City Council fairy tale of KCS 503

Published 3:39 pm Friday, March 2, 2018

The Port Arthur City Council’s continuing lack of transparency, candor and honesty has frustrated some citizens. That’s why this week’s council item, discussion about locomotive No. 503, might have excited some people: Action on the historic engine had previously been taken in secret.

District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet requested the item. Maybe the council members would clear the air?

Unfortunately, the council merely blew more smoke. The recorded video at shows Doucet telling some whoppers to placate citizens frustrated by previous council decisions on Engine 503. No doubt he’s catching heat — Engine 503, which is displayed in his district, most recently rotted away on his watch.

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Some council members and City Hall professionals are troubled by the council majority’s actions and duplicity. Doucet apparently believed honest colleagues and employees would not tell us how certain decisions were made behind closed doors.

We heard. We know.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Doucet began this discussion on Kansas City Southern 503 by stating, “I’ve been reading a lot of articles in the newspaper they label facts, and saying that council had made a decision about this train behind closed doors and is not transparent.”

He further stated, “I’d like to come on record today, make sure that everyone understands, council has not made a decision on whether this train will remain in Port Arthur or leave Port Arthur or whether it be demolished.”

That’s wrong. People we’ve spoken to, in the same closed-door meeting, tell it much differently. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told city leaders the engine needed to be removed due to draining oil and asbestos. These issues and concerns had been heightened since Hurricane and Tropical Storm Harvey, and they could lead to potential health problems. A fine was at issue.

Additionally, The News was informed the council received and discussed in executive session three separate quotes to handle the work, one for $90,000, one for a little over $80,000 and one for $23,000. Interesting?

Doucet said Tuesday, “In fact, for citizens who don’t know, you can always know when council makes decisions. The decisions council makes must be made in open meeting. We can discuss behind closed doors all we want, but we must come upstairs and vote on it.”

According to the Port Arthur City Charters, Sec. 2-285: “the city council confers upon the city manager the general authority to contract for expenditure without further approval of the city council for all budgeted items not exceeding $25,000, subject to the requirement that a monthly check register indicating all such expenditures be provided to the city council.”

That means the City Council does not have to vote on an item or issue if it costs less than $25,000. Nor do they have to vote on it in an open meeting if there are budgeted funds for a project. And since one quote came in under the $25,000 cap, this is how it was discussed, handled and approved by the city council, we were told.

Here’s how our sources told us each council member in the Executive Session gave approval: a “nod of the head.” No, you cannot make this stuff up.

Full City Council transparency would stop a lot of this “he-said, she-said” banter. Until that happens, we will try to make sure readers are fully informed.