HR director says Hallmark has no recourse

Jan. 27—The City of Odessa's human resource director doesn't believe Downtown Odessa Director Casey Hallmark has any recourse against a board member accused of bad mouthing her on Facebook.

In a two-page memo to Interim City Manager Agapito Bernal and Interim City Attorney Dan Jones, Charles Hurst notes Tisha Crow is not an employee of the city or the Downtown Odessa board. In addition, the city's illegal harassment policy doesn't ban actions involving political affiliation. Lastly, Hurst said Hallmark's boss, Bernal, has no authority to sanction the conduct of a board member since the board is comprised of individuals appointed and approved by members of the city council.

Hurst also suggests it is normal for there to be some contention between Hallmark and her board members.

"A review of (Hallmark's) job duties on the other hand, includes multiple examples of her obligation to establish and maintain productive relationships with a variety of constituencies including the Board. While fulfilling that expectation may prove to be difficult in some circumstances, it would seem to be naïve to expect that meeting that expectation will be free from contention at all times," Hurst wrote.

Crow, who is also the Ector County Republican Party chairwoman, did not immediately respond to an email sent Friday.

Hallmark learned of Hurst's email through the Odessa American.

"I never got that response. I have heard nothing since the 15th when I emailed them. They've not contacted me. They've not emailed me. They've not explained anything to me. When you sent that to me, that was the first I've ever heard of it and it is absolutely ridiculous that I would have to hear from the city through the media," Hallmark said.

While she remains glad she spoke up for herself, she's angry about the result.

"How do they expect downtown to move forward and grow when I know that this board member is publicly bashing me and calling me a disgrace on social media? There's no recourse for her actions, but I'm just supposed to move along, shut up and keep going, don't make a fuss, just take it," Hallmark said. "I complained because I feel like at some point, something has to be said and someone has to speak up for the way that we're being treated. If nothing comes of it, it is what it is. I'm not comfortable with that. I don't agree with that."

Hallmark filed a complaint with Hurst, Jones and Bernal about Crow on Jan. 15, one month after she made headlines for speaking out against the Dec. 13 terminations of City Attorney Natasha Brooks and City Manager Michael Marrero. During that meeting Hallmark alleged Mayor Javier Joven called her a "crazy liberal" and that he also told her the police department is full of murderers and she needed to watch her back.

She also alleged newly elected council member Chris Hanie screamed at her at the Parade of Lights event about the banner being used for his vehicle.

Hanie took Council member Denise Swanner's spot as an ex officio member of the Downtown Odessa board at the same Dec. 13 meeting. Hanie then appointed Crow to the Downtown Odessa Board Jan. 3

When Hanie objected during the Jan. 10 city council meeting to those allegations being made part of the record, Hallmark again addressed the council, but this time she was more explicit. She quoted him as using the "F" word during the exchange.

In her version of the event, Hallmark said Hanie told her "I am not a (expletive) council person. I am a (expletive) council man and I will be referred to as such," Hallmark said.

Hanie denied the allegation, citing his Christian faith. He said he merely told Hallmark he prefers to be addressed as councilman.

"I was accused of being a bully, intimidating and screamed at by a young lady and I would like it to be known right here I don't yell," Hanie said during last week's council meeting. "I don't have anybody to yell at. I don't have any reason to yell."

The City of Odessa hired the law firm of Davidson Sheen to investigate the alleged incident and depositions are underway. Davidson Sheen's billing rate is $375 an hour and the associate attorney rate ranges from $195-$250 an hour.

Hallmark's use of the "F-word" sparked an outcry on social media with the Odessa's Accountability Project and several others calling for Hallmark to be dis-invited from a Jan. 18 Ector County Republican Women's event where she'd been invited to speak about Downtown Odessa's successful year.

The post stated Hallmark's recent behavior "makes her appear unhinged and out of touch with reality." A follow-up post that accused Hallmark of carrying out a plan to sue the city and "make a quick buck."

Hallmark backed out of the event and filed her complaint about Crow because Crow "liked" the original post and chimed in on it.

In one post, Crow complained "dropped the 'F'bomb in council. She is a disgrace."

Crow also "liked" many of the comments blasting Hallmark's actions at the council meetings, including one in which someone falsely claimed Hallmark "trashed our police force and called them murderers."

It isn't the first time Jamie Foreman, who launched the Odessa Accountability Project Facebook page, has objected to actions taken by Hallmark.

In late November, Foreman sent Hallmark, Marrero, Joven, Swanner and City council member Mark Matta an email questioning why Hallmark would "align" herself with Odessa Whistleblowers, a Facebook page that made salacious accusations against Joven and Matta. She also attached a screenshot showing Hallmark was "friends" with the page and screenshots of the actual accusations.

Hallmark had also gotten sideways with Swanner over the Parade of Lights banners. According to emails obtained by the Odessa American under the Texas Public Information Act, Hallmark emailed council members on Nov. 22, telling them Downtown Odessa wanted to give them the "VIP treatment" and showed them what their banners would look like. Swanner responded "Will you have them done as councilman or councilwoman? Council person is proper?"

When Hallmark said they'd researched past banners and discovered they'd always used "council person," Swanner responded: "My request wasn't a question? I would like to be referred to as council member or councilwoman."

Matta, in the same thread, took the opportunity to tell Hallmark he was disappointed she was "friends" with Odessa Whistleblowers "who's (sic) sole purpose is to try to discredit myself, Council member Denise Swanner and Mayor Javier Joven. While you are free to do as you like on social media, I am also free to respond accordingly."

Matta said he regretted cancelling his participation in a race in order to attend the parade and support Downtown Odessa. He declined her offer of a banner.

"I have my own banner and will have family members carrying the banner."

According to a public information coordinator with the City of Odessa, the communications department, legal department and city secretary's office could not locate any social media policies governing city employees.