Monday, June 26, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Second Austin Energy employee investigated

For the second time this month, the Office of the City Auditor has released a report alleging that an Austin Energy employee has misused his computer, email account and telephone to work on his secondary employment.

According to an investigation report released Friday, Brent Curry, an information technology geospatial analyst who has worked for the city since 1992, owns several rental properties. The report found “at least 200 email messages in Curry’s city email account,” between July 2015 and July 2016 related to his real estate business.

However, unlike the previous case reported in the Austin Monitor, investigators did not suspect nor did they find indications that there was a conflict of interest between Curry’s Austin Energy job and his outside employment.

The investigative team, under the direction of its chief, Nathan Wiebe, also found “at least 30 files originated from city printers/scanners” related to Curry’s real estate business. These included a loan application and documents related to potential investment activities, the report said.

Investigators also found at least 10 files on Curry’s office computer related to his real estate investments, including tax-related documents, the report indicated. In addition, the report stated that investigators found at least 30 phone calls to or from Curry’s city-issued telephone that appeared to be related to his real estate business.

When investigators interviewed Curry, he “admitted to using city resources including his computer, email account, telephone, and scanner to pursue real estate activities both during and after work hours,” according to the report.

The audit report stated that these non-city activities appear to constitute a violation of city standards of conduct and city personnel policy regarding use of city resources.

The investigators found out about Curry’s alleged misuse of city resources from an informant who is not named in the report.

According to Curry’s response to the auditor’s findings, he owns three single-family rental properties that he does not personally manage. He also states that he is “a silent, passive investor in several (real estate investment trusts) or multifamily LLCs.” He told auditors that he has “randomly used AE phone, email and printer during my free time (while taking a break) and before or after my flexible schedule.”

He also said that he had “worked overtime on weekends and in the evenings. Once it was brought to my attention that I should not be printing anything of a personal nature on the city’s printer I brought in a ream of paper to reimburse the city.”

Curry’s job includes “enhancing the electrical grid through installing new data, researching system changes, (and) updating the city’s land base,” with the majority of his time spent updating the electrical grid, he stated.

He concludes his statement by saying that he accepts “full responsibility for my actions and should have been more cognizant of City of Austin personnel policies.” Curry indicates that he wants to work for the city for an additional five years.

Curry did not respond to the Monitors request for comment and a spokesperson for Austin Energy did not get back with a response on Friday either.

Jackie Sargent, Austin Energy’s general manager, responded to Wiebe in a memo. She stated that Austin Energy’s human resources division would collaborate with the utility’s management “to determine the appropriate next steps in this matter.”

The Monitor also requested information on the status of Steven Salinas, the employee who was the subject of the previous audit, but did not receive a response to that question either.

Auditors reported that they found evidence that Salinas solicited and accepted employment from developers over whose projects he had discretionary authority in his position as a lead electric distribution designer.

A phone call to Salinas’ city phone number revealed that his voicemail had not been updated since June 2, one day after the audit concerning him was released to the public.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Energy: As a municipally-owned electric utility, Austin Energy is a rarity in the largely deregulated State of Texas. It's annual budget clocks in at over $1 billion. The utility's annual direct transfer of a Council-determined percentage of its revenues offers the city a notable revenue stream.

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."

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