City will give $1M in ARPA to behavioral health

Odessa Municipal Court Interim Director Leah Huff-Albertson laid out an aggressive game plan for the court during Tuesday’s city council work session.

Huff-Albertson told the council the court has several challenges before it, including out-of-date equipment, software issues, lack of access, inefficiencies and insufficient security.

The court is responsible for filing seven reports with the state and because the past administration didn’t complete a fines and fees report in a timely manner, the city will have to pay a fine she suspects will be a few thousand dollars, Huff-Albertson said.

In addition, since she came aboard she realized there is a glitch in the software for electronic citations given by the Odessa Police Department that OPD was unaware of. The glitch resulted in tickets not showing up in the system.

Instead of dealing with the glitches, Huff-Albertson said court staff apparently stuffed a large number of citations, checks and money orders in drawers without processing them, costing the city money.

The city also hasn’t been accurately reporting the fines and fees imposed upon people with commercial driver’s licenses, she said.

Huff-Albertson also noted it’s taking people three to four months to get a first court date after receiving a ticket.

LexisNexis is coming out next week in the hopes of fixing the e-citation software issues, she and OPD Chief Mike Gerke told the court.

As for the other issues, Huff-Albertson said she is committed to providing more training for staff and creating more work flows so staff will know exactly how things should be done.

She said she is determined to keep better track of such things as case clearance rates and the time it takes for cases to be disposed of. Huff-Albertson said she’d like to be able to compare Odessa’s numbers with other cities.

In terms of technology, Huff-Albertson said she is looking forward to placing kiosks in the lobby and creating a system where defendants will be able to handle their court business with their cell phones so they don’t have to appear in court three or four times.

She’d also like to update the court’s phone system so non-English speaking people can better take advantage of a translation service called Language Line.

As for court security, she intends to seek the police department’s help in training existing court staff.

The council also appointed a new presiding judge after meeting in executive session during it’s regular meeting Tuesday evening. Robert Martin will begin his new job, which will pay $142,500 annually, Jan. 1, replacing current Presiding Judge Carlos Rodriguez. The council also voted to re-appoint Associate Judge Keith Kidd with a 4% raise. The council did not know his current salary.

In other action, the council:

  • Voted unanimously to put $950,000 toward the Amy Bell Sports Complex using funds from the $93 million in certificates of obligation approved by the council in August 2019.
  • Signed off on a list of road projects for the Texas Department of Transportation for its 10-year Unified Transportation Program. They include Loop 338 interchange projects at US 385, 87th Street, 52nd/56th Streets and West 8th Street. In addition, the list includes an interchange project at Faudree Road and Business Interstate 20.
  • Agreed to move forward with the regular annual audit of Discover Odessa.
  • Agreed, in theory, to give Medical Center Hospital $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act money for the new mental health hospital.

The Permian Basin Behavioral Health Center, which will have 200 inpatient beds, is set to open in 2025. A formal vote will be held next month.