An angry Lewis exits City Council service

Published 8:22 am Wednesday, April 25, 2018

By Ken Stickney

Port Arthur Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis, serving his last official meeting Tuesday night in a District 5 seat that voters eliminated two years ago, left public service apparently angry and swinging at ghosts, blaming first former City Manager Brian McDougal for the loss of city equipment during Tropical Storm Harvey and then blaming Mayor Derrick Freeman for not exercising more control over McDougal.

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This time, the usually affable mayor, who had sidestepped Lewis’ occasional barbs during the first two hours of the long evening meeting, was having none of it.

Lewis, speaking first during a discussion item about hurricane preparedness, then following up on a discussion item about Article II, Section 6 in the City Charter — Lewis had requested both discussions — railed that the city had failed to do “due diligence” in training for hurricane season during 2017, then said city officials failed to protect city equipment parked on low-lying areas, causing the city to suffer financial losses from which it may never recover.

“What is the plan?” he asked, his voicing rising, suggesting that there was no hurricane preparedness in 2017 and there might be none now. Both Freeman and Interim City Manager Harvey Robinson responded that there was and is a plan in place, but Lewis responded, “Someone was asleep at the wheel.”

Later, he turned his ire toward Freeman, suggesting that the mayor failed to learn his job as chief executive and that he needed to learn his job description.

“We need to make sure … we will never do this again,” he said, at times lamenting the city was “turning into Section 8,” that property tax collections were down and that people were selling houses “as is.”

But by the time Lewis finished speaking, an obviously angry Freeman was not willing to absorb any more body blows from the departing councilman and responded icily and in detail.

Freeman, recounting that he and the council met even as water flooded his own home at the height of Harvey’s fury, and said that Lewis “came slithering up here (to City Hall) that day” not to talk about storm relief for citizens, but to push for the city to spend $30,000 for programming on The Breeze radio station.

“The only thing you worried about was that $30,000,” Freeman said, recollecting that despite his two decades in public office, Lewis had nothing more to add that day but only wanted to get public money spent on his friend’s radio station.

Council members interjected to end discussion before the exchange continued; when the mayor asked for a vote on whether to discontinue the discussion, they loudly responded “Aye” in unison.