Last week, candidates vying to be the next city councilman for the district one position in Odessa were invited to attend a candidate forum hosted by Lone Star Voice.
The four candidates seeking the include incumbent councilman Michael Shelton, Eddie Mitchell, Tiki Davis, and Mark Matta. Shelton and Davis did not attend the forum after confirming their attendance. Davis later followed up with Lone Star Voice saying he had to take a business trip out of town.
Candidates Mark Matta and Eddie Mitchell both gave opening statements before answering a battery of questions prepared by policy experts that work with Lone Star Voice.
The first questions leading off the forum pertained to fiscal issues – including how they would prioritize spending, whether they supported the city’s current efforts to make the county’s recently obtained portion of sales tax, and under what circumstances would they issue debt without voter approval.
“The whole budget needs to be overhauled,” Matta stated.“We first need to make sure the police department is funded 100 percent. We need to increase their pay to match our neighbor in Midland.”
Eddie Mitchell responded saying, “We have to invite the community.” He then pointed out that the council meets at odd times when citizens cannot attend. He went on saying that while he didn’t want to get into discussing the police department but that he does back the blue. Mitchell also touched on “back door” or “backroom” meetings which he repeatedly addressed throughout the forum implying that certain decisions are made behind closed doors.
“We have got to have the community come in with us. We can’t have those ‘back door, in the alley meetings’, because that has gotten us nowhere. It has got us in debt.” Mitchell said.
Asked about the city’s attempts to take the recently approved portion of sales tax revenue from Ector County, Matta responded saying, “that was taken to a vote by the citizens of Ector County, and it was approved to be used by the County. I don’t think the City should delve into that because that is the County’s money.”
Mitchell responded indirectly saying that if one entity needs help the other should assist it, and vice-versa. It isn’t immediately clear whether local tax entities can exchange tax revenue in the manner Mitchell described.
On the issuance of debt, Matta led off once again, saying that certificates of obligation were designed for emergency use only, such as natural disaster or something that is beyond our control.
“It wasn’t designed to be used because of a lack of planning by the city. Spending on issues like this should be put to the people to vote on in a bond.”
Mitchell pointed out how the city has had record revenue over the years and concurred with Matta that a lack of planning has put us in the position we are now.
Presently members of the council are subject to term limits in office, however, a loophole allows term-out council members to simply run for another position. The candidates were asked if they supported term limits, and if so, would they support closing the loophole. Currently, there are two termed-out members of the council running for other positions, including Mayor David Turner, who is running for the At-Large position, and District 2 Councilman Dewey Bryant, who is running for Mayor.
Matta stated that he supported term limits and supported closing the loophole.
Mitchell expressed support for term limits but indicted he was opening to allowing councilmembers from single districts run for Mayor or At-Large.
During his response, Mitchell also incorrectly said that the city council didn’t ask the community to weigh in on the creation of the At-Large position and giving the Mayor the ability to vote on issues.
Voters petitioned to have a measure placed on the ballot that was then approved in an election to establish the At-Large position and give the Mayor voting privileges, in recent years.
Asked if the candidates support emergency powers that have been used to deem certain businesses “non-essential” and order them closed during the COVID-19 response, Mitchell responded saying he supports both a mandatory mask mandate and the mandatory closure of non-essential businesses.
“I know some people are going to hate me for this, but I think we need to shut everything down…I really think we need to just shut everything down for a couple of weeks.”
Mark Matta responded in the opposite, saying the emergency powers “definitely need to be reined in” Matta went on saying he disagrees with Mitchell and said, “I don’t think the Mayor had the right to shut businesses down.” Matta also pointed out how so many families and businesses are suffering right now because of the economic downturn stemming from the shutdowns.
Matta also said he would oppose a mask mandate as a member of the council.
Early voting for the November 3 General Election Begins Tuesday, October 13.
Readers can watch the entire forum with the Odessa City Council District 1 candidates here.
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