Organizers of a petition drive to force a May election on a proposal to expand the Odessa City Council say they have more than enough signatures, but they are preparing a final push aimed at collecting hundreds more to ensure a successful campaign and to recruit more Odessans to vote in favor of the changes.
So far, the tally tops 3,000 signatures, said Jim Rector, a council appointee on the planning and zoning commission and real estate developer who first proposed the changes to the council. That is hundreds more than the five percent of voters required to sign a petition under state law to compel the city to call an election.
“We have more than enough signatures in my hand, right now,” Rector said Friday.
If the petition drive succeeds and voters approve of the proposed changes, the City Council would become a seven-member board with a mayor who can vote on council business and a new seat for a council member elected at large. Today, there are five single-member districts and the mayor can only vote in cases of a tie.
Organizers of the petition drive say they expect to file the petition with City Secretary Norma Grimaldo following the final push that begins on Monday. Verifying all of those signatories as registered voters will fall to the Ector County Elections Office.
If the county elections officials deem the petition valid, Grimaldo will submit the results to the City Council, “who then must order the election,” said a spokesperson with the Texas Secretary of State, adding that “the City Council does not have a choice in the matter.”
The deadline to call the May 5 election is Feb. 16.
The website “Odessa Forward,” launched by proponents of the council changes, lists 16 locations throughout Odessa where people can sign the petition starting Monday in the run up to the Super Bowl.
“We are confident but we need some extra insurance,” said Chris Wray, an insurance agent who has collected signatures and helped organize the petition drive, adding that “The more people that sign the more petition, the more invested they are so they will come out and vote when it comes time.”
The changes to the proposal may face scrutiny if voters approve them. A group that formed to oppose the changes, Odessa Together, including members of minority voting rights groups, argues the new seven-member board would illegally dilute the strength of Hispanic voters. The group threatened to challenge the changes in court.
But proponents of the restructuring argue the changes would be upheld because they do not weaken the strength of minority votes and are supported by a cross section of Odessans.
In December, three council members combined to deny a request to call the May election, District 1 Councilman Malcolm Hamilton, District 3 Councilwoman Barbara Graff and District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales. District 2 Councilman Dewey Bryant and District 4 Councilman Mike Gardner said they support the changes.
After the petition drive began, the City Council discussed the proposed changes at two meetings this month, debates that may continue.
“It’s a political process,” Hamilton said during the meeting Tuesday. “So if they’ve signed this petition then the thing is, let’s get the voters out and let’s have them vote on this thing. I really do feel that. Regardless, Odessa will move forward.”