Councilmembers want changes

Published 7:01 pm Monday, February 12, 2007

The legality with three-year term councilmembers having to vacate their council seats after announcing their bid for the mayor’s seat while a two-year term councilmember, also running for mayor, is allowed to keep her seat is the big issue in Port Arthur.

Council members Michael “Shane” Sinegal, Willie “Bae” Lewis and John Beard are now delving into the legalities of the upcoming mayor’s race and placed an item on the city council agenda for discussion/action.

Lewis and councilmember Felix Barker have both filed for the seat thus vacating their own seats until their successors are selected.

According to the Texas Constitution, both Lewis and Barker — who serve three-year terms — will lose their council seats after the May 12 election. Councilmember Deloris “Bobby” Prince has also filed for the mayor’s seat. Prince’s District 7 seat has a two-year term which is not addressed by the constitution thus allowing her to keep her council seat if she is not elected to the mayor’s position.

If Prince were to be elected mayor, council will have to appoint someone to fill her vacant seat until at least November.

“We hope to enforce the law,” Michael Sinegal said of the upcoming city council meeting. “I want to make it clear, this is not about councilmember Prince.”

Sinegal said the state constitution addresses the three-year terms but not the two-year terms, the emphasis should be on the amount of time left in that person’s term. Sinegal also serves a two-year term and a change would affect him iif he chooses to run for the mayor’s seat.

The councilman feels Prince should vacate her council seat, something Sinegal said he would do if he chooses to vie for the mayor’s seat.

Lewis looks to the city charter, not the constitution, for answers to the issue. Article 2, section 12: states “The city council shall legislate by ordinance with regards to any rules, regulations or codes that imposes any penalty, fine or forfeiture for any violation of its provisions. The city council shall legislate by resolution with regards to the approval of agreements.”

Lewis also cited the section of the charter regarding vacancies on council, adding they must be filled at a special election within 120 days after the vacancy as required by the Texas Constitution.

“There is nothing in the charter to preclude from calling the election for Districts 1,2 and 7,” Lewis said. “Voters vote for a fully constituted council. If we do not kill this now we will have to appoint someone after the election and the voters may not want that person.”

Prince sees the situation differently. She looks at the constitution, she said.

“The law is the law,” Prince said. “I’m surprised we would have city council members betray the confidence of the voters and act illegally on an ordinance. The attorney has informed all of us that that would be illegal. I’m amazed by the council members, these people are placed in the position of trust and are willing to openly defy the law.”

Besides Prince, Lewis and Barker, Frederick W. Johnson Sr., a local lab technician, has also filed for mayor.

Applications can be picked at City Secretary Van Green’s office, City Hall, 444 Fourth St., 983-8115. Applications will be taken from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

City council will meet at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at city hall.

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