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Drama embroils Odessa City Council after the firing of two top officials

Local attorney Gaven Norris addressing the Odessa City Council on December 13.
Screenshot from the City of Odessa’s livestream of the meeting.
Local attorney Gaven Norris addressing the Odessa City Council on December 13.

The Odessa City Council has come under fire for moving in December to terminate two top city staffers. The firings prompted a lawsuit alleging the council violated the rights of city residents, while separate accusations surfaced that council members have mistreated city employees.

The Odessa City Council is revisiting its decision to fire City Manager Michael Marrero and City Attorney Natasha Brooks.

Council members initially voted to terminate the pair in December, sparking a lawsuit, allegations of misconduct by elected officials and accusations that city staff are being mistreated.

Kim Smith, a reporter with the Odessa American, has been following this story closely and spoke to Marfa Public Radio’s Mitch Borden about the evolving situation.

Interview Highlights

The initial 5-2 vote

The Odessa City Council met on December 13 for their last meeting of 2022, where they faced a frustrated audience as they prepared to vote on firing the city manager and city attorney.Kim Smith described the meeting as “mayhem.”

“They went into executive session and came out, took a vote and terminated them with a five to two vote,” she said.

Many of those in attendance spoke out against the firings and voiced their frustration with the conduct of the city council.

“It was a very emotional meeting. I got the sense that people were upset because the motion wasn't just that they'd be terminated, but that they be immediately removed from the dais,” Smith said.

“I think a lot of people were upset, thinking that that was just a little bit inappropriate or just overboard,” she said.

There had been rumors that Marrero may have been having problems with council members according to Smith but Brooks being fired was unexpected.

“The overwhelming impression that I've been given is that Mayor [Javier] Joven, [Council member] Denise Swanner, and [Council member] Mark Matta wanted yes men, and Natasha Brooks, and Michael Marrero were not yes men,” Smith said.

Potential missteps and fallout

A major point of contention over the firings was the city council meeting's agenda stating the public would be allowed to comment on agenda items before the council voted — including the council’s decision to fire the two top officials. However, the council refused to let people speak before voting to fire Marrero and Brooks.

“A local attorney named Gaven Norris stood up and demanded the right to speak,” Smith explained. “He and several other city residents had filled out cards, stating they wanted to speak out on the agenda items, and it expressly stated on the agenda that they will be allowed to do that prior to the vote — that didn't happen”

This led Norris to file a civil lawsuit claiming his right and others were violated by the city council. The city is now holding a public meeting on Monday, Jan. 9 to revisit their decision and vote a second time on whether or not to terminate Marrero and Brooks.

Allegations of misconduct and bullying

City employees have come forward after the two firings to describe a toxic working environment under the current council. Many of the employees who Smith has spoken to have requested anonymity as a result.

“They describe the folks who they say are micromanaging them as extremists,” Smith said. “They believe that Mayor Joven, Denise Swanner and Mark Matta are micromanaging them in order to get what they want and they feel as though if they don't abide by the direction given by them, that they'll be on the firing line.”

So far, Smith hasn’t been able to get comments from Odessa officials concerning these allegations or an explanation for the firing of Marrero and Brooks.

“I've asked them via, you know, voicemail, text emails, they have declined to comment on those allegations,” she said. "They may have had perfectly legitimate reasons for firing Natasha Brooks and Michael Marrero, but they're not telling us why. You know, it would be nice to get the other side of the story.”

Mitch Borden is Permian Basin Reporter & Producer at Marfa Public Radio.