INDIANAPOLIS – Newly released internal emails and documents are shedding light on the sudden resignation of Indiana Department of Transportation Commissioner Karl Browning.
“While I am proud for the accomplishments I’ve been able to achieve in state government and am sincerely grateful to you for the opportunity to serve your administration, it is time for me to move on,” said Browning in an email to Mike Pence. “Effective immediately I resign my appointment as Commissioner of the Department of Transportation.”
In an effort to learn more about Browning’s resignation, we requested internal emails and records from INDOT on April 24.
The state agency provided 418 pages on Sept. 3.
In emails throughout the months leading up to the resignation, Browning expressed frustration about private contractors and consultants hiring away INDOT employees, sometimes referred to as “poaching.”
On April 15, a week before the resignation, Browning exchanged emails with Beth Bauer, executive director of ACEC Indiana, a trade association representing professional consulting engineers.
“I think you should formally address my contention that your members who are indulging in this practice are damaging their client’s business and in violation of ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) ethics,” wrote Browning.
When asked about the email exchange, Bauer said Browning was considering adopting a new policy that would prohibit INDOT employees hired by consulting engineering firms from working on INDOT projects for up to 2 years.
“No such policy was ever implemented,” said Will Wingfield, spokesperson for INDOT, on September 9.
Bauer said there were some concerns about enforcing such a policy.
“There’s a lot of reasons why someone leaves a position,” said Bauer.
Other emails also illustrate the frustration with INDOT employees leaving, including an April 10 email from Kim Pearson, INDOT Commissioner of Human Resources, to Browning that said the agency needs to “stop the leak” and revamp its exit interview procedure to “capture the right data.”
Notes from a March 23 meeting show other INDOT staff were concerned about consulting firms “poaching” INDOT staff, and warned that such behavior was unacceptable.
Emails from March 24 and April 2 listed names of at least 19 INDOT employees who left to go to firms such as RQAW, Primera, HW Lochner, and Structurepoint.
Following Browning’s resignation, Gov. Mike Pence named Brandye Hendrickson as the new commissioner.
“Brandye has a great attitude about making INDOT a really good place to work and strong morale,” said Bauer this week. “We’re happy to work with her and be a good partner with the agency.”
State workers can request a post-employment waiver that is reviewed by the State Ethics Commission.
Former INDOT Chief of Staff Troy Woodruff made headlines in 2014 for his role in state land purchases along the I-69 extension corridor that may have benefited his family.
Julia Vaughn, policy director of non-partisan government watchdog group Common Cause Indiana reviewed the newly released INDOT/Browning emails at the request of Call 6 Investigates.
“Too many high-profile scandals like the one involving former INDOT staff Troy Woodruff made INDOT the poster child for reforming the revolving door law this year,” said Vaughn. “It would appear that former commissioner Browning appreciated the need for more stringent post-employment restrictions so it's disappointing his recommendations weren't implemented.”
Kenney was unable to reach Karl Browning for comment on this story.