Three of the four candidates seeking to represent Odessans as the next At-Large member of the city council took to the stage Tuesday evening at a forum hosted by Lone Star Voice in Odessa.
The three candidates in attendance included Latasha Gentry, JoAnn Davenport Littleton, and Denise Swanner.
The At-Large position is currently held by councilwoman Peggy Dean, who is not seeking re-election. Dean is the first person to be elected to the new At-Large council position which was created within recent years by citizens seeking to add balance and restore order to the council.
Incumbent Mayor David Turner, who is also running, declined the invitation to the forum at the last minute, citing an unknown conflicting event that he stated had been scheduled weeks prior.
Turner has served as the Mayor of Odessa for the past 8 years. A provision in the city charter imposing term limits on the city council prevents Turner from being able to run for re-election in his current post, however, a loophole allows a termed-out member of the council to simply run for a different seat on the council.
All of the candidates were given two-minute opening statements and then proceeded into four categories of questions relating to issues they will face should they be elected.
On fiscal issues, the candidates were noticeably all in agreement opposing recent actions of the current city council.
All three were opposed to the recent unanimous vote by the city council to increase the property tax rate and utility charges, something challenger David Turner voted for. Additionally, all three of the present candidates opposed two other fiscal issues that drew contrast against their absent challenger’s incumbent status on the council, including an attempt to take a portion of the county’s sales tax revenue, and using certificates of obligation to issue taxpayer-backed debt, circumventing voter approval in a bond election.
The current city council has come under fire for issuing over $90 million in certificates of obligation and is presently considering issuing another round somewhere in the $150 million-dollar range to pay for water infrastructure projects.
Addressing regulatory issues and city services, both Littleton and Swanner agreed that the entire code of ordinances needed to be overhauled and updated.
“All of the ordinances need to be revamped because the way they are designed now, it’s really designed to keep small business owners out” Littleton stated, pointing out that the current regulatory climate isn’t small business-friendly.
Swanner gave an example of how as a small business owner, she had to deal with city officials mandated she could only have one point of entry for her restaurant franchise, which caused traffic to constantly back up multiple blocks.
“All of these ordinances need to be looked at” Swanner said.
Gentry said that it was an issue she needed to look into further.
Another notable question that was posed to the candidates was relating to term limits on the city council. The candidates all weighed in against the loophole that allows current members of the council to simply run for another position once they have termed out in their current post.
“I do not support it and I would like for it to be closed,” Gentry said. “I think it would be nice for us to bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to the city council and not keep the same ideas. Those that have served in the past would be great to serve in an advisory capacity.”
“In Odessa, we have two sets of rules. We have rules that some people are supposed to follow and then we have other rules that other people are supposed to follow, and that’s not fair,” Littleton began saying in her response. “If the council votes on term limits after eight years, or two terms, you should go. Simple as that.”
Swanner stated, “Yes I support term limits and yes I support closing that loophole.”
After addressing questions, the forum concluded with the candidates giving a closing statement.
Feel free to check out and share the complete recording of the At-Large Odessa City Council forum, which can be viewed here.
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