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Austin Water Utility division manager under investigation

Tuesday, April 3, 2012 by Michael Kanin

An Austin Water Utility employee has been placed on administrative leave in the wake of accusations that he may have used his position to influence what was described in an email as a “personal matter.” In a March 1 email, AWU director Greg Meszaros notified his management team that Utility Development Services Manager Seyed Miri was “out of the office indefinitely.”


According to documents obtained by In Fact Daily via a public information request, Miri’s recent troubles were kicked off by a January public information request from Eric Hoffmaster, a project manager for multi-national engineering firm Atkins Global. Hoffmaster leveled his allegations of wrong-doing in the request. “Mr. Miri and myself were involved in a few business transactions prior him revoking my (on site sewage facility) permit,” he wrote. “After conversations with multiple engineers and city staff which leads me to believe that the revocation is a personal matter.”


This is not the first time that Miri has been accused of this type of behavior. In an email discussion about the situation with utility’s Public Relations Manager Kevin Buchman and Meszaros, AWU’s Internal Audit Division Manager Anna Bryan-Borja revisits a set of prior allegations. “If you recall, back in 2007 there were similar allegations against this employee,” she wrote. “Internal Audit did the preliminary work and then turned it over to (the Office of the City Auditor) in early 2008.”


AWU staff could not comment about an ongoing investigation. AWU has sought and received opinions from the Texas Attorney General that have allowed it to exempt previous similar audits from Public Information Requests.


Hoffmaster declined comment. Miri did not return a phone call request for a comment.


The utility issued a violation notice to Hoffmaster about a project at 3411 Blue Jay Lane on Nov. 30, 2011. That set off an increasingly confrontational back-and-forth between Miri’s team at the utility and Hoffmaster.


The Travis County Appraisal District lists Hoffmaster as the owner of the property. It appears to be his residence.


On Jan. 20, the same day that he submitted his public information request, Hoffmaster typed an email to departmental engineer Katherine Jashinski, who was involved with the case.  In it, he seems to threaten legal action.


“I am sorry the city feels the need to (spend) valuable tax payer dollars on this and the 6 plus trips the utility has used to visit my property. I am glad I will get the chance to clarify this in court,” he wrote. “Since you have not been told the truth as to what started this and unfortunately Mr. Miri has decided to take a personal matter into a municipal one. Sadly this will now have to come out in court as well.”


According to the utility, there is no litigation pending between the parties.


From the documents, Miri seems to have compounded his troubles by not including responsive information to Hoffmaster’s request. On Feb. 7, Bryan-Borja emailed Meszaros about the situation. “My team has reviewed (the public information request) and confirmed that there were multiple items in Seyed’s mailbox that were responsive to the request but were not provided,” to Hoffmaster she wrote.


The utility is in the process of determining whether any current or former AWU employees will also be disciplined as part of the Miri investigation.

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