The Austin City Council approved Council Member Sheri Gallo’s wish to yank her main political challenger — and own appointee — from the Parks and Recreation Board, in a move described by one parks board member as “ward politics.”
The council acted Thursday on Gallo’s request to unseat Alison Alter, who had recently declared her intention to challenge Gallo for the District 10 seat in West Austin. The unanimous vote came with no discussion, as part of the council’s bulk approval of more than two dozen usually uncontroversial items.
“I asked Ms. Alter to resign from the Parks and Recreation Board because of her inherent conflict of interest due to her intention to run against me for City Council,” Gallo said in a statement. “It would be difficult for her to represent both me and the District 10 Office in good faith while actively campaigning against me.”
In the statement, Gallo said she pushed ahead with the change after Alter refused to step down. Alter was replaced by Susan Roth.
“Neither my commitment nor my ability to fulfill my responsibilities on the Parks and Recreation Board changed when I declared my candidacy for the District 10 Council seat,” Alter responded in a statement. “I reviewed the code and there was nothing that required me to step down.”
Board members serve terms that run concurrently with the City Council member who appointed them and serve at the pleasure of the entire council.
The move was assailed as political retaliation by another member of the parks board.
“No board member should be removed from their position purely as political retaliation,” Rick Cofer, a parks board member who represents District 9, told the American-Statesman. “Doing so sets the wrong precedent and betrays the promise of the new 10-1 City Council. We don’t need ward politics in Austin.”
In an email to council members, Cofer said there was no nonpolitical cause for her removal.
“This board member has not been accused of any wrongdoing, incompetence or corruption,” he wrote, urging the council to at least discuss the matter.
Gallo is one of five council members up for re-election Nov. 8. Another challenger, recent University of Texas graduate Nicholas Virden, has also joined the District 10 race.
In other news, the City Council on Thursday:
• Voted 9-2 to approve a contract to purchase license plate readers for the Austin Police Department, which the department has long sought. District 1 Council Member Ora Houston and District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman voted against the measure. Supporters of the license plate readers say they will help police hunt for criminals and stolen cars. Opponents have expressed concerns about potential invasion of privacy and about the technology potentially being used for warrant roundups, a purpose Austin police say they have no intention of using the devices for.
• Created a three-month pilot program allowing people to use video conferencing from a council member’s district office to provide public comment at council meetings without coming to City Hall. Zimmerman, who sponsored the resolution, is the only council member with a district office, as his District 6 is in far Northwest Austin.