Emails and text messages between Odessa City Council-members published on social media appear to reveal a series of instances in which three elected officials where chastised and criticized by District 2 Councilman Steve Thompson for asking questions.
The communications, published by the Odessa Accountability Project (OAP) which is a watchdog organization headed by businesswoman Jamie LaVon Foreman, published a series of emails relating to an ongoing controversy regarding the city’s continued loss of firefighters and emergency personnel due to low pay and communication issues within city leadership.
The communications show Councilman Thompson emailing Councilmembers Mark Matta and Denise Swanner, stating that he discovered that the duo met with Fire Chief John Alvarez to discuss firefighter compensation, describing their actions as “disturbing” micromanagement.
“There are two other instances that have come to my attention that are very disturbing,” Thompson wrote, “First, I discovered that you and Denise went directly to Chief Alvarez to discuss firemen’s compensation, without including or notifying (city) management.”
Thompson went on to say the two councilmembers “put (Alvarez) in a terrible spot, making him uncomfortable, and that the discussion “should not have happened.”
Thompson ended with a reminder that the only employee of the council is the City Manager Michael Marrero, and that is where the two should have got their answers.
But records obtained by Odessa Headlines reveal that Thompson has also discouraged his colleagues from questioning the City Manager.
The texts occurred directly after a major water main broke in June, leaving the city without water for multiple days.
It was during the phase of the repairs while water lines were slowly being re-pressurized that Marrero informed the council in a message that he planned to give city employees a late start time to allow more time for their families to get bathed and for restrooms in the city facilities to work again.
Mayor Javier Joven responded in a brief message concurring with Marrero’s decision, saying the late start was “advisable.”
Thompson fired back at Joven, telling the Mayor, “Javier. Let Michael do his job.”
Councilman Matta then responds to Thompson saying “Where exactly do you see Javier keeping Michael from doing his job? I don’t see anything in this thread that suggests what you’re saying.”
Thompson then responded to Matta writing “The start of the city hall work is michale’s (sic) call.”
Thompson can be seen expanding on the thread exchange at the beginning of the emails published by the Accountability Project, beginning the email by saying he wanted to address what he deems “micromanagement” by the other councilmembers and concluded that we will “disagree about the mayor’s comment questioning the City Manager’s decision.”
Mayor Joven told Odessa Headlines in a phone interview that he didn’t see how anyone could take his comment out of context the way Thompson describes it, adding he was simply acknowledging and agreeing with Marrero’s briefing.
This is not the first time Thompson and Joven have butt heads.
Odessa Headlines reported last year on a plan spearheaded by Thompson to censure the mayor for questioning a $95 million taxpayer-backed debt issuance that was supported by Thompson.
Joven questioned whether the plan properly addressed the city’s water infrastructure needs and urged the council to allow the public to vote on large debt issuances by holding a bond election.
Within the complaints regarding firefighter pay raised by the OAP, the watchdog group has questioned whether firefighter pay concerns were properly expressed by the fire chief to the city manager and questioned why the entire council wasn’t being made aware of low pay concerns being brought forward by the firefighters.
In Councilwoman Swanner’s response to Thompson in the email exchange, Swanner wrote that she felt Fire Chief Alvarez would be one of the people best able to answer their questions and stated she and Matta had a duty to develop policy through oversight.
“I am sure you’d agree that as elected representatives of our city’s government that we have every right and I would even say an obligation to investigate and educate ourselves on the very important issues facing the well-being of our city,” Swanner wrote.
Swanner concluded the response by writing, “I will continue to ask questions and gather information as I deem fit so that I can continue to do a good job for our city, and I would appreciate it if you would understand the facts before attempting to lecture me or any other councilmember about our duties.”
The City of Odessa has a Council-Manager form of government.
The Council directly appoints five subordinate officials, including the city manager, who in turn hires the various department heads of the city.
Under this structure, Odessa Councilmembers are allowed to develop policy by seeking the “advice, information, and analysis provided by the public, boards, committees, and city staff,” while allowing the manager to oversee all administrative functions within his department.
Thompson has now responded to the OAP through Facebook, writing that he “totally” supports the fire and police departments, but focused on addressing the issue of working through the city manager.
“THE ethics code state’s that we as council and mayor should work through the City Manager who is our only employee. It’s my opinion if Ms Swanner and Mr Matta wanted to discuss turnover and pay they should have gone straight to the City Manager and ask their questions and if he could not satisfy them, then they could have requested a meeting with the Chief through the City manager,” Thompson wrote adding “I was trying to shame them.”