City Council shaken up in 2018

first_imgLocal News TAGS Twitter WhatsApp Facebook Twitter By Digital AIM Web Support – February 24, 2021 Pinterestcenter_img Facebook 2018 Year in Review logo web.jpg Following a year of controversial decisions from the Odessa City Council, the public made it clear they wanted to see a change in their city government. Change is what they made happen when they voted to add an at-large city council member and give the mayor the ability to vote. Odessa residents voted overwhelmingly Nov. 6 to pass Proposition 1, creating the at-large seat, 11,712 to 4,262, and Proposition 2, 11,117 to 4,814. These two propositions stemmed from a citizen-driven petition which began last December, and was filed in February with more than 4,200 signatures. With the propositions passed, voters were also able to elect Odessa accountant Peggy Dean to serve as the first at-large city council member after she ran unopposed for the position, garnering 12,277 votes. Further shakeup occurred during the election, as Council Members Barbara Graff, Mike Gardner and Filiberto Gonzales, representing District 3, 4 and 5 respectively, had their seats filled by new Council Members Detra White, Tom Sprawls and Mari Willis. Gardner and Gonzales had opted not to run again, and Graff had reached her term limit. Graff and Gonzales played a part in some of the controversial decisions that led to the creation of the petition. They, along with District 1 Council Member Malcolm Hamilton, had previously shown opposition to the petition giving two more votes to the City Council, twice voting down requests to call elections in May and November to vote on the propositions. Hamilton was at the center of a number of controversies in the latter half of 2018 after he, Graff Gonzales and Mayor David Turner had planned to take a taxpayer-funded trip to South Padre Island to see City Secretary Norma Grimaldo receive a statewide award. Hamilton refused to justify using taxpayer money to take the trip, calling it a “stupid ass question” and calling Odessa American Publisher Pat Canty a “f—king homosexual.” Further attention was drawn toward Hamilton after anonymous sources spoke about an argument taking place after an October City Council meeting between Hamilton and Interim City Attorney Gary Landers, with Hamilton reportedly getting close to Landers’ face before the two were separated by District 1 Council Member Dewey Bryant. Hamilton can be heard shouting and saying “do it again” multiple times in recorded audio of the incident. Following this argument, the Odessa Police Department began staffing City Hall with a security officer during business hours, paying them overtime. City Spokesperson Andrea Goodson said the officer was placed there due to safety concerns. Hamilton was the only city official to speak about the incident, saying the argument occurred due to Landers ignoring a question Hamilton had asked him twice during the Oct. 9 City Council meeting. Landers and Hamilton later apologized to each other, Hamilton added, and now have a “good relationship.” In late November, Hamilton told Odessan Norma Alvarez to “go die somewhere” in a private Facebook message after she had sent him a message calling him “a total disgrace” to Odessa. After calling him a disgrace to the Permian High School football program and accusing him of skewing facts, Hamilton responded by saying “oh please, go die somewhere.” Hamilton told CBS7 Alvarez deserved the comment for insulting him first. “She had very ill words to say to me so I said ill words back to her,” Hamilton told CBS7. “I live by the passage of do unto others as thou will have done unto thyself and you can clearly see she started with me.” There was internal shakeup of city staff earlier in the year, as Michael Marrero was appointed to become the permanent city manager in May and Landers was hired as interim city attorney following the retirement of Larry Long. The former city attorney retired at the end of February following accusations the year prior that he had sexually harassing a legal assistant. Without taking any disciplinary action, the City Council ultimately allowed Long to resign at the end of February, in part so he could receive better retirement benefits. That wasn’t the only accusation of sexual harassment gone unpunished at the City, however. Utilities Field Operations Manager Antonio Madrid had a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by a female employee under him in April. A number of accusations were listed against Madrid, including one stating that he had recorded a woman with her phone while she was wearing a skirt, and accusations he would caress her ear. Another woman was included in the complaint who stated Madrid had offered her a foot massage after he saw her limping in the hallway. The city’s legal department arranged a meeting between Madrid and the three women accusing him of sexual harassment in July, to allow the women to let them know how he made them feel. After this, one of the complainants said no further action was taken against Madrid. One of the complainants said she had forgiven Madrid during the meeting and that he had apologized. “But I still think something needed to be done,” she said at the time. “Yes, he did say that, but he could have said that just because everybody was there.” A lawsuit was also settled between the City and the OA in March, a near year-long endeavor filed by the OA in June 2017 alleging the City Council violated the state open meetings law after they voted to oust the head of the Odessa Development Corporation following a closed-door discussion. The City will now be required to keep audio records of closed sessions for at least two years, allowing a judge to examine the records should future lawsuits allege open meetings act violations, which goes beyond what the law currently requires. Additionally, the settlement also called for the City to comply with the requirements of the Texas Open Meeting Act and pay part of the OA’s legal fees, $12,500. As part of the settlement, the City Council denied violating the act, “or if it did, the violation was only technical and resulted in no harm” to the OA or the general public. The city still managed to make further progress in its mission of revitalizing downtown in 2018. The hotel and convention center downtown is still under construction, expected to open in July 2019, with the Ector Theater still undergoing renovations as well. Most notably, the City Council approved the creation of a tax increment reinvestment zone downtown. This TIRZ freezes property tax revenues at a base level, and as property values rise as the area is developed, revenues collected above that level can be used for further projects in the designated zone. The TIRZ boundaries run from Second Street, Eighth Street, Adams Avenue and Bernice Avenue. The money raised here would be used for downtown improvements, Marrero said previously, such as widening sidewalks, improved lighting or additional parking. 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