No energy behind electrical licensing ordinance passing

Published 4:41 pm Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A City council member’s ordinance lost its spark and was defeated Tuesday night.

Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr., District 5 councilman, requested adding the Port Arthur Electrical Advisory Board to the Code of Ordinances to create the board, establish membership criteria, terms of office and board duties.

Ultimately, the ordinance was defeated at the regular meeting of the Port Arthur City Council 6-2 with Mayor Derrick Freeman and council members Raymond Scott Jr., Thomas Kinlaw III, Harold Doucet Sr., Osman Swati, Charlotte Moses and Kaprina Frank voting no. Lewis and council member Cal Jones voted yes.

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At the beginning of the discussion, Doucet said the council wanted the correct response from the state of Texas if the city can license a contractor and meet state requirements.

Lewis said the council has the same information they previously had when this issue first came up. He said the city of Port Arthur can license contractors. That changed in 2008, but the authority still lies with the city.

“Can the city of Port Arthur allow an electrical contractor to pull a permit? Yes. State law says municipalities have that right. We don’t have to be in compliance with the state. There’s no law on this,” Lewis said.

Freeman said he didn’t know how he felt about not being in compliance with the state.

Interim City Manager Harvey Robinson said he spoke with the state and Lewis’ assertion is true — the city can do it and not be in compliance with state law.

“We can independently do this. It’s not a law,” Lewis said. “We just have to make sure the liability insurance, which is $1 million, is on the company owner — the one who issues the license.”

Freeman said the one issuing the license would be the city of Port Arthur.

Lewis said the city issued permits from 1890 to 2008 and things worked well. He added that these permits would only apply to duplexes and single-family homes.

“It’s not required for them to report to a master (electrician). They (the residential wiremen) would save $50 to $1,000 per permit,” he said.

Swati said state law does allow the city to issue licenses to residential wiremen, but he asked Robinson how many licenses have been issued in Port Arthur during the last five years. Darlene Thomas-Pierre, director of code compliance, answered the question and said none have been issued those five years.

Swati said he researched the issue with the Department of Licensing and Regulation and found some “very interesting” facts.

“How big of an issue is this in the city of Port Arthur to amend an ordinance that so many people are losing out on money because they can’t pull permits? I’ve found there are only two people licensed as residential wiremen in Port Arthur. One of them is the brother of a sitting city councilman,” he said.

Swati was referring to Lewis’ brother; Lewis confirmed that. The second person was also Lewis’ brother.

In fact, the third person listed was to be appointed to the electrical board, he said.

Swati said he gave a long speech on ethics at the last City Council meeting. He doesn’t see how this ordinance is not a conflict of interest.

He told Lewis the proper way of conduct would be to recuse himself from this vote.

“As a council we should be transparent, fair, unbiased, courteous and considerate of the general public’s interest, not the interests of our friends and family,” he said. “We need to show all things by our actions. That’s why the citizens don’t trust us and say we’re lying all the time. We can only change things by our actions.”

Swati said the city ordinance must be equal to or stricter than the state law.

Lewis said he knows of at least six residential wiremen in the city and their licenses still exist. They were licensed under the Southern Building Code that is now defunct.

“You say you want to get our people to work. They’ll need at least 15 to 25 people working. This his how you do it, by growing companies,” he said.