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The community has spoken

We have discussed in this column many times over the past few years the need for change in the size of Port Arthur’s city council. Those conversations have carried over to community functions where it was common to find citizens debating this topic. Do we reduce the number of seats on City Council? Do we reduce Councilmembers’ compensation? Do we eliminate districts? Which districts? How will any of these changes affect citizens?

On the Nov. 8 presidential election ballot, Port Arthur residents made their voice heard loud and clear. With the option to remove overlapping seats 5 and 6 from City Council beginning May of 2018, Port Arthur citizens voted in a landslide decision to eliminate these district seats.

At the end of the day, more than 40 percent of registered voters in Port Arthur voiced their opinion on this charter change. Out of the 11,275 votes cast, 7,432 (or 66 percent) said “Yes” to remove, while 3,843 (or 34 percent) voted “no.”

Readers will remember earlier this year when the group United Citizens of Port Arthur (UCOPA) petitioned to have council seats 7 and 8 removed. Ultimately the petition did not garner enough support from the community by failing to reach the needed number of 1,441 signatures. Supporters of this petition questioned publically why another move, which was presented by District 6 Councilman Osman Swati, was supported and theirs not? The answer is simple.

The majority of citizens have grown tired of all the games, negativity, and lack of progress displayed by certain current and former councilmembers and their supporters — individuals who continue to prevent Port Arthur from moving forward by not working for the city as a whole. This vote represents frustration.

I expect that we will continue to see this type of community involvement as we move closer to the May 2017 elections, where multiple council seats are up for grabs. Citizens want leadership that will focus on the entire community. Make decisions based on what’s best for the entire community, and help move the entire city of Port Arthur forward. I also expect that councilmembers who cannot — or will not — do that shall be moved on as well.

Real change only happens when large numbers of citizens become involved and voice their opinion in exactly this manner. We should all want the same thing for our community. However, there are some who struggle to see the bigger picture. They fight progress every chance they get. Luckily for all of us, during this election the majority of voters understood the importance of removing these two seats and opening the door for real long-term change.

Congratulations, Port Arthur, you have shown what it is truly like when a “community has truly spoken.”

Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News.