The brouhaha over the firing of Odessa City Attorney Natasha Brooks continues, but now Odessa City Council member Steve Thompson is doubling down on his vote against her termination because allegedly he asked the city staff to return a declaration of interest that he had signed.
Brooks was terminated in a 5-2 vote by the Odessa City Council without comment on December 13.
Allegations about Brooks have come to light in connection with a long-standing dispute between Thompson, City Council members Denise Swanner and Mark Matta and the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Development Corporation of Odessa Chris Crow.
Two weeks after Brooks was fired, City Clerk Norma Aguilar-Grimaldo and Notary Public/Legal Assistant Naira Enriquez both signed affidavits stating that on December 9 or December 10, 2020, they were ordered to Brooks to file a notarized conflict of interest. disclosure statement signed by Thompson and dated December 8, 2020.
Robert Carroll, a late assistant city attorney, also revealed that the old document was deleted from the city’s website on December 14, 2020.
According to Texas law, it is a felony for a notary public to renew documents, but there is a two-year statute of limitations.
Efforts to reach Brooks on Saturday were unsuccessful.
Thompson said Aguilar-Grimaldo and Enriquez were shown the affidavit by Acting Attorney Dan Jones on Wednesday and were “shocked.”
Thompson said on the morning of December 8, 2020, he told City Manager Michael Marrero that he would abstain from a vote that night involving his former company STA Benefits and the next day. where he signed a document declaring his conflict of interest in Brooks’ request.
When he asked Brooks about the December 8 document, Thompson said he was told that since he had the conversation with Marrero, it was okay.
“He is a city attorney. He’s my lawyer, okay, so I trust his advice,” said Thompson. “I trusted people. I trusted people who should know. This is the first time I have been involved in politics and I am following his leadership and he should keep me out of trouble. “
Thompson said he signed another declaration of interest in Brooks’ application on December 11, 2020.
Now that he’s come to learn about the recent evidence of Aguilar-Grimaldo and Enriquez and Carroll, he’s starting to question things.
Had he known Brooks had asked the pair to do something illegal, Thompson said he might have voted to fire Brooks on Dec. 13.
He is also wondering if there are things about Marrero that he does not know. Marrero was also terminated on December 13 without explanation in a 5-2 vote. And, like Brooks, he and Councilman Gilbert Vasquez voted against the termination.
“I don’t know (if I will change my vote) until they do something. But yeah, I’m just freaking out about this whole deal because I didn’t know anything about it until Wednesday of this week. I don’t know anything about it,” said Thompson.
He received a copy of the computer log showing that Carroll had deleted his 2020 notification on Friday, Thompson said.
The city’s emails show the computer data was shared with Greg Barber, the first assistant Ector County District Attorney, on Friday.
District Attorney Dusty Gallivan said he could not confirm or deny that his office had been asked to investigate behind the affidavits.
Thompson was elected with less than 55% of the vote in District 2 in November 2020.
On December 8, 2020, city staff placed on the approval list a contract with Standard Insurance Company for basic life insurance, AD&D insurance and retirement life insurance. STA Benefits recommended City Standard Insurance, an insurance brokerage contracted to find insurance companies for the City of Odessa.
The minutes of the meeting showed that Thompson did not participate in the election and said that he owned STA Benefits but his son is now in charge.
Mayor David Turner and council members Michael Shelton, Detra White, Tom Sprawls, Mari Willis and Peggy Dean then approved the contract.
On December 14, 2021, Standard’s contract, which was again on the agreement list, was renewed by White, Sprawls, Willis, Mayor Javier Joven and Denise Swanner. The minutes showed that Thompson had been arrested again.
In January 2022, the board of directors of the Odessa Development Corporation, Jeff Russell, was removed in a 4-3 vote of the city council, because there were allegations made by Thompson that Russell discussed a even though there is a conflict of interest.
Swanner, Matta and another member of the ODC, Kris Crow, strongly argued against the dismissal of Russell, alleging that STA Benefits benefited from the contract signed on December 8, 2020, and Thompson voted for the contract. They accused Mayor Turner of revising the meeting minutes later.
For weeks after Russell was fired, Crow stood before the city council and demanded Thompson’s resignation. He said the Texas Secretary of State listed Thompson as the company’s president.
However, Thompson has repeatedly stated that STA Benefits does not provide insurance and has not received compensation due to the election in December 2020 and a subsequent election in December 2021. But he said, there is a contract and the town to shop around. for insurance on behalf of the city.
He also vehemently denies allegations that STA Benefits received “six figures” for the December 2020 and December 2021 elections. STA Benefits receives $30,000 annually due to its contract with the city, this is his revelation.
On Jan. 10, Crow told the council without mentioning Thompson’s name that STA Benefits has been the city’s insurer for 29 years and has not put the work up for bid all those years.
Crow, as recently as Saturday, continued to throw comments at Thompson.
“I continue to believe that there is a huge conflict of interest and a huge crime for any council family to get a city contract worth thousands of dollars.” In addition, as recently reported there seems to be a lot of evidence that Mr. Thompson, former City Manager Michael Marrero and former City Attorney Natasha Brooks worked to falsify the state’s required conflict of interest documents to try to protect Mr. Thompson. I guess Mr. Thompson, this does not rise to the level of ‘significance of impropriety’ that he advocates for others.”
In an interview after the Jan. 10 meeting, Thompson said that Darrell Wells, the city’s director of risk management, happy that STA Benefits does not charge commission for its services. But STA Benefits pays the city a fee based on the number of employees covered. That salary is paid by the person per month and is about $30,000 per year, said Thompson.
Contracts under $50,000 do not require a council vote, Thompson said.
Thompson also said that since STA Benefits pays a fee, if the insurance price goes up, STA will not get any additional money. Benefits, unlike business people who get commission, said Thompson.
In addition, STA Benefits is part of a company called National Financial Partners, which may have 1,000 partners nationwide, Thompson said. That gives his son access to “the biggest, best companies out there” and great buying power, he said.
It also helps him find insurance companies willing to provide coverage to first responders and retirees, which can be difficult and expensive, Thompson said.
The Odessa American filed a Texas Public Information Act request with the City of Odessa on January 17 requesting a copy of the new STA Benefits contract, a list of all bids submitted by insurance companies to through STA Benefits since 2012 and a list of all insurances. companies submitted tenders since 2012. Still waiting.
While Thompson now has serious questions about Brooks, he is considering when Aguilar-Grimaldo and Enriquez will take their sworn statements. He suspects that Mayor Javier Joven, Swanner, Matta and Crow are still working to discredit him because they believe he is part of the “good boy”.
He also suspects that they are trying to find a reason why Brooks will not pay his severance pay, which is equal to his annual salary of $185,400.
Tim Edgmon, who recently joined the ODC board, said last week that he also believes the ongoing allegations about STA Benefits reflect the the group’s displeasure with Thompson.
Edgmon, a managing director of Higginbotham Insurance, confirmed Thompson’s statement that STA Benefits could save the city money by not seeking a commission.
He tried to become the city’s insurance agent, but backed out.
“I think the opportunity for us to get someone to do a better job for less was non-existent and that’s why we backed off,” Edgmon said. “Representatives can go there and see that we’re not going to drop the price.”
Back when Russell was fired from ODC, he blamed Edgmon.
Russell said he didn’t file conflict of interest documents in a timely manner because he thought Edgmon, who was the ODC chair at the time, would have told him to – if it was appropriate.
Edgmon said he gave Russell all the information he needed when he first joined the board.