Austin Water division manager suspended without pay

Kevin Buchman (KXAN File Photo)
Kevin Buchman (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin Water Utility suspended a division manager Monday and placed him on disciplinary probation, following a series of critical audits that exposed “unacceptable job performance,” policy violations and a lack of oversight of questionable spending.

Kevin Buchman, a manager of utility marketing services, is being suspended for a week and placed on disciplinary probation for a year, according to a disciplinary action report obtained by KXAN through the Texas Public Information Act.

“Your actions have both compromised your ability to serve as a spokesperson and damaged the reputation of Austin Water,” the disciplinary paperwork states. “Your conduct as a division manager at Austin Water is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”

Buchman is suspended without pay from Jan. 31 through Feb. 6. The city auditor’s office released three separate investigation reports in November and January detailing numerous allegations against Buchman and one of his employees, Jason Hill, who was employed as a spokesperson for Austin Water.

Jason Hill, former Austin Water spokesperson. (KXAN File Photo)
Jason Hill, former Austin Water spokesperson. (KXAN File Photo)

Auditors said Buchman admitted he spent city time working on a ranch lease for his secondary job as a ranch foreman. On Buchman’s work computer, auditors found numerous versions of a ranch lease and search history related to deer lease agreements, among other things, the audit states.

Buchman told auditors he asked Hill, who is a licensed real estate agent, to conduct a market analysis on his personal property. That “solicitation and acceptance of a favor” from Hill could impair his independent judgment or performance, according to the audit.

Hill resigned from the city Jan. 6, according to an audit. Hill did not respond to requests for comment.

Daryl Slusher, assistant director for environmental affairs and conservation at the utility, said Austin Water would be vigilant about protecting ratepayers’ money and about spending money wisely. The utility will analyze every piece of advertising to ensure there is not waste, he said.

“Folks know you’re not supposed to do these kinds of things, so I was disappointed and not happy and going to do everything I can to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Slusher said. “I think folks got a little too comfortable and evidently didn’t have strict enough oversight on them.”

Auditors said they found evidence Hill approved a $67,000 contract with an advertising firm, and Hill also accepted free website building assistance for his second job from that same advertising firm. Hill said he paid the registration fees for the website himself, but he did not provide evidence of the payment to auditors, the investigation report states.

The three-year $67,000 advertising contract resulted in 55 ad clicks. auditors called the advertising contract “grossly uneconomical” and said Buchman lacked adequate oversight of the deal.

“Evidence was found by the CAIU that wasteful spending occurred in the Public Information Office. [Buchman] failed to maintain adequate oversight over the advertising and to determine how long the specific spending should occur,” the disciplinary report states.

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