PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

Opinion

April 30, 2013

Keep city politics out of running Pleasure Island

PORT ARTHUR — I am a member of the Port Arthur Pleasure Island Commission.  I am writing as a resident of Port Arthur, and not to express any position of the Commission.

Port Arthur is about to have another election.  On the ballot is a proposed amendment to the City’s Charter which will do away with the Pleasure Island Commission.  I am opposed to this suggested change.  I will attempt here to say why.

Pleasure Island is one of the few things this city has to brag about.  I have said before, the Island and Lamar State College at Port Arthur are the two best things going for the town.

I have lived here since birth.  I know where many bones are buried.  The Island was created when the canal was dug.  It was literally the City Dump when I was a child.

The Island was run by the City Council and city employees until the Commission was created by Charter change election in 1986.  The commission was given control of the Island by the 1986 changes.  

Before the Commission, the City had given most of the land surrounding the Marina to a developer in a long term lease.  When the Commission came into existence the developer was going under.  He soon was in bankruptcy.  Not only that, the bank he borrowed the money from went under too. That’s another story.

I was asked to go on the Commission in 1988.  I did.  When I got there we had to deal with the bankruptcy and trying to salvage what the developer walked away from.

There were four houses in the subdivision.  There were many vacant lots. Now there are now 35 homes there.  There are now 30 homes on a second subdivision created by the Commission.  There are exactly four lots left to sell in the original development.

When the Commission took over there was no golf course.  There is one now, built by Jefferson County, not the City.  It was destroyed by Ike and is now being built again, and not by the City.

In 1986 there was a Marina.  Ike wiped it out.  We are almost finished with a new, much lager Marina.  The Commission through its work with FEMA has handled this.  The City did help by lending the Commission money, with interest.

Remember the Commission gets no taxes.  It operates on money it is able to make off the Island.  The Commission has built mobile home parks, fishing piers, boat launches, a waterfront boardwalk, a disc golf course, and maintains 60 acres of public parks

I think of what the City Council has done with our fair city since the Commission was created.  In 1986 we had a population of somewhere near 70,000.  Now we have 53,000.  We lost 10,000 people between 2000 and 2010.  Now remember we are losing people while Motiva and Valero and others were investing ten or fifteen billion dollars here.  How did we manage to do that?

The Island Commission members are paid nothing. Our Mayor gets a salary of $1,552.98 a month, plus $600 a month car allowance, plus a cell phone a lot nicer than mine, plus a laptop computer, plus her health insurance is paid for, if she accepts it.  I

don’t know what that costs but I am informed it’s $851.00 for a member and one dependent. The City Council is not doing bad either, their pay is $976.00 per month and they get a car allowance of $500.00, plus the phone and laptop, and health insurance.

I did some checking.  Nederland’s mayor and Council get $150.00 per month.  Port Neches and Groves $300.00. To be fair, I compared Port Arthur to other Texas cities about our size. Euless, 53,000 population, same as ours, the mayor and council get no pay.  Spring, 54,000, no pay. Conroe, 59,000, no pay, Flower Mound, 67,000 no pay, Temple, 68,000 $100 per month for mayor and council.  I could go on and it would get only worse.  I hope some of you will check further.

It is definitely not lack of employees. We have 718 employees. Euless, mentioned above has 366 employees.  Conroe 445, Tyler with 98,000 people has 764, Harlingen with 66,000 (13,000 more than us), 570 employees.

To give you some idea how the Island is run, it has two full time employees in the office and one part time employee, and two employees that work outside. That’s it.

There are now about 200 people living on the Island.  It has grown while the city lost population.

The Commission is now working on a lease to a partnership to build a ship terminal on the south end of the Island.  The Marina is poised to bring in way more money than anyone ever dreamed.  With the existing other rents and the income from the terminal lease, the Island Commission should have enough income to start to really make improvements.

The commission will not likely spend $5,000,000 on a 25,000 square foot office building to be used by six employees.  The City Council must disagree.  

I would hope the people of Port Arthur give some thought to what the City Council is asking for.  You know, this was tried before.  In 1997 the City Council tried to do away with the independent Island Commission.  The voters said no. I hope the voters do the same thing this time. The independent Commission was created to keep the City politics out of the running of the Island.  It seems to me it has worked well. If this needs to be done, why wasn’t it done right after Ike?

Terry Doyle of Port Artur is an attorney and a former state representative and school board trustee. E-mail him at terry.doyle@setworks.org.

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