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Ethics complaint filed against wrong person

Tuesday, December 6, 2016 by Jo Clifton

Northwest Austin neighborhood leader Linda Bailey thought she had discovered a major ethics violation by City Council Member Sheri Gallo’s appointee to the Zoning and Platting Commission and filed a complaint against Susan Chiles Harris on Monday morning.

By the end of the day, Bailey discovered that she had made a mistake and was apologizing.

Susan Chiles Harris is a client of Gallo’s husband’s company, Austin Trust Company. Her trust apparently owns millions of dollars of real estate in downtown Austin. But Susan Chiles Harris does not serve on a city commission.

Susan Hickox Harris serves on the Zoning and Platting Commission and is very angry about what she perceives as her name being used for political gain.

Susan H. Harris told the Austin Monitor, “I do not have, nor have I ever had, any accounts at Austin Trust Company. The complaint is reckless, egregious and filed solely for political purposes.” She said she believed that Bailey knew that she had the wrong person and filed the complaint in an attempt to discredit Gallo, who is currently running for re-election against Alison Alter.

As a member of the commission, Harris filed a detailed statement of financial information describing her interest in various investments and properties on May 3, 2016. Her financial statement clearly lists her name as Susan H. Harris.

Harris said, “I believe the least amount of due diligence” would have shown Bailey that she had the wrong person. Harris indicated that she might consider a lawsuit against Bailey.

After learning of her error, Bailey told the Monitor, “I have to withdraw the complaint. It was entirely my error and I’m sorry.”

Earlier in the day, before the mistaken identity was discovered, Bailey described what may have been her motivation to research Harris. Bailey and her neighbors were opposed to a recent zoning change for the Champions tract at the corner of RM 2222 and City Park Road.

Bailey told the Monitor, “When we went to the Zoning and Platting Commission, Susan Harris was very mean to one of the neighborhood leaders. … When we were talking about the traffic and safety, she pretty much gave (the neighborhood leader) a tongue lashing, saying that she was part of the problem and to get out of our cars.”

That would be hard to do, Bailey said, because the neighborhood is surrounded by Balcones Canyonlands Preserve land and there is no mass transit in the area.

Bailey said she was so offended by Harris’ comments that “I actually called Sheri Gallo and complained about her criticizing one of my neighbors.”

Bailey was also upset about the outcome of the Council vote, which the neighborhood perceived as being unfair because the developer changed the configuration of the property to be zoned in order to eliminate the valid petition the neighborhood had put together.

The rezoning had been approved in a vote of 7-4, with Council members Gallo, Leslie Pool, Ann Kitchen and Ora Houston voting in opposition. If the petition had remained valid, four negative votes would have been enough to kill the zoning change.

Photo by Larry Miller made available through a Creative Commons license.

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