The Odessa City Council is expected to discuss the possible removal of Odessa Development Corporation Board member Jeff Russell at its regular meeting Tuesday night at the request of council members Steve Thompson and Mari Willis.
During last week’s council workshop meeting, Thompson alleged Russell discussed a pending proposal by Rhodes USA to launch a prefab framing factory during the Dec. 9 ODC meeting despite having a business relationship with the company.
Thompson told his fellow council members that while Russell said he was going to abstain from the vote on the project – which was passed – he spoke at length about the project. Also upsetting, Thompson said, was the fact Russell didn’t file notice of his conflict of interest until two days after the December meeting despite the fact the project was also on an October ODC agenda. The project was tabled at that meeting.
Reached Friday night, Russell said he was unaware of Tuesday’s agenda item and declined to comment.
Russell was appointed to the ODC last year by Councilmember Denise Swanner, who did not immediately return a call for comment.
Russell is also treasurer of the Ector County Republican Party and Swanner was recently appointed to the ECRP executive board.
City documents detail if the city council gives its nod Tuesday night, Rhodes USA will either lease an existing facility or build a new one. If it’s the former, the company will qualify for a $1.4 million grant from the ODC or it will qualify for nearly $1.8 million if it’s the latter. City documents indicate Rhodes will invest nearly $3 million in machinery, tools, equipment and logistics in the first 12-18 months of operation if it leases an existing facility and they’d spend $10 million if they build a new facility.
On Wednesday, Thompson said Russell, as owner of Paul Evans flooring, has sold Rhodes flooring materials and he should have filed the correct paperwork back in October and completely abstained from discussing the contract.
“You can’t do that. It’s a State of Texas ethics code violation. It’s a violation of their bylaws, ODC bylaws. It shows no integrity at all and I’ve had enough of it,” Thompson said. “The bylaws and the Texas Ethics Commission are very clear about conflicts of interest. It’s just not right. It’s just not right and it jeopardizes the integrity of the council.”
From now on, Thompson said he intends to look harder at proposed appointments to the ODC. Corporation board members are appointed by council members and can serve up to three, two-year terms, he said.
“They got so much money over there we just can’t have people doing that. It’s ridiculous,” Thompson said. “I’m going all out on this. I’m not letting up on it.”
Willis did not respond to an email requesting comment.