PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Local News

April 18, 2014

PA Mayor frosty over cake flack

PORT ARTHUR — It may have been meant as a goodwill gesture, but four months after Port Arthur Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince recognized city employees with a slice of cake, her actions are being scrutinized.

The flack she’s caught — all for political reasons, Prince said — has prompted the mayor to refer to the incident as “Cakegate.”

“It is embarrassing that you have City Council members and former Council members who would concern themselves, because of their dislike for me, with a slice of cake rather than the things that really matter to the citizens of Port Arthur,” Prince said.

At issue are cakes the mayor purchased during the holiday season to let city employees know they were appreciated. The cakes were paid for with money from the city manager’s contingency fund, and shared with city employees.

“They got slices of cakes, not full cakes. If we had had more employees it would have been a sliver of cake,” Prince said.

Now, an existing and former city councilman have charged that spending taxpayer money for gifts is inappropriate.

“I have no problem recognizing employees, we do that at council meetings, you just cannot use taxpayer money for gifts,” District 5 Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis said.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting former Councilman Harold Doucet questioned the expenditure during the citizen comment portion of the meeting.

“I did not see any provisions in the budget to buy cakes for employees,” Doucet said, adding that city officials have a fiduciary responsibility when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars.

“This is a case of misappropriating funds,” he said.

Doucet said he does not know how much money was spent on the cake expenditure, or how many cakes were purchased. What he does know, he said, is that the cakes were not small — they were large sheet cakes, not the kind on display at the grocery store bakery.

The city of Port Arthur’s Finance Director, Deborah Echols, declined to say how much money was spent on the cake expenditure.

Prince, on Friday, said she did not know the figure, but estimated each employee’s slice would cost less than 50 cents.

The News has submitted an open records request for information on the cost of the cakes.

The city manager’s fund is to be used to make purchases for daily routine operations without going before Council. The fund has been in place since the 1990’s, City Attorney Val Tizeno said.

Doucet suggested that the fund should be monitored.

At Tuesday’s Council meeting, Tizeno said the city does not have anything in place that would prevent such expenditures. It is left up to the city manager to decide how to spend money from the discretionary fund.

The Council, she said, can choose to adopt procedures dictating how the city manager’s fund can be spent, if they so desire.

District 1 Councilman Raymond Scott Jr., said that perhaps they should.

“I think we should amend this to how money should be spent to specify what funds should be used for,” he said.

Lewis has called for an audit of the city manager’s contingency fund as well as the city council’s fund.

“I don’t know what I am going to find until I look. I am looking for mismanagement,” he said.

Prince said the city manager had OK’d the expenditure, and that the purchase did not need City Council approval.

Prince said she also sent cards, which she paid for with her personal funds.

Doucet suggested Tuesday that she repay the contingency fund for the cake expenditure.

“I think they can have an audit of anything they want,” Prince said. “ I think it is so sad they did not mention streets, drainage, or the fact that some people are still living in Rita and Ike-damaged homes. It is so irresponsible that they are concerned about a slice of cake.

“I am sure the employee appreciated getting a slice of cake nothing wrong or illegal, I think it is important to say thank you. I hope this Cakegate ends soon.”

E-mail: skoonce@panews.com

Twitter: skooncePANews

 

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