Why I requested Leslie Pool recuse herself on deciding the Grove

I was one of twelve community members to write a letter to District 7 Council Member Leslie Pool requesting that she recuse herself from deciding the future of the Grove, a mixed-use neighborhood planned in District 10, extremely close to CM Pool’s residence.

CM Pool has made the case that this decision for her is much more than a disinterested balancing of the interests of the entire city; it has personal implications which weigh heavily on her mind:

“I have a lot invested in this effort and its outcomes … I also happen to live within a 1⁄4 mile of the land. I also played a key role in assembling the neighborhood consensus…”

–email from CM Pool to Mayor Adler

Recusals were invented precisely for cases when a Council Member has “a lot invested.” If CMs do not recuse themselves, we may never know whether she is acting in the best interests of the city or her own best interests. CM Pool has already unsubtly reminded her colleagues exactly how much she has riding on this decision. Her continued presence in the Council debate puts her colleagues in the awkward place of balancing the best interests of the city against the best interests of their colleague. Elected officials should be strong enough to manage this awkwardness, but rules should be strong enough to prevent it.

CM Pool has made ethics a centerpiece of her campaign. But ethics, if the word has any meaning, cannot merely be a weapon you use to attack; it must be a mirror you use to examine yourself. CM Pool, from her own words, should have recused herself from this case long ago.

Councilmember Pool:

We the undersigned ask that you recuse yourself from voting on the Grove due to your clearly expressed personal interest in and opposition to the project. The citizens of Austin expect that the Council will fairly and objectively consider each matter before it, without any conflicts of interest.

It is a common practice for Council members to recuse themselves for items near where they own property, that could affect the value of that property. For example, Mayor Will Wynn, on the advice of the City Law Department, recused himself in 2007 from a vote on a downtown condo project because “because he owns a Downtown condo.1” Your colleague, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo, who owns several rental properties throughout the central city, has recused herself at least nine times over the last five years for land use and zoning cases near her properties, in addition to numerous cases related to contracts with a well-regarded civic organization whose board she has served on. Details of the land use or zoning cases near her properties are in the table below:

Table of 9 land use decisions.

Some of these cases were for rezonings, one was for a historic designation, and others involved replatting or plan amendments. Most or all of these cases probably didn’t affect her property values in any meaningful way. However, she followed the same general principle as other Council Members have throughout the years – recusals for cases near their property.

However, an amicus filed by residents of Austin not near the Grove but supporting the Bull Creek Road Coalition acknowledged that the development of the Grove will have an impact on property values. “Thus, this is an issue of importance not only to the neighbors of the Grove PUD, but to all Austin citizens whose property values and standards of living will be affected by the development of these tracts of land.

City officials should recuse themselves from an item if their personal interests would reasonably be expected to affect their performance of an official duty. It’s important to note that a conflict of interest isn’t relevant to a person’s honesty or integrity. No matter how honestly a person is able to set aside their personal agenda, a conflict exists if it undermines the appearance of fairness and impartiality. Failure to disclose a conflict is punishable by law. A person with a substantial conflict must have filed a signed and notarized affidavit regarding the conflict with the City Clerk prior to the vote.

You live and own property at 4503 Shoal Creek Blvd, which is just two houses north of the intersection of 45th St and Shoal Creek Blvd. It is about 1,150 feet away from the property to be developed. It is reasonable (as stated in the amicus cited above) that a large development might have an impact on this property that you own, including on its value.

You are also a co-founder of the Bull Creek Road Coalition, the primary opponent to the Grove project. The Bull Creek Road Coalition is actively engaged on the project in opposition to many aspects of the development, most of which are focused on traffic, and the TIA scope included the intersection of 45th and Shoal Creek, that could have included improvements to that intersection, which is just two doors down from your house. You stated in an email to Rob Spillar, the transportation department head that “I adamantly oppose a traffic signal at 45th and Shoal Creek Boulevard.” Changing traffic patterns at that intersection is certainly a reasonable concern, but it is also certainly a personal concern for someone who lives at the affected intersection.

In an email to Mayor Adler on August 14th, 2015, you stated that “I have a lot invested in this effort and its outcomes … I also happen to live within a 1⁄4 mile of the land. I also played a key role in assembling the neighborhood consensus…”

Owning property so near the Grove at Shoal Creek, being a co-founder of one of the organizations negotiating with city officials on the matter, and deep involvement with that organization’s efforts clearly has the appearance of a conflict of interest, and we request that you follow the best ethical practices and file an affidavit announcing your recusal prior to the vote on this matter.

Jeb Boyt
Roger Cauvin
Eric Goff
Roger Borgelt
Scott Gross
Nada Lulic
Hope Doty
Tom Myer
Dan Keshet
Susan Kittleson
Evan Gill

CC: Mayor Steve Adler
CC: Sue Edwards
CC: Cynthia Tom