Wednesday, May 15, 2019 by Chad Swiatecki

Auditor says Austin Energy employee accepted utility poles from vendor

Investigators in the Office of the City Auditor have released a report showing that an Austin Energy supervisor asked for and received favors from a city vendor early last year.

In the report, which was released Monday, an investigation found evidence that John Wilson, a supervisor in Austin Energy’s distribution services group, asked the vendor for used utility poles and had the vendor’s employees install them as fence posts at his private residence in Hutto. The employees also told investigators the 29 hours worth of labor totaling about $7,100 was billed to the city, under a work order that cited “various locations” as the work site.

The poles were reportedly delivered to Wilson’s home on multiple occasions in January and February 2018, with GPS data from the vendor’s vehicles showing eight trips to the property, which is located 45 minutes away from the vendor’s vehicle yard.

The investigation found the vendor’s employees took steps to ensure that construction activities on the property would not sever any underground utility lines.

The potential violation of the city’s standards of conduct comes from the fact that Wilson’s position calls for him to approve the completion of work performed by Austin Energy vendors and verify all vendor invoices for payment.

A May 9 memo from Austin Energy confirms receipt of the auditor’s report and said its management and human resources teams are working together to “review the report and findings to determine the appropriate next steps in this matter.”

In a statement given to the Austin Monitor on Tuesday, an Austin Energy spokesperson said, “The employee, John Wilson, is on paid administrative leave pending a pre-disciplinary meeting for discharge. A pre-disciplinary notice has been issued and final action will be decided later this week.”

In a written statement in the report, Wilson said he didn’t know it was against city policy to accept “salvage material” from a city vendor. He denied the vendor’s employees installed the poles on his property, though one employee who dug a hole for a mailbox Wilson had installed on his property told investigators that Wilson paid him $150 for the work. Wilson said that employee is a friend of his who also works for the vendor, though the employee was unable to conduct his normal duties for the vendor while he was at Wilson’s home.

Wilson said he was previously unaware his actions could be seen as violating city policy. In his written statement, he said, “Since this investigation has taken place, I have received additional training on what could create a conflict of interest. I now have a very clear understanding of how this type of transaction could be perceived. I also understand that having a long-time friendship with employees of vendors could lead to misjudgments that could result in policy violations.”

Wilson was named to his current position in 2017 and has nearly 27 years of service with Austin Energy with an annual salary of $87,048, according to the Texas Tribune.

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Photo of Austin Energy utility poles used as fence posts, courtesy of City Auditor’s Integrity Unit.

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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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