Mayor Javier Joven’s latest attempt to outlaw abortion in Odessa was thwarted again on Tuesday – at least temporarily.
Joven’s efforts quickly unraveled during Tuesday’s work session when he tried to strong-arm council into scheduling a special Nov. 2 election asking for voters to pass an ordinance declaring Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn.
“I don’t know what the rush is,” Councilman Tom Sprawls told Joven. “I don’t see the big deal in waiting (until the scheduled May elections) so we can share the cost with the school.”
Sprawls, who holds council’s tie-breaking vote on the issue, said he would support a city-wide vote in May or November 2022, even though he personally would vote against banning abortions in Odessa.
Sprawls said he wanted to give council and voters more time to learn about the proposed ordinance before an election is scheduled.
“Personally, I’m against voting this in,” Sprawls said. “I think it’s frivolous. But I do think voters have a right to make the decision.”
Sprawls’ promise to support a citywide vote later didn’t appease Joven, who insisted that he wanted a citywide vote in November. Since taking office in December, Joven has repeatedly stated that making Odessa a sanctuary city is his top priority as mayor.
“We could just keep pushing this back over and over,” a frustrated Joven said.
City administrators explained that by law council is required to vote twice by Aug. 16 in order to schedule a special election in November. That would have required council to vote for the special election during their Aug. 10 meeting and then schedule a special meeting to vote again before the Aug. 16 deadline.
The proposed abortion ordinance was listed as a discussion-only item on Tuesday’s work session agenda. Joven first tried to call for a vote on the issue, but was stopped by city legal counsel.
Joven tried to skirt it by “polling” each council member to see if he had enough support to call for a Nov. 2 election. After it was clear he didn’t have enough votes, he tried to call for another “straw vote” on a slightly differently worded proposal, but was ordered to stop by Senior Assistant City Attorney Dan Jones.
“You are doing a straw vote; you can’t,” Jones told Joven.
An emotional debate also erupted among residents who supported the proposed ordinance and those who opposed.
Addressing council, resident JoAnn Keese argued that the city would be overstepping their boundaries if they passed the proposed abortion ordinance.
“The government’s job is to protect people, not run their lives,” Keese said, as she recited a quote by former President Ronald Reagan. “No city ordinance can (trump) federal law.”
Rev. Ricardo Lopez criticized Joven for trying to drag local ministers like himself into the fray. Lopez, said he was one of several local religious leaders invited earlier this year to participate in a Zoom call with the Mayor.
Lopez said he was “troubled” by Joven’s brazen attempt during the Zoom meeting to portray himself as “personally anointed by God,” to pursue the abortion ban. He was also troubled by Joven’s personal attacks on people who didn’t agree with him.
Ector County Democratic Party Chairwoman Hannah Horick began her comments by accusing Joven of trying to promote his personal agenda, instead of addressing city issues.
A noticeably irate Joven interrupted Horick to defend himself and then abruptly announced her time for addressing council had expired.
Several council members and residents criticized Joven for his actions, noting that he frequently interrupts those who disagree with him, but allows his supporters to speak longer than their three-minute limit.
Many people in the audience began loudly scolding and criticizing Joven later, when the Mayor allowed one his supporters to speak again, but tried to stop Horick from doing the same.
Councilwoman Mari Willis spoke passionately about women’s rights and criticized those who would question another person’s “Christianity” if their beliefs don’t align with their own.
Willis, White and Thompson also criticized the Mayor for trying to pass his personal agenda instead of focusing on city issues.
Joven first asked council to support the abortion ordinance during a Jan. 5 work session, but was opposed by Sprawls and council members Mari Willis, Detra White and Steve Thompson.
Since then, Joven and his supporters have tried to pressure the four council members into changing their minds.
Joven said he will bring the proposed ordinance back to council at a future date in order to get it on the ballot in May or November 2022.
The council on Tuesday voted 6-1 to approve using certificates of obligation to pay for the $95 million rehabilitation of the city’s water treatment plant.
Joven cast the lone dissenting vote.