The Odessa City Council met for nearly half an hour behind closed doors Tuesday night using an exemption in open meetings law to discuss a “personnel matter” involving City Manager Richard Morton.
But the nature of that discussion remains unclear, after council members took no action.
Morton deferred questions about the discussion to the council, citing their executive session privilege under the law to keep the meeting secret, and dismissing a question about how the public might interpret the closed-door session.
“They can think what they want,” Morton said.
The executive session came after a longer-than-usual council meeting. On Tuesday, as the council does once a year, members voted on how to distribute $3.8 million in outside agency requests for hotel/ motel tax funding during the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
Downtown Odessa saw the largest increase in funding of any single entity with $410,642 budgeted for the group in Fiscal Year 2016. Last year, before the city absorbed Main Street Odessa, the downtown development agency received $150,000 from hotel/motel funds, which must be used to promote Odessa or bring visitors to the city.
The hotel/motel tax money comprises most of Downtown Odessa’s budget. The City of Odessa also pays $60,000 for the agency through the general fund.
“If we are going to build up downtown Odessa, we’ve got to fund it,” said District 3 council member Barbara Graff during the meeting.
Executive Director Gloria Hernandez said Downtown Odessa will use the money to advance the city’s goal of promoting activity downtown as part of a broader revitalization effort, “ultimately to make Downtown Odessa a destination place.”
The increase in funding will pay for an event coordinator to work on year-round downtown events, such as food truck and craft beer festivals, along with a monthly event similar to Hot Summer Nights.
The council denied a funding increase requested by Odessa Council for the Arts and Humanities, which asked for $902,932 for the coming fiscal year, which still gets the second greatest sum behind the Convention and Visitors Bureau. The arts council sub-grants money to more than 30 arts organizations. But it also organizes events and brings in artists such as the author Neil Gaiman in recent months.
Instead, the council kept the budget for the organization flat at $806,151.
“We are really in a great position with the help of this council to really ramp up the arts programming here and in the process fill some of those hotel rooms and get some visitors to our city and get them to spend some real money here,” Executive Director Randy Ham told members in a briefing before the 6 p.m. meeting.
After the executive session, three of the five council members and Mayor David Turner did not respond to requests for comment. Graff declined to discuss the nature of the meeting.
“Sometimes it’s best not to make a mountain of a molehill,” Graff said, arguing she couldn’t discuss the content of the closed-door meeting. “I wouldn’t waste ink on it, is all I can say, because it’s not worth it.”
District 4 Council member Mike Gardner also declined.
“Oh man,” Gardner said. “It’s really kind of one of those we probably shouldn’t discuss because it’s a private matter.”
He declined to elaborate.
But before being called into the meeting, Morton said the session was not about him taking work elsewhere. Morton also said he did not place the personnel matter on the agenda.
The City Manager’s Office usually compiles the entire City Council agenda, but items can be added if they are requested by two council members, said City Secretary Norma Grimaldo, who said she did not know what the executive session was about and did not sit in.
Grimaldo said she did not know which two council members requested the executive session.
But Graff confirmed she was one of them.
“Rarely do you come out of executive session and go out and vote on something,” Graff said. “It would have to be pretty outstanding.”
This article was written by Corey Paul from Odessa American, Texas and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.