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Odessa City Council votes 5-2 to fire top officials for a second time

Gaven Norris Speaks To Odessa City Council 1/9/23
Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
Gaven Norris address Odessa City Council

On Monday, the Odessa City Council voted to fire Odessa City Manager Michael Marrero and City Attorney Natasha Brooks for the second time in less than a month. The council chose to redo the vote after a civil lawsuit was filed against the city alleging the council violated the state's open meetings act when they originally fired the officials in December.

The Odessa City Council doubled down Monday morning in a 5-2 vote on firing City Manager Michael Marrero and City Attorney Natasha Brooks .

Local leaders had originally voted to remove the two officials on Dec. 13, but a civil lawsuit prompted the council to redo the vote.

Gaven Norris, a local Odessa attorney, filed the lawsuit against the council on Dec. 22. He alleged that council members had violated the state’s open meetings act when they refused to allow public comment before voting to fire the two administrators.

The lawsuit led a judge to put a temporary hold on the council’s decision. However, the order was removed after the city council announced it would vote again — this time ensuring the public would be able to speak on all agenda items.

Addressing the council on Monday, Norris said, “It shouldn’t take us actually filing a lawsuit for you to actually do the right thing.”

Several other people at the meeting stood to voice concerns with the council’s decisions.

Mari Willis walks away after commenting on the firings of Michael Marrero and Natasha Brooks
Mitch Borden
Marfa Public Radio
Former Odessa City Council Member Mari Willis turned out Monday to air out her frustrations over the firings of Odessa City Manager Michael Marrero and City Attorney Natasha Brooks.

“Quite frankly, I’m appalled at the situation we find ourselves in now,” said Gene Collins, a local community organizer. “I think this community is owed an explanation as to why these people were terminated."

Multiple other city staff members, including an assistant city manager, have left their positions since the council’s initial decision to fire Marrero and Brooks. At the meeting, former council member Mari Willis called the departures a “mass exodus.” She said she believes that under current leadership, city staff are being forced to be yes men.

“If you say no, you’re on the cutting block. If you’re not a yes person, you’re on the cutting block,” she said. “[Departing employees] don’t want to be a part of the mess that’s going on. They don’t want to have to say ‘yes’ or they’re gone.”

The council mostly remained silent on Monday, declining to offer an explanation for the terminations. Only two council members voted against firing Marrero and Brooks, who were not present at the meeting.

“I resent all of this tremendously, this was all saucered and blown behind closed doors,” said Council member Steven Thompson, one of the two dissenting members. “I don’t believe we’re being honest here.”

After the meeting, Odessa Mayor Javier Joven told reporters there had been communication issues between the council and Marrero.

“[The council and city manager’s office] are supposed to work hand in hand with policymaking and that wasn't occurring,” he said. “There wasn't communication. At times, not only weeks, but months of no communication.”

Joven said the city is in a transition phase and the firings are part of bigger changes.

“This is a council that basically is going in a different direction, we've made a statement to the fact that we are committed to move this community forward,” he said. “The day to day operations of who handled that needed to be changed and that's what the council responded to in detail.”

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