City of Austin Governed from France and Beyond: The City’s Office of Innovation Globetrotters.

"Imagine an assortment of fine cheeses and a fresh warm baguette set out on a table in front of you. You’re in Paris, France, but you’re not on vacation – well sort of, but not really – it’s complicated. You’re actually a full-time City of Austin employee working remotely, 5,100 miles away from Austin. When you’re done with your shift, you can be on a European vacation and still conserve some of the generous leave time benefits offered by the City of Austin.
This perk isn’t available to all City employees. That’s because the majority of local government staff must be physically present in the city they help manage to fulfill their duties and responsibilities to the tax-payer. The realities are a little different for the City’s first Chief Innovation Officer, Kerry O’Connor, and her staff. On multiple occasions, O’Connor gave approval for her staff to work remotely from France - in November and December of 2015 and then twice more in June and December of 2016.

O’Connor leaves by example. Since joining the City in 2014, O’Connor has travelled to Florida, California, Washington D.C, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Canada and most recently, France. These trips total in the tens of thousands of dollars. Her December, 2016 visit to France with two of her staff is, ironically, for a summit on government transparency and accountability, as part of Austin’s involvement in the International Open Government Partnership.

The partnership was announced in April of 2016, but to date, no announcements have been made by the Innovation Office for any local events or summits on transparency or accountability. There also isn’t any information on the Office of Innovation’s website about their involvement in the Partnership. O’Connor did travel to Washington D.C in October of 2016 to attend the Feedback Labs Summit where spoke as a panelist about open government and how to be a “feedback ninja”. The panel focused on “commitments to being open, participatory and transparent...” and answered questions like “What is Participatory enough? What does the public know and need to understand? How do you make openness cross-cutting across government departments?” These are interesting questions and ironically the tax-payers that paid for these trips didn’t have an opportunity to join and learn the answers, but I believe they deserve some answers.

Interim City Manager, Elaine Hart, should take immediate action and look into O’Connor’s excessive travel and wasteful spending. Hopefully we will not have to wait until a new City Manager is chosen to remind O’Connor that she is no longer in the State Department’s Foreign Service, where she worked before coming to Austin. O’Connor’s career at the State Department gave her the opportunity to travel overseas. With 4 international trips in less than three years with the City, it’s questionable whether or not she ever truly left the Foreign Service.
The important questions concern the City’s return on investment for so much travel. What does O’Connor and her staff bring back from all these trips? Is there a direct correlation between the trips and outcomes of work done back in Austin? These are the questions that should be asked, but no one is asking. I urge the tax-payers of Austin to reach out to the Innovation Office This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and their counci lmembers and demand answers!

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