Who is Ron Burton?: New Port Arthur city manager ‘born’ into serving others

Published 12:14 am Saturday, November 23, 2019

Ron Burton came to Port Arthur as assistant director of planning and community development in September 2008 after three years as director of a similar department in Moultrie, Ga.

“I saw it as an opportunity,” he said. “I served as director of planning in Moultrie, Ga., but we did very little in disaster management, so that was my first opportunity from them to get my feet wet.”

To say the least.

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A week into his arrival, Hurricane Ike landed on Port Arthur and the Texas coast.

“I quickly learned there was something called a disaster emergency management plan in place. I took myself with it by reading it and understanding the role various departments play. …

“Let’s say I was baptized by water and fire just coming into Port Arthur.”

Since then, Burton has helped Port Arthur weather the impacts of Hurricane Harvey and Tropical Storm Imelda, serving as interim city director for the latter in September 2019. “Interim” was removed from Burton’s title on Nov. 13 when he emerged from a pool of three finalists that interviewed for the position publicly at city hall.

The city workers’ reception to the news has been one of welcome, Port Arthur public works director Alberto Elefano said.

“Everybody’s happy for sure,” Elefano said. “He’ll be a great city manager. He brings a great enthusiasm and he supports the staff.”

Now 55, Burton said he was born into a culture of serving others. He was born and raised in Dominica (“Doh-mee-NEE-kah”), a small island in the West Indies between Guadeloupe and Martinique, well east of the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

But his family, as he put it, has always had a history of coming to America.

“My great grandfather came to America in 1906 from Cuba,” Burton said, adding his great grandfather’s parents sold a portion of his estate to send him to New York. “He went to Ellis Island, … got up in the morning, went down the road and got a job as a young boy with $26 in his pockets. He washed bottles for a Jewish company called Ammon and Ammon. He stayed there for 50 years, and he went from washing bottles to becoming a chemist. They sent him to school and he became a chemist. When he retired, he came back home.”

From the time Burton’s great grandfather retired, he encouraged his relatives to go to America, where he still owned a home in New York.

“He was also my godfather,” Burton said. “As a kid, we always came on vacation in the summer to New York. They would bring us to the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and these places downtown. Eventually, in 1996, I decided to go back to school. I was already working for the government [of Dominica] as a district development officer.”

Burton went to work for the Dominican government shortly after high school. The government then sent him to St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia for a certificate program in social development, which he completed in 1993.

“My godfather went to the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier to learn the mechanics of corporate development, and he came back home and established a credit union movement in Dominica,” Burton said. “It’s now a multi-billion dollar corporation.”

Edward Davidson Elwin established the credit union by taking 50 cents to $1 from people and depositing them in an account, Burton said

“In those days, it was ‘Save a penny a day for a rainy day,’” he continued. “On Thursday and Friday, we would go up into the mountains with him to get the money from the people. We had to write it down in a little book and take it back to the credit union and deposit it for them. Then he would give them a passbook to show them how much he had. When he did that, he became the general manager of the credit union movement until he died. He got the country’s second-highest award for his contribution to the credit union and improving the lives of people.

“So I was born with that into the family. How do you reach out to people, especially the poor? We were brought up doing that.”

With four certificates in planning and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Southern Mississippi in tow, Burton has made a career of community planning, development and management, the last 11 years in Port Arthur. Married to Valerie for 16-plus years with three children — David, 16; Lucas, 13; and Olivia, 10 — Burton has taken a ladder from assistant director of planning and community development to directing development services to assistant city manager and now city manager.

“He’s been a very good mentor,” Elefano said. “He’s been very supportive and tries to make sure we have everything we need.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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