OUR VIEW: More issues at City that you will only read about here

THE POINT: Remember going without water a few days last summer? Emails sound the alarm about staffing issues at water department.

In case you missed the news, the Odessa City Council will be meeting with city manager candidates the week of June 26. Mayor Javier Joven refused to tell us how many of the initial 50 candidates have dropped out of the running, but thanks to City Council member Steve Thompson we know T2 Professional Consulting whittled the number to four.

We also know T2 will be paring that number down even further before June 26.

What do we know about the four?

Absolutely nothing.

The city’s $155,000 spokeswoman, Monica McDaniel, informed us June 6 the city doesn’t have any public information on the candidates.

“T2 has all of that and it is confidential. The candidates will be revealed at the right time in the next few weeks,” she said.

The following day, Public Information Coordinator Jennifer Reynier informed us we could reach out to T2 Founder Mike Wilson for help.

Wilson, however, informed us he had to have written permission from the city to release the candidates’ resumes and letters of interest. He also declined to give us information because he wanted to protect the candidates “in their current professional roles.”

“Once the council identifies the candidate(s) they wish to offer conditional employment offer(s) to, the name(s) would then be eligible for release through the city. T2 will not be releasing this information,” Wilson said.

So, we, and you, are supposed to put 100% of our faith in T2.

This is a company that offered up the services of a “mental scientist” to the City of Odessa and then took him off the city manager hunt after the Odessa American did a little bit of research on him. We revealed his alleged alma mater doesn’t offer a degree in “mental science” and the Texas Behavioral Health Executive Council has no record of issuing him any licenses. We also revealed he’s written at least 14 self-help books on how to get rich.

We’re supposed to trust on blind faith that T2 has found the best qualified, best educated candidate for the city council to interview.

This is also the same company that didn’t even have a website until after Mayor Javier Joven hired them under highly questionable circumstances. Sure, their website quotes past “clients” — but anonymously! Oh, and the only job listing on their website is the Odessa city manager position.

We’ve told you before, we went looking to see what other cities have hired T2 and we couldn’t find a single news story outlining any past contracts.

And yet, we’re supposed to go all in on whomever they ultimately recommend for the position?

Guess we’ll have to cross our fingers we don’t find any skeletons once we do our own vetting.

Resource woes

In our last editorial, we wrote about Melissa Looney’s resignation from the city. The former wastewater treatment plant director cited “Stress. Not enough employees, leaving more work for me. Pay for my employees. Under appreciated.”

A follow-up Texas Public Information Act request resulted in the OA obtaining a series of interesting and rather alarming emails between Looney’s boss, Utilities Director Tom Kerr, and Interim City Manager Agapito Bernal.

On Feb. 3, Kerr informed Bernal and then Assistant City Manager Aaron Smith his department has been short on personnel for more than a decade. He explained he’d been reducing staffing levels in water distribution and collections so he can “hold on to staff as well as try to recruit” but not having much luck.

“Morale is not good. Significant compensation adjustments are necessary. We do not get applications and there is no way to solve the problem if we are not recruiting,” Kerr wrote. “We have high demands on field work forces and can only accomplish the immediately critical things. True operational maintenance is not possible.”

Kerr then explained just how short each department was.

  • Street Division: 18 vacancies out of 44 positions
  • Water Distribution/Wastewater collections: 8 vacancies out of 26
  • Bob Derrington Water Reclamation Plant: 7 vacancies out of 16 positions
  • Water Treatment Plant: 2 vacancies out of 10 positions
  • Geographic information system: 4 vacancies out of 10

Kerr said the utilities maintenance crew was fully staffed at 11 positions, but pointed out they were overwhelmed with work. “Plant valve and mechanical problems are a constant and increasing challenge within the plants,” he wrote.

As for his professional/technical and administrative staff, Kerr pointed out he and two of his engineers are more than 60 years old and he anticipated two younger engineers would be leaving once they obtained their professional engineer license.

While Kerr said he recognizes police officers and firefighters are critical, so is his staff.

“I know the vast majority of personnel want to work very well, however the stresses of the work load, lack of support personnel, experience/training and compensation is a path to crisis,” Kerr wrote. “Please help us help the community efficiently and effectively. I know the difficulties and I am sorry they exist, but I do not think we can ignore the elephant in the room and be good stewards of our obligations.”

Bernal responded with a two-paragraph email in which he said the city appreciates all of its employees and he’d be bringing Richard Salinas, who was hired as the assistant director of utilities on Dec. 12, 2022, into the office five days a week.

“All departments are being evaluated to make better use of our resources,” Bernal wrote.

Kerr told Bernal he didn’t think that would be helpful. He said Salinas had been hired to help until the city found another person. He described Salinas as doing a “tremendous amount of work” already even though a family obligation was keeping him home two days a week.

“Mr. Salinas is not likely able to do this (work in the office five days a week) and may have to retire. If he does, my needs will be tremendously worse,” Kerr wrote. “This only jeopardizes what resources we currently have…I cannot see how losing him helps. We have not received any qualified applications for his position.”

Bernal responded by telling Kerr to inform Salinas he had to work onsite starting Feb. 21.

According to records obtained under the TPIA, the city fired Salinas for “insubordination” Feb. 22 when he didn’t report onsite.

What a slap in the face!

No wonder Kerr abruptly announced his resignation in the middle of a city council work session Feb. 28. He and the council were discussing a list of future roadway projects when he said he’d had enough stress and would be leaving in two weeks.

It says an awful lot about his integrity and work ethic he promptly rescinded his resignation.

We’re praying for Kerr’s physical and mental well-being.