Councilmember seeks ‘control’ of city restrooms

Thompson says an overreach and questions who would police it

Odessa City Hall, 411 W 8th Street. (OA File Photo)

Odessa City Councilmember Chris Hanie wants to change city rules so that birth assignments will dictate who can use what bathroom, not only in city buildings, but in Odessa schools, hospitals and colleges.

His proposal prompted a lot of discussion during Tuesday afternoon’s council work session and while some questioned whether they might be over-reaching a bit, most of the council seemed to agree with the spirit of Hanie’s proposal.

Hanie brought his idea to the council because he said President Joe Biden bypassed Congress and wrote a law that will allow men to play women’s sports and he believes that will lead to men using women’s locker rooms.

The changes the U.S. Department of Education made to Title IX seek to protect against discrimination “based on sex stereotypes, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics” and have prompted more than two dozen GOP-led states to file lawsuits.

In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice has issued new rules intended to protect transgender Americans from workplace discrimination.

Specifically, employers must recognize transgender workers’ pronouns and allow them to use restrooms that aligns with the gender they identify with.

“I now have granddaughters that are playing sports that are now threatened to have boys dressing with them. I am here to protect them. I was elected to do what my constituents say to do, but most of all, I do what my God says,” Hanie said.

Hanie said bills are started at the “ground level” and he reminded his fellow council members the city passed an ordinance banning mandates like those enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If you’re not willing to step up to protect our children, then go tell your daughters, your sons, your grandsons and your granddaughter that you’re not worth my time,” Hanie said. “There is no discrimination in this ordinance. There is a birth certificate that says boy or girl.”

The city’s current ordinance prohibits “entering restrooms of opposite sex,” prompting Councilmember Steve Thompson to suggest Hanie’s idea is redundant.

Thompson also questioned who would “police it.”

“Are you going to walk around with a birth certificate in your hand all of the time?” Thompson asked.

He also noted that unisex restrooms in city owned buildings must have floor to ceiling walls and doors that lock from the inside.

“Solves the problem, can’t just walk in,” Thompson said.

Hanie insisted that if he sees a man in a bathroom with his daughter, he is going to remove that man.

“(Biden) is going to push this to our schools, he’s going to push this to everyone so we’re gonna have elementary schools, who if that male teacher in there wants to go in the bathrooms with the girls can go into a bathroom with the girls. There’s nothing to prevent this. We can prevent all of this,” Hanie said. “I’m trying to get this thing stopped before it ever begins.”

Hanie said that because the council allocates money to schools, builds roads and issues certificates of occupancy, “we should be able to control every bit of this.”

Mayor Javier Joven said that as the grandfather of four girls, he is concerned, but he wants to make sure any ordinance changes will stand up to any legal challenges.

City attorney Dan Jones told the council he doesn’t believe the city will be able to dictate what happens within the Ector County Independent School District, but “if we could get all five entities on board, this would be awesome.”

Thompson said the council has other issues to address and “this is just a waste of time in my opinion.”

Councilmember Mark Matta said he liked the premise of Hanie’s suggestion, but also worried they may be over-reaching. If they could have, they would have banned game rooms outside the city limits, he noted.

Councilmember Greg Connell was also in favor of Hanie’s idea and particularly liked the idea of using “birth sex” in the ordinance. He said the phrase “opposite sex” is open to interpretation.

City Manager John Beckmeyer suggested using the phrase “biological sex.”

Councilmember Denise Swanner also expressed support.

Hanie suggested sending any proposed ordinance changes to the Texas Attorney General’s Office for an opinion. City Manager John Beckmeyer said that is possible, but questioned how long it would take to get an answer back.

Jeff Russell, who sits on the Odessa Development Corporation board, thanked Hanie for bringing the matter to the council saying it will be a “worthwhile” fight.

“There’s been quite a bit of discussion here about how the city can’t, through ordinance, impose regulations on other entities. We do this all the time. Our ordinance books are replete with it,” Russell said. “We have fire codes. We have safety codes. We have occupancy codes. We have all kinds of codes that are administered by the city that apply to everything, including our other governmental entities.”

He suggested the council seek qualified legal council that will help with an ordinance that will work.

“I appreciate you guys not shrinking from the challenge of having to figure out this brave new world,” Russell said.

The council also awarded Community Development Block Grants Tuesday night to the following non-profits: Family Promise, $15,000; Meals on Wheels, $40,000; Odessa Links, $15,000; Salvation Army (staff salaries) $42,238 and Salvation Army (security system/lockers) $27,500.

All of the non-profits received considerably less than what they requested, but the city only had limited funds to distribute.

Meals on Wheels Executive Director Craig Stoker issued the following statement following the meeting:

“While the council funded less than half of our request to feed older Odessans, they did, at least, give us more than double what they saw fit to give us last year. Of course it is disappointing that our request was not fully funded, but it is encouraging that this year the council understood that keeping food in the bellies of older Odessans is a priority,” Stoker wrote. “One hundred percent of the money received from this grant will be used to buy food for older Odessans which will be delivered by our network of compassionate volunteers … As always, I am grateful to the council for their generous gift to our program and I know the older citizens we serve will be extending their gratitude as well.”

In other matters the council:

  • Rejected three bids to design and build a new municipal parking garage downtown. The city will now seek proposals for automated parking facilities.

Development Services Director Jeffrey Fisher told the council the bid committee believes there may be more “cost-effective and technologically advanced options” available and the evaluation criteria may be too strict.

  • Awarded Gallagher Human Resources a $157,000 contract to develop a classification and compensation pay structure they hope will help the city recruit and retain employees.
  • Discussed the possibility of hiring various companies to be “on-call” for electrical, HVAC/plumbing, architectural, engineering and land surveying services. Each company would have a one-year contract with an option to renew for an additional year.