The Bulldog reported March 28th that the chief executive of the city-owned Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (aka AUS) had resigned, possibly over an unreported conflict of interest.
Jacqueline Yaft started her job as airport boss June 10, 2019, and 10 days later her former employer, Paslay Management Group (PMG) was hired under a $10 million contract to provide executive program manager services for the airport.
Yaft worked for PMG immediately before she was hired to oversee the airport, a fact disclosed in both her application for employment and in PMG’s submission that won the contract.
A 15-page investigative report published today by the Austin City Auditor confirmed the Bulldog report’s finding and provided significant additional information based on interviews with Yaft and city officials, correspondence involving the City’s Law Department, and invoices she approved for payments to Paslay.
The auditor’s investigation contains two findings: One that she acted on a conflict of interest. The report states that the Law Department advised Yaft in June 2019 that she must excuse herself from oversight of PMG payments and contract terms and should take no actions that could create the perception of impropriety.
The report states that Yaft nevertheless signed and approved payment of three invoices from her former employer totaling about $380,000, and she had requested the firm be paid about $170,000 for another invoice. In addition Yaft, with no other Aviation Department staff present, had personally met with PMG on numerous occasions and had spoken with the firm and reduced its hours during the Covid pandemic.
These actions violated City Code Section 2-7-63(A) on prohibition of conflict of interest, the report states.
Secondly, Yaft violated City Code Section 2-7-64(A) and (C) by not timely disclosing her conflict to her supervisor, as the Law Department had advised. She didn’t file that disclosure until September 2022 after meeting with the auditor’s staff, the report states.
Attorney defended Yaft’s actions
Attorney Andrew Cates, representing Yaft, filed a four-page letter that is included in the auditor’s report.
With respect to the conflict of interest finding, the Cates letter states, “The actions described by the City Auditor in the report amount to nothing more than standard duties of an executive employee, and any reasonable person would see that Ms. Yaft had no personal interest in any meetings with the Contractor or in any executive decision-making required by her position. As such, Ms. Yaft should not have been required to disclose anything according to City Code.”
The letter states that the “advice” provided to Yaft by the Law Department was “consistently at odds with and contradictory to the communications and actions of Ms. Yaft’s supervisor,” whose name was redacted in the report.
As to the finding Yaft failed to disclose her conflict of interest, Cates’ letter states that she was “was universally transparent about her former employment which was well known throughout the Airport, the shortfall in disclosure form filing deprived no one in the City’s chain of command, either up or down from Ms. Yaft’s Department CEO position, of full knowledge on the circumstances of her employment.”
The Cates letter closes by stating, “the City should be thanking Ms. Yaft who served the City extraordinarily well in launching the modernization of the airport, in operating AUS throughout the Covid-19 pandemic with a 30 percent vacancy rate, and in increasing the Airport’s air service advancing the airport to a large hub serving close to 22 million passengers.”
Auditor’s response to attorney
The auditor’s response to the Cates’ letter states that Yaft had a “substantial interest” in PMG by virtue of the $200,000 annual salary she received from the firm.
The report states that auditor interviews with the city executives who oversaw Yaft indicated they had never discussed Yaft’s conflict or interest and had not received a written disclosure about it.
Auditor’s investigation did not include PMG
City Auditor Corrie Stokes, in a telephone interview, said that her office did not look into what the Bulldog’s report found to be a violation by airport contractor PMG.
“From our respective, we investigate the person the allegation is against…Our allegation came in about Yaft’s conflict of interest. When doing an investigation, we stick to what was alleged.”
PMG did not file a Conflict of Interest Questionnaire, Form CIQ, until five days after Yaft resigned. A knowing failure to file the form in a contract of at least $5 million is a Class A misdemeanor.
In which case, per Local Government Code Section 176.013(d), the city council “may, at its discretion, declare a contract void.” Exceptions apply if the government officer or vendor filed the required conflicts disclosure not later than the seventh business day after the date they were notified of the alleged violation.”
Stokes said she is not aware of any action being taken concerning PMG. “I’ve not talked to anyone about that,” she said.
Trust indicators: Ken Martin has been doing investigative reporting in the three-county Austin metro area since 1981. His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place national awards for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful criminal prosecutions. His 2011 investigation of the Austin City Council’s open meetings violations triggered a 20-month investigation by the Travis County attorney that resulted in the mayor and council members signing deferred prosecution agreements to avoid being charged, tried, and if convicted serving one to six months in jail and forfeiting their elective offices. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].
Investigative Report, Conflict of Interest by Aviation Department Director, April 2023 (15 pages)
Related Bulldog coverage:
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport sets records but CEO is out, March 28, 2023
Good reporting, the Austin Bulldog does awesome seeinvestigative reporting and keeps area politicians and other citizens in the limelight honest and responsible for their actions.