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City ponders moving convicted felon from Purchasing Office position

Wednesday, July 21, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Four days after the City Auditor’s office released a report detailing the risks posed by the continued employment of Roy Rivers in the Purchasing Department, questions remain as to why and how a convicted felon stayed on in the department and why, after being terminated, he was reinstated to a position that gives him continued authority over city funds and contracts.

 

Rivers, who started working for the city as a Buyer II in August 2007, was convicted of mortgage fraud in June 2008. He pleaded guilty to one count of Conspiracy to Provide False Statements Related to a Loan and was sentenced to one year of probation for his role in a conspiracy that involved 16 named defendants, $4.5 million in claimed losses, and at least 33 properties in the Austin and San Antonio areas, according to a Department of Justice report. (See In Fact Daily, July 19, 2010.)

 

Seven months after his conviction, Rivers failed a criminal background investigation, and on April 24, 2009, the Purchasing Department terminated him. However, after Rivers filed a complaint citing wrongful termination in May 2009, the City Manager’s office overturned Rivers’ termination, stating that he had been hired before the revised criminal background policy was drafted. So, on August 28, 2009, the city reinstated Rivers to his position as a Buyer II and granted him back pay for the months he was out of work.

 

In the report released Friday, drawn up at the request of Council Member Bill Spelman, the City Auditor’s Integrity Unit determined that Rivers’ criminal history presents “a risk to the City, given his job duties” and that a lack of communication among the Human Resources Department, the Purchasing Department, and the City Manager’s office resulted in Rivers being reinstated to his original position despite – according to city policy – he could have been moved to a different job in the city.

 

On Tuesday, Patricia Fraga from the city’s Public Information Office told In Fact Daily that the Human Resources Department is currently re-examining the Rivers situation and continues to look for other opportunities for him that would pose less of a risk.

 

Mark Washington, director of Human Resources, went a step further. When asked how it was that an employee convicted of a felony related to financial malfeasance could retain a position in the city that made him responsible for financial matters, Washington said his department was “going to go back to the board” to look at the risk-assessment policy.

 

“Based on the report we received from the auditor, we are taking the auditor’s recommendations into consideration,” he said. “There’s still a present risk, and having just received the report, we haven’t formally responded to it yet. Our Human Resources Department owes it to the city to take some leadership in this area and do the right thing for our employees and our citizens. I think it’s time for us to revisit our policy and our practice.”

 

It is notable that, according to Fraga, during the months between Rivers’ conviction and his background investigation, no one in the city appears to have known of his legal difficulties, much less saw them as cause for disciplinary action. “The purchasing office and other parties in the city did not know he had been convicted of a crime,” she said.

 

Then there’s the issue of Rivers’ reinstatement. According to Assistant City Auditor Jason Hadavi, whose unit conducted the investigation, after the grievance hearing officer, Pamela Lancaster, recommended reinstating Rivers, there was a great deal of confusion among city staff as to whether Rivers could or should be given back his old job or if he had to be moved to another position.

 

“We interviewed multiple parties, and we found that some thought Rivers had to be reinstated to his previous job where other parties indicated that he could have been transferred to another position,” Hadavi said. “We found that none of the parties had discussed it.”

 

He went on to say that it was the responsibility of Assistant City Manager Mike McDonald to make a recommendation on whether or not he should be rehired, not whether he should be moved or retained in his position.  Instead, it would have been the responsibility of someone higher up in Rivers’ chain of command – a different assistant city manger or potentially the chief financial officer, Leslie Browder – to “initiate a discussion with HR or someone else about getting that person transferred.

 

Such a conversation never took place, Hadavi said. “We didn’t find any discussion about his being transferred,” he said. “That’s where we discovered a lack of communication. Someone would have just have had to bring it up in discussion at some point. It wouldn’t need an official recommendation. But we didn’t find information related to a discussion about that.”

 

Fraga did point out that at the time of Rivers’ reinstatement, the Human Resources Department had made an effort to place him in another position in the city but that were no vacancies in positions that would have been “lateral moves,” or moves to jobs requiring comparable skills.

 

“The financial department wanted him moved and that was made known,” she said. “And there was an effort made by HR at the time to try to place him in another position, but that was not successful.”

 

In the end, however, as Hadavi pointed out, it was and is the city manager’s decision to keep Rivers at his job or move him.

 

There is no evidence that Rivers has been involved in any wrongdoing related to his city position or any other matter not related to the charge for which he was convicted.

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