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Travis County auditor on hot seat

Tuesday, August 14, 2012 by Michael Kanin

Travis County will consider this week whether to renew the employment contract of County Auditor Susan Spataro. Multiple sources tell In Fact Daily that Spataro is in danger of losing her post.


Spataro will have a chance to publicly argue for her job at a meeting set for noon this Wednesday. The meeting was advertised in the back of the Austin Chronicle on Aug. 3 as a “public hearing to discuss the appointment of a County Auditor for a two-year period” among other highlights. 


If Spataro does leave in the coming weeks, her departure – after more than two decades in office – would come in the middle of a long-in-coming upgrade to the county’s financial software and the important early stages of decision making regarding the county’s new downtown civil and family courthouse. Spataro has played an active role in each of those projects.


In late June, Statesman reporter Tony Plohetski published an article that detailed what has been a choppy year for Spataro. In it, Plohetski recaps a budget hearing conducted this past August where the proceedings turned testy as some of the nearly two dozen county judges who oversee her office lit into Spataro for what they saw as oversteps in her position.


According to the Texas Association of County Auditors, “the County Auditor is to serve as a check on the financial operations of other county offices, as well as fulfill financial accounting and budget responsibilities.”


Plohetski also mentioned an April meeting of the Travis County Commissioners Court, where Commissioner Sarah Eckhardt questioned the involvement of Spataro in the county’s Formula 1 U.S. Grand Prix deliberations. When Commissioner Margaret Gomez suggested including Spataro on the team that was charged with evaluating Formula 1’s eventual successful pitch for economic development dollars from the county, Eckhardt shot it down.


“I don’t believe that our auditor or our purchasing agent, or our offices that need to remain independent should be involved in our managerial decisions and evaluations leading to those managerial decisions,” argued Eckhardt.


In the end, the court sided with Gomez.


Eckhardt’s point reveals what may be a major concern about Spataro and her position in the county. Spataro has participated in meetings of the county’s operational planning team. That team is a collection of the county’s executives, plus Spataro and Purchasing Agent Cyd Grimes, that can act in the role of a county administrator – a position Travis County lacks. Participation in day-to-day operations could compromise the impartiality of someone in an oversight role.


Still, Travis County Commissioners will not make the call about whether to retain Spataro. That will be left up to the collection of county judges to which the County Auditor reports.


Judge Lora Livingston will chair Wednesday’s meeting. Neither she nor Judge John Dietz returned a call for comment on Monday afternoon. Spataro also did not return a call from In Fact Daily.

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