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Audit finds misuse of city resources

Wednesday, November 23, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Two employees of Austin Water are facing possible disciplinary actions after an investigation by the Office of the City Auditor found that they used city computers for work on their secondary employment.

Reports from both investigations demonstrate how difficult it may be for city employees with demanding jobs who have other jobs or careers to completely separate those other jobs from their use of city resources.

According to an audit report related to allegations against Jason Hill, program manager for Austin Water’s Public Information & Marketing Office, Hill used his city computer to conduct his secondary employment as a real estate agent.

A second audit found that Hill’s direct boss, Kevin Buchman, also used his computer for conducting his secondary business of managing a ranch for which Buchman is the lease foreman.

In addition, auditors found that Buchman accepted a favor from Hill, which was a violation of the city’s standards of conduct. Both Buchman and Hill admitted that Hill did a market analysis of Buchman’s home, including the possibility of renting or leasing the property.

Auditors said they conducted both investigations as a result of receiving allegations from an informant in March. Both audits were concluded last week.

The informant told auditors that Hill “‘routinely’ conducts his real estate and car review businesses using city resources.” Although investigators found that Hill did use his computer for his real estate business, he did not use it for evaluating vehicles.

When they interviewed him, Hill “confirmed that he was a licensed real estate agent prior to his employment with the city but let his license expire in 2010. Hill stated that he renewed his license and began secondary employment in the real estate industry again in August or September 2015, after he hit his five year mark with the city and became vested,” the report says.

Auditors reported that they found numerous documents on Hill’s computer unrelated to his city work in Austin Water’s public information office.

Not only was Hill aware of city policies regarding misuse of city resources, but he narrated the most recent video on the appropriate use of city resources. Auditors quoted that video, in which Hill says, “City resources can only be used for city purposes. Every city resource, whether it is our time, our office, our supplies, it’s all been paid for with public tax dollars, and those tax dollars can only be spent for city purposes.”

In his response to Nathan Wiebe, chief of investigations for the city auditor’s office, Hill said, “The accusations and apparent findings of misuse of city resources in this report are exaggerated.”

Hill also said, “Technology in my position definitely presents challenges when it comes to keeping personal and professional digital information completely in separate domains. It’s also a challenge for my family and I to keep work and personal life separate considering my responsibilities to this community don’t end when I leave the office.”

In Buchman’s case, auditors reported that they found 20 emails from December 2015 to February 2016 related to ranch leases and rules as well as various other emails and web searches related to hunting and game management on Buchman’s work computer.

Buchman told auditors that he has attended citywide ethics training and was aware of the city’s policies regarding the appropriate use of city resources. He “also admitted to spending ‘some time’ researching, writing, and editing the ranch’s lease while at work.”

In his written response to the investigation, Buchman noted that he has been with the city for nearly 20 years and has spent his entire career working in an “on call” position. He said his role at Austin Water requires “an enormous amount of time both inside and outside the office. As was the case with (the Austin Police Department, where he worked before AW), the Austin Water Public Information Office operates around the clock, 7 days a week.”

Buchman wrote that in addition to taking breaks and meals at his office computer, where he addresses personal business, he has conducted city business while away from the office “at night, on weekends, and also while on vacation and … when my wife was hospitalized. In this digital day and age with smart phones, tablets and multiple email accounts it’s a challenge to keep our work and personal lives completely separate.”

Austin Water Assistant Director Daryl Slusher told the Austin Monitor, “We’re looking into the report and will be taking appropriate action.” City personnel actions range from verbal warning to written reprimand to dismissal.

The Austin Monitor’s work is made possible by donations from the community. Though our reporting covers donors from time to time, we are careful to keep business and editorial efforts separate while maintaining transparency. A complete list of donors is available here, and our code of ethics is explained here.

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