in Houston, Texas
Travis County auditor dumped after investigation into growing department
Thursday, Aug 16, 2012, 02:45PM CST
By Mark Lisheron
Gavel

Astonished to learn that after 24 years a $9 million-a-year fiefdom had grown in their midst, Travis County district judges Wednesday fired county auditor Susan Spataro.

The 15-0 vote came a little less than two months after a fine bit of investigative reporting by the Austin American-Statesman revealed that Travis County taxpayers were paying far more for their auditing department than any other urban area in Texas.

Spataro had for more than two decades convinced these judges to approve the growth of her department to 82 employees. They signed off on a budget that included her $180,000 a year salary and annual salaries of more than $100,000 for roughly 14 of her employees, according to the Statesman.

Thanks to the Statesman, the judges came to learn Spataro was using her expanded staff for work outside the usual auditor’s purview. And to divert money in her budget for expenses like legislative consulting at $6,500 a month and $103,000 for a security system for her office.

In an effort to spare the public the shock of their discovery, the judges said nothing nor permitted any citizen comment before taking their vote, according to a Statesman report. The matter was disposed of a few minutes, with one small tribute for the work done by one of the county’s highest paid employees.

After the meeting, District Judge Brenda Kennedy, who heads a committee of judges that is supposed to keep an eye on the auditor, told the newspaper, "The level of confidence and trust had diminished to the extent that it would not be an asset as far as going forward with future dealings."

District Judge John Dietz said, "There was a concern about the extent of her involvement in the executive decisions of the county while at the same time having audit responsibilities for those decisions. I was also concerned about the growth and size of her budget.”

Leroy Nellis, the county’s budget director, thought, quite respectfully, the judges’ decision was bunk.

"I believe Susan and her staff have performed exemplary (sic), and I think that Susan has assembled one of the finest groups of financial talent in the state."

***

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of Gavel by flickr user s_falkow, used via a Creative Commons license.

 

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