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Local News

April 3, 2013

PAEDC director calls chamber luncheon location 'insulting'

PORT ARTHUR — The opportunity to listen to what the Port Arthur mayoral and council candidates have to say about their platforms arrives April 23, but it comes at a price.

The Greater Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce holds a monthly member luncheon, and this month theme’s is to meet the city’s mayoral and council candidates and give them a chance to get their platforms out to the business community before the May 11 election.

The luncheon, which costs $25 per person, will be held at the MCM Elegante Hotel in Beaumont at 11:30 a.m.

But for some directors on the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation board, that location is not satisfactory. In fact, one director said, it is insulting.

“It needs to be in Port Arthur. I just don’t think that it makes any sense to hold a mayoral race or any type of race in another city,” said Roosevelt Petry, an EDC director, at its Monday evening meeting. “Quite frankly, as a citizen I’m insulted.”

Other board members agreed that the location was strange since it was not in Port Arthur but thought that attending could be important to the future of the EDC itself.

Richard Wycoff, another EDC director, suggested that the decision be left up to the individual, and if that individual decides to attend then the EDC would pay for the $25 ticket.

Still, Petry said, the luncheon did not meet the guidelines the EDC follows on how to allocate its funds.

“I don’t see why we should be paying taxpayers’ dollars to go see this,” he said.

While EDC members have regularly attended chamber luncheons in the past, Petry said he felt that this one was different “because it’s political and because it’s tied to a campaign.”

Guy Goodson, the EDC’s attorney, said there were some political overtones with the luncheon but that he did not think that the EDC’s paying for its members to attend violated any laws.

“These are business partners of yours in the economic development initiative, and if anything is going to be discussed that might impact the EDC and your future course of business, then a representative might want to be there to listen to those candidates,” Goodson said. “The question is: Is it meritorious to spend a limited budget on this?”

Goodson further emphasized that the chamber could not hold political functions because of its qualification as a nonprofit, or 501(c)(6), entity. Ultimately, the EDC board voted 5-2 to allow individual board members to attend and the EDC to cover the ticket cost.

Each candidate — and they all agreed to attend — for the mayoral and council election will have 5 minutes to talk a bit about themselves, present their platforms and convince the audience for whom it should vote. There will be no debate, no name-calling and no finger-pointing, said Bill McCoy, chamber president.

“If that’s not classified as a political forum, I don’t know what is,” Petry said.

But McCoy said that the chamber was making every effort to keep the luncheon fair because it cannot back any political candidates.

“We’re not supporting anybody,” he said. “[The chamber] is in charge. This is not a debate.”

The chamber thought that having the candidates come and speak about the issues they would address if elected would be interesting to its members, McCoy said. It was an idea to get its members to come out and hear someone of interest speak, but he did not blame the EDC for watching its money closely.

“That’s their obligation,” McCoy said. “It’s their money to watch. They’re acting responsibly.”

So, why couldn’t the chamber book the Holiday Inn on Jimmy Johnson Boulevard or the civic center?

The Holiday Inn was booked, and the civic center was too expensive, McCoy said. He did not think he could fill up the civic center’s space, and it was not within the chamber’s price range. He expected around 150 people to attend.

The chamber booked the MGM Elegante Hotel because it was a member of the chamber and could accommodate the luncheon’s spatial and budget needs, McCoy said.

“We target Port Arthur,” he said, “but sometimes we have to move out about.”

email: bcrum@panews.com

twitter: @broocrum

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