City Responds to Auditor's Report Findings

Following the Chronicle's Web publication Thursday, Nov. 2, of the city auditor's "Report on Allegations of Integrity Violations Involving WTP4 Site Selection Process," the city manager's office issued a response. The memorandum, written by Austin Energy manager Juan Garza in his capacity as acting assistant city manager during the period in question, seeks to downplay the findings issued in the auditor's report. "Fundamentally, the audit does not dispute that all viable treatment plant sites were publicly presented and discussed," it reads. "Specifically, the audit does not disagree that the specific site in question scored poorly on the engineering, environmental and cost analysis that followed the preliminary buildable size assessment."

Garza's memorandum emphasizes that the second site identified by the auditor's office was ultimately found unsuitable. This was accomplished by way of a "windshield survey," which the memorandum goes on to defend as "conducted with existing data as opposed to on-site field assessments" and "not substantively different than the analysis performed for all original sites."

On the finding that Environmental Board member Karin Ascot was misled as to the tract's existence, it's noted, "In retrospect, a more complete response ... would have included the results of the engineering, environmental and cost evaluation which ruled out this site." However, Garza goes on to say that the misleading memo from city staff was sent after the board had taken action, by implication painting the information as moot.

Sidestepping the question of whether City Council was similarly misinformed (the auditor's office having found it wasn't), the memorandum then speaks to the unproven allegations by the complainant that he or she was asked to destroy an analysis of the second site. "Given this ... scrutiny by the City team and external consultants, as well as the public's discussion of the southern Cortaña site, it makes any discussion of disposing of records evidencing the existence of this alternative site illogical."

When sent the report, the city manager's office told the Chronicle of their concerns with the term "second viable site" in the original story. "The audit report does not make that statement nor offers such a conclusion," reads an e-mail from Gene Acuña, director of the city's Communications and Public Information Office. While the Chronicle should have specified that the site was a potentially viable site candidate, we attribute some of Mr. Acuña's concern to the quasi-legal ramifications of the term "viable." The debate over amending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Code to allow plant construction at its current locale in Bull Creek hinges over whether another "prudent and viable" site exists.

Download Juan Garza's memorandum, "Response to Auditor's Report."

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