An agenda item that was initially approved during a public meeting last week by the board of the Odessa Economic Development Corporation (ODC) is being reversed after Odessa Headlines questioned the board chairman’s decision to vote by what has been described as a “secret ballot” process on the agenda item – rather than adhere to required Open Meetings Act (OMA) protocols.
At issue was an agenda item to consider and vote on an appointment to fill a vacancy in the compliance committee – an important 14-member advisory committee tasked with making sure requests for public funding comply with the law, as well as making funding proposals.
The proposals compliance puts forward are then routinely approved by both the ODC board, and then the city council.
Multiple applicants had filled out applications to be considered for the position.
However, several witnesses tell Odessa Headlines that when the agenda item came up for consideration, rather than adhere to the regular meeting process, board Chairman Tim Edgmon instructed the secretary to distribute paper ballots among the board members, who then voted by paper ballot to make the appointment – ultimately concealing how each board member voted.
After the board secretary gathered and tabulated the results, it was announced that former At-Large City Councilmember Peggy Dean was the winner of the appointment vote.
Odessa Headlines spoke with multiple members of the ODC board, including Jeff Russell, who was recently appointed to the board by At-Large City Councilmember Denise Swanner.
Russell stated that he was surprised when the vote happened and regretted not objecting, however, since it was his first meeting on the board and other seasoned members didn’t seem concerned, he wasn’t quite sure what to do.
“To be honest it caught me off guard and happened so quickly. I was looking forward to the opportunity to discuss the applicants in the meeting, but as a consequence of the voting procedure – by written ballot – I was not given that opportunity” Russell stated, adding further “One thing is for sure – now that I have a meeting under my belt I will quicker in asking questions.”
Odessa Headlines emailed board chairman Tim Edgmon who presided over the meeting, asking whether there was, in fact, a vote by secret ballot, and if so, how would it comply with the Open Meetings Act, and asked if the board had ever voted by secret ballot before?
Edgmon responded, confirming to Odessa Headlines that there was a vote by ballot, but stopped short of calling it a “secret ballot” and also stated they will have a redo vote on the appointment at the next meeting, and that as for now, there is still a vacancy on compliance committee.
“There aren’t many procedural rules for the OMA. We followed the procedures outlined in the Act by properly posting and keeping minutes of the meeting. The final action of appointing a new member to the Compliance Committee was taken in an open meeting. The applications were sent to board members in advance. Because the date and time of the ODC meeting changed and we needed to be out of the Council Chambers for the TIRZ meeting, I thought having a ballot would expedite the vote. Board members always have the option to ask for discussion on an item. We will take a vote on this item at the next regularly scheduled ODC meeting. At this time, there is still one vacancy on the Compliance Committee,” Edgmon wrote in his response.
Edgmon also confirmed that the ODC board has voted by “ballot” before but didn’t say how often or on what issues.
According to the Open Meetings Act manual published by the Texas Attorney General, final votes taken by governmental entities subject to the OMA like the ODC “may not vote in an open session by secret written ballot.”
Once the ODC board holds a new vote on the compliance committee appointment, the appointee will be finally able to participate in board activities. It is unclear when the next ODC board meeting will be held.