to the office, nominating petitions and land records. The complaint was forwarded to the SEEC on Aug. 23.
According to a copy of the complaint acquired by the News, Smart provides as evidence several official forms with Brown’s signature in areas labeled “City Clerk,” where Smart says she had no authority to sign. According to Smart, Brown also attempted to conceal the alleged wrongdoings. He placed her on indefinite paid leave on April 29 after an internal investigation yielded the evidence.
“Ms. Brown did sign and approve official documents, misrepresenting her authority as if she were in fact the municipal clerk on multiple occasions on a variety of documents,” Smart said in his complaint. “Brown then deliberately withheld information from the municipal clerk, in attempting to conceal and cover up her unilateral and unauthorized actions.”
Smart did not respond to requests for comment.
In a letter to the clerk’s office, the SEEC said its panel of five commissioners voted to begin an investigation in response to Smart’s claims. SEEC spokesman Joshua Foley confirmed that the investigation had been launched and told the News that the SEEC decided to investigate in order to determine whether or not there had been a violation of election law. He highlighted that the decision to investigate the complaint was not an indication of its validity.
Brown’s lawyer John Gesmonde told the News that Brown was unavailable to comment on the accusations. However, in a May 4 New Haven Independent article Brown refuted all claims of misconduct.
“As far as I’m concerned, I didn’t do anything wrong,” she said, according to the Independent.
However, Smart’s complaint cites an investigative meeting on April 7 in which Ms. Brown “admitted” to signing a Sept. 2015 invoice — one of the items Smart said needed his authorization. Smart cites Brown’s acknowledgment of an email he sent to clerical staff on Jan. 6, 2014, in which he apparently instructed staff that invoices and procurements for the clerk’s office needed his signature. He claims that Brown offered no defense and acknowledged that she should not have signed the invoice.
Additionally, the complaint asserts that Brown’s actions leave the validity of all official documents that she signed open to question and thus render the city of New Haven vulnerable to potential legal action.
Responding to Smart’s claims in an interview with the News, Gesmonde pointed to Brown’s job description, which he said states that Brown is responsible for the daily running of the City Clerk’s office. He also mentioned a letter from Christopher Neary, the city’s deputy corporation counsel, sent to Smart on Sept. 13, which urged Smart to reinstate Brown and end her leave. It added that if Smart did not comply, he would risk losing the advocacy of the city, should litigation ensue. But as of Oct. 31, Brown remained on leave.
Gesmonde said the letter was “extremely compelling,” and that the job description and the letter alone “are sufficient to debunk everything that [Smart] has said.”
Still, Gesmonde told the News that the state’s decision confirms nothing other than the fact that Smart made the claims that he did. He said Brown’s personnel record and her 30-year tenure in the office put Brown’s integrity “beyond question.” He added that he is looking forward to retorting Smart’s allegations in a comprehensive response this Thursday, and getting Smart “back on the right track.”
Mayor Toni Harp’s office was unaware of the situation within the clerk’s office until Brown was placed on leave, according to city spokesman Laurence Grotheer. Grotheer denied to comment on the effect of alleged misconduct on the city and did not address the potential legal action against the city that Smart implies in his complaint, citing the office’s policy to refrain from commenting on ongoing investigations.
The Connecticut General Assembly created the SEEC after the Watergate scandal of Richard Nixon’s presidency.