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County, Wildcatters face-off in contract negotiations

By Sherry Koonce

The News staff writer

BEAUMONT — Jefferson County and the Texas Wildcatters are in a face-off this week while their attorneys try to determine how much time is remaining on the Southeast Texas hockey team’s contract.

Whether the team’s contract is up for renewal now, or a year from now was the topic at a county commissioner work session Monday.

Jeff Branick, assistant to the County Judge, said the county believes the team’s contract expires at the end of this season, probably in April or May depending on how many play-off games the team wins.

The Wildcatters, said the team’s attorney John Burmeister, contend they have one more season before the original contract signed in 2003-04 is up for renewal.

Burmeister said the contract would have expired at the end of the 2008 season, but because the team missed the 2006 season due of damage incurred to Ford Park by Hurricane Rita, the contract should be extended by another year.

“Normally, 2008 would have been the last year of the contract, but the hurricane came in and kept the Wildcatters from playing a season,” Burmeister said.

For the 2006-07 and the 2007-08 seasons, the Wildcatters were not required to pay the county for use of the Ford Park arena.

Burmeister said the team will go back to the original agreement and pay $3,000 per game plus a graduated fee for every person attending thereafter.

“From an operational standpoint, the county has had to subsidize hockey between 6,600 and $11,000 a game for the past two years, Branick said.

Attorneys representing the county and the team plan to meet Tuesday to negotiate the contract, Branick said.

In other matters, County Commissioners tabled for the third time, this time permanently, an agenda item that would have designated Precinct 1 Commissioner Eddie Arnold as the county’s representative on a sister-city trade mission to China.

Arnold was to have traveled to Henan, China with a delegation from Port Arthur and a group of Southeast Texas business leaders. The group hoped of attract Chinese firms willing to invest in manufacturing businesses in Port Arthur.

Arnold asked that the item be removed because he had been notified that Port Arthur Mayor Bobbie Prince would not be traveling to Henan, China because of security concerns in Tibet.

If the trip materializes in the future, Arnold said he would utilize his vacation time to attend.

Prince said she hopes the trip is only delayed, and that the political unrest in the region subsides so the delegation can go ahead with the trip at a later date.

“With the state’s department travel advisory that is out right now, that poses a problem for me. Hopefully before the year is over we will have another opportunity go, but right now I don’t think that it is wise to make the trip,” Prince said.

Her decision had nothing to do with the decision City Council made last week, she said.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted 7-2 against funding the trip.

Since then, Prince said alternate funding had been secured to pay for her travel expenses, but now that the advisory was issued, she will not be going.

Prince said the advisory could be lifted as early as mid-April.

Contact this reporter at skoonce@panews.com