, Port Arthur, Texas

February 20, 2013

PA voters to get say on 11 charter changes

Roger Cowles
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — With only slight tinkering to the work of the Charter Change Commission, the Port Arthur City Council on Tuesday gave near unanimous approval to putting 11 charter change propositions before the voters on May 11.

If voters approve all the propositions, term limits for mayor and council members will be shortened to two terms, residency requirements for council Positions 7 and 8 will be removed and the Pleasure Island Commission will be made an advisory board and the city will take over operation of the Island.

The Mercer Group’s Management and Performance Review of the city’s operations presented to the council in February 2012 recommended abolishing the Pleasure Island Commission and merging services within city government, with responsibilities assigned to the Parks and Recreation Department.

“Some of the actions of the Pleasure Island Commission create financial liabilities for the city and are not offset by revenue sources from which they can be paid,” the Mercer Report stated.

Proposition 11 adopted Tuesday by the council states that “The Pleasure Island Commission will serve as an advisory board of the city. The City Manager will be charged with managing all Pleasure Island staffing and appropriately placing it within the organizational structure of the city government.”

Terry Doyle, long-time Port Arthur attorney and president of the Pleasure Island Commission, doesn’t think the proposed charter change is a good idea.

“Within just days, a month at the most of finishing with the marina — the potential to have one of the best on the Gulf Coast, when we’re close to  deal with Valero to put an oil terminal on the Island. For the first time in 25 years or so the Island can see daylight — sufficient money coming in to do some of the things we need to do,” he said.

“There’s not much doubt in my mind of why they want to do this. The Island has prospects of operating in the black. The council is doing this for all the wrong reasons,” Doyle said in a telephone interview after the council meeting Tuesday.

He said the oil terminal would be a $50 to $75 million investment for one berth, and there is potential for three berths. He said it could easily turn into a $150 million investment.

“(Island Director) Jimmy Dike has done an outstanding job of dealing with FEMA. We’re almost finished with 300 slips of floating docks that can survive a hurricane,” he said.

Doyle cites negotiations for a restaurant near the marina and work going on at the golf course as some other improvements under way on the Island.

“My fear is if they take it over, what will happen to all the advances we’ve made,” he said.

The only dissenting vote to any of the charter change proposals came from Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr. on Proposition 2, which has to do with removing the residency requirement for City Council Positions 7 and 8. Before the 2006 charter change, the two positions were elected by a plurality of voters.

Currently a majority vote is required to win Positions 7 and 8, which Lewis says allows those in an ethnic majority to have an advantage over ethnic minorities. He wanted voters to have the choice to return to plurality winners for those two positions, which he said allowed minorities, whether they are white, Asian or Hispanic, a better opportunity at winning. He was the lone “no” vote on Proposition 2.

Councilman Morris Albright did not attend the meeting.