Mayor told to treat residents more fairly

The Odessa City Council will begin enforcing an existing policy that limits the length of time residents may speak during public meetings; and some council members also urged Mayor Javier Joven to discontinue his habit of frequently interrupting speakers whose opinions he disagrees with.

Council discussed the city’s current policy regarding citizen comments during Tuesday’s work session. Their discussion took place after some council members and a growing number of residents in recent months have complained that the mayor has been inconsistent with residents who speak during meetings.

“My concern is for everybody to be treated fairly,” said Councilman Tom Sprawls, who noted that Joven, is responsible for making sure the public speaking policy is enforced fairly. “Sometimes we’re guilty of cutting people off too soon.

“I don’t always agree with what people say, but I believe in their right to do so.”

Sprawls and Councilwoman Mari Willis both urged Joven to allow all residents to have their say when they address council.

Joven, who agreed to do better, said he tries to only interrupt speakers when they lose focus and don’t talk about issues not relevant to what council is addressing.

Since Joven took office in December, some of his supporters have been allowed to speak for up to 15 minutes because other people who sign up to speak “give” their allotted time to Joven’s supporters.

After reviewing the city’s current public speaking policy, it was discovered that the existing policy only allows a speaker a maximum total of 6 minutes to speak, regardless of how many people want to give away their speaking time.

Council also directed City Attorney Natasha Brooks to review whether people who speak during meetings have to state their name and address publicly. Council would like to change their existing policy so that speakers don’t have to state their address before speaking. Willis raised the issue after expressing concern that a resident disclosed that her vehicle was vandalized after she spoke at a recent council meeting.

During their work session, council indicated they would support a request to authorize the nomination of Odessa Regional Medical Center as a Texas State Enterprise Zone — a designation that would allow the hospital to apply for state funds that will help it proceed with a $10 million capital improvement project to expand its facilities and services.

Proposed improvements over the next five years include spending $7.5 million for building expansion renovation projects dedicated to women and maternity care, a letter sent to the city by William Stokes, Steward Health Care’s senior vice president of tax, recently detailed.

Council indicated they will support several proposed budgets, including $1,182,078 for general operations of the Emergency Communication District of Ector County.

The Emergency Communication District of Ector County provides 911 telephone and dispatch services for the cities of Odessa and Goldsmith and Ector County, which receive these services. Odessa, Goldsmith and the county must all approve the proposed budget.

Council raised no objections to the 2021-22 proposed budget submitted by the Odessa Development Corporation Budget. The ODC’s projected total revenues are $7,904,068; projected expenditures are $1,547,729.

The City Council is expected to officially vote to approve the ODC and Emergency Communication District of Ector County’s proposed budgets during their Tuesday council meeting.

A public hearing for the city’s 2021-22 operating budget will also be held on Tuesday. Council is being asked to approve a $239,327,076 budget, which will include giving all city staff a 4 percent cost-of-living pay increase for 2021-22.

City Manager Michael Marrero noted that due to COVID-19 and the financial unpredictability the pandemic posed, no raises were given in 2020. Normally, employees receive an annual 3 percent raise.

Council this past Tuesday expressed verbal support for participating in the formation of a joint task force to address redistricting issues following the 2020 U.S. Census, according to the council’s work session agenda.

The joint committee would include representatives from the city, Ector County Independent School District, Ector County Hospital District, Odessa Junior College District and Ector County. Marrero would serve as the city’s representative, Brooks said.

Council did not express any opposition, or ask any questions regarding a recommendation to award a $2,351,000 bid to Cooper Construction for the rehabilitation of the city-owned building at 307 N. Lee St. The building will house Community Development, Code Enforcement and the Fire Marshal’s Office.

The rehab, which includes a roof replacement and the purchase of office furnishings, will be paid for from 2019 Certificates of Obligation proceeds.