Beside the Point

The Pipe Bursts

Talk about good timing: As soon as City Council returns from break, so does the lingua franca of modern municipal corruption and back-channel chatter.

I'm talking about the Moriarty Affair. Between its resurgence and the churning Convention Center investigation, it's an embarrassment of riches for City Hall conspiracy theorists.

A lawsuit filed Friday, July 20, on behalf of Bill Moriarty and Diane Hyatt, lists a who's who of hard-hitting Austin developers as defendants: development firms PBS&J, Malcolm Pirnie, Owen Consulting, CH2M Hill Inc., Parsons Engineering Science, K Friese & Associ­ates, and the cheekily monikered Hey Cister! Consulting. Also named is attorney David Armbrust, Moriarty's former representation when he first landed the Austin Clean Water Program gig at the heart of this sordid mess, and his firm Armbrust & Brown; lobbyist and former Mayor Bruce Todd; and individual employees of the aforementioned firms: Alice Myers, Everett Owen, Karen Friese, Keith Jackson, James Clinton Walker, Lynn Mays, Greg Wieland, and Ken Hall.

Bill Moriarty was ACWP director, tasked with bringing the city's ailing sewer infrastructure up to Environmental Protection Agency standards, until Toby Futrell fired him memorably (and now, in light of her own familial hiring foibles, rather ironically) for the appearance of a conflict of interest. (That arose due to his live-in partner, Hyatt, receiving ACWP-related work; Moriarty defended against the charge by noting that the city had final say over her hire.) The truth, Moriarty and Hyatt's brief alleges over 24 lurid pages, is that cost-saving streamlining that Moriarty instituted so irritated those contractors suckling upon the municipal tit that they conspired to oust him. (The suit describes Moriarty putting the kibosh on expensive contractor foot-dragging on lift station, sewer, and tunnel projects throughout the city.) "The defendants met ... with a specific agenda of joining forces to devel­op a strategy to remove Moriarty from the ACWP," reads the brief. After deciding on the false claims of misconduct they'd level against Moriarty, "In the words of Bruce Todd, the defendants 'all agreed to move forward as a group.'" But once their allegations -- including the nepotism charge, soliciting bribes, arbitrarily awarding and removing contracts, and more -- were rebuffed by the district attor­ney and Austin Police Department as baseless, the brief says, Armbrust, Todd, and Myers, together or separately, went to Futrell, who hired outside counsel (Connie Cornell) to investigate. Cornell, the brief maintains, had "the reputation of being ready to accommodate City officials to help rationalize and/or develop an exit program for employees the administration wanted to remove."

The rest is history: Upon completion of Cornell's "phony investigation," city attorney David Smith wrote a memo summarizing the charges -- which Brewster McCracken leaked to the Statesman. Despite Smith retracting part of the memo (and Moriarty subsequently receiving a letter from the city lauding him for his work, per the terms of settling his lawsuit against the city), the couple was persona non grata in Austin's professional community; Moriarty says he's unable to find work anywhere in the state. Aside from claims of defamation, the suit also alleges tortious interference with existing and prospective contracts and conspiracy; it also levels legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty charges against Armbrust and his firm. (A call to Scott Brutocao, counsel for PBS&J and Owen Consulting, was not returned at press time.)

Initial thoughts: If the case makes it to trial (and God, let's hope it does), it will be the most illustrative example of the city's hidden machinations perhaps ever.


Another noteworthy release last week was the posting for the vacant position of Convention Center director appearing on the city's employment website -- only, what, 31/2 months after former director Robert Hodge was fired? Word to the wise: If your former director left under a pitch-black cloud and the DA is insinuating that indictments are forthcoming, you might wanna have a little bit more transparency in the hiring process. Between lording over the troubled Convention Center and his less than flattering yes-man quotes in the Statesman story about hiring Futrell's brother-in-law ("The expectation is that it was something we do pretty quickly"), who else thinks Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza has a better chance of becoming the next American Idol than Austin's next city manager?


The scope of the city manager search should be defined today (Thursday, July 26) by City Council during its first meeting back from summer break. They'll discuss the matter privately in executive session and hopefully pass a resolution initiating the search at its next meeting. But the other big item is Futrell's presentation of the proposed fiscal year 2008 city budget, scheduled for a 1pm showing. Will the dreaded $27.5 million "forecast gap" be closed? What hoary metaphor will define the discussion this time ("meat and potatoes and vegetables," "cutting to the bone," et al.)? And most importantly, will council actually do their job and scrub the thing -- or be content with the shiny, compartmentalized initiatives staff pulls out for them to play with?

Full coverage next week. Stay tuned.

See below for a rundown of agenda highlights; contact BTP at wdunbar@austinchronicle.com.

@Chronic: City Council Notebook


Agenda highlights for Thursday, July 26, City Council meeting

Items 2-4: Austin Energy rebates to AMD, Samsung, and Applied Materials. Why not?

Item 16: Adopting the Austin Music Memorial Guidelines. About as rock & roll as it sounds.

Items 18, 21: Nearly $200,000 in legal fees for Lower Colorado River Authority/Texas Commission on Environmental Quality water negotiations (bringing the total to $1.7 million! Who the hell else are they gonna sell that water to?) and $100,000 more for Water Treatment Plant No. 4 legal fees.

Item 22: A grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve a 1936 Chamber of Commerce Film named -- honest to God -- "When Grandad Fought the Indians." All punch lines rendered obsolete.

Item 25: $248,000 to bring Zach Scott Theatre into Americans With Disabilities Act compliance.

Items 42-71: Mammoth Purchasing Office spend-a-thon.

Item 78: Renaming Town Lake for Lady Bird Johnson

Items 80, 81: Waiving the prohibition against lobbyists (cough -- Gus Garcia -- cough) sitting on the Charter Revision Committee, and extending its deadline to bring back recommendations.

Item 84: Appointing five council members (everyone except Sheryl Cole and Jennifer Kim) to a Local Fare Approval Committee to examine Capital Metro fees and fares. How about doing something on how the 1L smells?

Items 86-90: Setting public hearings on items ranging from water-utility fees to "a proposed Otis Spunkmeyer production expansion facility." Who wouldn't wanna live next to a cookie factory?

Noon Citizen Communications: All that bullshit we've been hearing about "endless democracy" is sure gonna be hard to fit into two minutes, thank you very much. -- Wells Dunbar

Read more agenda highlights at austinchronicle.com/chronic.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Bill Moriarty, Diane Hyatt, City Council, Convention Cneter, Toby Futrell, City Budget, Bruce Todd, David Armbrust

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