Early Odessa Mayors Had Much Authority
"Early City government in Odessa was a mess!"
That's the opinion of the second mayor of Odessa, V. C. Wiggins, who served in the top post from 1932 to 1938. Then as now, officials were faced with the problem of running an ever-growing city on a limited budget. As Wiggins put it: "The city had started to grow then, and we laid a foundation which would stand its growth."
The job of the early mayors was not easy. When Wiggins took over the office, the city was broke and faced with numerous problems, one of which was the water supply. The utility company had cut off the downtown lights because of the bills hadn't been paid. Wiggins said, "That's where I got my gray hair from." However, when he left office, the city had "an A-1 credit rating".
He said that during his six years in office, the city had only one bond issue, for $100,000. He and his council were elected on an economy ticket, he said.
The first mayor, the late S.R. McKinney, came home from a trip in 1927 to find that he had been elected mayor of the newly organized city government. He had come to Texas in 1894 to "grow up with the West", and worked on a ranch in Midland during his first years, in West Texas. Following his term as mayor, he was active in city affairs, and was president of the school board for eight years, head of the chamber of commerce, and county treasurer. McKinney Avenue is named in his honor.
Two other former mayors who are no long living are E.L. Farmer, who succeeded Wiggins from 1938 to 1941, and A.J. Burks, 1944-1946.
Wiggins said that back then, mayors had real power. He told of probably the first and last organized gambling syndicate in Odessa during his administration, "You could hardly get in a barber shop for the slot machines," he remarked. He said he simple called the city council together for a meeting and asked the gambling heads to be there at the same time. "They came running," said Wiggins, "and that was the end of the gambling syndicate."
R.T. Waddell, who served as mayor of Odessa from 1941 to 1944 said the mayors formerly, had much more power than they have now. He said, "I didn't have to ask anyone's permission to do anything. If I wanted to put in a sewer line, I just told the contractors to put it in." He said that the water works system north of town was put in during his administration, and "there was a $50,00 balance when I left office."
The six mayor of Odessa, E.G. Rodman, who served from 1946 to 1948, told the same story of the city's "growing pains "during his administration. Rodman's successor in the top city office was A. P. Brown who held the job from 1948 until 1950. He said the city was broke when he went into office, but it was doing "a big job of growing up then." He said the sewage disposal plant was put in during his administration.
As far as authority of mayors is concerned, Brown said, "I don't think there was any great change in authority, except that now the city is governed by experts who are hired by the city for that purpose."
The biggest problem facing, Mayor C. W. McCollum, who served from 1950 to 1952, was in the polio epidemic. He said the city was always having water problems, and residents couldn't water their lawns like they wanted to. The Lake J. B. Thomas Dam was built during his term of office, solving many of the water problems for Odessa. McCollum thought city government was more complicated then, but said, "We were in the black when we went out of office."
The two-year term of Mayor Fred Gage, from 1952-1954, was marked by many6 major additions to municipal facilities. As Gage put it, "Odessa was in the stage of growing from a community to a city then." He said that the population was about 42,000 when he went into office.
During his administration, plans for the Ector County Coliseum were worked out, and the city park system was developed, the chemical plants were landed in Odessa, the Colorado River Municipal Water district was formally dedicated, and Police Chief Jess Cariker was hired. Gage himself was not a candidate for the office, but accepted the nomination when a group of interested citizens urged him not to shrink his responsibility.
[Reprint from Odessa American Sunday, October 29, 1967 newspaper]
page updated 3/29/99