Hodge Indicted for Altering Convention Center Surveys

Travis Co. grand jury indicts former Austin Convention Center director on 16 counts of tampering with a government record

On Friday, Dec. 21, following months of speculation, a Travis Co. grand jury indicted former Austin Convention Center Director Robert Hodge on 16 counts of tampering with a government record. Hodge was dismissed by City Manager Toby Futrell in April after he acknowledged to her that he had changed the results on an unspecified number of Convention Center "customer surveys" and amid allegations of financial improprieties in spending from Convention Center funds. In the end, prosecutors brought an indictment only on the document tampering allegation, under which Hodge is accused of altering the results on 16 customer-service surveys (out of about 150) during a 10-month period between 2005 and 2007. If convicted, Hodge could be sentenced to as long as two years' imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

The survey scores were used in part to determine department employee bonuses ("pay for performance"), including Hodge's own, but at a press conference Friday afternoon, Futrell said that a city review had concluded the changes Hodge had made would not have affected the bonus outcomes. "We couldn't find an occasion where changing those [surveys] would have changed the pay for performance," Futrell said. She was reluctant to speculate why Hodge might have altered the surveys. "I think you're going to have to ask him those questions," she told reporters. After repeated questions, Futrell emphasized that Hodge himself had been the one to tell her that he had altered the surveys, and she said, "I think he did it out of pride – in his department and his employees, and he just believed that some of the surveys were unfair." But, she said, it was not for Hodge to decide which convention visitors' answers were fair or unfair, concluding, "Fair is where you go to buy cotton candy."

Futrell fired Hodge and cooperated with the district attorney's investigation, pursuing allegations that Hodge had misappropriated funds for various Convention Center functions. In its own review, the city had concluded that all of the expenses approved by Hodge had indeed been legitimate, although "sometimes those expenses were funded from the wrong accounts," Futrell said. She said the lack of indictments on any other charges appeared to confirm the city's judgment that no financial criminal wrongdoing had occurred. She added that one result of Hodge's downfall is that the city has reviewed all aspects of the Convention Center's operations and financial procedures and has instituted new internal controls to prevent additional problems.

A new Convention Center director, Mark Tester, formerly of Chicago's McCormick Place, has been hired to take the director's position in January.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Robert Hodge, Austin Convention Center, Toby Futrell

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