Council blames former staffers for parks issues

Odessa City Council members spent considerable time discussing what they perceive to be the failings of past park and city administrators during its regular city council meeting Tuesday night.

First, the council was informed by new Parks and Recreation Director Max Reyes the city never had a $1.9 million project at Slator Park inspected after it was completed in November 2016.

Reyes said arrangements have been made for the inspection to take place Tuesday. Failure to come into compliance with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation could cost the city as much as $5,000 a day, he said.

Secondly, Reyes told council members that the Floyd Gwin Park project still isn’t complete.

Since he took over his role from former Parks Director Steve Patton, Reyes said he has discovered major irrigation issues, a holey pavilion roof, improperly crimped trim and faulty weatherstripping.

In addition, Reyes also discovered that instead of removing an asphalt parking lot, a contractor simply dumped dirt over it, claiming that’s what a prior administrator instructed them to do.

The lights to the park are currently “locked down” because a subcontractor is waiting to be paid by the main contractor, Onyx, Reyes said.

Councilmember Denise Swanner noted the $6 million project has $1.3 million in change orders.

On top of that, the council recently learned an $80,000 public art project can’t be installed until the city pays for its foundation. The artist told the city he and Patton had a verbal agreement the city would pay for the foundation.

Reyes said Tuesday night the artist also wants the city to install $80,000 worth of surface-mounted lights for his piece.

The council voted at its last meeting to cancel its contract with the artist, although the city has already paid him $40,000.

The council indicated to staff they want them to explore filing an insurance claim to resolve the construction project situation.

City Manager John Beckmeyer called the entire Floyd Gwin situation a “boondoggle from the get-go.”

Mayor Javier Joven said situation was the result of the “old culture.”

Mismanagement has been seen again and again with Sherwood Park, the park at UTPB, McKinney Park and now Floyd Gwin, he claimed.

“It’s just been a farce of what’s been going on here within the previous administration in the parks and many others and this is why it’s imperative we make these changes,” Joven said. “I keep saying this, that culture is in the past, it’s behind us. This is not the culture that exists and everybody that’s in the city is fixing it, we’re identifying it. It’s not a time to sit there and just throw up our hands, we’re going to deal with the situation, we’re going to fix it. We’re going to hold companies we hire responsible and we’re not going to burden taxpayers…”

The council also voted 5-0 Tuesday to discontinue a program that sets aside 1% of capital improvement projects over $250,000 for public art.

Council members Steve Thompson and Gilbert Vasquez abstained from the vote, but their colleagues said the city simply can’t afford the program when it needs to address other things, such as water and roads.

The council also heard a presentation from the city’s new strategic planning policy manager Jeff Fisher, who has been researching other cities’ policies on carports.

Right now, carports are not allowed in front of houses in Odessa and if they’re detached they’re not allowed on the side, either.

After hearing Fisher’s report, the council seemed to agree they are interested in changing the city’s ordinance to allow for detached carports under some circumstances as long as they match the facade of the home and can’t be used for storage.

Fisher is expected to come back to the council with a proposed ordinance soon.

The council also heard Deputy City Manager Agapito Bernal has hired Leah Albertson as interim court administrator and two other new supervisors. Albertson is a certified court clerk with the National Center for State Courts and a trainer for the Texas Municipal Court Education Center and the National Center for State Courts.

All three women were hired after Municipal Court Administrator Kimberly Jozwiak and some other court leaders resigned in recent weeks.

Albertson said she has a list of 30 things they’re working on, including building metrics and improving processes.

Bernal said he is also working on getting a current staff member qualified to become a bailiff, a position that has been empty for a couple of years.

In addition, the council heard from Odessa Police Chief Mike Gerke who would like to take the savings from 48 open police officer positions and provide raises to his current officers and make the department more competitive.

He provided the council with four proposals, but the one he prefers would still leave almost $1.1 million in excess funds and allow him to hire four civilian community service officers and eight police officers and give a financial incentive for officers who work at night.

The proposal also eliminates compression issues and the corporal position within the department. Corporals, Gerke said, don’t have different duties than officers.

Beckmeyer supported Gerke’s proposal and said he’s OK with coming to the council in six months or a year for more officers because by then OPD will be able to fill the positions thanks to the raise in pay.

Patty Craven, the chief executive officer of the Girl Scouts of the Desert Southwest, also spoke with the council about the possibility of the city donating the building at 5217 North Dixie to the Girl Scouts.

They’ve been leasing the building since 1986 and would like to update it, but in order to obtain grant funding, they would need to own the building, Craven said.

More than 250 girls from 13 troops use the building regularly, she said.

City staff was instructed to do a title exam on the building.

Joven also asked the council to consider creating a committee of faith-based organizations to help “guide what policies we can and cannot come with, what we should consider to start addressing some of our issues that are not going to go away and they’re going to multiple.”

Homelessness is one issue the mayor brought up. Too often, there aren’t enough people to man warming stations that open up on especially cold nights, he said.