Council will discuss travel policy during session

The city council is scheduled to discuss replacing two Odessa Fire Rescue fire engines and a ladder truck for a total cost of roughly $3.2 million at Tuesday’s work session. Also on the agenda, is a potential change to the city’s travel policy.

According to city documents, OFR is currently on a seven-year replacement plan and aren’t expecting to replace the vehicles until 2025, but because it’s taking so long to get new vehicles and because costs are rising, OFR officials want to order them now.

The last time OFR bought vehicles it took 12 months for them to arrive, this time it could be 30 months or longer, according to city staff. OFR still needs to order seven additional vehicles.

OFR will also be asking the city council to sign off on the purchase of two sets of uniforms per employee for a total cost of just under $92,000. A portion of the cost will be covered by ConocoPhillips’ donations.

In other business, the city is expected to discuss approving the FY22-23 wholesale water rate for the Ector County Utility District. The new proposed rate is a monthly fixed charge of $139,724 plus a volumetric charge of $1.2829/1,000 gallons or a comparative rate of $3.83/1,000 gallons. The new rate would go into effect Oct. 1.

The council will also discuss the possibility of amending the city’s travel authorization and reimbursement policy. Currently, city rules say the finance committee shall approve in advance all business-related travel by officials, but no such finance committee still exists.

As a result, the city will consider changing the rule so that the mayor or mayor pro tem can authorize any such travel. If approved, the mayor or mayor pro tem will also be responsible for signing off on expense reports.

In addition, the council will be asked to consider raising the amount that can be spent on meals from $50 a day to $70 per day.

Councilman Steve Thompson brought up the need to amend the travel policy at the council workshop meeting Sept. 6. He also said he thought it would be appropriate for all city council members and the mayor to notify each other when they are traveling for work purposes.

When Mayor Javier Joven asked Thompson “what could be gained from that,” he replied, “so I don’t have to find out second-hand about Mexico and when I get challenged on it I know what I’m talking about.”

Joven wanted to know who was challenging Thompson about the trip and Thompson told him his constituents.

“I think it’s only fair I know where the mayor is going or where Detra’s going or Councilmember Swanner,” Thompson said, referring to fellow Councilmember Detra White.

The mayor said he was asked about the Mexico trip by the Odessa American and once the Odessa American wrote about his trip, the “value of the property went up four times.” He said he’d been planning on speaking with the council about his trip, but after certain investors had traveled to Odessa.

Joven was apparently referring to the Pan American Ballroom, 2214 E. Murphy, which is hosting Reliable Fight Night Pro Boxing in mid-October.

However, the Aug. 20 Odessa American story about Joven’s trip did not mention the ballroom at all.

The news about the Reliable Fight Night was announced at a press conference Aug. 25 and it was at that event that Joven himself announced the ballroom may be the site of two other events per month, including professional boxing, amateur boxing, MMA or wrestling.

Joven said the ulitmate goal of the partnership between The Boxing Showcase and Gorilla Heavy Hitters is to bring Silver Gloves, an annual competition for amateur boxing, to the city.

The current policy is a “good one” that was well thought out in 1996, Joven said. He cautioned his fellow council members that when they notify each other about business trips, “it becomes public information.”

When the city is involved in negotiations, it’s not always wise for certain information to get out, Joven said.

Thompson replied that the council is often privy to sensitive information citizens aren’t and he believes there should be a way the council can safely share information amongst each other.

“This is basically about me going to Mexico and I knew going there it was going to be a huge issue,” Joven said.

“So you knew I was going to get hammered over it,” Thompson said.

“No, I knew you were going to hammer me over it,” Joven retorted.

“It wasn’t me so much as my constituents,” Thompson said.

Councilmember Mark Matta pointed out he went on a recent trip to Abilene for training and didn’t hear anything from Thompson about it. Thompson replied that the public didn’t know about it, so it wasn’t as much of an issue. It would have been nice if he had told him about the trip, especially since Thompson said he made sure to tell everyone he went to Washington, D.C. recently.

“I’m just saying, I just don’t like running around having secrets. That’s all I’m saying,” Thompson said.

“There are no secrets,” Joven said. “You made it an issue and that’s fine. You have every right to question it, but the thing is you’re making a policy change simply because I traveled to Mexico. I also traveled to New Orleans, but the thing is these are legitimate business trips.”

He was “up front and all you had to do was give me a call,” Joven told Thompson.

White said she also didn’t know about the trips until she read it in the paper and she, too, was questioned about it.

Joven again reiterated he wanted to wait awhile before sharing the details of his trip and after the Odessa American article “my fear of what was going to happen, happened.”

Still, Joven told the council the “huge” group in Mexico wants to continue investing in Odessa and it will benefit the city and Ector County, too.

Joven said he had to respect the investors he met with and what they were trying to do, but “for right now a purchase of more property has been compromised because of a story. We weren’t able to make that presentation. We were forced to speak to the media before we could speak to the council. Things happen. Things were leaked.”