Council faces difficult choices

Odessa’s current city council on Tuesday will have its leadership tested as never before as it faces a city gripped in confusion and political chaos.

The Odessa City Council will decide whether to allow local sports associations permission to remove structures and other improvements from the UTPB athletic complex, a move University of Texas System lawyers say is not allowed under a lease agreement that expires soon between the university and the City.

That issue became more complicated because some associations this past weekend apparently ignored legal warnings from UTPB and the city and started removing equipment and other improvements from campus facilities.

“City Attorney Natasha Brooks notified the Association on Friday to halt (any efforts to remove equipment) until council meets on Tuesday,” the city’s Director of Communications Devin Sanchez said on Monday.

The Council was already scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to have the city remove equipment that the city and sports association paid for or installed, or hire a third party to handle the removal.

City Manager Michael Marrero on Monday did not respond to requests to speak about the issue.

The already strained relationship between the city, sports association and UTPB became even more acrimonious after the three entities failed to reach a new agreement that would allow the association’s sports team to continue using the university’s athletic facilities.

All three sides have blamed each other for the failed negotiations. The current agreement between UTPB and the city expires Aug. 31.

Marrero last week said the city has offered to let the association use city park facilities.

Several city council members last week blamed the fallout on association leaders and UTPB’s inability to come to terms on a new agreement. Councilman Steve Thompson said council was willing to support a new agreement with UTPB.

Association leaders have cried foul over UTPB’s proposed new contract terms, which included the university overseeing field scheduling, subjecting the association’s sports’ teams to an annual audit, and requiring the association to share profits with the university.

Some association leaders have accused the University of trying to “take over” the sports leagues.

The Council on Tuesday is also scheduled to vote on whether to use certificates of obligation to pay for a $95 million rehabilitation of the current water plant.

But that vote may be scrapped if the Ector County Republican Party turns in petitions prior to the start of the meeting that would instead call for residents to vote on a bond issue to pay for the plant rehabilitation. COs only require a vote by council to proceed.

City Secretary Norma Grimaldo, who oversees city elections, said the GOP has until the start of council’s  meeting to submit a minimum of 2,798 voter signatures, or 5 percent of the total number of current registered voters, which are 55,950.

As of Monday afternoon, the Republican group had not submitted the petitions, city officials confirmed.

Assistant City Manager of Administrative Services Cindy Muncy has told council that if they approve the COs next Tuesday, the city would receive the funds by Oct. 12 and work on the water plant could likely begin by the end of the year.

If the GOP submits the required number of signatures in time, things become a little more complicated, Muncy said.

Council on Tuesday would than have to decide whether to vote to accept the petition, or reject the petition if they can determine it does not contain the required number of valid signatures. Council could also decide to postpone action until their Aug. 10 council meeting.

The signatures would also have to be verified and approved by the Ector County Elections Office before an election could be scheduled, Muncy explained.

The problem, Muncy said, is that the county election’s office will be closed during the first two weeks of August because election staff will be attending an out-of-town training session.

County election officials have said they could have staff review and verify the petition signatures prior to their departure but would have to charge the city for employee overtime to do the work, Muncy said. The cost to the city would depend on how many election staff members are needed and how many hours they work.