Agency has no com­ment on law­suit


Austin American-Statesman - - COMMUNITY NEWS - Con­tin­ued from B Derek Howard, Con­tact Marty Toohey at 445-3673.

had no com­ment on any por­tion of the law­suit, in­clud­ing emails to and from em­ploy­ees, per the board’s stan­dard pol­icy dur­ing lit­i­ga­tion.

“We haven’t even seen the suit, and it will go straight to our le­gal de­part­ment” and the state at­tor­ney gen­eral’s of­fice, Klonower said.

Calls this week to Mi­chon and Kalaswad were not re­turned.

The law­suit claims that Diane Hy­att, the fired man­ager, was dis­missed on po­lit­i­cal grounds. In May, just be­fore her fir­ing, she was quoted in an Amer­i­can-States­man ar­ti­cle as sup­port­ing then­may­oral can­di­date Brigid Shea, whose cam­paign listed Hy­att as a bundler of about $7,000 in cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions. (Shea lost to Mayor Lee Leff­in­g­well.)

Hy­att had hosted a fundrais­ing party for Shea, and her work email was used in the plan­ning of that event, Hy­att and Shea said. Hy­att told the States­man the cam­paign mis­tak­enly sent emails to her work ac­count; she said she im­me­di­ately for­warded those mes­sages to her per­sonal ac­count to read at home and asked the Shea cam­paign to in­stead use the per­sonal ad­dress. Shea said that rec­ol­lec­tion is cor­rect.

Hy­att’s lawyer, Derek Howard, claims the for­warded emails and agency pol­icy were used as cover when Water Devel­op­ment Board man­agers wanted to fire Hy­att for ex­press­ing po­lit­i­cal views that could be con­strued as dif­fer­ent from those of the agency’s board of direc­tors, who were ap­pointed by Gov. Rick Perry, a Repub­li­can. Howard points to the emails of other em­ploy­ees as ev­i­dence of se­lec­tive en­force­ment of the po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity pro­hi­bi­tion.

City Coun­cil elec­tions are non­par­ti­san, but both Shea and Leff­in­g­well con­sider them­selves lib­er­als.

“It’s our con­tention that a rule that isn’t en­forced isn’t a rule at all,” Howard said. “It should not be used as a sil­ver bul­let to fire em­ploy­ees who hold po­lit­i­cal views you dis­agree with. The only con­clu­sion is that the email was a pre­tex­tual ex­cuse for fir­ing her.”

Cit­ing an open-records re­quest, Howard said it has been 16 years since the Water Devel­op­ment Board has dis­ci­plined an em­ployee for po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity us­ing state re­sources.

“I don’t think this is a Demo­crat-Repub­li­can thing. I know plenty of folks who vote Repub­li­can who would be ap­palled by what’s hap­pened here,” Howard said. “We know th­ese emails we’ve un­cov­ered are now known to the Water Devel­op­ment Board, and it’s our un­der­stand­ing they haven’t done any­thing about them.”

The ar­ti­cle that Hy­att said sparked her fir­ing ap­peared on States­man dig­i­tal plat­forms on May 9 and ran in the May 10 print edi­tion. That morn­ing, Water Devel­op­ment Board man­agers emailed one an­other not­ing that Hy­att was men­tioned in a States­man ar­ti­cle, which also iden­ti­fied Hy­att’s role with the Water Devel­op­ment Board.

Hy­att was fired May 11. The law­suit states that when Hy­att was called into the of­fice of her su­pe­rior she asked if the meet­ing was about the ar­ti­cle, and that Lisa Glenn, the Water Devel­op­ment Board’s deputy ex­ec­u­tive ad­min­is­tra­tor, replied yes.

This isn’t the first time Hy­att has been in the news. In 2005, as the city was car­ry­ing out a $400 mil­lion sewer-re­place­ment project, sev­eral large en­gi­neer­ing firms were lodg­ing numer­ous al­le­ga­tions against the pro­gram’s di­rec­tor, Bill Mo­ri­arty — in­clud­ing that he was im­prop­erly di­rect­ing con­sult­ing work to Hy­att, with whom he had be­come ro­man­ti­cally in­volved.

Mo­ri­arty and Hy­att dis­puted the claim. City man­age­ment ul­ti­mately fired Mo­ri­arty on the grounds that Hy­att’s work con­sti­tuted a con­flict of in­ter­est. Hy­att said none of the work she re­ceived had been awarded by Mo­ri­arty. The city au­di­tor’s of­fice later con­cluded that the al­le­ga­tions against Mo­ri­arty were un­sub­stan­ti­ated, and the city and en­gi­neer­ing firms set­tled law­suits that Mo­ri­arty filed over the mat­ter.

Ac­cord­ing to the law­suit filed this week, Hy­att went to work for the Water Devel­op­ment Board in Novem­ber 2006 as an en­vi­ron­men­tal re­viewer and was pro­moted in 2008 to co­or­di­na­tor of the State Re­volv­ing Fund. The law­suit states she hadn’t been dis­ci­plined prior to her fir­ing.

“I wasn’t try­ing to find any­one do­ing any­thing wrong,” Hy­att said. “I just wanted to find out if any­one else was do­ing the things I was fired for.”

Diane Hy­att

One mes­sage she un­cov­ered, from Mi­chon, takes note of re­ports that Gen­eral Elec­tric plans to move the head­quar­ters of its X-ray busi­ness from Wauke­sha, Wis., to Bei­jing, a move the com­pany said in­volved a few top man­agers. The email notes that the com­pany’s CEO and board chair­man, Jef­frey Im­melt, was also picked to lead Obama’s job-cre­ation com­mis­sion.

The email con­cludes: “If this doesn’t show you the to­tal lack of lead­er­ship of this pres­i­dent, I don’t know what does. Please pass this in­for­ma­tion to oth­ers and think about it be­fore you buy a GE prod­uct.”

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