Austin employee party spending needs stricter rules, viewer poll results suggest

Investigations
100 dollar Bills FF money

Money File Photo (KXAN Photo/Ben Friberg)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A large majority of viewers responding to a KXAN poll say the city of Austin should have a clear cap on spending for city employee parties.

It comes as we’ve been re-visiting one of last year’s most-talked-about investigations.

In 2018, Austin spent more than Houston and Dallas combined on holiday parties for city employees.

The money allocated for this purpose comes out of the city’s “Awards and Recognition” budget, but policies dictating this spending aren’t clear.

Some city departments have cited a $65/per full-time employee limit per year, but a city spokesperson also told KXAN he couldn’t reliably confirm such a policy exists.

More than 2,000 KXAN viewers responded to a poll posted on both Twitter and Facebook this week.

88.5% of respondents in both polls combined said the city should have a clear cap on spending for these types of events, with 11.5% of respondents saying no.

“It’s ridiculous,” said one commenter. “Let the employees fund their own parties if they really need to have one. That money can and should go to better use!!”

“No issues with this,” said another. “City employees should receive the same recognition and awards any employer offers. You want to retain top talent, then you have to do nice things for your employees.”

KXAN reported that in 2018 and 2019, some city departments spent more than $15,000 on holiday parties for their employees. Those department directors have defended the spending, saying this kind of recognition is a good investment in employees.

Yet some departments spent less money with more employees.

The city has formed a work group and is evaluating its Awards and Recognition spending policy for the first time in years to see what, if any, changes need to be made.

This comes after calls for a review by Council member Leslie Pool, who has called the spending “unacceptable.”

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