Audit: Austin staffer used city time, computer in beauty side business

5:40 p.m Monday, Sept. 18, 2017 Local
Ralph Barrera
An audit report released Monday found an administrative assistant to a high-level executive at City Hall misused city time and resources to sell beauty products.

The administrative assistant to a high-level executive at City Hall misused city time and resources to sell beauty products, according to an audit report released Monday.

The employee, Mary Lou Rodriguez, is the administrative assistant for Ray Baray, who is chief of staff for interim City Manager Elaine Hart, according to the city’s website.

In May, the city auditor’s office received a complaint that Rodriguez was handing out business cards for her skin care and beauty business while she was on the clock at City Hall and that she sold jewelry from her desk and in the lobby of the city manager’s office, often soliciting employees, the report states.

The investigation found that Rodriguez sold items to at least 20 people at City Hall in recent years.

The report says she kept invoices and other records of those sales on her city computer and used that computer to order products and check the email account on her beauty consulting business card.

The computer also contained display photos of the products that Rodriguez had shot at work, according to the audit.

Rodriguez was placed on administrative leave this week. Her supervisor will decide early next week whether she should face any discipline because of the auditor’s office’s findings of misuse of city time and resources, according to a city spokesman.

The investigation report makes no recommendations on punishment.

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Rodriguez, in a response to the investigation, said the allegation that she runs a side business selling beauty products is a “misconception.”

“It is more of a hobby than anything else; something I enjoy and certainly have shared with others,” Rodriguez wrote in the official response.

She added that she does not have a business and does not solicit anyone at work.

“I have been approached by others for items that I personally have at my home,” Rodriguez wrote. “I have brought items to coworkers but I do not set up a store or display items.”

She said she has given some items to co-workers as gifts “at my own expense.”

Rodriguez is the latest in a string of city employees whom the auditor’s office found working second jobs on the city clock. In June, the auditor’s office found that two Austin Energy employees used city resources for secondary employment. Similar complaints have arisen this year against current and former city employees, including retired Austin Police Monitor Margo Frasier.

City employees are not prohibited from holding a second job. However, they are not permitted to use city resources or time for other work.

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Rodriguez has worked for the city since 2006. She told investigators she was moonlighting as an independent beauty consultant and occasionally selling jewelry, the report states.

The investigation found at least 20 city employees, including managers and a staffer for a City Council member, who had been her customers.

The auditor’s office found images on Rodriguez’s work computer of her business card and a 2014 flier indicating she started a business as an independent beauty consultant.

Baray, the chief of staff, wrote in a memo Friday that the city manager’s office would review the investigation to see if any additional steps need to be taken.

And apart from this case, a broader review is under way: The head of the city’s Human Resources division sent a memo to the City Council in July saying her office was crafting a new policy related to secondary employment that is due to be presented by the end of September.

“Rest assured, our response will include a comprehensive review of city policies and procedures related to secondary employment and misuse of city resources,” Baray’s Friday memo said.

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