A year after Austin officials said they would create new policies for moonlighting city employees, the process has stalled amid opposition from the employees’ union.
In the past two years, a series of city-initiated investigations into issues arising from employees’ second jobs highlighted the potential for conflicts of interest.
One Austin Energy worker approved electric service plans for companies that paid him for consulting services on the side. An Austin Water spokesman gave a marketing contract to a firm that built him a free website for his side real estate business. In all, city auditors handled 11 investigations last year into conflicts involving employees’ second jobs.
However, it remains difficult for anyone to conclude what conflicts there might be because only 12 of 36 city departments require their employees to disclose their second jobs, an American-Statesman review conducted last year found. Only seven departments keep that information on file in a way that makes it possible to review.
Austin Human Resources Director Joya Hayes sent a memo to City Council members in late June 2017, four days after the American-Statesman’s public information request, stating that her office would have a recommendation for a new policy within three months.
Now, work on a draft of a citywide policy that would require employees to tell their supervisor if they work second jobs is taking longer than expected because of the concerns of some groups, Hayes said. In particular, AFSCME, the union that represents area government employees, opposes requiring employees to disclose their second jobs.
“As long as employees who work for the city of Austin show up for work on time and are doing their job, we feel like what they do on their off hours is their business,” said Carol Guthrie, the union’s business manager. “Many employees have to have two, sometimes three, jobs to make ends meet. They’re proud people who don’t want people to know they subsidize their family that way.”
Guthrie acknowledged that secondary jobs could present a conflict of interest for public employees, but she said employees should be trusted to determine whether there’s a conflict. She suggested each city department come up with a list of specific businesses or jobs where its employees shouldn’t work without telling a supervisor.
The draft policy now being debated requires only that a secondary employment acknowledgement form be kept in an employee’s personnel file. Without a centralized list or database, it would be impossible for ethics watchdogs or people working for the city to look for potential conflicts departmentwide without digging through thousands of individual personnel files.
Several members of Austin’s Ethics Review Commission, which has jurisdiction over only high-level managers, said the potential problems associated with not knowing who’s working where far outweigh the downsides of requiring disclosure. Peter Einhorn, the group’s chairman, said last year that most second jobs are not an issue, but the only way to know is to be able to review them.
“If somebody has secondary employment at Barnes & Noble, who cares?” Einhorn said. “But if they’re moonlighting with a nonprofit entity that the department they work for funds, that’s an issue. … There should be transparency for the public, and I think the manager should know.”
Fred Lewis, a local activist who’s often vocal about ethics issues, said city policies should at least require the disclosure of second jobs.
“When you work for the city, you’re a public servant, and the public has a right to know what your secondary employment is to see if there’s a conflict,” he said. “No one ever thinks they have a conflict; that’s why you have to disclose it.”
City Manager Spencer Cronk has not yet received a briefing on the issue, a city spokesman said. Hayes said she expects to spend a few more months making changes to the draft proposal before finalizing it.
AFSCME “brought up legitimate concerns that have allowed us to go back and look at it,” she said. “Anytime you have a policy that is impacting every single department, we have to do due diligence.”