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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Wednesday, April 26, 2017 by Jo Clifton
Complaint filed against former police monitor
The Office of the City Auditor has filed an ethics complaint against Austin’s former police monitor, Margo Frasier, alleging that she used her city computer for her outside consulting practice and that such use was a violation of the city’s Code of Ethics.
Nathan Wiebe, chief of investigations for the auditor’s office, filed the complaint Tuesday with the city’s Ethics Review Commission. He alleged that Frasier violated city code starting in July 2014 through the present, even though she retired in December.
Frasier has hired Perry Minton and Zooey Wharton of Minton, Burton, Bassett & Collins, an indication that she intends to fight the allegations, which ultimately will be judged by the Ethics Review Commission.
Minton told the Austin Monitor Tuesday, “It is clear from what is described that these are not findings but merely allegations and allegations that at the most seem de minimis in nature.”
He added, “Margo Frasier has served this community for the better part of her life and at this juncture deserves every benefit of the doubt. … From our initial reading of this and understanding from Ms. Frasier, at least some of these activities were in line with her understanding with the city of Austin in conjunction with her consulting business and what she would be permitted to do with her time. We look forward to discussing this with the city further if necessary.”
According to the complaint, the city auditor’s office received an allegation in June 2016 that Frasier had misused city resources “for secondary employment as an expert witness in various court cases.”
There is no indication of the name of that witness, but it seems likely that that person is or was a city employee. According to one exhibit of the complaint, “A staff member from the Office of the Police Monitor stated that they witnessed Frasier doing work related to her secondary employment while on City time. The staff member recalled Frasier taking a call during a meeting at work and reviewing legal documents while on a work-related conference.”
The Office of Police Monitor is described as a “vehicle for people to voice and file complaints” against Austin police officers. Frasier served as police monitor from January 2011 until her retirement at the end of 2016.
Frasier also served as Travis County sheriff from 1997 until 2004. She was the first woman to hold that office and is well known throughout the criminal justice community, sometimes as a polarizing figure.
In addition to the allegations concerning use of her computer, Wiebe said that Frasier had failed to file a required financial disclosure form with the city clerk for 2016. The financial disclosure forms she filed for 2014 and 2015 gave auditors a list of her clients which they could then compare to documents and browsing history on Frasier’s computer.
The auditors’ documentation includes a listing of affidavits, experts’ reports and various websites Frasier allegedly visited “that appear to be connected to her secondary employment” clients, such as the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Other documents attached to the complaint indicate that Frasier used her computer and work related to Los Angeles County, California, and Nueces County, Texas, Polk County, Texas, and Lubbock, Texas.
There is also an email to Frasier on September 21, 2015 from a person who identified himself as a special assistant to the New York City Board of Correction, requesting to speak to her about “various issues, including classification of prisoners, recreation, visiting, packages.” Frasier responds that she welcomes the opportunity, adding, “since this appears to be more related to my consulting practice than work as a corrections monitor, I would ask that you use my private email.” She then provides that email and her cell phone number.
According to the complaint, when interviewed, “Frasier confirmed that she has a secondary employment as a consultant and estimated that she spends 20 hours, sometimes more, a week on her secondary employment. She stated that her former managers were aware of this but that she did not disclose this to her supervisor (Interim City Manager) Elaine Hart, or (Assistant City Manager) Rey Arellano following her previous supervisor’s departure,” presumably referring to former City Manager Marc Ott.
Photo by John Flynn.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
City of Austin Ethics Review Commission: The Ethics Review Commission is charged with review of, among other issues, ethics complaints leveled against City of Austin boards and commission members. They meet quarterly.
City of Austin Office of the Police Monitor: An oversight group that, among other duties, reviews citizen complaints filed against the Austin Police Department and monitors APD internal affairs investigations.
Office of the City Auditor: This city department is created by the city's charter in order to establish and ensure "accountability transparency, and a culture of continuous improvement in city operations."