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Probe: Management employee misused resources

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 by Jo Clifton

An investigation by the Office of the City Auditor has concluded that an executive secretary in the city manager’s office misused city resources in order to promote her other business: the sale of beauty products and jewelry.

Mary Lou Rodriguez, who has worked for the city since 2006, currently works for Chief of Staff Ray Baray and Chief Sustainability Officer Lucia Athens. She has been placed on administrative leave, according to city spokesperson David Green. “We anticipate taking action next week,” Green said.

The audit, which was released Monday, states that Rodriguez handed out her non-city business card and delivered products to other city employees “during regular work hours on city time.” The business card identifies Rodriguez as “skin care & beauty consultant.”

Rodriguez generally denied any wrongdoing in her response to the auditors, except to admit that she looked at the beauty company’s website on her computer. She said she eats lunch at her desk and said that she is not running a business. “It is more of a hobby than anything else; something I enjoy and certainly have shared with others.”

However, auditors report that they found about 11,000 images and videos on Rodriguez’s computer, “including a significant amount related to her secondary employment. Specifically, we found the following evidence of misuse: photographs of handwritten notes of customer names, prices and confirmations of payment; photographs of individuals who appeared to have purchased products from Rodriguez; photographs of invoices and customer profiles for city employees who did business with Rodriguez.”

Auditors also found that Rodriguez used her city computer and the city internet service to access her online account for the brand she was buying and selling. Specifically, auditors cited more than 300 hits to the beauty company website between December 2016 and May 2017.

In addition, auditors said they found “approximately 30 hits related to the specific jewelry brand she sells; and over 700 hits to the email address on her beauty consultant business card during the same six month period.”

The audit states that “Rodriguez admitted to purchasing products that she intended to sell using her city computer while at work.” They said they found no evidence that she used her city of Austin email to sell or solicit for services or products.

Auditors found photographs showing that Rodriguez was setting up and taking pictures of her beauty products and jewelry in her office space at City Hall. Rodriguez apparently did not feel that she was doing anything wrong because she was doing it in plain sight in the city manager’s office and keeping photographic evidence on her city computer.

The Austin Monitor could not reach Rodriguez for comment Monday.

Auditors found and photographed an invitation from a party to launch Rodriguez’s business as a beauty consultant in November 2014, as well as a business card with her photo, name and personal email address on her city computer. The photographs were taken in May 2017.

Auditors concluded that Rodriguez had violated city standards of conduct, including use of city equipment and employee time for personal use.

Although the auditors’ investigation shows that Rodriguez sold cosmetics, and possibly jewelry, to her coworkers at City Hall, apparently not everyone thought her activities were appropriate since auditors received a complaint about those activities, which led to the investigation.

In his written response to the audit, Baray said, “Rest assured, our response will include a comprehensive review of city policies and procedures related to secondary employment and misuse of city resources.” Baray also promised to “address the need for strengthening controls to ensure full departmental compliance” with city policies and procedures.

Auditors said they “found evidence that Rodriguez annually attended city ethics training. When interviewed, she recalled watching an ethics scenario involving a city employee that misused city facilities to sell beauty products as part of their secondary employment.”

Rodriguez is not the first employee accused of misusing city resources within the past year.

Photo by John Flynn.

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