City manager keeps job

The Odessa City Council emerged from a closed door meeting lasting nearly an hour and 20 minutes Tuesday with City Manager Richard Morton’s job intact.

District 3 Councilwoman Barbara Graff and District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales, who might have been the third vote required to oust Morton, asked for the topic to be placed on the council’s agenda. But Gonzales said in an interview after the meeting that Morton’s job was never at risk.

“All I can tell you is that his job is not on the line,” said Gonzales, who shook hands with Morton and patted him on the back after the closed meeting. “Richard has nothing to worry about as far as his job in my opinion.”

Gonzales declined to say what was discussed in the meeting but described it as “normal operations . . .  about upcoming projects and how we are going to deal with them and who is going to be responsible.”

Morton and Turner also declined to talk about what they discussed behind closed doors.

District 1 Councilman Malcolm Hamilton, who publicly called this weekend for Morton to be fired, refused an interview with the Odessa American. The OA recently broke news of a controversial trip that may have been a vacation billed to taxpayers and of a traffic stop where Hamilton berated and cursed at police officers. Council members did not publicly discuss those issues during the Tuesday meeting.

Other council members left before speaking with reporters. District 2 Councilman Dewey Bryant and District 4 Councilman Mike Gardner, who have expressed support for Morton in the past, voted not to go into executive session in an effort to keep any discussion about the city manager public.

They were out voted.

It was the second extended meeting behind closed doors this month to “deliberate the duties of City Manager Richard Morton.” Mayor David Turner requested to place the item on the Feb. 14 agenda with the agreement of other council members. Yelling could be heard behind closed doors from council chambers during that meeting. The City Council also took no action then.

In the latest meeting, Morton said that he felt secure in the job he has had for 15 years.

“If at some point they, three of them, say your services are no longer needed: That’s their right,” Morton said. “We are not there, and I’m glad. I want to continue to serve Odessa. And I want to continue to serve them. But I’m not going to argue in the media against my bosses. It’s just not the thing to do.”

Council chambers were near full during the meeting, with three additional officers joining the usual one police officer to provide extra security. The attendees included supporters of Hamilton, Morton and other city employees and civic leaders.

Among the attendees were Toby and Sondra Eoff, the private investors in the city-backed downtown hotel and conference center. As the City Council met behind closed doors, the Eoffs said they would be concerned if Morton, who organized much of Odessa’s downtown efforts as the city’s top administrator, was removed. But they declined to speculate.

After the City Council returned to face the public, Toby Eoff was the only attendee to address them during the meeting.

He thanked the City Council for their work, particularly Graff for her contributions to the hotel and conference center plans. And he supported Morton.

“I’ve never dealt with anyone who had more integrity than Richard Morton,” Toby Eoff said. “And he is a very very good representative of this city. I just wanted to point that out to everyone and let you know that I hope when you all were in session — we don’t know what you were meeting about but I hope it was to give him a raise.”

In other business, the City Council:

  • Approved District 1 Councilman Malcolm Hamilton’s appointment of Gene Collins to the Odessa Development Corporation board, where he will replace Richard ‘Buz’ Browning.
  • Approved the $91,195 purchase of 12 thermal imaging cameras for Odessa Fire/Rescue.
  • Tabled a vote to award a bid for City Hall renovations.
  • Approved the $248,857 purchase of garbage containers, replacement bottom liners and other items for the Solid Waste Department.
  • Approved ratifying an Odessa Development Corporation resolution freeing up $15 million in economic development funds to contribute money for qualifying Texas Department of Transportation projects.
  • Approved a $1,441,338 bid for a water pump station off East Loop 338. Building Reclamation System Alternative Water Supply East Loop 338 Pump Station would be funded with revenue the city brings in by selling treated wastewater to Pioneer Natural Resources under a long term deal.
  • Met in a briefing session to discuss transportation improvement priorities and rules of the open meeting act.
  • Approved minutes from City Council Finance Committee meetings on Feb. 8 and Feb. 21.
  • Approved minutes from a City Council workshop on Feb. 14.
  • Approved minutes from a City Council meeting on Feb. 14.
  • Approved appointing District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales to the Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission.
  • Approved the purchase of a $57,443 tractor for the Parks Department.
  • Approved for the second and final time a series of asbestos abatements and demolitions at a total cost of $657,887. Four of the projects focus on blighted south Odessa buildings, while another would remove asbestos from the Sherwood Community Center (which is not being demolished). Two of the demolition projects will begin downtown in the coming weeks
  • Opened a public hearing and voted for the first time to approve a request by Callon Petroleum Operating Company for a Future Development-Drill Reservation on about 5 acres of land northwest of the intersection of Old Bankhead Highway and South County Road 1306.
  • Approved for the second and final time an ordinance defining speed limits in school zones as 20 miles per hour based on signs and flashing lights.
  • Approved a $30,000 façade grant to the Schoel Law Firm for renovations to the downtown building at Fourth Street and Grant Avenue.
  • Approved ratifying ODC settlements with Kline Oilfield Equipment and Permian Tank and Manufacturing. Hamilton opposed.