Nov. 23—Medical Center Hospital CEO Russell Tippin once again thanked the Odessa City Council Tuesday night for loaning the hospital $3 million when it and the whole world were in a "bad spot." However, the council voted 5-2 to postpone indefinitely a discussion regarding Mayor Javier Joven's decision to ask the hospital to pay it back 22 months early.
The city council voted to give the hospital the loan in September 2021 due to the financial strain the COVID pandemic caused the hospital with the understanding the hospital would repay the loan within three years or once reimbursed by the federal government. It has not yet been reimbursed, but the hospital did cut the city a check last week.
Outgoing city council members Tom Sprawls and Detra White and sitting council member Steve Thompson expressed their dismay over the weekend upon discovering Joven had asked for the loan to be repaid immediately and without the knowledge of City Manager Michael Marrero.
The trio said they were never told Joven intended to make the request, found the request to be abhorrent and a gross case of overstepping Marrero. They are also upset because they believe Joven has unilaterally decided to use the money to provide raises for Odessa Fire Rescue personnel despite the fact a compensation study is still underway for all city employees.
All council members have said they believe OFR personnel are in need of raises, but some are worried where the funds will come from and the impact it will have on other city employees. They've already been told by Evergreen Solutions that public safety employees and city employees are underpaid when compared to peer communities.
Thompson and Sprawls asked for Joven's actions to be placed on Tuesday night's agenda at the last minute Saturday. However, Councilman Mark Matta made a motion to postpone the discussion indefinitely and Chris Hanie, who replaced Mari Willis on the council, seconded the motion. The motion then passed 5-2 with Thompson and new council member Gilbert Vasquez opposing.
Following the meeting, Thompson said he was disappointed by the postponement and questioned its legality.
Under Robert's Rules of Order, the object of a motion to postpone indefinitely is "not to postpone, but to reject, the main motion without incurring the risk of a direct vote on it, and it is made only by the enemies of the main motion when they are in doubt as to there being in the majority."
The council also voted last September to loan Odessa Regional Medical Center $1 million, but the paperwork was never completed for the loan to go through.
Prior to the start of Tuesday's meeting, Joven referred all questions about ORMC to City Manager Michael Marrero, saying he "doesn't take care of that." He declined to say how he would feel if the city moved forward with the loan.
Joven also denied asking MCH for the $3 million, saying it was a reporter's opinion he did so.
However, a text message sent to Tippin by Joven and obtained under the Texas Public Information Act reads: "Mr. Tippin, Javier Joven. Good morning. Like to be scheduled and placed on the hospital agenda. As mayor of Odessa I'd like request repayment of city of Odessa ARPA funds. City is seeking to use the 3 million that city granted MCH at a time MCH needed assistance. The repayment will allow the city council to infuse salary increases in 1-4 year fire suppression OFR personal (sic). We are currently losing to other competing communities. Please respond to my city cell or email."
Marrero hasn't returned several calls and emails seeking comment on the MCH and ORMC loans.
In other matters, the council voted to table another last minute addition to the meeting's agenda — the evaluation of appointees the council evaluated in October. Council member Denise Swanner made the motion and it passed unanimously without discussion.
The employees to be re-evaluated are: Judges Carlos Rodriguez and Keith Kidd of municipal court, City Secretary Norma Aguilar-Grimaldo, City Attorney Natasha Brooks and City Manager Michael Marrero.
Rumors have been circulating on social media that some members of council want to terminate Marrero.
The council also shook up the makeup of the Odessa Development Corporation board Tuesday.
Typically, committee members, who are appointed by council members, finish out their two and three-year terms even after the council member who appointed them is no longer on the council.
There were 10 committees on Tuesday night's agenda, the ODC is the only one that listed committee members with 2022 and 2023 expiration dates. It is unclear if the other committees also have terms expiring in 2023; their members are not listed on the city's website.
When new council member Gilbert Vaquez expressed confusion about why new council members were being asked to appoint people when existing ODC members terms weren't due to expire until December 2023, Joven told him all appointees are at the discretion of council members.
Hanie replaced board member Tim Edgmon with Jeff Russell. New council member Greg Connell appointed Mikky Navarrete to replace board president David Boutin and Vasquez appointed Boutin to replace Chris Cole.
Thompson voted against Navarette's appointment saying he just got the committee applications three hours earlier. He said he thought they were postponing the appointments.
"I guess we're playing by different rules," Thompson said at the meeting.
Thompson also opposed Russell's appointment to the ODC.
Joven, Thompson and council member Mark Matta re-appointed Larry Robinson, Melanie Hollmann and Kris Crow to the board. Swanner's appointee, James Kirk, will remain on the board as well. He was appointed in February to fill Russell's spot.
Back in January, the council voted 4-3 to remove Russell from the ODC alleging Russell participated in discussions about a Rhodes USA proposal at a December 2021 ODC meeting despite telling the chairman he had a business relationship with Rhodes USA. They also said he didn't file conflict of interest paperwork in a timely manner.
Swanner and Matta objected to Russell's removal, as did Kris Crow, Ector County Republican Chairwoman Tisha Crow and Tim Harry, who serves on the Midland Odessa Urban Transit District board.
Thompson and Matta went back and forth at that meeting as to whether Thompson's allegations of a conflict of interest were proven. After Thompson repeatedly quoted Russell from a transcript of the ODC meeting, Matta exclaimed that Russell had "misspoken," prompting an outburst of laughter from Thompson.
Later, Crow insisted Thompson resign, stating he, too, had voted on matters despite having a conflict of interest.
Both Crow and Swanner contended the city approved a contract for STA Benefits in December 2020 and again in December 2021 despite the fact the Texas Secretary of State listed Thompson as the president of the company.
Thompson denied having a conflict of interest, noting he retired in 2015. He said the company that bought STA Benefits was derelict in that they never filed the necessary paperwork to remove him from the state's website.
In May 2017, the city council booted ODC President Jimmy Breaux prior to the end of his term following an executive session meeting that was later deemed to be unlawful because it hadn't been properly called.
The council also voted 5-1 Tuesday night to pass an ordinance banning abortion of "any natural child from the moment of conception" in the City of Odessa unless the child is dead as a result of an accidental miscarriage or life saving measure or the pregnancy is an ectopic one. Thompson voted against the ordinance and Vasquez abstained.
Thompson said he thought the ordinance was redundant given actions of the U.S. Supreme Court and State of Texas. He also said he was uncomfortable imposing his religious views on anyone else.
Legal abortions have not been performed in Odessa since the early 1980s. Joven previously attempted to pass the ban in January 2021 when he first took office but did not have the votes.
Before voting Tuesday, council members heard from five speakers urging them to pass the ordinance. Hanie also read several scripture passages from First Corinthians and urged his colleagues to pass the ordinance.
"This city can become a light in a dark world. This city can become the light on the hill. This vote is for love. We are protecting over a real life that has its own identity," Hanie said.
The council also voted Tuesday night to appoint Swanner and Matta as mayor pro tems.