More unselfishness needed on Port Arthur City Council
Published 9:15 am Tuesday, August 16, 2016
After nearly four hours of conducting city business on Aug. 9, Port Arthur District 6 Councilman Osman Swati displayed an unselfish act seldom seen in government.
And he did so with a simple motion: a recommendation to remove two seats from the council – including his own.
In a prepared statement, Swati asked that the council vote in favor of his recommendation to place the proposal on the Nov. 8 general election ballot, which they did in a 5 to 3 vote.
“There have been numerous occasions where the arguments to reduce the size of our council have been raised. Some say we have too many council members. Others argue that we need to make changes in order to reduce the amount of money spent toward council members. I have done the research and believe that removing overlapping districts 5 and 6 is the best option for the city,” he said.
During his presentation, Swati shared a list of other comparable communities, all with fewer members on the council. Only two cities in Texas – Port Arthur and Victoria – have overlapping districts. “Many cities have moved away from such overlapping districts since they do not conform to our current times, mainly due to vast changes in demographics,” he said. “Minorities have become majorities. Cities are relying on single member districts and at-large positions as a means to properly represent citizens.”
Those combined district in Port Arthur are districts 5 and 6 “which I am proposing to eliminate. And based on my research, such districting is no longer practiced.”
Since the mid 1980s, the Port Arthur council has been structured to allow each citizen the representation of five city council members: the mayor, the immediate district representative, the overlapping district seat, and two at-large council representatives (seats 7 and 8). In recent months, efforts to streamline the council have gained momentum and Swati’s proposal is one of two being considered for the general election ballot. The United Citizens of Port Arthur is petitioning to have at-large seats 7 and 8 removed from the council as well. UCOPA must have their petition turned in to the city of Port Arthur and give a reasonable amount of time for the city employees to verify all signatures and have council approve before midnight August 22. Ultimately voters may find themselves with both proposals on the general election ballot.
Swati believes eliminating the at-large districts would be a mistake, giving citizens representation of only three council members instead of five and removing their majority representation.
Swati said under his proposal, each citizen will lose the representation of only one council member. “Any other proposal takes away the citizens’ advantage of being represented by a majority of the council. I’m not attacking anyone or making a political statement. Under this, I will be removed from my district and I have two years left on my term. This proposal brings both the neighborhood and the citywide (districts) into perspective.”
In a day and age of politicians spending more energy on being re-elected rather than serving the best interests of the city as a whole, Swati is a breath of fresh air.
But what drives a person to work so hard to become an elected official, and then unselfishly decide that his district seat is not needed?
“I love this city,” he said. “I was born just down the road in Houston, but have lived in Port Arthur almost my whole life. Port Arthur is my home. And like so many others, I am tired of seeing Port Arthur not progressing the way it should. So I am doing what I think is the right thing for Port Arthur. I will run for council again and continue to do what is right for this city.”
Swati believes his proposal takes into account the needs of all citizens, not simply a select few. And he is willing to sacrifice his seat the table, for the benefit of the rest of the community he loves.
Bravo, Councilman. We need more like you.
Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News. Contact him at email@example.com