Council says no to downtown master plan

What seemed to be a routine piece of business turned into a bit of confusion during Tuesday’s Odessa City Council meeting.

Councilwoman Denise Swanner changed her initial raised hand from a yes to a no on the issue of hiring Kimley Horn to oversee the city’s Downtown Master Plan update.

Swanner initially raised her hand in favor of hiring the master plan firm, along with council members Detra White, Mari Willis and Steve Thompson. But when Mayor Javier Joven called for a show of those opposed to the motion, he noticed Swanner did not raise her hand.

“Mrs. Swanner?” Joven asked, while he and councilmembers Mark Matta and Tom Sprawls’ hands were still raised in opposition to the measure.

After noticing the vote, Swanner raised her hand a second time, this time voting in opposition.

“Nay, I vote nay,” Swanner said as she raised her hand the second time. “I vote nay.”

Willis and White briefly argued that Swanner had already cast a vote, but Joven quickly declared the motion had been defeated.

Following the meeting Thompson accused Joven of “prompting” Swanner to change her vote.

“Swanner clearly voted twice and the mayor has allowed her to do that at least three times before,” Thompson said. “Swanner changed her vote after the mayor prompted her.”

Following Tuesday’s meeting, City Attorney Natasha Brooks said it was OK for Swanner to change her vote.

At Joven’s request, Brooks also ruled during the meeting that Councilman Tom Sprawls, who voted against the hiring of Kimley Horn, could not make a new motion because council had already voted.

“I voted against it, but I see no reason not to move forward with it,” said Sprawls, who explained he only wanted more information before voting in favor of it.

When Sprawls attempted to make a motion to instead table the issue, Brooks informed him it was too late.

Brooks told Sprawls he couldn’t make a motion to table the issue because council had already voted.

Brooks agreed with Joven’s assessment that the issue would have to go back to a city committee, be reviewed and a new recommendation to bring it back for council for reconsideration would be required.

Maryland artist Jim Sanborn’s work will memorialize the victims of the Aug. 31, 2019 mass shooting in Odessa. The memorial is to be placed at the corner of JBS Parkway and 42nd Street. (Courtesy Photo)

In other action, council unanimously approved a proposal to place a $300,000, 10-foot circular art piece that will pay tribute to victims of a 2019 Odessa mass shooting on the University of Texas Permian Basin campus through 2051.

City officials initially were looking at placing the memorial at Memorial Gardens, but changed their minds after a study concluded it would cost $700,000 to retrofit Memorial Gardens.

Under their agreement with UTPB, the city will maintain ownership of the memorial even if it is someday relocated.

Under the agreement, UTPB will construct a plaza at the corner of JBS Parkway and 42nd Street, where the memorial will be placed.

The memorial will include the names of all seven victims, and engraved quotes from their family members.

Council on Tuesday also unanimously approved the purchase of more than $600,000 in new technology and furnishings for the police department’s new training facility.

The purchase includes cutting edge virtual training technology that will “enhance crisis intervention and de-escalation training for officers,” Police Chief Mike Gerke previously said during last week’s work session.

The cost of the new system is $326,471.42 and will be paid out of the police department’s capital outlay-buildings fund, Gerke said. The total cost includes shipping, installation of the tactical simulators and a 5-year service support agreement.

An additional $142,354.30 is expected to be used to purchase more than a dozen laptops, docking stations, and 29 large, interactive TV monitors and various accessories.

Council approved the police department’s request to spend another $141,221.31 on new furniture for the facility, including various tables, desks, and chairs.

The new training facility will be located in the former Central Fire Station, which is being renovated, Gerke said. It’s located behind the police department.

The department currently conducts its training operations in the basement of the police department, Gerke said.

“To be honest, it’s kind of embarrassing,” Gerke said. “We wanted this new facility to be state-of-the-art; something we could use to impress potential new recruits and use as a regional training facility.”

The new facility will be operating by July, Gerke said.

Council also approved a $30,000 art sculpture design, that when completed will be placed outdoors in the facility’s front entrance.

The 10-foot-tall sculpture, which will weigh 4,000 lbs., portrays an abstract scene of a parent and child standing in front of a law enforcement officer, said Randy Ham, executive director of Odessa Arts. The project will be paid with capital outlay funds.

San Antonio artist Oscar Alvarado, was one of more than 40 artists who bid on the project, Ham said.