City likely to drop TIRZ, STA contract

The Odessa City Council will discuss the dissolution of the TIRZ, buying the city a fuel system and terminating a contract with an insurance broker Tuesday.

A Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone is a special zone created by the city council in 2019 to attract new investment in an area. The taxes paid into the zone by Medical Center Hospital, Odessa College and the City of Odessa are supposed to be used to finance public improvements downtown.

The board is comprised of six council appointees and three appointees selected by MCH, OC and the City of Odessa.

In recent months, Mayor Javier Joven and other council members have made it clear they are not happy with the TIRZ. They declined to ratify the board’s re-appointment of Craig Stoker as the chairman of the board and in May they asked Stoker to come before the council to discuss the board’s projects.

Since the TIRZ was formed, Stoker told the council it has raised roughly $500,000. There’s about $330,000 in the bank right now and the rest was spent on updating the downtown master plan, rehabbing parking lots at Fourth Street and Grant Avenue and placing 12 flowerpots along Grant.

On Saturday, Stoker said he wasn’t exactly surprised to see the dissolution on the city’s agenda, but he would have liked someone to have the courtesy to inform him ahead of time.

The TIRZ is expected to bring in $9 million during the next 20 years, but there have been misunderstandings from the beginning about where the board could spend that money, Stoker said.

“The first year we didn’t have any money and the mayor made it very, very clear we were never going to borrow against the TIRZ and that seems to be the failing because if you could have borrowed the $9 million, we would have had the money to do impactful projects,” Stoker said. “So, from the outset we were hamstrung…we’ve got to wait for the money to come in and we’re only ever going to get it in small bites so we’ve had to do things that fit into those budgets.”

During the May meeting, TIRZ board member Wallace Dunn told the council the hospital would vote in favor of disbanding the TIRZ if asked. Although the hospital is in the downtown area it hasn’t benefited from it at all, he said. The flower pots mentioned by Stoker stopped two blocks short of the hospital.

TIRZ Vice President Jeff Russell and the mayor both expressed their disgust that money was spent updating the 2016 downtown master plan, saying the updated plan merely “regurgitated” the old one.

On Saturday, Stoker said in hindsight he might not have pushed for the updated master plan, but he’d received no direction from city staff.

“I asked at every meeting, ‘Help me. Help me. Help me.’ Nothing. So we wind up with a master plan. Done. Hire the engineer. ‘We’re mad about that.’ Now we fire the engineer and we’re still dead in the water. Let’s just kill the TIRZ,” Stoker said.

Stoker was referring to the city council’s unanimous May vote to terminate the $650,000 contract of KDC Associates, the landscape architect hired in November to design and oversee a downtown entertainment district that was supposed to be paid for with a portion of a $93 million certificate of obligation passed by the council in August 2019.

Joven and council members Denise Swanner and Mark Matta had voted against the KDC contract to begin with because of the amount and the details of the plan. KDC wanted to spend $7 million focusing on a two-block section of Jackson Avenue.

KDC chose Jackson Avenue over Texas Avenue, at least in part, because the two-year project would have a detrimental impact on traffic and parking along Texas Avenue and Jackson Avenue is closer to the Marriott and Odessa College’s new plaza.

Joven insists the downtown festival street was never discussed when the certificate of obligation was passed.

When Joven voted to fire KDC Associates, he complained about the delays on the downtown project and the size of the project, but he also spent considerable time accusing founder Kelly Cook of not following the chain of command.

Cook told the council he’d been asked by then Downtown Odessa Executive Director Casey Hallmark to pause his work on the project in January and he’d done so.

Joven accused Cook of “dropping the ball” by not conferring with then Interim City Manager Agapito Bernal before following Hallmark’s directions. Cook insisted he followed the same chain of command he’s been following for more than 30 years and reached out to then Assistant City Manager Aaron Smith about the situation.

In an interview after the meeting, Cook said his firm would never again submit bids on city projects because of the way he was treated.

Since the November vote to hire KDC, three new council members were elected and all but one of the committee members, Stoker, have left.

