A Port Arthur parks project to be funded with Economic Development Corporation sales tax dollars was at least temporarily halted Tuesday when City Council failed to approve the expenditure.
EDC Director Floyd Batiste presented a plan for the Neighborhood Park Enhancement Program, which was previously approved by the EDC board of directors.
According to Batiste, the EDC planned dedicate an annual allotment of $500,000 for park upgrades such as new benches, picnic tables, walking trails, gazebos, etc. Each approved park project would be eligible for funding up to $75,000, paid with the corporation’s portion of economic development dollars.
The plan needed City Council approval to get off the ground, but the motion failed with a 4-4 tie vote.
Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, who voted against the EDC parks plan, said she was not against parks projects, or getting citizen input, but did have a problem with the way the plan was submitted.
“I thought the proper protocol would have been for the EDC to get in touch with Parks and Recreation Director Dr. Thigpen prior to making any decisions about the park,” Prince said.
The first time Prince said she heard about the EDC’s plans was after the organization’s board approved the matter. No one, she said, consulted with the city prior to the EDC board’s vote.
Because parks are owned by the city, any changes should be in keeping with the city’s master parks plan, Prince said.
“Floyd Batiste as EDC director had the responsibility of getting in touch with Dr. Thigpen prior to going to his board with this. I thought it was irresponsible of Mr. Batiste.”
The city, she said wants to make sure neighborhood parks are family friendly and functional.
“We are going to make that happen, but you have to respect that process,” Prince said.
District 6 City Councilman Robert E. “Bob” Williamson also voted against implementation of the EDC parks plan because of what he too believed to be a breach of protocol, and because the city has made prior commitments to parks projects.
“In order to secure the state grants we received we have made commitments and we have promised to abide by guidelines for those grants. We want to make sure EDC projects stay within those guidelines,” Williamson said.
Position 8 Councilman Kerry “Twin” Thomas voted for the EDC parks project after he was convinced the EDC and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department would work together.
“The master parks plan was my concern, but when I asked if the EDC and Parks Department would work together, they assured me they would,” Thomas said.
Utilizing citizen recommendations would be a way to increase quality of life for the neighborhoods, Thomas said.
“I thought it would be good for the neighborhoods to have input on parks in their neighborhood. That would give each neighborhood its own identity,” Thomas said.
Batiste said he was disappointed in the vote, but praised the EDC board.
“I want to commend my board for having the vision for approving the Neighborhood Parks Improvement Program and their effort to spark community pride, and to bring neighbors together to build something positive within that community,” Batiste said.
The mayor, he said, erred in her vote.
“If the mayor made her decision based upon my error, or board error, in failing to speak to Dr. Thigpen, then I think the mayor erred in her vote. The vote was not about our relationship with Dr. Thigpen. The vote was about whether this was good for the citizens and the community as a whole. Who is she representing, a relationship, or the people,” Batiste said.
Both Prince and Williamson have said the matter may not be over, it could be brought back before Council.
Williamson sought unsuccessfully to table the issue until the board had time to consult with the city’s attorney and the parks department.
“I think somebody will bring it back, but I am not bringing it back until I am satisfied the parks department is involved before it reaches the Council, and that the program does not do anything to jeopardize our parks grants,” Williamson said.