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Despite statute of limitations, ethics commission moves forward with Rodriguez case

Tuesday, February 19, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

More than a year after Austinites and reporters raised questions about Frank Rodriguez’s continued ties to Latino HealthCare Forum, a nonprofit he founded while he was serving as a senior policy adviser for Mayor Steve Adler, the issue came before the Ethics Review Commission.

In a complaint filed last Aug. 3 by the Office of the City Auditor, auditors alleged that while in the employ of the city, Rodriguez provided inside information to his wife, who was at the time director of LHCF, which led to the awarding of contracts directly benefiting the nonprofit.

Fred Lewis, who was representing Rodriguez at the Feb. 13 meeting of the Ethics Review Commission, asserted that a large portion of the accusations were invalid because, as the city’s statute of limitations is two years, every violation before Aug. 3, 2016, is barred from evidence. Many of the alleged violations took place in 2014 and 2015.

Despite a large majority of the allegations being inadmissible, the commission voted unanimously to move to a final hearing on the case.

The auditors agreed that the statute of limitations is two years, but pointed out that since some of the violations were ongoing, they crossed the date cutoff threshold and were therefore admissible as evidence. Jared Jordan, the managing director of HSSK, the firm representing the city auditor’s office, argued that several of the allegations were still valid since they were “within the statute of limitations because that activity continued on through the cessation of his employment with the city.” Rodriguez left the city in September 2017 citing health reasons.

Lewis reasoned that even though some of the violations could be considered ongoing, since city officials were aware of his involvement and role as a liaison with LHCF, his actions were not a breach of the code. “We’re here criticizing him for doing his job,” he said.

Rodriguez’s job during the period in question allowed him simultaneously to receive payment from the city as well as $37,000 from LHCF, which auditors charged came in part from a contract with the city he had assisted in securing. Including the contract from which he received payment, there were two contracts of interest during the hearing, including Restore Rundberg and Affordable Care Act enrollment. The auditor’s office said that he received 10 percent of the $75,000 awarded to LHCF from its first-year contract for Restore Rundberg.

Lewis explained that while Rodriguez was paid by the nonprofit, it was not from city coffers. A CPA that Lewis consulted with explained that payments Rodriguez received “never came from the city of Austin contracts.”

However, the city auditor’s office, which was represented by HSSK and the Gober Group, contended at the hearing that there were six different counts of code violations in addition to this violation.

Some of the violations occurred in the context of Rodriguez serving as chair of the city’s Hispanic/Latino Quality of Life Resource Advisory Commission, where his vote influenced the award of certain contracts.

Commissioners agreed that the statute of limitations nullifies several of the violations. However, after consulting with city law, they confirmed that they could parse the auditors’ allegations in order to find a valid violation that occurred within the statute of limitations.

With that assurance, the commission voted unanimously to move to a final hearing on the case.

Photo by John Flynn.

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