PORT ARTHUR —
A staff that is not properly trained for the job and limitations on the way money can be spent are reasons that operational changes to Port Arthur’s Economic Development Corporation should to be implemented, according to management and performance review commissioned by the city.
James L. Mercer, president and CEO of The Mercer Group Inc., delivered an updated draft final report, Part 1 — Citywide Assessment to City Council on Jan. 1 to City Council. The company was contracted in June for $97,500 to compile the report.
The Port Arthur News obtained a copy of the final draft report after submitting an open records request.
According to the report, “the EDC does not appear to be integrated into the overall strategic direction of the city.”
Port Arthur voters approved the formation of the EDC as a Type A economic development organization under Texas state law. The designation dictates that all revenue derived from the one-cent local option sales tax must be spent for economic development purposes only.
Anything outside of those perimeters must have voter approval.
The report recommends the EDC go to voters for a change in designation, from a Type A corporation to a Type B, which would allow funds to be spent on both economic development and infrastructure improvements such as city streets, or quality of life issues.
In addition, the report recommends the EDC staff be changed. Those with proven backgrounds and experience in economic development would be retained, while new hires should be made.
Robert E. Williamson, District 6 city councilman, does not disagree with the assessment. He is hopeful a committee formed to work directly with the EDC will be beneficial.
At their Jan. 25 meeting, City Council appointed Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, Mayor pro tem Harold Doucet, and Kerry “Twin” Thomas, Position 8 councilman, to the committee.
“We are going to put three Council members together with three EDC board members,” Williamson said. “We will set them to the task of restructuring the EDC.”
Williamson said the committee was formed as a direct result of the Mercer Report recommendations.
Whether the committee’s creation will be helpful to EDC operations is not yet known, Floyd Batiste, EDC director, said.
“The Council just wants to be more involved in the process, and that is their prerogative,” Batiste said. “But, I feel they were already involved because they each had a representative they appointed to our board. It would seem that council person could communicate with that appointee.”
Restructuring the EDC as a 4-B type corporation is a terrible idea, Williamson said.
“Under the right conditions 4-B can be an excellent tool for the city, but they (the EDC) aren’t there yet,” Williamson said.
The 4-B designation would allow the city to spend money on quality of life issues, such as parks projects — something that District 5 City Councilman John Beard said the EDC should leave alone.
“If the EDC changed to 4-B, then I think we would lose our focus,” Beard said. “Our problem in Port Arthur is basically economics. It’s that our people do not make enough money. We have high unemployment and low income — those are the problems that need addressing.”
Restructuring the EDC staff would be a good start to bringing in more industry, Williamson said.
“Nobody there at the EDC has training. On account of that, there is no consistency to their programs or outcomes. There is no real continuity of operations,” Williamson said.
Batiste said he could agree with the report’s assessment that staff should be better trained, or more qualified people hired.
One of the EDC’s problems is the corporation does not have sufficient goals, and they are often experimenting with different type incentives.
Williamson said the EDC should be doing more to recruit industry and promote the city as a good place to do business.
“There is a no question they have not done a good job of recruiting. We should see a large travel and marketing budget. We should see a budget that reflects a high level of marketing, but those expenditures are just not there,” Williamson said.
Batiste attributed some of the negative opinions about EDC operations to the prior city administration.
“I think with the prior administration there was always a desire to dissolve the EDC and to get control of the money,” Batiste said. “It was constantly preached to Council folks that we could do more with that money than the EDC can do. If you hear the same sermon so often, you begin to believe the text of that sermon and that is what happened.”
City Council is expected to receive Part II of the Mercer Report detailing department assessments. City Council plans to meet in a workshop session to consider the Mercer findings.