As of late, Odessa City Hall increasingly bears more resemblance to the set of an MTV reality show than a place of governance, with residents taking matters into their own hands to end the political saga.
A grassroots effort has developed in the West Texas city in an attempt to remove one, if not more, city council members through the means of a recall petition.
According to the city’s charter, any registered voter living in the City of Odessa can file an affidavit with the city secretary seeking the removal of their city council member. Once filed, a 30 day window is given to collect a minimum of 2,000 petition signatures from registered voters (or, if over 2,000, at least 50 percent of the number of votes cast for that council member in the last election). The group, known as “Drain the Swamp in Odessa”, already has a substantial Facebook following of 459 members to date.
While opposition to city council has undoubtedly been brewing over time, a recent event may have been what pushed residents over the edge.
Amidst a room packed with community members and after a number of heated exchanges, city councilmembers voted earlier this month to remove Odessa City Manager Richard Morton. The three members voting for his removal – District 1 Councilman Malcom Hamilton, District 3 Councilwoman Barbara Graff, and District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales – cited poor job performance as well as personal grievances as the primary reasons behind the decision.
Gonzales, who formally called for Morton’s removal, immediately followed his motion by condemning Morton for not supporting a tax-funded project managed by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce known as the “Mexico Initiative”. The project was purportedly established to strengthen economic ties with Mexico and has been heavily criticized for its high cost and ineffectiveness.
Morton’s reluctance to support the program seemingly drove a wedge between him and the councilmember, who even expressed being personally offended by Morton in his dealings with the media, asking him, “Where were you to defend me the way I defended you?”
Last week’s uproar follows another controversial move made just five months ago by city council when, after a pro-longed series of closed-door meetings, they voted to remove former Odessa Development Corporation Chairman Jim Breaux. The decision to fire Breaux was met with heavy scrutiny from community members, and the lack of transparency surrounding it even resulted in a lawsuit initiated by the Odessa American who, at the time, stated that “city council has spent almost as much time during their regular meetings behind closed doors in 2017 as they have facing the public.”
It’s likely that not all of the factors involving the firings have been disclosed, however, there is one common denominator. Like Morton, Breaux also was a vocal critic of the Mexico Initiative.