ODESSA -- During a heated meeting Tuesday night, Odessa City Manager Richard Morton was fired from his position in a 3-2 vote by council.
The motion to terminate Morton came from Coucilman Filiberto Gonzales and both Councilwoman Barbara Graff and Councilman Malcolm Hamilton followed suit.
This was the third time this year that city council talked about removing Morton from his position.
However, unlike before, Morton chose to have Tuesday night’s discussion out in the open, instead of behind closed doors.
The final vote left many supporters of Morton’s shocked.
“For us it was very unexpected and we’re very disappointed,” said Sondra Eoff.
Sondra and Toby Eoff still can’t wrap their heads around the fact that Morton was let go.
“It’s very concerning when the person that brings the project to you has been fired,” Toby expressed.
The Eoff’s are talking about the $80-million Downtown Marriott Hotel and Conference Center, in which they’ve partnered with the city on by investing $48-million of those dollars.
According to the couple, Morton was the main one from the city who was helping them manage the project and was the reason why they became partners in the first place.
“When you take away one of the key players in the middle of the game, you’re interrupting the process and you can hurt the project.” Sondra explained. “Not understanding what repercussions this is going to have is very concerning.”
The Eoff’s fear this decision has placed a black mark on Odessa, and will not only hurt the city’s image, but the ability for them to attract new businesses and developers.
“We’re trying to put together a residential project downtown, and we can’t get anyone else to invest in it, and so, because of the volatility of the city council, so seeing what happened tonight won’t help that any at all,” said Sondra.
Before Tuesday’s meeting, Sondra and her husband tried speaking with the three members of council who voted to terminate Morton, but had no luck.
“We were just in Dallas meeting with a group of developers and people that are helping manage our project, and their exact comment was that Richard Morton was the best city manager that they've ever worked with,” said Toby. “That just came out yesterday … so it's quite shocking when you get those kind of accolades from people outside the community that are working with you from Dallas, Houston, Austin, and they make that comment about our city manager, and then, literally within 24 hours, you come back and see that there are city council members that want to terminate him. That definitely questions the perspective of why they took those actions.”
The couple’s next step is to figure out how council plans to move forward with their project.
According to our partners at the Odessa American, Councilman Gonzales accused Morton of failing to support the Mexico Initiative project.
Meanwhile, Councilwoman Graff was upset that Morton had allegedly not shored up a water supply during a drought years ago.
Mayor David Turner, Councilmen Mike Gardner and Dewey Bryant were all astonished by Morton’s removal.
At one point during Tuesday’s meeting, Bryant slammed his hand on the table saying Morton’s done everything he can to improve the lifestyle they have within the city.
Morton served a total of 15 years as city manager and told the Odessa American he’s proud of everything he’s done for the city.
An interim-manager was not immediately appointed, but Mayor Turner believes Assistant City Attorney Michael Marrero will serve as the top administrator in the meantime.
A full recap from the meeting can be found here.
You can find Morton's full contract here, courtesy of the Odessa American.