The chief organizer of the petition drive seeking to force a May election allowing Odessans to vote on a proposed restructuring of the Odessa City Council says he is confident supporters have already collected the minimum signatures needed. But plans still call for collecting more signatures in the coming weeks throughout the city.
One reason is to provide a buffer to ensure they have enough signatures if any are deemed invalid, said Jim Rector, a council appointee on the planning and zoning commission and real estate developer who first proposed the changes to the council. Another reason, Rector said, is “people keep wanting to sign.”
“You can see what the interest level is because we are already over what the absolute minimum is,” Rector said, adding that supporters were still individually verifying that signatories are registered voters. “And we did it in less than a month.”
The proposed changes would create 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, Mayor David Turner can only vote in cases of a tie among the five other council members representing single-member districts.
Proponents also launched a website this week with the name “Odessa Forward,” marketing a final push to collect the signatures in the week before the Super Bowl. It lists businesses where supporters can sign, including that of former District 2 Councilman Kirk Edwards.
“We wanted to have one week, kind of like the early voting week, where everybody in Odessa knows there are areas for the final sign up period for this petition,” said Edwards, an oilman who owns Latigo Petroleum off University Boulevard. “And we will have businesses in every area of the city, in every City Council district, so everyone can be well represented that wants to sign the petition.”
Edwards said he felt confident the petition would succeed, “but still we want everyone to get involved that thinks the current arrangement is a problem and go out and sign the petition at these local businesses the week before the Super Bowl.”
A majority of the City Council opposes the election.
Three members of the City Council — District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales, District 3 Councilwoman Barbara Graff and District 1 Councilman Malcolm Hamilton — combined in December to deny a request to call the May election. District 2 Councilman Dewey Bryant and District 4 Councilman Mike Gardner said they support the proposal to restructure the council.
Rector said the restructuring proposal is not meant to break up the bloc on the City Council that denied the election and voted together on a series of other controversial issues, such as the firing of the city manager in September. And voters’ approval of the changes would not succeed in doing so before November, when Graff terms out.
“We need those extra minds and thoughts,” Rector said. “What’s going on is bad, but really that doesn’t make a difference. We need more people with knowledge of the city and can vote for the city. Our council people right now are woefully short of their knowledge of the city.”
State law requires local governmental bodies to call an election if five percent of voters sign a petition demanding one. Rector said updating records of registered voters show a successful petition would require nearly 2,300 voters in the Odessa, or about 200 fewer than they had anticipated. But the target remains much higher, organizers say.
A group formed to oppose the proposal, Odessa Together, which includes members of minority voting rights groups, argues the new seven-member board would illegally dilute the strength of Hispanic voters. The group has also threatened to challenge the changes in court.
Gonzales, who lent his support to the Odessa Together group, since distanced himself from that claim. But he argues the changes would unfairly favor Odessa’s east side, sentiments echoed by Graff and Hamilton last week at a contentious City Council meeting.
Graff and Hamilton have also argued the restructured council would be discriminatory, with Hamilton calling the proposal racist.
But organizers of the petition drive say a cross-section of Odessans from throughout the city have signed so far.
“It’s a good representation of Odessa, from what I’ve seen,” said Chris Wray, an insurance agent who has collected signatures and helped organize the petition drive.
- Here is a link to the new Odessa Forward website.