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Rich Macke: The debate lasts longer than the streets

As the filing date looms closer for the May 2019 Port Arthur mayoral race, which will be followed by the May 2020 City Council election, an item that continues to be at the top of every official’s election platform has again become a hot topic.

During the Sept. 25 City Council meeting, Port Arthur Public Works Director Armando Gutierrez shared a presentation on street rehabilitation.

Year after year, this conversation takes place. And year after year, streets continue to get worse.

Patch jobs are put in place to placate the community. But patch jobs don’t last, especially here in Port Arthur. So we definitely don’t want that to continue if we want long-term fixes.

Gutierrez said more than 50 percent of the streets throughout Port Arthur are in failed or poor condition. This is not a surprise to residents who travel these streets every day.

To do full reconstruction on all roads needing this much repair would cost the city $400 million and take over 20 years to complete. But we will have roads that will last up to 30 years.

If it takes 20 years to finish this project, once done, it will immediately start again, right? Showing clearly that the city is well behind in making any progress that citizens greatly need and want.

To placate citizens, a faster and less expensive route can be taken. Bypassing the reconstruction route and using the process of remedial asphalt rehabilitation on roads will eliminate potholes and make them drivable for up to seven years. Which will allow the reconstruction program to catch up.

However, I’m told the lifespan of a rehabilitation program is more like three years in an area like Port Arthur, due to climate and other items beyond our control. Unfortunately, this is the same process that got us to where we are today, still needing streets fixed. No, this is not the answer, but will most likely be the route taken.

When Gutierrez finished, councilmembers made their comments and asked questions.

Mayor Derrick Freeman stated although he understands the numbers and appreciates the work that has been put into the presentation, the council needs to know what progress is being or has been made. And would like that information, moving forward.

Which is understandable: The council can’t make decisions or answer questions for citizens without proper information being shared during presentations.

I grew concerned when District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet commented he wants to select the streets to be fixed in his district. It concerns me because that is not the job of a City Council member. To suggest, yes. To select, absolutely not.

It’s well known throughout the community that some councilmembers cross the line in terms of their charter powers on City Council. They meet with department heads, direct employees and even take employees to lunch. Yes, this happens. I have seen it.

Neither here nor there, the city charter is in place for a reason. Crossing the line because one interprets their duties and responsibilities differently than how it reads is why our city and council struggle as much as they do.

The City of Port Arthur is a council-manager form of government. Per the city charters: Pursuant to its provisions and subject only to the limitations imposed by the State Constitution, the State Laws, and this Charter, all powers of the City shall be vested in and exercised by an elective City Council hereinafter referred to as “the Council,” which shall enact local legislation, adopt budgets, determine policies and appoint the City Manager who shall execute the laws and administer the government of the City.

 In layman’s terms, the city manager has total control of implementing city government work throughout the community.

So how should it be handled? Having been blessed to live in a number of communities, I have been equally as blessed to become friends with many city officials from those communities. Each has stated that under the guidance of the city manager, a plan is created and put together taking into consideration thoughts, views and opinions from the council. That plan is then shared with the council to be approved.

 City elected officials who struggle to understand their place within the process, and continually overstep, create an imbalance that can be counterintuitive to everything the City Council as a whole is trying to do. That is why other city governments work hard to keep this from happening. A strong city manager is at the core of ensuring this.

When we look back at 2012, the discussion on streets was nearly a mirror of what we heard Tuesday. A list of streets was put together. Council members were part of those discussions as well. The streets of Port Acres were at the top of this list at that time. Ultimately, council members felt pressure from other areas around their districts, changes were made to the list, an election took place, new councilmembers were sworn in and Port Acres has yet to see their streets repaired.

Learning from past mistakes is crucial to the success of getting the streets program, moving forward. But doing the same thing will only ensure the same results.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” — Albert Einstein

 Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News.