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Panelists: Parks and Rec board member should have bowed out of East Side Tubes talks

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TWC News: Panelists: Parks and Rec board member should have bowed out of East Side Tubes talks
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The famed and fallen East Side Tubes, located in between the Montopolis Bridge in Longhorn Dam in southeast Austin, lived a short life.

The recreational tubing service on the shores of what was known to some as the “Secret Beach,” opened up in May, and was outlawed by October. Neighbors said customers littered their neighborhood and the Colorado River.

Austin Parks and Recreation Board Member Susana Almanza considered banning the tubing business—but there was one problem.

Almanza also leads the group, People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources, or PODER, which fights against development in East Austin. The question was whether her involvement with the board and PODER represented a conflict in the East Side Tubes issue.

Alisa Walker filed the complaint against Almanza, and disagrees with Almanza's claim that PODER remained neutral on the tubing issue. On Wednesday, a special-called city ethics review commission held a hearing on the conflict of interest complaint against Almanza.

Walker showed the panel a post by PODER on another group's blog.

"I feel that Mrs. Almanza and PODER do have an economic interest in the tubing issue at the time. Their position can attract financial donors to their organization," Walker said. "This is an example of PODER letting people know what was going on with the business, what is happening with tubing, asking for support.”

The Ethics Review Commission found Almanza did not break the law, but should have rescued herself when the fight over East Side Tubes came before the board.

"It is in your neighborhood,” ethics commissioner Donna Beth McCormick said. “You did have an interest, even though it may not have been monetary."

Almanza said she did not voice her thoughts on the East Side Tubes issue.

"You do have that right as freedom of speech to have an opinion. I did not express an opinion,” she said. “I listened to what was going on. Then, I gave my response just like every other board member has the right to give."

Almanza's term on the Parks and Recreation Board ends in July of 2015. She tells YNN she plans to run for City Council District 3 next November.

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