PA Councilman wants residents to vote no to proposal

Published 3:25 pm Saturday, October 22, 2016

Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., District 5 Port Arthur City Councilman, is urging voters in the November 8 General Election to turn to the last page of the ballot and vote no on the charter amendment.

Lewis is opposed to a charter change proposed by Osman Swati, District 6 councilman, that would eliminate Districts 5 and 6, thus reducing the size of the city council from nine seats including the mayor to seven. He added his proposal also is costing the taxpayers more than $40,000 by paying Jefferson County to print the ballot for the November election.

Swati used other cities in comparison to Port Arthur in his article that appeared in the Sunday, Oct. 16 edition of The Port Arthur News. Lewis said those cities are no comparison to Port Arthur because they are all at-large seats.

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In that structure, citizens vote for seats in other sections of the city they can’t even run for. Lewis said seats in other areas of the city are elected that may not have anything in common with other portions of the city.

For example, a north end of a city affects representation on the south end in separate communities.

The north end may have curb and gutter while the south end may have open ditches, etc.

“Port Arthur has single member districts. The only people the district selects is who will represent them,” he said. “If Councilman Swati was really sincere in his position for District 6, he should ask the citizens there to petition city council to delete District 6.”

“If District 6 citizens delete District 5, District 6 citizens should had written, with a required number of 1,400 qualified signatures, a petition to the council. That has not happened and there was no discussion.”

Lewis then gave a brief chronology how voting was structured in the city of Port Arthur since the beginning:

  • From 1897 to 1954 council was elected by at-large seats
  • From 1954 to 1962 council was elected by single-member districts
  • From 1962 to 1981 council was elected by at-large seats
  • From 1981 to 2016 council was elected by single-member districts
  • From 1983 to 2006 Positions 7 and 8 at-large seats were elected by plurality
  • From 2006 to 2016 Position 7 and 8 at-large seats were elected by majority vote
  • From 2008 to 2016 implementation of at-large with majority vote has cost the taxpayers more than $260,000.

He added that District 5 from 1981 to 2016 had one runoff election.

Lewis said former Port Arthur mayor, then-Councilwoman Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, moved Positions 7 and 8 from plurality to majority vote in 2006.

He said under plurality, it gives future minorities (Anglos, Hispanics, Asians, and others) an opportunity to elect someone under that voting system.

“This will oppress future minorities and she didn’t care,” he said. “It’s reverse discrimination and I will not be a party to that.”

Runoff elections, according to Lewis, cost the city $40,000. For instance, the runoff election in 2015 between Charlotte Moses and Reginald Trainer for Position 7 cost $40,0000.

United Citizens Of Port Arthur circulated a petition this summer to eliminate Positions 7 and 8 from the city council, but they were unsuccessful because they didn’t gather enough qualified signatures in the time allotted.

This spring, however, Lewis thinks UCOPA may get enough qualified petition signatures to place on the May 6 ballot, particularly as several council members are up for re-election.

Lewis, likewise, presented to the council agenda last March to place Positions 7 and 8 on the May ballot to be elected by plurality vote rather than majority vote.

He said plurality would give minority candidates a reasonable opportunity to be elected.

Lewis said, however, Tiffany Hamilton, District 2 councilwoman, removed the agenda item without discussion.

“She was doing what she was told to do. She was protecting it like it is and their influence. If 7 and 8 were elected by plurality, they would lose control,” he said. “Seven and 8, based on plurality, protects diversity around the table.”

Lewis said Swati’s proposal to change the charter to eliminate District 5 and 6 is confusing.

“That’s why I tell people to turn to the last page of the ballot. Legal language is supposed to be concise, clear and simple. They only needed a caption (on the ballot). His language jumps from paragraph to paragraph and to sections, etc. At times Positions 7 and 8 show up in the language that creates confusion. Citizens will vote for the wrong thing. I tell them to vote no,” Lewis said.

Voting by mail has already started and Lewis said he receives phone calls from voters who are unclear about the language.

“Some have voted no because of the confusing language,” he said.

Lewis said the language to his proposal to make Positions 7 and 8 a plurality was concise. However, no one on the council read the proposal.

“I wanted to hold workshops with the council and schedule public hearings, but they defeated this. The next council election in May, there may be something on the ballot about a charter change dealing with 7 and 8. UCOPA has more experience in petitions now,” he said.

Swati’s proposal, furthermore, violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, according to Lewis.

Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in one of the language minority groups.

“If the citizens of District 6 vote yes, and the majority of District 5 votes no, the U.S. Department of Justice won’t implement it. It will stay the same and that’s what is going to happen,” he said.

David Ball: 409-721-2427