Port Arthur looks to follow emergency order; Mayor urges “virtual worshiping”

Published 12:22 pm Thursday, March 19, 2020

An emergency meeting of the Port Arthur City Council will be held at 11 a.m. Friday.

City Manager Ron Burton said the purpose of the meeting will be to help Port Arthur officials stay within compliance of Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick’s latest emergency order issued Wednesday.

Under the order, gatherings of 10 or more persons in public or private facilities including churches are not allowed, a 24-hour curfew is enacted (but citizens may go directly to and from work), and grocery and convenience stores may remain open.

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Residents are urged to use delivery or curbside services.

The county order supersedes the city’s emergency order from Tuesday, which prohibited gatherings of 50 or more only in public facilities, consistent with the county order at the time.

Citizens as of Thursday were able to visit City Hall for usual services including paying bills and citations, although the city has encouraged those to take advantage of such services through its website, www.portarthurtxgov.

“Right now, today [Thursday], you can,” Mayor Thurman Bartie said. “Tomorrow and the next week, it might be different. I want it to be. The lawyers are working on something because you got to be within the law. I want to restrict public access. City employees still have to come, but we need to protect them. We need to get that number down to 10 people at a time. We would probably have an officer patrolling that.”

Said Burton: “We have to collect garbage and operate our landfill. We have to make sure the water plants are operable and we have safe water drinking in the city. We have to make sure there’s law and order in the city. We’re working very closely with the county judge to make sure that we are in compliance. The police are working closely with the county and the sheriff to ensure the requirements are being met.”

Burton said the city is keeping residents informed of the latest city and emergency orders through its website and social media.

The city has an official Facebook page but as a whole does not have an official Twitter handle, while many departments have Twitter handles or are developing one, Burton said.

Using his licensed minister hat instead of mayoral capacity, Bartie pleads with churches to move to what he calls “virtual worshiping” for approximately the next month. Bartie is an associate pastor at First Sixth Street Baptist Church.

“That means coming up with innovative ideas without any parishioners there,” he said. “Deacons can go around to homes and collect offerings. These are innovative ways of worshiping.”

Churches participate in government by abiding by its laws as required in the Bible, Bartie added.

“The government has rule over you right now, and it does not mean that your faith is wavered or lessened by doing what you are instructed to do, no matter how negatively it impacts the bottom line of the church,” he said.

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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