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Jo Clifton is the Politics Editor for the Austin Monitor.
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Tuesday, February 11, 2020 by Jo Clifton
Audit finds temp employee misused city truck
The Office of the City Auditor has found that a temporary employee of the Planning and Zoning Department regularly misused his assigned city vehicle to drive himself home and run personal errands. His work with the city ended shortly after he responded to the allegations in the auditor’s report.
According to the audit, auditors received a tip last March that the vehicle assigned to the employee, Gregory Watson, was seen parked in a residential neighborhood “at odd hours of the day. The informant added that the driver did not appear to be working when the truck was seen,” auditors noted.
Following up on the complaint, auditors found evidence that Watson took the “city vehicle home on 13 different occasions and used the vehicle to run personal errands on at least nine other occasions” from June 4-25, 2019.
As part of his job, Watson used the city vehicle to post notices at various locations around the city. However, his supervisor agreed with auditors that he was not allowed to take the vehicle home, nor use it for personal errands.
Auditors reported that Watson’s home is about 10 miles from the city parking garage where he was supposed to leave the vehicle at the end of his shift. On each of 13 days that Watson was observed to have parked the vehicle at his house, the vehicle stayed parked there for more than two hours, they reported.
In addition, Watson’s personal use of the vehicle included several stops in Austin as well as one in Buda.
When auditors spoke to Watson, he admitted using the city vehicle for personal errands and to drive himself home. According to the audit, “when asked how frequently he ran errands or went shopping while working, Watson responded, ‘probably the majority of the time.’ According to Watson, he started taking the vehicle home around the ‘latter’ part of 2018” even though he knew that the vehicle was only supposed to be used for city business.
Auditors figured, based on what Watson told them and their own investigation, that he misused the vehicle for a period of seven to 11 months. For the time period when GPS records were available, Watson misused the city vehicle for 22 personal trips on 22 different days, auditors said.
After receiving a draft of the city auditor’s report, Watson wrote, “My sincere apologies to the city for misusing the city’s truck to make trips home and run personal errands. That was improper, and it has not happened since June 2019, upon visiting with city auditor’s office staff, nor shall it ever occur again in the future.” His response was dated Jan. 26, 2020.
A memo from Senior Human Resources Adviser Clifton Franklin said after reviewing the report, neither the Planning and Zoning Department nor the Development Services Department had any objection to the auditor’s findings. Franklin noted, “Gregory Watson’s temporary employment appointment with the city of Austin ended effective January 30, 2020.”
That was just four days after Watson sent his response to the audit to his boss.
Photo courtesy of the city of Austin.
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Key Players & Topics In This Article
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."
Planning and Zoning Department: Planning, preservation and design services are under the purview of this department.