Council approves $8.3 million animal shelter

Despite efforts by Odessa Mayor Javier Joven and two council members to stop the construction a new city animal shelter- including trying unsuccessfully to prevent two council members from casting votes because of an alleged conflict of interest – the $8.3 million project was approved by a 4-3 vote.

Councilman Mark Matta and Joven argued unsuccessfully prior to the vote that council members Detra White and Tom Sprawls should not be allowed to vote because they were appointed by the mayor to sit on the city’s animal shelter advisory committee.

“If they were to vote it would be illegal,” Joven told council. “Well, maybe illegal is too strong of a word.”

Matta quickly interjected that he had already received a legal opinion from City Attorney Natasha Brooks who reassured him that a council member who votes on an advisory board or committee cannot vote as a council member on any recommendation that advisory entity makes to council.

A visibly surprised Brooks, who was seated next to council, quickly told Matta she had “misunderstood” his question prior to the meeting.

“There are exceptions,” Brooks said. “Any (council member who sits on an) advisory committee member can vote.”

White pointedly questioned whether Matta, Denise Swanner and Joven had talked beforehand to try and prevent her and Sprawls from being able to vote. Matta denied the accusation.

Councilmembers White, Sprawls, Mari Willis and Steve Thompson eventually voted to approve the proposed $8,308,472 contract with Onyx Contractors to oversee construction of the new animal shelter. Joven, Matta and Swanner voted against the contract.

The showdown quickly began when Swanner made an initial motion for council to reject the project. Matta seconded the motion.

Matta and Swanner both argued that the project was too expensive.

“I was put on council to keep an eye on taxpayer dollars,” Matta said. “It’s in poor taste to build an animal shelter for $8 million when we have people out there struggling.”

Sprawls, White, Thompson and Willis defeated Swanner’s motion 4-3 and then White made a new motion to approve the contract.

That didn’t halt the debate.

Matta said based on his own research, he was confident that the city could build a much less expensive facility. He said officials in Racine, Wis., built a similar facility for a fraction of the cost that Odessa was proposing.

“I’m not trying to be confrontational, but comparing Racine and Odessa is like comparing apples and bowling balls,” said Police Chief Michael Gerke whose department recommended the contract with Onyx. “I’d like to see your research.”

Gerke said that the current 30-year-old facility is too small and not equipped to provide the care needed. Thirty years ago, the shelter’s purpose was to house animals for up to 3 days and then euthanize those not claimed.

The goal now is to house animals long enough to give people a chance to adopt them, Gerke said.

The currently facility is also plagued with sewer problems and lacks an adequate cooling system, Gerke said.

The proposed new 20,538-square-foot facility, which will be constructed just east of the current shelter, will be paid for with funds from certificate of obligation bonds that council approved in 2019, according to city documents. The $10 million earmarked for the new animal shelter was part of an overall $93 million bond that is being used for other projects also.

Joven made a last-ditch effort to postpone a vote by claiming that nobody on council had yet seen any plans or schematics of the new facility. Sprawls quickly pointed out that council had all seen the plans during a council retreat earlier this year.

“What about the blue prints, we haven’t seen the blue prints,” Joven said.

“We don’t need to see the blue prints,” Thompson responded before calling for the final 4-3 vote to approve the Onyx contract.