Odessa City Council is facing major criticism from residents after council members voted to remove Odessa Development Corporation’s Board Chairman Jimmy Breaux in an illegally-held private meeting.
While the decision to oust Breaux was made on May 9, the swelling disapproval around the community since then reached a fever pitch at Tuesday’s city council meeting – the first regular meeting since the controversial decision was made. Considering most Odessa City Council meetings are sparsely attended, Tuesday’s was a rare occasion – with so many residents in attendance that many were left without a seat.
During open forum, approximately ten Odessans, including Breaux himself, chastised city council members for their deliberate lack of transparency. They weren’t just referring to the May 9 meeting, either. As stated in a recent Odessa-American article, “city council has spent almost as much time during their regular meetings behind closed doors in 2017 as they have facing the public.”
By blatantly violating the Open Meetings Act, neglecting to announce the reason for the secret meeting prior to it taking place, city council has managed to dig itself a much deeper hole.
The sudden termination of Breaux, and the refusal by council members to give an explanation, has brought to light many of the issues within the Odessa Development Corporation (ODC) as well.
There has been widespread speculation that council’s decision could be related to a contentious tax-funded initiative purportedly established to strengthen economic ties with Mexico – an effort that Breaux has criticized for quite some time due to its high cost to taxpayers and inability to produce noticeable returns, if any.
In addition to the controversial Mexico initiative, other incentive programs led by the ODC have recently drawn public attention and scrutiny – including the approval of $68,000 in taxpayer-funded grants to remodel a downtown law firm owned by attorney Rahul Malholtra. Just prior to the ODC approving his contract, Malholtra pleaded guilty to federal felony charges for falsifying information regarding the ownership of his business to federal immigration authorities. He has since been convicted and is currently facing deportation as a Canadian-Indian citizen for violating the terms of his visa.
While the ODC and Odessa City Council each have their own tax revenue streams, they essentially operate under the same managerial umbrella – with city council having the final say regarding the ODC’s financial incentive programs.
With numerous local government entities vying for tax dollars, it raises the question whether so-called “business incentives” are the best use of those funds. And even worse, whether the people managing them are being forthright with the community.
Featured photo taken by Matthew Stringer.