Several Odessa City Councilmembers who are planning to circumvent the voters by issuing $95 million in taxpayer-backed debt have announced their intention to consider censuring Mayor Javier Joven after the mayor came out strongly against the debt issuance this past week.
The censure is being spearheaded by Councilman Steve Thompson, who has claimed the censure is because he says the mayor has made disparaging remarks about the city manager and another council member and lied about the debt issuance.
But Thompson isn’t without his own misdeeds.
Odessa Headlines reported earlier that at one of Thompson’s first meetings in December of last year, Thompson initially voted to award his own company a lucrative six-figure city contract and failed to file state-mandated conflict of interest disclosures before the meeting – a violation that can carry hefty criminal penalties.
The move, which some Odessa residents say is reminiscent of the Democrat-led efforts to repeatedly impeach former President Donald Trump, comes after the mayor issued a letter explaining why he intends to vote “no” on the $95 million debt package being brought to the council by Odessa City Manager Michael Marrero’s office.
“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, adding further, “[i]n 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.”
At a recent June workshop discussion on the latest debt issuance, city staff revealed that the combined interest on the measure would total upwards of $130 million over 20 years and that while the debt is guaranteed by Odessa property taxpayers, the city intends to pay for it with an increase in water and sewer rate fees.
The funds will be used for new water infrastructure projects, however, Joven isn’t the only member of the council that has pointed out that the city administration has not brought forward many specifics regarding what the funds will be used for.
Notably, while Thompson also claims he has all the details necessary to decide to issue the $95 million in debt on behalf of Odessa taxpayers, Thompson was the only council member absent from the workshop discussion on the issue.
Councilman Mark Matta told Odessa Headlines that members of the council and the public have a right to be better informed about what public funds are to be used for before the debt is issued and cited the fact that certificates of obligation (COs) have been abused to circumvent voter approval on large public spending projects that would ordinarily require a bond.
Thompson on the other hand, claims COs are a normal tool Texas law provides cities to use as they please.
In actuality, the Texas Legislature recently had to pass legislation reining in the abuse of COs by local governments, with a new law set to go into effect this year that will cause all COs issued for non-emergency purposes to be subject to rollback elections if the combined tax rates exceed the 2.5% statutory increase trigger.
The Odessa City Council is set to vote on the initial issuance of the debt this Tuesday, 6:00 PM at the city council chambers.