City attorney sounds alarm about fired staffers

A routine open records request filed by the Odessa American has caused Odessa City Attorney Dan Jones to realize department heads have fired several employees without consulting his office, leaving the city open to “incredible liability.”

Since January 2023, the Odessa American has filed a Texas Public Information Act request every four to six weeks for a list of all employees who have resigned, retired, been terminated or received discipline from the City of Odessa.

On Jan. 30, the OA learned utilities department employee Dusty Alford was fired Jan. 8, three months after he was accused of using a stun gun on fellow employees. The newspaper filed a subsequent request Feb. 6 asking for additional documents regarding Alford.

As a result of that request, the OA was provided an Oct. 25 email from Jones to Mayor Javier Joven, City Manager John Beckmeyer and Deputy City Manager Agapito Bernal outlining his concerns.

Jones informed the men he was “gravely concerned” city employees have been violating the city’s policy of notifying Human Resources and the Legal Department before imposing any disciplinary action.

He noted that he has been reviewing the OA’s requests to be better informed and that is how he discovered his office hadn’t been notified about at least six people who had been terminated.

“Our job is protecting you and the City of Odessa. Some of the ways that we do this is by looking for the unexpected, the out of the ordinary and seek out that which could potentially cause damage to the City of Odessa,” he wrote.

Jones listed Alford as one of the six, apparently believing he’d been terminated sometime around Oct. 3.

He also included solid waste and city court employees who were fired for job abandonment, a parks employee unwilling to perform assigned work, a utilities employee for sleeping on the job and a parks employee for drug and alcohol use.

“If the City of Odessa is sued for wrongful termination on any of these above, then the City of Odessa would be left with little recourse but to pay for any monetary damages sought. Please let me know how you would like to proceed in addressing this matter,” Jones said.

No emails in reply were provided to the OA.

As for the Alford incident, a Human Resource memo obtained by the OA shows two water distribution employees came to Human Resources on Oct. 6 to report Alford “was bringing a Taser to work and tasing everyone.”

They further alleged Alford and others were daring others to do inappropriate things, such as going through someone’s backpack for $50. According to the memo, some of their co-workers had also brought firecrackers to work and set them off.

The employees said they were often called derogatory names and “cussed out” by Alford and some others and they occasionally refused to do what they were told, the memo indicated.

One employee “mentioned that even though these things were brought to (name redacted) repeatedly, nothing was ever done just ‘swept under the rug,’” the memo stated.

Alford was fired Jan. 8 for violating a city policy prohibiting fighting or boisterous conduct, deliberately causing physical injury to another employee or citizen, intimidation and unnecessary disruption of the work area.

In its Feb. 6 TPIA the OA had also sought information regarding any disciplinary measures taken against Alford’s co-workers, but Jones has declined to provide those documents.

In a letter to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, Jones argues common-law privacy protections information if the information “contains highly intimate or embarrassing facts the publication of which would be highly objectionable to a reasonable person” and the information is “not of legitimate concern to the public.”

Jones also argues that the informant’s identity is exempt from disclosure, although the OA never requested the informant’s identity.