AUSTIN (KXAN) — The former Austin-Bergstrom International Airport executive director acted on a conflict of interest when she approved invoices worth $550,000 from her previous employer while working with the City, an investigative report from the Austin Office of the City Auditor states.
Jacqueline Yaft resigned from her role with the airport at the beginning of March 2023.
The report states Yaft didn’t tell her supervisor about the conflict, violating city code. The report also states she met alone with her former employer at least seven times and sent 13 emails when she was the only airport employee in the original exchange.
AUS told KXAN “The Department of Aviation is aware of the audit investigation report.”
Yaft worked for a consulting firm that had a contract with the City prior to her employment with the airport, according to the report.
“As a result, a conflict of interest existed between Yaft and this contractor when she started working for the City,” the report states.
The consulting firm provides guidance to AUS “executive management on airport development, planning, and project management,” a city spokesperson told KXAN Thursday.
Yaft was advised to fill out a conflict of interest disclosure form one month after her hiring in June 2019, the report states. She did not file the form until September 2022 — over three years after she was required, the report states.
Additionally, the City’s law department told Yaft she “must recuse herself from any decision-making related to her former employer. The guidance specifically included examples such as ‘oversight of payments’ and ‘contract terms,'” the report states.
Former AUS executive director response
In a letter, an attorney on Yaft’s behalf responded to the report, calling the conflict of interest “erroneous” and “embodies a conclusion in search of a justification that is replete with inaccuracies and selective reporting.”
The letter states Yaft had “zero power to award or change” the contract with her previous employer while she was in her role with the City. She was “unavoidably required” to interact with the contractor based off her role, the letter states. Additionally, the attorney wrote Yaft was directed by a city executive (whose name was redacted) to work with the contractor “at a confidential level.”
The Office of the City Auditor said it reviewed those responses from the attorney and believes the findings stand, the report states.
The report states Assistant City Manager Robert Goode responded to the findings in a statement April 3.
“The City has established standards of conduct for all our employees. Ethics and Integrity are fundamental within those standards with the goal that our actions maintain the trust and confidence of the public and the organization. Therefore, we require strict adherence to federal, state and local laws, regulations, ordinances and code for all city employees. It is imperative that conflicts of interest be reported, and guidance be followed when conflicts of interest occur, to avoid even the suspicion of impropriety. We appreciate the diligence of the Office of the City Auditor in this investigative report. Ms. Yaft submitted her resignation effective March 2, 2023, and therefore is no longer in the role of Chief Executive Officer of the Aviation Department.”
A city spokesperson told KXAN Thursday it “currently provides ethics training at several phases of an employee’s career. The training addresses conflict of interest.”
When asked about a replacement for Yaft, the spokesperson said “the City Manager’s Office is giving the Interim Airport Executive Director Jim Smith time to assess AUS. To allow time for that assessment, the City has not yet established a process or timing to replace Ms. Yaft.”