Odessa City Councilman Tom Sprawls on Wednesday said he was “disappointed” that Mayor Javier Joven made disparaging and false remarks about his spouse during a recent Zoom meeting where the mayor urged local clergy to pressure Sprawls and other council members into passing an ordinance that would make Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn.
Joven made his plea to local clergy during a Zoom meeting on May 17. During the meeting Joven claimed that Sprawls’ wife was pressuring him to not support the proposed ordinance.
“We’re one vote away from passing it,” Joven said. “The one vote I have been waiting for has basically said. ‘I’m not going to vote.’ His wife doesn’t want; will not allow him to vote yes – and that is Sprawls,” Joven said.
Sprawls, who did not participate in the Zoom meeting, but did review a video of the Zoom on Wednesday, denied Joven’s allegations.
“I’m disappointed that he brought my family into my (political) position,” Sprawls said. “Maybe if I was a president or governor that would be acceptable, but it was not necessary at this level. But I’m not upset. This is politics and comes with the territory. It’s part of what he’s doing.”
During the Zoom meeting, Joven asked local clergy to submit a joint letter to council and mobilize their congregations to lobby council members, especially Sprawls, to pass the abortion ordinance.
“I think a concerted effort by our community to bring it to the council and ask the council to put in on the agenda for them to consider, and give us a clear indication where the council publicly stands – either for or against,” Joven said.
Joven acknowledged that four council members – Mari Willis, Steve Thompson, Detra White and Sprawls have already indicated that they won’t vote for the ordinance. Joven and council members Denise Swanner and Mark Matta have voiced support.
The Mayor, who questioned the Christian faith of the four council members who opposed the ordinance, also claimed that Sprawls has indicated to him that he wants to support the ordinance but that his wife opposes the ordinance.
Later during the Zoom meeting, Joven again claimed Sprawls won’t support the ordinance because he’s afraid of raising his wife’s ire.
“Sprawls is the swing vote, and he is dragging his heels because he would have to answer to his spouse and will not do that” Joven said.
Sprawls denied Joven’s claims about his wife during a series of phone interviews.
“I don’t know where the hell that came from,” Sprawls said. “I don’t remember ever talking to the Mayor about my wife. My wife has never spoken to him.
“I’ve never spoken to him about this issue.”
Sprawls was incensed that Joven and his supporters continue to question the faith of some council members.
“I’m very disappointed in what I’ve read and heard about questioning our salvation and relationship with God,” Sprawls said. “If we’re going to judge people’s Christianity, I would refer to Matthew 7, 1-2: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way, you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
“So, who’s judging here? I have a very firm relationship with God.”
Sprawls said although he personally is opposed to abortion, the issue is more complicated than some people want to make it.
“Nobody wants to see babies murdered,” Sprawls said. “It’s easy to say what you’d do. But until you get faced with that situation, it becomes a more difficult situation.”
Councilman Steve Thompson said this week that he remains opposed to adopting an abortion ordinance. He says the issue is a federal issue and not a local issue.
Thompson pointed out that other Texas communities that have passed the abortion ordinance have faced lawsuits – a cost Odessa can’t afford.
“I haven’t changed my opinion,” said Thompson, who pointed out that Lubbock, which recently adopted the ordinance is now facing multiple lawsuits.
Joven has repeatedly claimed since taking office that abortions are taking place in Odessa, but has not provided any evidence of that. Local health officials have said that legal abortions have not occurred in Odessa in over a decade.
The Mayor repeated his claims during his Zoom meeting with clergy.
“The community has come and asked me about looking into sanctuary cities for the unborn; for the reason that they (abortions) are being conducted in the City of Odessa in a private manner,” Joven said.
Joven said he is reluctant to place the abortion issue before council for a vote anytime soon because he knows it will face certain defeat. In January, Joven asked council to consider the ordinance during a work session and White, Willis, Sprawls and Thompson stated they would not support it. Joven said at the time he would bring the issue back to council at a later date.
Joven, during the Zoom, said some council members are voicing opposition to the ordinance “because they think I’m trying to push this on them.”
“I’m telling them, ‘this is not my agenda. This is something God has tasked me with and I will see it through.”
The Mayor said pursuing a public vote is a last resort. An election would cost taxpayers more than $100,000 to hold, Joven said. It would also take about one year to schedule, he added.
“A campaign is a lot of work, it’s hard work,” said Joven, who noted it would take at least 7,000 signatures to get the ordinance issue on the ballot.
Joven said if the issue would be on a future ballot, “the pro-choice movement would go to task.”
“If the community doesn’t turn out, the other side can and will,” Joven said. “Losing this in a public forum would be a huge setback for our area. And then I have a split council that would turn around and say, “see, I told you so.”
Joven, during the Zoom, said his efforts are also being thwarted by city administrators and staff.
“We have a very, very liberal bureaucratic staff here in the city of Odessa,” Joven said.
Sprawls said it’s ironic that Joven, Matta and Swanner are opposed to holding a public vote for the abortion ordinance, but are lobbying the council to hold a public vote to decide whether to renovate the city’s aging water plant.
“Sometimes what they say and do doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Sprawls said.
Sprawls said he would still be in favor of a public vote on the abortion ordinance. But he would not vote in favor of an ordinance.
“It would be an ordinance chasing a problem we don’t have,” Sprawls said. “We don’t need that.”
Joven has also made other comments about his peers on council and city staff.
After being elected in December, Joven blamed the city’s Director of Communications Devin Sanchez for not alerting the public that he, Swanner and Matta were being sworn into office. After being informed that Sanchez was not at work because her father had died, he still questioned her professionalism and insisted she was intentionally trying to cast him in a negative light.
He has also accused city administers and staff of trying to undermine him as mayor.
According to the city council’s own code of conduct ordinances, “The professional and personal conduct of council members while exercising their office must be above reproach and avoid any sense or appearance of impropriety.
“Council members shall refrain from abusive conduct, or verbal attacks upon the character or motives of other council members, council appointees, boards, and committees, the staff or public.”
Joven also complained about the Odessa American during the Zoom call claiming that the publication was trying to rush him into placing the ordinance on the agenda because it would be defeated 4-3.