PA city council members wear masks during meeting, coronavirus restrictions upped

Published 1:10 pm Friday, March 20, 2020

District 4 Councilman Harold Doucet was the first to arrive at the Port Arthur City Council head table for Friday’s emergency meeting, and he arrived wearing a surgical mask.

“I’m wearing one because the mayor went out of town to Washington and he wasn’t quarantined,” Doucet said. “He’s come back, and then I’m sitting next to him.”

Soon, each of the councilmembers wore a white facemask with a tightening metal. Mayor Thurman Bartie took no offense to the masks, even wearing one when the meeting commenced.

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“I liked [the councilmembers] so much, I had to come,” Bartie joked.

Councilmembers say they did not plan in unison to wear the masks, but the response came after a report in The News revealed two attendees at the National League of Cities Congressional City Conference in Washington, D.C., tested positive for coronavirus. Bartie attended the conference, which was held March 8-11, but said he didn’t believe he was in a session that included the two individuals, who are from Colorado but have not been identified.

The council voted unanimously during a brief open session to amend its emergency order from Tuesday and lower the maximum number of gatherings allowed in private and public gatherings from 50 to 10 to mirror Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick’s and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency orders. This includes meetings in places of worship, weddings and funerals; however, residents are allowed to shop at grocery stores but are urged to exercise caution.

“Typically our plan is to educate first and then enforce,” Port Arthur Police Chief Tim Duriso said. “What we’ve seen to this point is that most people are in compliance with the 10 or less, as far as I know at this time.”

The new maximum was enforced before the start of the open meeting, as only members of the press and essential city employees were allowed in the chamber.

City Manager Ron Burton said services such as paying bills and speaker requests for council meetings would continue, but the number of persons in each department at any time would be limited to 10.

“We’re working in lockstep with what the county and the governor has issued,” Burton said. “We’ll enact measures to make sure employees and citizens at all times are being protected and that we provide quality service.”

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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