Robert Hodge, right, director of
the Austin (Texas) Convention Center, was fired by city manager
Toby Futrell on April 1 for allegedly violating an unspecified city
policy. Futrell didn’t elaborate further and did not respond to
inquiries from M&C, but a report in the Austin
American-Statesman said the action was taken because Hodge
allegedly tampered with customer service surveys.
In her statement about the firing,
Futrell did allow that the action was “separate from” an ongoing
investigation into financial improprieties at the center being
conducted by the Travis County district attorney.
At issue in the investigation, begun by
the Austin city auditor in February, is a convention center-run
account that was earmarked for buying and servicing catering
equipment for the facility as well as for promoting its catering
From 2004 through 2006, according to
the Austin American-Statesman, more than $600,000 of $1
million might have been improperly spent on items such as catered
food for attendees at the May 2006 World Congress on Information
Technology ($140,000), a retirement party for a deputy city manager
($11,000) and a reception for a city manager ($3,600).
Hodge has denied knowledge of any
wrongdoing in connection with the disputed account, and Futrell
herself has said that it wasn’t clear whether or not Hodge had the
authority to approve the contested expenditures.
When the investigation was launched,
several members of Local 1624 of the American Federation of State,
County and Municipal Employees requested that Hodge be placed on
administrative leave, said Jack Kirfman, political action director
for the union. Futrell “declined to do that,” Kirfman added, though
she did fire Hodge a few days later.
Some members alleged that Hodge had
“made some intimidating comments,” said Kirfman, “like if he went
down he wouldn’t be the only one. The whole story is not out there
Assistant director Hymie Gonzales has
been named acting director, and a national search for a permanent
replacement is under way. Kirfman said Gonzales is “a good man who
appreciates those who work for him.”
A spokesperson at the Austin Convention
and Visitors Bureau said the investigation has had no effect on
meetings coming into town or sales for future events.