by Sarah J.F. Braley | June 01, 2007

Robert HodgeRobert 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 services.

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 yet.”

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.