An Austin City Council member is questioning the validity of one of the members of Austin’s embattled Planning Commission after learning that his candidacy for a seat in the Texas House of Representatives might force him off the land use board.
Council Member Leslie Pool said she was alerted on Monday that Planning Commission board member Jose “Chito” Vela III’s announced candidacy for the Texas House might violate a city charter provision that states no one appointed by a council member can continue in that post while running for public office.
Vela has announced that he is running against Rep. Dawnna Dukes, D-Austin. He has created a campaign website and has filed paperwork indicating the appointment of a campaign treasurer, a clear indication that he is a candidate in the race, according to the Texas Ethics Commission.
Vela’s campaign spokesman Chuck McDonald said that they only learned of the rule in Austin’s city charter after being contacted by a Statesman reporter. If they determine the rules applies to Vela, he would resign from the commission, McDonald said.
That rule also could have been relevant — though it was not cited — when the City Council last year removed Alison Alter from the Parks and Recreation Board because Alter was running for a council seat. Then-Council Member Sheri Gallo, who had nominated Alter to the board a year earlier, instead cited Alter’s “inherent conflict of interest due to her intention to run against me for City Council.”
After learning this week about Vela’s possible conflict, Pool contacted the Austin city clerk’s office, which in turn notified the city’s legal department. Legal staff are reviewing the situation, according to a city spokesman.
The composition of the Planning Commission has faced growing scrutiny in recent weeks as the 13-member board’s review of CodeNext has accelerated. The all-volunteer panel makes recommendations to the City Council.
This week, a group including local NAACP president Nelson Linder called on the Travis County district attorney’s office to investigate the makeup of the land use commission because of another possible violation of the Austin City Charter.
In that complaint, the group alleged that too many of the board members have professional connections to real estate and development. The charter states that up to one-third of the board can consist of people with connections to those businesses.
Pool said in light of what she learned Monday about Vela and the total makeup of the board, an issue many council members have known of since 2015, she hoped they could find a way to have better oversight on the membership of city commissions.
“We have to be better,” Pool said. “In the end, we have to follow the rules.”