The Port Arthur News
PORT ARTHUR —
In the middle of the Tuesday night meeting, the mayor and two council members got up from their seats and walked out of the room, effectively ending the Port Arthur City Council meeting.
Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince and District 6 Councilman Robert Williamson eventually returned to council chambers to continue the meeting, but the council never resolved the disruption.
The council had to pass a couple of ordinances Tuesday in order to schedule the May 11 election — something that could not be done without a quorum, or a majority of council members present.
“I didn’t want to put that in jeopardy,” Prince said Wednesday afternoon in a telephone interview. “I didn’t want to leave the building. We had some business to take care of, and we had to finish the meeting.”
But before the election ordinances could be passed and the meeting finished, Williamson and Prince would call Mayor Pro Tem Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr. out of order repeatedly, and the council would recess for nearly 20 minutes before returning only to have the mayor, Williamson and District 2 Councilwoman Elizabeth Segler walk out of the meeting.
“I knew [Lewis] had left the agenda, and I could see it was getting noplace,” Prince said. “The best thing to do was leave the meeting.”
Lewis raised a question about the expense reports listed on Tuesday’s agenda at the meeting, pulling the item for further discussion. He asked City Manager Floyd Johnson why he had not been notified of these trips beforehand as the city’s travel ordinance states.
Two expense reports — one for the mayor’s trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., and one for the city secretary’s trip to an election law seminar in Irving — were on the agenda.
Lewis wanted a penalty in the travel ordinance for this reason, he said in a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. Currently, there is no penalty for violations of the travel ordinance.
“Your staff is not enforcing it. That’s what that tells me because I was not notified,” Lewis said to Johnson at the meeting Tuesday night. “I checked with some other council members, and they were not notified either. You need to instruct your staff not to violate this city ordinance. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”
In response, Williamson called a point of order.
“He’s off topic,” Williamson said at the meeting. “This topic is expense reports. He’s off topic talking about ordinances and the city secretary’s office. That’s not on the agenda.”
Lewis started to continue his statement but was interrupted by Williamson and Prince, telling him he was out of order.
“If there’s a point of order, we need to rule on the point of order,” said City Attorney Val Tizeno.
Lewis said his statement was not out of order because the travel ordinance governs the way travel reports are handled. Prince then asked him if he would stay on topic.
“I’m on topic,” he said. “I’m talking to the city manager.”
Again, Lewis instructed Johnson not to let his staff violate the ordinance. Prince then called for a vote on the point of order.
“Second point of order,” Williamson said. “The mayor pro tem has no authority to instruct the city manager.”
“I’m going to suggest to the city manager,” Lewis said.
“We’re going to take a five-minute recess,” Prince said.
The council recessed for more than 15 minutes. When it returned, Lewis addressed Johnson again.
“If you have a problem with this ordinance and you have a problem bringing your staff in line, let me suggest this,” Lewis said to the city manager. “Bring the ordinance before the city council, and we’ll get rid of it since you’re not going to enforce it. What good is it if you’re not going to enforce it?”
Johnson started to respond to Lewis, but the mayor interrupted him before he could finish.
“We’re not going to discuss your staff in open session,” Prince said.
Personnel matters may be discussed in closed session but only to discuss the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of a public officer or employee, according to the Texas Open Meetings Act. Any final action taken by the governing body must be made in open session.
“Well, I’ll come to your office and discuss it,” Lewis said in response.
“Council member Lewis, you are going to stay in order,” Prince said. “You want to talk about this expense report, that’s fine,” but notifications are not part of that.
“That’s all part of the expense report,” Lewis said.
Williamson called another point of order after Lewis made some remarks that could not be heard from the audience.
“It violates the quorum ordinance to make disparaging remarks about council members,” Williamson said.
“We need to get back on whatever the question is,” Tizeno said to Lewis. “If you can just finish your statement and then we’ll go ahead.”
Lewis started to finish his statement about supposed violations of the travel ordinance, but he did not get far.
“You are just deliberately doing this,” Prince said. “I’m going to leave so he can continue.”
“If we have a point of order, we need to have a ruling,” Tizeno said again.
“You are out of order,” Prince said to Lewis. “Your concern should be with the expense report. That is the item you asked me to pull for further discussion. You will not discuss staff in open session.
If this is what you want to do, you are going to do it by yourself because I am not going to violate the charter,” she said.
“I could be done discussing this if you would just shut up,” Lewis said.
“If you all want to continue with this meeting, you can,” Prince said, standing up. “I’m just not going to be a part of violating the charter like this.”
“I’m going with you,” Williamson said, and he, Segler and the mayor left the council chambers.
“We don’t have a quorum,” Tizeno said. “We have to stop.”
The meeting resumed after several minutes of waiting. Johnson gathered his staff around him during this period as the council members went their separate ways. Segler did not return to the meeting, but Prince and Williamson did.