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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Friday, January 4, 2019 by Jo Clifton
Auditors find misuse of city resources
An Austin Energy employee suspected of driving intoxicated in a deadly crash misused his city vehicle by driving to locations outside the scope of his work and misused work time to hunt on city property, according to an investigative report released this week by the Office of the City Auditor.
Investigators said that Jody Wood, an occupational health and safety specialist for Austin Energy, used his city vehicle “on at least 24 occasions between October 2017 and April 2018 … to drive to his home and to other non-work-related locations,” and misstated the number of hours that he worked.
Wood has denied the allegations in a written response to the audit. It is not clear whether he has continued to perform his duties or whether he is on administrative leave.
Wood’s job involves running basic safety programs for Austin Energy and ensuring compliance with city policies and government regulations. He was assigned as the health and safety point of contact for eight Austin Energy locations, including the Sand Hill Energy Center and the Decker Creek Power Plant, according to the audit, and he was the backup point of contact for three other Austin Energy facilities.
While the utility provided him with a city vehicle equipped with a toll tag, he was specifically prohibited from driving his vehicle home and to non-work locations, according to the investigative report.
In March 2018, two city employees saw Wood’s city vehicle near a deer blind and deer feeder on city property at Walter E. Long Lake. The two employees reported having a conversation with Wood, during which Wood said he was checking on Austin Energy’s transmission lines. A little later, the two employees returned to the location where they had been speaking to Wood and discovered that the deer blind and feeder had been moved and that there was fresh corn on the ground.
“This occurred on a Thursday during Wood’s normal work hours,” according to the report. “Wood reported that he worked for 10 hours on this day, and he was paid for 10 hours of work on this day.”
Wood has denied hunting on city property and denied any knowledge of the deer blind or deer feeder when he spoke to the investigators. He told investigators that he went to Walter E. Long Lake to inspect transmission lines and make sure the property was secure. Yet, “Wood’s supervisor stated that Wood did not have any duties at the site, and that he did not have any reason or permission to be there,” auditors reported.
Following these revelations, Austin Energy towed Wood’s vehicle from his home in April. Auditors wrote, “our office inspected the vehicle and found several hunting-related items. These items included deer antlers, two deer feeder batteries, and the box for a trail camera that is advertised as providing images and videos of ‘quick-moving wildlife.'”
Wood told the audit team that he collected shed antlers and that he sometimes went to Cabela’s and other stores in his city vehicle on his lunch hour and might have forgotten to transfer the items purchased to his personal vehicle. In his written response, Wood stated, “I have never hunted nor have I ever set up any equipment for hunting on any city property. These accusations are absurd.”
Auditors also reviewed the toll tag data from Wood’s city vehicle and his badge swipe data, but were unable to determine whether he claimed hours he did not work. However, they wrote, “We found evidence that suggested that Wood worked approximately 5 of the 12 hours he coded on his timesheet for Friday, April 6, 2018.”
They also noted that Wood was involved in a car accident about an hour northeast of Austin in his personal vehicle about 11 a.m. on April 10, 2018, during his normal work hours. He told auditors that the accident occurred while he was on “personal business,” but did not tell a supervisor that he was going to be gone at any time that day. Auditors said Wood’s timesheet was later changed to show that he worked only two hours that morning.
When auditors attempted to collect forensic data from Wood’s city-issued tablet, they found the tablet was broken, and as a result, they were “unable to retrieve any data from the machine.” According to their report, “When we questioned Wood about his timesheet he denied wrongdoing and said, ‘I have never cheated time.’”
Auditors wrote that Wood’s misuse of city resources for personal purposes appears to constitute violations of city regulations prohibiting fraud and abuse, which includes misappropriation of city resources.
In a memo to senior investigator Keith Salas, Austin Energy General Manager Jackie Sargent stated that the utility’s human resources team would collaborate with Austin Energy management “to review the report, findings, and then determine the appropriate next steps in this matter.”
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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."