Swati to be sworn to PA Council in today
In a step that better represents Port Arthur’s diverse cultures, and a younger generation getting involved in local government, a new City Council member will be sworn in Wednesday to fill the District 6 position.
Osman Swati, 32, of Pakistani descent, will take his oath at City Hall Council Chambers following the 10:30 a.m. meeting to canvass election results. He is filling the seat held the past six years by Robert E. “Bob” Williamson, who has termed out.
As vice-president of Pak Oil, a fuel distribution company started by his parents in the mid-1990s after they migrated from the South Asian country, Swati believes his education, business experience and world travel will be a valuable asset to the Council.
Swati was born in Houston and was educated there through the fourth grade before attending boarding school in Pakistan through the 10th grade.
The experience, he said, was at his father’s insistence, but one that he later come to appreciate.
“Dad’s purpose was to have us stay connected with our culture,” Swati said.
At the time he was to enroll in boarding school in a land that felt foreign to him, Swati said he could not even speak his parent’s native Urdu language, let alone know the culture of Pakistan.
His eight years in boarding school was a normal practice in Pakistan, designed to mold young students into becoming responsible adults.
“At the time I did not like it, but after I moved out and lived on my own for six or seven years I appreciated it completely,” Swati said.
Today, his parents, Mohammed and Tahira Swati go back and forth between the U.S. and Pakistan, though his father, who is a senator in his homeland, mainly stays there.
Swati completed his high school education in Falls Church, Virginia. He moved to Port Arthur in 1999 to attend Lamar University in Beaumont, earned an undergraduate degree in business marketing in 2005, then moved to the United Kingdom to pursue a law education degree. He passed the bar in England in 2010 and became a barrister before moving back to Port Arthur that same year.
Swati said his interest in politics was, in part, the result of his father’s influence.
“Let’s just say I followed Dad around wherever he went,” Swati said.
In July 2012, when he was appointed to Port Arthur’s Economic Development Board, he followed his father into politics for the first time.
The experience on the EDC board whetted his desire to serve his city further, prompting him to run for the city council seat — a position he won hands down with no opposition on the ballot.
Swati said he believes there has been mismanagement in the city, and that the constant bickering going on among City Council members should stop.
“Somebody needs to stand up and correct the situation, or even raise a voice,” he said. “I feel like we have some intelligent people on Council, but the constant battles, they delay us from getting where we need to be going. I hope to steer them away from bickering and politics and bring them to focus on city business.”
Swati said he sees Port Arthur as a city with huge, but unfulfilled, potential.
“I have literally visited the world, and the potential we have here we have not taken advantage of by even 10 percent,” he said. “The ports, refineries, trains, highway infrastructures, other cities don’t have this yet we suffer so badly we don’t have anything.”
Swati said he feels as though Council does have policies in place to stop the bickering, but they are not always utilized, or adhered to when they are.
While serving on the EDC board, Swati represented the city at a world economic forum in Dubai. While there, he learned much and brought that knowledge back to the EDC board.
Swati sees the city’s infrastructure and the condition of its streets as issues that need to be addressed first and foremost.
“If we can stop fooling around on matters not necessary and focus on what needs to be done, we can move this city forward,” he said.
Swati said he hears a lot of talk about the city’s problems, but few solutions.
He would like to build on the new dormitories to be constructed at Lamar State College- Port Arthur, and expand the city’s downtown area to start at Rose Hill Manor.
“I have a positive image of downtown Port Arthur, more of a long-term vision that starts with bringing people downtown,” he said.
Recently, Swati took his two daughters to Pleasure Island to fly their kites and was struck at how underutilized the Island is.
“It is in bad disrepair. There is so much potential. It’s a no-brainer, and the fact that it is not utilized tells me people are not looking in the right direction.”
Swati would like to see the city work on its relationship with business owners and investors.
Many, he said, are reluctant to do business in Port Arthur because of the way they are dealt with at the city. Many investors he has spoken with, he said, feel more welcome to do business in other nearby cities.
“If we change our attitudes, we can change our approaches or the way we look at city business. We can see more and more people coming to us as far as investors, developers, concerned citizens. Once Council’s attitude is changed, the city will move forward and its potential will be realized.”
He has a vision of City Council chambers filled with people engaged in their government, not there to be confrontational, but interested.
“If meetings were open in Pakistan, it would be filled to capacity,” Swati said.
He is also concerned with what he calls a disengagement of people when it comes to voting.
In his father’s last election in Pakistan, 280,000 people voted in 12 hours.
“Over here, you can’t get 2,000 votes in eight days,” he said. “People here like to criticize, but when it comes to making the right choice, it is not happening.”
As Port Arthur’s first South Asian Council member, Swati said he feels as though he represents all cultures that are not represented, and hopes his election is the beginning of a truly diverse City Council.
Outside of his business, Swati spends most of his time with his young family and is an avid cricket player. He is former president of the Southeast Texas Cricket League.