Odessa Mayor Javier Joven’s latest personal attack, this time directed at City Manager Michael Marrero and his staff, was met with a swift response by several council members who say they are considering several options including voting to censure the mayor for repeatedly violating council’s own code of conduct ordinance.
Councilman Steve Thompson on Friday said he plans to ask that the issue be placed on a future council agenda for discussion and possible action.
“This is becoming a pattern with him, and it’s unacceptable,” Thompson said. “He is destroying morale in the city with his baseless and slanderous allegations.”
“I’m not sure when council will take this up, but it will be taken up on a future agenda,” added Thompson, whose concerns were echoed by councilwomen Detra White and Mari Willis.
Thompson said he has already spoken with City Attorney Natasha Brooks to see what, if any action council can take against Joven, including possibly censuring the mayor.
Brooks on Friday did not return phone calls.
On Thursday, Joven released a letter to the OA accusing Marrero and staff of financial mismanagement and not being truthful about the need to spend $95 million to rehabilitate the current water treatment plant.
Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to pursue a certificate of obligation bond to pay for the project. Thompson and council members Mari Willis, Detra White and Tom Sprawls previously indicated they plan to vote for the certificate of obligation bond.
Joven and council members Denise Swanner and Mark Matta have said they will vote ‘no’ because they want the issue to go before voters. A certification of obligation bond only requires a vote by council.
“After numerous workshops and sessions, Odessa city management has yet to present a clearly defined plan for the improvements that are needed by our water treatment plant,” Joven wrote in his letter. “In fact, the engineering for the plant improvements is still incomplete despite having had over $14 million allocated to the project by the Odessa City Manager, Michael Marrero.
“No scope of work has been defined, no bids have been solicited, and no solid budget estimates have been provided to the Odessa City Council by city staff.”
In a thinly veiled threat directed at Marrero, Joven also wrote: “I suspect that the Odessa city manager’s desire to rush through another debt package has more to do with his fear of losing his ability to push through future massive debt packages should the composition of the city council change in the next election than it does in any real belief that repairs to our water treatment plant constitute an emergency that requires the immediate issuance of taxpayer debt.”
Marrero declined comment when reached by phone on Friday.
“It would not be appropriate for me, as city manager to comment on the mayor’s opinion,” Marrero said.
Thompson and other council members did not share that reluctance.
In a rebuttal to Joven’s letter, Thompson pointed out that the city manager doesn’t have the authority to allocate the $14 million for the project.
“That can only be done and was done by the prior city council,” Thompson said.
Thompson, Willis and White on Friday also disputed Joven’s assertion that city staff has not been forthcoming with details about the water plant. They also pointed out that since January; city staff has given four project presentations to council, including the mayor.
The reason some details have not been shared with council is because project funding has not yet been approved so bids cannot be sent out to hire architects and others who would provide those plans, White, Willis and Thompson said.
Willis was especially incensed by Joven’s assertion that Marrero was somehow trying to force council to approve the certificate of obligation bonds. She said that was only one of many inaccuracies and misleading statements made by Joven.
“I can assure you that nothing is being pushed down my throat by anyone,” Willis said on Friday. “I can assure you that staff has presented information that we have requested on any and all items that have been placed on council agendas and that at any time we need more clarification on any item, pictures, tours, financial information and options, it has been provided and we have been welcomed when seeking this information.”
Despite repeated reassurances by city administrators, Joven has continued to imply that using certificates of obligation bonds is somehow underhanded.
“I am completely opposed to using the loophole in Texas law that allows cities to issue massive amounts of debt without taxpayer approval,” wrote Joven, who argued that the debt package would leave taxpayers with a massive debt.
But Thompson also refutes that argument.
Certificates of obligation bonds are not just for emergency issues or a “loophole in the law,” as Joven claims, Thompson said.
COs are a common option city governments use to pay for infrastructure projects, which usually offer a lower interest rate than other types of financing available, Thompson said. It also provides a faster track to obtain financing which allows projects to begin quicker.
“If we were to have a public vote it would cost about $100,000 according to the mayor,” Thompson said. “The earliest it could be placed on the ballot is May 2022.”
“This is not a loophole, but rather one of several mechanisms available to cities, counties and other governmental entities to fund important infrastructure projects. CO’s have been used by the City of Odessa and other cities to build parks, roads, fire stations, police facilities and expand water and sewer facilities. Ector County recently issued $25 million in COs for the new Juvenile Detention Center. The City of Midland earlier this year issued over $50 million for various infrastructure improvements.”
The comptroller’s website (tinyurl.com/rm8f9xc) appears to back up Thompson and not the mayor. It details that projects do not have to be an emergency and that voters don’t have to approve unless 5 percent of qualified voters petition for an election.
City staff and council members Thompson, Willis, Sprawls and White all say the city needs to act quickly because the current water treatment plant is in dire condition.
All continue to express frustration about the mayor’s personal attacks when he doesn’t get his way.
Joven’s behavior appears to be more erratic as his political losses continue to mount, Thompson said.
Since taking office in December, council has rebuffed Joven’s efforts to pass a city ordinance declaring Odessa a sanctuary city for the unborn. Council two weeks ago voted 4-3 to approve construction of a new animal shelter over Joven’s strenuous objections.
In March, council voted 4-3 to approve an Ellen Noel Art Museum’s grant request for $600,0000 to help pay for a proposed $12 million building renovation and expansion project – a project Joven also opposed.
Two months ago, Joven appeared to earn a hard-fought victory when council voted 4-3 to back his stance to reject a proposal to hire a company to oversee the development of a new downtown master plan. That victory only occurred after Councilwoman Denise Swanner was allowed to change her vote at the last moment and Councilman Tom Sprawls effort to table the issue was rejected because his motion was made after a vote had already been taken.
The city’s Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone board last week returned to council with a revised master plan proposal that Sprawls has indicated he might support, which could turn Joven’s brief victory into another 4-3 defeat when council votes on the revised proposal on Tuesday.
Joven for months has fought to stop council from approving certificates of obligation bonds to pay for water treatment plant renovations. If, as expected, council votes 4-3 to move forward with the plan it would be another defeat for Joven.
This isn’t the first time Joven has shown frustration when he’s been outvoted. Joven previously served on council from 1996 to 1999 before abruptly resigning prior to the end of his second term. Joven has said he resigned because “At the time there was a voting block among district’s 1, 2 and 3, and they controlled council, they controlled who on council received information.
“I was just there twiddling my thumbs and I was ineffective. I didn’t believe that I was able to serve my district. I stepped down with the hope that my replacement could be more effective.”
Joven has made several disparaging 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 of a death in her family, he still questioned her professionalism and insisted she was intentionally trying to cast him in a negative light.
He has also repeatedly accused city administers and staff of trying to undermine him as mayor.
In May he made several disparaging personal remarks about Councilman Sprawls’ wife, Patti, during a zoom meeting with local clergy where he questioned the Sprawls’ Christian faith.
On that same call he said city staff was filled with “liberals.”
Willis was unhappy with the mayor’s actions and his letter to the editor.
“It is my opinion that to reduce oneself to name calling and untruthful accusations, on several occasions, and finger pointing of city staff and fellow council members to the newspaper and/or Zoom meeting is very unprofessional for anyone and especially an elected official,” Willis said.
“Most of the named individuals, in the Letter to the Editor, by nature of their jobs, do not feel at liberty to engage in a public defense of the accusations.”
The city council’s own code of conduct bylaws details: “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.”