in Houston, Texas
An Ott-of-this world pay package: Austin City Manager Marc Ott in line for a $7,000 raise -- and a cool $400k if he’s fired
Monday, Aug 27, 2012, 02:08PM CST
By Curt Olson
money

Austin City Manager Marc Ott will receive his second raise in as many years if rank-and-file city employees receive a raise proposed in the 2012-13 city budget that will be up for approval next month.

Austin’s non-civil service employees would see an increase of 3 percent, which would simultaneously boost Ott’s salary to $256,746, up $7,478 from his current salary of $249,268. It would be the second raise for Ott since he became Austin city manager in January 2008, the Austin Bulldog reports.

The amount of more than $256,000 reflects Ott’s base pay. His compensation catapults higher with contract perks that include $50,620 in deferred compensation, executive allowance, automobile allowance, cell phone allowance, and retirement or health-care related benefits, the Bulldog reported.

Ott’s recommendation for a raise surfaced following a lengthy Austin City Council closed session earlier this month. After council members emerged from the executive session discussion of personnel, Mayor Pro Tem Sheryl Cole said, “I just wanted to say that we did in executive session (take up the issue of) compensation and benefits of the city manager, and we look forward to his continued service.”

Ott’s raise comes in a package of 3 percent raises forthcoming for the city auditor and city clerk. The municipal court clerk would receive a 5 percent raise to bring her up to the market rate, said Mayor Lee Leffingwell, the Bulldog reported.

In advance of Ott’s personnel evaluation, the Austin American-Statesman reported there were grumblings about the city manager. Those who complain about Ott focused on his handling of the Austin Energy rate hike, which will be in place in October and took two years to resolve, and his grasp of environmental battles that still exist in Austin. One council member expressed concern about how city government responds to the needs of a growing population.

Ott ranks third in base pay among city managers in Texas, according to data compiled by the Texas Tribune.

If Austin City Council terminates Ott, he would be entitled to severance pay of more than $431,000, according to the Austin Bulldog.

***
Contact Curt Olson at curt@texaswatchdog.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us onTwitterandScribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feed in your newsreader. We're also on MySpace, Digg, FriendFeed, NewsVine and tumblr.

Photo of the money by flickr user Unhindered by Talent, used via a Creative Commons license.

Austin Energy’s employee parties, spending on food examined
Thursday, May 24, 2012, 04:15PM CST
By Lee Ann O'Neal
cheesecake

Austin Energy’s finances have been under something like a 500-watt floodlight since the utility provider proposed a rate hike late last year.

Today the Austin Bulldog adds to the scrutiny with a look at spending on food and employee parties.

The Bulldog piece is packed with detail and is frankly making us hungry. We’ll have some of the cheesecake, please.

From the Bulldog:

According to city documents, Austin Energy rented a private room at Dave and Busters on September 24, 2010, for an end-of-the-year celebration. About 70 employees in the Energy Efficiency Services Division ate fajitas; drank coffee, tea and soda; and played arcade games. The event cost $2,479, according to city documents.

Just three days earlier, 101 employees in the Finance and Corporate Services Department visited the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum to look at exhibits and watch Hubble 3D at the IMAX. The appreciation event cost $1,864.

The city paid Pappas Catering $2,018 to serve 60 guests at an Austin Energy employee recognition luncheon on September 21, 2011. The menu featured jumbo cold-boiled shrimp, Louisiana shrimp gumbo, grilled mahi-mahi and 16-ounce rib-eye steaks. For dessert, guests ate New York style cheesecake and bourbon chocolate pecan bars.

A spokesman explained the expenses by saying that if the employees feel appreciated, “it comes back to customers in better service.”

Eating well extends to the top office, with General Manager Larry Weis and a city lobbyist dining on strip steak and and stone crab at Truluck’s in November 2010.

KXAN picked up on the food theme in a report last week, finding the utility has spent more than $600,000 since late 2009 on food and entertainment expenses including going-away parties for interns and $52,000 for gift cards.

“Your money has been spent at just about every restaurant in Central Texas,” KXAN’s Chris Willis reports.

Austin City Council, flummoxed into inaction on the proposed rate increase prior to the May 12 election, is knuckling down. The average residential bill would increase $8 a month under a plan favored by some on the council, Councilman Bill Spelman told the Austin American-Statesman.

The Statesman has done its own probing of Austin Energy's coffers, finding spending on a climate protection plan and twinkly lights at Christmas, as well as the African American Men and Boys Conference and Hispanic Futures Conference. In all, the newspaper in January found “an estimated $150 million to $180 million in annual spending unrelated to generating or selling electricity.”

That’s more than cheesecake.

***
Contact Lee Ann O’Neal at 713-980-9777 or leeann@texaswatchdog.org.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feeds in your newsreader. We're also on MySpaceDiggFriendFeed, and tumblr.
 
Photo of cheesecake by flickr user Patrick Haney, used via a Creative Commons license.
Austin City Council accused of covering up emails
Thursday, Mar 03, 2011, 10:00AM CST
By Jennifer Peebles
Inbox

Time to cough up your e-mails, Austin city councilmembers.

The Austin Bulldog -- which, like us, is a nonprofit online news outfit -- has gone to court to fight for e-mails from the Austin council.

Some emails have already been released, and they don't make the city look very good. Specifically, one exchange dealt with how councilmembers could use a chat function on their computers to communicate privately during meetings and without the press' knowledge. Sounds like a violation of the spirit and the letter of the state sunshine law to me.

The Bulldog had initially sought the council communication as part of its reporting on whether councilmembers had violated state open meetings laws by having private pre-meeting meetings to talk about public business.

The Bulldog now says that councilmembers have violated the state public information act by turning over some, but not all, of their emails as requested, and have also failed to turn over emails, text messages and instant messages regarding public business that public employees sent on privately owned accounts and devices.

This isn't an issue exclusive to Austin. You might remember that Houston City Councilman Mike Sullivan initially didn't turn over to us e-mails he had sent on a private account pertaining to city business -- until we called him out on it, having in hand e-mails he had sent to Mayor Annise Parker from that account. He later said it was an oversight.

Whatever it was, this much I know: Public officials need not to assume the public is too stupid to figure out how things work. The public will be more likely to forgive a public official who says something stupid or unflattering in an email than they will a public official who says something stupid or unflattering and then tries to cover up that e-mail and shield it from public view.

***
Contact Jennifer Peebles at jennifer@texaswatchdog.org or 281-656-1681. Follow her on Twitter at @jpeebles or @texaswatchdog.

Keep up with all the latest news from Texas Watchdog. Fan our page on Facebook, follow us on Twitter and Scribd, and fan us on YouTube. Join our network on de.licio.us, and put our RSS feed in your newsreader. We're also on MySpaceDiggFriendFeed, NewsVine and tumblr.

Inbox photo by flickr user dampeebe, used under a Creative Commons license.

Georgetown city attorney sues AG to keep job evaluation secret
Friday, Aug 20, 2010, 11:29AM CST
By Steve Miller
magnifying glass

The attorney for the city of Georgetown is suing the state Attorney General’s office after it ruled that parts of his job evaluation are public.

Mark Sokolow filed the suit after local watchdog Ken Martin, who runs the Austin Bulldog, made the request. Sokolow claims the information is private because "it is information in a personnel file, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."

Martin has penned a number of articles criticizing Sokolow.

More details via the Austin American-Statesman.

Contact Steve Miller at 832-303-9420 or stevemiller@texaswatchdog.org.

Photo of a magnifying glass by flickr user Auntie P, used via a Creative Commons license.

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