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Port Arthur mayor declares ‘local emergency’

The declaration of local disaster the city of Port Arthur posted was signed and dated Tuesday, but the document is the product of an amendment to the emergency order the city council unanimously passed four days earlier.

Mayor Thurman Bartie and Councilman Harold Doucet explained the timing of the declaration posting shortly after it happened. Bartie said the posting was a renewal of a March 17 declaration of “a public health emergency” in response to the coronavirus pandemic, adding the declaration needed to be renewed every seven days per Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations and that language was clarified.

According to the declaration posted just before 6 p.m. Tuesday, the city council will consider extending it at its March 31 regular meeting. The March 17 document did not offer a renewal date.

The amendment that was approved March 20 during an emergency meeting changed the maximum number of gatherings allowed in private and public gatherings from 50 to 10 in order to mirror orders issued by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick. Doucet said nothing new was added to the declaration since Friday.

Doucet, who is also Port Arthur’s Mayor Pro Tem, suspected not all the necessary signatures to the amendment were collected until Tuesday. Bartie signed the declaration, Assistant City Secretary Kelly Moore certified it and City Attorney Val Tizeno approved it “as to form.”

“Normally, if you get an action, I don’t care if you meet at 8:30 a.m., you have a document prepared by the end of business that day,” Doucet said. “What council does is in the form of a proposed resolution or proposed ordinance. It takes 15 or 20 or 30 minutes to [sign each proposal], depending on every item on the agenda.”

That is if everyone is available to sign each document, according to Doucet. He said he usually “goes right in” to sign documents if he presides over a council meeting.

“If you understand the process, you can see where a document will be late,” he said. “That document was probably made available, perhaps that day. To get all the signatures, it could be two to three days.”

A link on the city’s website that would typically include an ordinance or resolution voted on per the March 20 agenda led to a document that read “Work In Progress,” as does a March 17 link that was to offer a proposed resolution concerning a change in the city’s personnel policy regarding coronavirus.

Per the posted declaration, city facilities including the Bob Bowers Civic Center, Port Arthur Public Library, Department Club, Rose Hill Manor, Recreational and Senior Center and all city-owned community centers are closed. City Hall, Port Arthur Transit, all city operation centers and water treatment plants remain open with restricted access to the public; and bars, nightclubs and game machines remain closed, as will dine-in services at restaurants.

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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