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Audit: Austin Code employee abused his position

Wednesday, October 21, 2020 by Jo Clifton

After receiving an anonymous tip, investigators with the Office of the City Auditor discovered that a hiring manager in Austin Code’s finance division was using his position to try to advance a romantic relationship based on a promise to hire the love interest’s sibling. According to an investigative report released Tuesday, Franklin Fejarang, who left his city job earlier this month, “abused his position to obtain a personal gain from a citizen and abused his position to grant a special privilege to another in 2019.”

Fejarang was the designated hiring manager for the code department’s finance division, with discretion in hiring of temps and interns. He also had final approval authority over a new hire’s pay rate. He had been the department’s financial manager for more than five years when he resigned on Oct. 5, according to Brian Molloy, chief of investigations for the city auditor’s office.

Auditors found that Fejarang was pursuing someone he met online in the summer of 2019. In writing the report, auditors were careful not to reveal the identity or gender of Fejarang’s love interest, referring to that person and his or her sibling as “they.” As laid out in the report, text messages between Fejarang and the romantic interest show that Fejarang offered to help the love interest’s sibling find a job. Fejarang went so far as to rewrite the sibling’s resume to help the sibling appear more suitable for the city job.

“Most notable was that the work history and the new version edited by Fejarang showed that the sibling worked a particular job from ‘2014 to present,’ when the sibling only did that type of work during the summers. This suggested that the sibling had more experience, roughly 60 months,” as opposed to the 15 months indicated on the original resume. When corporate HR was asked whether hiring managers are allowed to edit candidates’ resumes, an HR adviser stated that this is not recommended as it may provide an “unfair advantage to a candidate in our competitive process.” Since Fejarang as hiring manager would be reviewing the candidates’ resumes, “his action was an abuse of position,” auditors said.

With encouragement from Fejarang, the sibling applied for an internship position, using the resume Fejarang had modified. “In a series of text messages, Frank kept the romantic interest updated as to the progress of their sibling’s application, including how much the sibling would be paid when hired. This was unusual given that the department’s HR assistant was responsible for keeping the candidate up to date on their application. Fejarang told the romantic interest that their sibling would start working on September 3 or 16.”

It should be noted that the sibling lived on the East Coast and planned to move to Austin to take the job. “Fejarang also texted the romantic interest that their sibling would need a place to live in Austin because (they) would be hired by Code; and shared that he had a bedroom available to rent in his home. The sibling went through the hiring process and successfully completed a criminal background check,” auditors wrote.

When the romantic interest said they just wanted to be friends, Fejarang indicated he wanted to be “friends with benefits.” The love interest said they were not interested in such an arrangement, to which Fejarang replied, “if we cannot be fwb, let’s go separate paths as if we never met and keep it like that.” The love interest responded, “you and I know that is not possible. My (sibling) is about to start working for you. We’ll probably be in contact.”

At that point, Fejarang denied that the city had ever offered the sibling a job or internship, adding that if anything was offered it can be “canceled.” Auditors noted that they received copies of the text messages from the love interest. After the disagreement, Fejarang received notice from HR that the sibling just needed to accept the job offer. Then, weeks later, the sibling was asked to submit transcripts, not part of the normal procedure, according to a corporate HR adviser.

“The Austin Code HR manager and Fejarang jointly terminated the sibling’s application because the sibling had not taken a class in over a year and therefore did not qualify for an internship.” The sibling, having moved to Austin in anticipation of having a job, left town. Auditors wrote, “Fejarang denied that the termination of the sibling’s application was tied to” the problem with the love interest. However, auditors said that each time Fejarang provided an update on the sibling’s job status, his next text would include a request to spend time together. “The text messages between Fejarang and his romantic interest also indicate that the hiring process slowed and was ultimately terminated only after the romantic interest rebuffed Fejarang’s advances.”

While investigating the original allegation, auditors were told that Fejarang also misused his position in 2018 by hiring three of his roommates to work at Austin Code and report directly to him.

Auditors noted that because Fejarang was receiving compensation from one or more of his renters, that could reasonably be expected to impair his judgment as a supervisor. One of the roommates paid Fejarang for utilities only. “At the time of our investigation, that roommate lived rent-free with Fejarang, while still reporting to him,” auditors reported. Two of those temporary employees have since left the city. The third was still working for Austin Code and living with Fejarang at the time of the investigation, auditors wrote.

In his written response, Fejarang denied any wrongdoing and complained at length about how the auditors treated him during a meeting to discuss the investigation. “I do not deny that I was in a relationship with the candidate’s family member and that relationship did end. I do not deny helping the candidate with his resume to better show his work history and alignment with financial functions that follow the degree program he was working on. I told the auditors countless times that the relationship and decision to end the hiring process had absolutely nothing to do with the relationship in question.” He also said that his roommates did not receive any special treatment.

On Oct. 14, José G. Roig, interim director of Austin Code, responded to the auditors’ report. He wrote, “Austin Code does not dispute the findings of the report and does not condone any such conduct. The department takes this matter very seriously and greatly appreciates the work of the City Auditor in this case. Please be advised that the Financial Manager II is no longer employed with the city of Austin.” Roig also outlined new “hiring practice safeguards to prevent such abuses of power.”

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