Austin health inspectors caught shopping and excercising on the job

- There’s a 17-page report from Austin's Office of the City Auditor: "Austin Public Health Waste and Misuse of City Resources."

Stephanie Hayden, Interim Director of Austin Public Health said when the issue came to the attention of the department, they self-reported it.

"If we feel like it is something that requires the attention of the City Auditor then we will reach out to the City Auditor's office and ask them to basically assist us and then we just turn it over to them," Hayden said.

According to the report, seven environmental health officers were accused of mis-using city time.  Four of them had assigned vehicles with GPS and three of those officers had to use their personal vehicles.  When auditors observed the personal vehicle drivers in the field the report said they quote "misused city resources in a grossly uneconomical manner."

The report said one officer was seen working out at a local gym on at least 2 occasions, and the time-in and time-out for a restaurant inspection on one of those days didn't match up with that workout. 

Another officer was seen "reclined in her car and on her phone" and at her house for over an hour and a half. 

A third employee was seen shopping for clothing during work hours and took frequent breaks.  During one break she changed into workout gear and exercised in the parking lot of a movie theater. 

When interviewed by the auditor's office one inspector said "If you only have to do 2-3 inspections in an 8 hour day [in order to hit your 10-12 weekly inspection number], what the hell are you doing all day?  I have been asking that since I started, only to hear 'just work your 8 hour day,” the inspector said.

"We did have some inspectors that were out that were not doing what they have been charged to do.  We're public servants so it is key that we have the trust of the public," Hayden told FOX 7. 

Hayden said Public Health has made some immediate changes; inspectors now have to complete a log detailing their whereabouts throughout the day.  And the department is taking steps to move away from paper.

"Right now they go to a restaurant and everything they do is on paper and so we would move to more of a tablet system where it's on time, real-time, which would have an actual internal process where we could kind of ping where they are, at what time they're there," Hayden said.

The City Auditor's office said during their investigation they had a registered sanitarian re-inspect 13 food establishments and concluded the inspectors they had observed hadn't put the public in any danger.

"Bottom line for us is that we want to make sure that the public has our trust and we are doing everything that we can do to uphold that trust and be good stewards of city resources," Hayden said.

The auditor's office gave inspectors an opportunity to respond to the investigation.  One officer who was seen at home said "I take full responsibility for the fact that I should have asked permission to work on my special projects at home.  Otherwise, I am a field employee and my car is my office.  I will often be seen in my mobile office, on my phone which doubles as my computer, Monday through Friday."
               
Director Hayden couldn't go into detail about any disciplinary actions for the employees in question but she says one inspector has since resigned.
               
If you'd like to see the full report, click here: austintexas.gov

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