Sheri Gallo Faces Scrutiny for City Email Use
District 10 council member and her darned emails
District 10 City Council Member Sheri Gallo is facing flak for the use of her city email address to contact district residents who live near the proposed location of the Grove at Shoal Creek PUD about the idea of selling their home. Critics say that in doing so, the CM, who faces challenger Alison Alter in a D10 run-off set for Dec. 13, has blurred the lines between her role as council member and her profession as a residential Realtor.
The accusation is based on a May 4 email sent by Gallo to a Rosedale couple (who asked the Chronicle they not be named) that was posted recently to the oppositional website GalloforSale.com, run by the Crestview-affiliated Arbor PAC (see "Election Notes: Notes at the End of the Road," Nov. 4). According to the email, Gallo offered "to help facilitate a conversation about the potential sale" of their home – located on West 45th and Chiappero Trail, close to the proposed Grove PUD site.
Earlier this month, District 10 resident Alex Keller submitted a complaint about the email – which he learned about through neighborhood networking site Nextdoor – to the City Auditor's Integrity Unit, which investigates fraud, waste, and abuse allegations by city employees. CAIU told Keller that it doesn't investigate council members, and instead referred him to the Ethics Review Commission. A city auditor told the Chronicle that the agency "does not publicly discuss specific allegations or investigations."
While he did not go to the ERC, Keller filed a grievance against Gallo with the Texas Real Estate Commission on Thursday, Nov. 17. Keller told the Chronicle he filed both complaints because he felt Gallo's actions were unethical and presented a conflict of interest over a development she has been "pushing hard to pass" but the neighborhood opposes. "It's inappropriate for her to use her city email to conduct personal business," Keller said.
Gallo denies any wrongdoing. She told the Chronicle in a statement that she originally met with the homeowners and mayor's office in mid-April to hear their concerns about living next to the new road proposed under the Grove plan. The homeowners told her during that meeting that they were considering putting their property up for sale. In turn, she offered to reach out to the Grove's developers, ARG Bull Creek Ltd., "and encourage ARG to discuss" the matter with the homeowners, Gallo said. "It was a single email purposely taken out of context."
"To be very clear, I never offered my services as a Realtor to [the homeowners] and never offered to be involved in any negotiations on the [homeowners'] property," Gallo continued. "The definition of 'facilitate' is to 'smooth the progress of,' 'make possible,' 'aid.' Helping the [homeowners] have the opportunity to have discussions with ARG was what I did." In a subsequent email, Gallo explained that the homeowners' father contacted her seeking help for his daughter and son-in-law.
The Chronicle filed a public information request for the email under scrutiny. That same day, Gallo's office delivered a copy of the email and the homeowners' May 4 response "in the interest of transparency," her spokesperson said. A review of the email chain indicated that ARG's attorney, Jeff Howard, had contacted the homeowners in late April regarding the potential sale, but that Gallo didn't know nor was involved in that conversation. The homeowners' response also does not indicate that Gallo offered her professional services. The homeowners told the Chronicle that they had no interest in selling their home. The couple said Gallo presented a printed TCAD document indicating the appraisal price of the home when parties met, but seemed to "act more as a facilitator between us and the developer in selling our house."
"As a Realtor I would have to be hired by either the seller or the buyer of a property to provide my services," confirmed Gallo. "If you ask that question of the ... family and ARG you will find the answer is 'no,' I was not hired by either party."
It is general knowledge that contributors to the Arbor PAC have also donated to Alter's campaign, and Gallo does not stop short of connecting Keller's accusations to that PAC. Alter told the Chronicle in an email that, beyond accepting those contributions, neither she nor her campaign has worked with the Arbor PAC. "However, it is clear that Sheri Gallo has angered a lot of neighbors and community groups because of her pro-developer efforts on Council," she said.
Early voting is Dec. 1-9 for the Dec. 13 run-off election; see our endorsements and full voting info at austinchronicle.com/elections.