Wednesday, September 26, 2018 by Chad Swiatecki

Ethics commission pushes Austin Energy for info on retiree’s overtime case

An Austin Energy retiree who is being investigated for allegedly misusing his sick and vacation time will get more evidence from his former employer to possibly contest the city’s case against him.

The Ethics Review Commission voted 9-0 last week to request more cooperation from Austin Energy in gathering emails and other documentation from Curtis Graves, who worked 23 years for the utility and retired last June from his position as superintendent of systems operations.

After he retired he was informed of the investigation into how he recorded his work hours on days where he was required to work more than eight hours, even though stated city policy bars employees from working more than eight hours.

The Office of the City Auditor found the method Graves used to record his excess time resulted in him receiving $4,700 more than he should have.

The commission’s request points toward an Oct. 10 final hearing for the case, but that hearing could be pushed to November if Austin Energy doesn’t deliver more of the documents Graves has requested. In a response to Graves’ Aug. 6, 2018, public information request, Austin Energy said emails and events in his Microsoft Outlook account are unavailable because his account was “deactivated” when he retired.

The city’s legal department said part of the difficulty in obtaining the documents comes from the separation between Austin Energy and the city’s Communications and Technology Management Division, with Austin Energy having the responsibility for retrieving its own data and then turning it over to the city.

In addition to requesting interviews with four Austin Energy employees, the commission voted to direct Austin Energy to search for and provide the wording for Graves’ job description, as well as Graves’ emails with the human resources department with direction on how to record his excess time and his requests for the utility to provide computer equipment he could use to work from home.

Members of the commission were critical of Austin Energy’s practices in archiving and providing data, at several points saying the utility could search for other employees’ emails with Graves to make up for the deactivation of Graves’ own account.

Because the city’s investigation into Graves began before his retirement, the commission also questioned why the utility wasn’t made aware and told to preserve his communications.

“It seems to me for future reference it might be worth having conversations with the various technology departments within the various organizations when there’s an active investigation, and letting someone know y’all need to archive stuff until the process has run its course,” Commissioner Peter Einhorn said.

Chair Ben Stratmann said he’ll work with Graves to monitor the response to his information request and decide if a delay to November is needed to give Graves enough time to review the documents prior to the final hearing.

“As staff takes what we’ve just discussed and squeezes it into discernible language and goes out to try to procure the information and get that back to you, I would ask that you work with us,” he said. “On the one hand, if there’s some pretty black-and-white stuff that should be reasonable to access that staff tells you they’re working on getting and you don’t have it, let us know. On the other hand, if there’s stuff that is more of a stretch, and maybe you’ve determined you don’t desperately need it for your case, maybe we still go ahead and proceed.”

Graves, who has started a construction business since retiring, said he’s frustrated with the accusations and the difficulty he’s faced in getting documents to defend himself.

“I’m very upset that my character is being called into question, because I was a very good employee. I was always available and always trying to do things right,” he said. “I feel like getting contacted about this six months after I’ve retired is kind of like getting stabbed in the back while I’m trying to move on with my life.”

Image via Google Maps. This story has been changed since publication to change a typo.

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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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