If other entities or departments can take on downtown projects, why haven’t they, Stoker asked Saturday.

“I can’t figure out, other than a lack of support for downtown, why you would want to stop a funding mechanism that is completely designed to do what we need done in downtown,” Stoker said.

He’s been working on a project with Keep Odessa Beautiful to put trash cans on every corner in downtown, but without the TIRZ it probably won’t get done, Stoker said.

“Look at other TIRZ boards. Waco’s had a TIRZ since 1977. These things don’t happen quickly, but look at downtown Waco. Isn’t that something we’d be proud to have? Uptown Dallas is a TIRZ. The Star and Cowboy headquarters in Frisco is a TIRZ.”

STA Benefits

The city council will also discuss terminating the contract of STA Benefits Tuesday, a company at the heart of State Bar complaints filed against former City Attorney Natasha Brooks and the focus of many discussions for the past two years.

It’s contract is due to expire Dec. 31.

For the past three decades, STA Benefits has been shopping around for group life insurance, AD&D coverage and retiree life insurance on behalf of the city. Initially, the company was owned by Steve Thompson, who later became a city council member. The company is now owned by his son, Marty.

Thompson maintains that in December 2020 and December 2021 he abstained from taking part in the discussion and votes renewing STA Benefits’ contract, but Odessa Development Corporation board member Kris Crow in February 2022 demanded Thompson resign because the Texas Secretary of State listed Thompson as the president of the company. Crow further alleges the minutes of the December 2020 meeting were altered and Thompson did cast a vote.

It’s also been alleged STA Benefits received “six figures” as a result of the December 2020 and December 2021 votes, but Thompson said STA Benefits only receives $30,000 annually as a result of its contract with the city.

Earlier this year, Joven and Swanner filed a State Bar complaint months after Brooks’ December termination alleging they discovered Brooks had staff members backdate the conflict of interest forms Thompson had signed regarding STA Benefits. No disciplinary action has been taken against Brooks to date and she now represents Iowa City, Iowa.

Thompson has said he was told it was OK to sign the backdated document because he had informed then City Manager Michael Marrero about his association with STA Benefits prior to the December 2020 vote.

Crow again voiced concerns about STA Benefits in January.

Without mentioning Thompson’s name, Crow told the council STA Benefits has been the city’s insurance broker for 29 years and the job hasn’t been put up for bid in all of those years.

Other matters

In other action, the council will approve the Articles of Incorporation for the Amy Bell Sports Foundation.

Larry Bell and his family have donated 100 acres to the city so it can build a $50 million sports complex in the Parks Bell Ranch area, north of Faudree Road.

The 80,000-100,000 square foot complex will feature 20 volleyball courts, 10 basketball courts and a track, plus 8-12 multi-purpose fields for soccer, football and lacrosse and up to eight baseball/softball fields.

The only thing the Bell family asked in return was for a five-acre park to be included in the project that will be dedicated to Amy Doris Bell, who died at the age of 33 in May 2014.

In addition, the city council will discuss signing a pre-development agreement with RADDSPORTS to survey and perform an environmental assessment on the land for the sports complex. In addition, the company, which is a partner of Synergy Sports, would do design and development work for the park.


During the city’s work session at 3 p.m. Equipment Services Director Chris Adams will ask the city council to discuss bringing fuel back under the control of the city.

According to materials provided to the council, Adams would like the city to either spend roughly $730,000 to buy a fuel master system and tanks or purchase fuel through a vendor and spend 10 cents a gallon to cover the cost of the equipment.

Under the first option, Adams said the city could save more than $468,000 over last year. If they went with the second option, the savings would be more than $410,000, he said.

Adams indicated he’d like to have two 10,000 gallon tanks at the city’s Pool Road facilities and place other tanks at three strategic locations elsewhere in the city. He also proposes putting two 500-gallon tanks at Ratliff Links.

By making the change, Adams said he thinks the city would not only save a significant amount of money, but it could cut down on theft and misuse. Users would have to use cards, fobs or user codes to access the fuel.