[Odessa, Texas] A substantial contract for insurance coverage is raising questions surrounding how the contract was awarded after public records obtained by Odessa Headlines revealed multiple problems with the timeline and a conflicting document trail.
The issue stems from the December 8 city council meeting last year, when one agenda item to award an insurance contract to a company called STA Benefits Consultants brought newly elected Councilman Steve Thompson to briefly address the council regarding his connection to the company.
“Mayor, I want the council to know that I am going to vote aye for all the items but on item J that is my son’s company, so I just want to make the council totally aware of that. I have no interest in it anymore” Thompson can be heard stating in the meeting audio.
The Mayor at that time, David Turner, proceeded to hold a voice vote where all the members could be heard voting aye. Notably, Thompson can be seen and heard on the video recording verbally voting “aye” on the issue as well.
At first, Mayor Turner reported the vote as unanimous and then corrected himself saying there was one abstention.
“Motion passes unanimously – I’m sorry motion passes, and we have one abstention on item J” Mayor Turner can be heard saying. The minutes of the meeting also reflect one abstention on the meeting.
According to a document on conflict-of-interest laws from the Texas Municipal League (TML), city councilmembers are required to file an affidavit with the city secretary disclosing the extent and nature of any conflict of interest before the council votes on any issue relating to the conflict, and the councilmember in question must abstain from voting on the measure.
Failure to meet these requirements could result in criminal penalties. State law lists the offense as a Class A criminal misdemeanor.
Odessa Headlines requested the required affidavits from the city secretary, which were dated as having been filed on December 11, three days after the council meeting, but notably included a statement from Thompson describing how he informed the City Manager, Michael Marrero of the conflict prior to the meeting.
“I, on December 8th, 2020, informed Michael Marrero, City Manager, that my son owns STA Benefits Consultants and that I do not have an interest in the business entity” Thompson’s affidavit states – indicating that the city manager was aware of the issue before the vote.
Throughout this issue, Thompson has maintained the conflict lies with a company (STA Benefits) he used to own, but now is owned by his son, Marty Thompson.
The company’s website confirms this arrangement, noting Marty Thompson as the President/Principle and also showing Councilman Thompson as the retired former principal.
However, the most current business filings with the Texas Secretary of State show Steve Thompson listed as the current president of the company, with Marty Thompson listed as the current treasurer – contrary to the councilman’s disclosures.
Inquiries were also made to the city purchasing office after records request for documents relating to how the insurance contract was awarded or bid out came up dry.
According to the City purchasing department and information from the Texas Municipal League, substantial insurance contracts can be awarded without going through the state-mandated bidding process if the contract is simply up for renewal or if the purchase is made through an insurance broker.
An exemption in the state-mandated bidding laws allows local governments to contract with service providers without having to go through the mandatory bidding process, and a current “loophole” allows insurance brokers to win lucrative government contracts without having to compete in the usual bidding process.
Ultimately, Councilman Thompson would have needed to properly file his disclosure affidavits before the meeting, and abstain from the vote, in order to meet the procedural requirements of conflict laws, according to the process described in the TML advisory document.
It is unclear whether the councilman understood that informing the council and city manager of the conflict before the meeting was all that was needed to conform to conflict laws, or what the city manager did in order to ensure the councilman complied with the law after he was informed.
Odessa Headlines emailed Councilman Thompson for comment but as of deadline, Mr. Thompson had not responded to our request.
Whether the councilman still holds a position with the company that could be a conflict he didn’t disclose, as the Secretary of State filings indicate, remains an unresolved question.
Regardless, a conflict affidavit would still have been required under state law due to his family relationship with Marty Thompson.