Council moves on child care

The other day I mentioned that City Council might not respond as expected to the city auditor’s investigation alleging “abuse of city resources” by Joya Hayes, the city’s HR director.

The Statesman and the Monitor have both reported on an investigation of Joya Hayes, the city of Austin HR director, for “abuse of city resources” by asking subordinates to transport her kids to daycare or to look after them during Council meetings.

Hayes is not denying all of the allegations. Instead, in a comment that is likely to resonate with many members of Austin’s majority-female Council, she said, “the findings of this report establish an unrealistic expectation that prevents any reasonable parent from serving in executive level positions that require work before and after normal business hours, 7 days a week, year-round.”

As soon as I saw this story I figured there would at least be a few Council members who would be sympathetic to Hayes. Meanwhile, a source suggests there are some on Council who are furious about the report and that the auditor’s office should brace for a major backlash.

Well now we have a message from the mayor on the Council message board announcing three different items for Council discussion that were ostensibly prompted by the Hayes investigation.

Here’s the first thing: “We’re working on a draft item from council that would point to providing greater discretion in determining under what circumstances it would be appropriate for one city employee to assist another in ways that might not be appropriate in all circumstances.”

And the second thing: “…we’re also looking to propose an ordinance that would give the City Manager, rather than the Ethics Commission as currently provided, the responsibility for determining whether action should be taken against certain non-civil service employees for whom the Auditor has issued an investigation report alleging a breach of ethics…”

And the third thing: “Finally, there could be more that we can and should do as a City to support an even more collaborative and supportive culture, including helping to provide a family-friendly work environment.” He goes on to highlight the budget amendment that would have funded a pilot program to provide child supervision during certain city meetings.

Funny how some obscure budget amendment that slipped through the cracks last year is now on the front-burner. It just goes to show how quickly a sequence of events can shift priorities.

Couple other things to consider:

There’s a big difference between one city employee looking after a colleague’s kids in an emergency and an employee feeling pressured to do so by their boss. The auditor’s report alleges that employees

There’s also a crucial distinction between the child care challenges faced by your average city staffer and those faced by a department head. Joya Hayes, for instance, has a salary of $169,000 a year. She can probably afford to pay a baby-sitter if she needs to be at Council late at night.

Finally, the mayor may be inclined to go after the auditor’s office because of how it went after Frank Rodriguez, one of his top aides. Just something to consider…

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