City to discuss ending public arts funding program

The City of Odessa held its ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday, March 29, 2023, for the new animal services facility. (Odessa American File Photo)

The Odessa City Council has a lot on its plate during both its work session meeting at 3 p.m. Tuesday and its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Public arts funding, issues at Municipal Court and Floyd Gwin Park and a possible default judgment are among the items to be discussed.

During the council’s regular meeting, City Council member Chris Hanie wants to talk about killing a nearly four-year-old program that requires money be set aside for public art projects.

Back in February 2020, the city council agreed the city would begin to set aside 1% of certain capital improvement projects to pay for public art.

However, Hanie wants to discontinue the program because he believes “art is a luxury, not a necessity” and funding the program comes at the expense of the “basic needs of the city.”

Hanie wants staff to transfer all unencumbered funds to the city’s general fund.

Randy Ham, Executive Director of Odessa Arts, noted in an editorial for the Odessa American that capital costs can’t be used to fund salaries and the benefits of public art far outweigh the costs.

Examples of such artwork are located at the OPD training facility, Odessa Fire Rescue stations No. 9 and No. 6, the animal control facility on 42nd Street and at the Family Wellness Clinic on Lee Street.

Stained glass at Odessa Fire Rescue fire station No. 9. (Photo by Mark Swindler)

The cost of those projects combined? $215,000 or about $1.86 per person based on the 2020 census data about Odessa’s total population.

“The most important things that public art achieves is a sense of pride in a community. How many times have Odessans complained about the appearance of our home? ‘It’s so brown!’ ‘It’s so flat!’ ‘We need more color!’ By investing in public art, the City is working to improve the aesthetics of the region, making it a place people can be proud to live, work and raise a family in,” Ham wrote.

In addition, public art is important to the recruitment of businesses and employees and it’s good for tourism, Ham said.

Odessa’s commitment to public art even prompted a film crew to come out earlier this year for Amazon Prime’s The Story of Art in America documentary series, which will air early next year, Ham said.

“Our city is a hub for people traveling from Pecos, Monahans, Big Spring, and Ft. Stockton, just to name a few. Every one of those travelers is a tourist. While they may come for shopping, or health appointments, having cultural amenities will encourage them to stay one more day, eat one more meal, and spend one more dollar, adding to the economic benefit of art,” Ham wrote.

Every year, the arts and culture sector adds $6 million in economic activity to Odessa, Ham said.

“It is not the optional frosting on the cake of this city, it is the eggs, flour and sugar,” he wrote.

Default judgment

During the council’s earlier work session, which begins at 3 p.m., the city will discuss the fact the city apparently failed to have improvements at Slator Park inspected in March 2017 and is about to have a default judgement filed against it by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.

According to documents provided to the council, the state sent the city a Notice of Alleged Violation on Dec. 13, 2022 and gave officials 20 days to accept the department’s determination, reach a negotiated settlement for $1,500 or make a written request for a hearing.

The city didn’t do any of those things and they were sent a certified letter on Oct. 31, 2023, informing officials a default order for $2,000 will be considered at 9 a.m. Nov. 14 in Austin.

On the very day the city was notified of the violation, the city council fired City Attorney Natasha Brooks and within a matter of days three of her assistant city attorneys quit, leaving two attorneys in the office, including current City Attorney Dan Jones.

Max Reyes, parks and recreation director, informed the city council that if the city hires a registered accessibility specialist, the state will be willing to discuss the case with a prosecutor to see if the violation can be resolved without a fine.

Other legal issues

Also on the work session agenda is a discussion of Municipal Court “issues and possible solutions.” No materials were provided to the council, but on Oct. 24, the city council agreed to advertise the positions of Judge Carlos Rodriguez and Keith Kidd, whose terms are ending at the end of the month.

In addition, Court Director Kimberly Jozwiak turned in her resignation Oct. 20, followed by Court Supervisor Kasheva Smith on Oct. 25 and Deputy Court Clerk Cindy Reyes Salgado on Oct. 31.

Two other court employees have also recently quit, including Deputy Court Clerk Andrea Quiroz, who indicated she was tired of the politics within the city and her perception she was doing the work of more than one person, wasn’t being fairly compensation and would never be fairly compensated.

In her resignation letter, Quiroz wrote, “We have certain employees who feel because they are related to the mayor and can go to city hall to the city manager’s office to make allegations, they are untouchable. That is not something that sits right with me…”

LEO raises

The council will also discuss during the work session Odessa Police Chief Mike Gerke’s suggestion that the city reallocate funds for vacant positions to cover raises for sworn officers within the department.

According to an internal memo, Gerke said OPD currently has 46 vacant positions which has led to increased work loads and longer response times. He also noted many officers at higher ranks with more experience are earning less than newer officers.

Gerke believes the reallocation would make starting and lateral officers pay “extremely competitive,” reward loyalty and improve morale without requiring the city to provide additional funding.

The council will also discuss during its work session the possibility of donating the building at 5217 N. Dixie Boulevard to the Girl Scouts of the Desert Southwest, which has been renting it since 1986.

Floyd Gwin

During the council’s work session, council members are also scheduled to discuss “construction issues” with Floyd Gwin Park. The city signed a nearly $5 million contract with Onyx General Construction in April 2021 for upgrades.

The 79-year-old park was the third park built in Odessa and was to receive a total of $8.5 million in upgrades.

In September 2022, then Odessa Parks & Recreation Director Steve Patton said the park was 90% complete. He said contractors were working on the remaining 25% of the irrigation system and the last two sections of the lighted walking trail.


Another item on the work session agenda: the possibility of allowing homeowners to build carports next to their homes.

Ector County MOU

During the council’s regular session, the council is also expected to discuss a memorandum of understanding with Ector County that will allow them to share sales and use tax revenue generated by property that be annexed into the city limits.

Ector County Judge Dustin Fawcett said its important to come up with an agreement that allows the county and city to both continue to grow. Without one, the city will be landlocked within the current city limits and that wouldn’t be healthy for the county, he said.

“I think we’re very close. I think there’s maybe a few different edits in there that the commissioners would like to see and I think the city’s good with it for now, but until both parties sign on to it, we still have a little bit of work to do, but it’s a good step in the right direction,” Fawcett said.

The MOU under discussion states “that all current properties that are in the sales assistance district that are collecting sales tax right now are going to remain untouched, as in the county will continue to collect them,” Fawcett said.

People in West Odessa, Gardendale and Pleasant Farms “are worried that that money is going to go away from the county collecting it and using it for the sheriff’s department or for environmental enforcement or for their county road system so we made sure we included that clause to protect that,” Fawcett said.

Auto parts

The council is also expected to consider whether the city should purchase nearly $389,000 worth of inventory from NAPA.

According to documents provided to the council, the city decided to terminate its contract with NAPA Auto Parts in July after having been doing business with them since March 2012. Under the terms of the contract, existing inventory is supposed to be purchased by the city at the contractor’s cost. The city would receive more than 20,500 pieces.