Port Arthur office holders, candidates talk election delay

Published 1:53 pm Tuesday, March 31, 2020

The Port Arthur City Council moved to formally adopt an ordinance to push the May 2 council elections to Nov. 3, which is the presidential Election Day.

The motion came Tuesday morning shortly before a live stream of the councilmembers’ teleconference via Zoom technology finally appeared through the city’s usual link to live videos, portarthurtx.swagit.com/live. That was at 9:29 a.m., 59 minutes before the scheduled start of the meeting.

The council’s chamber, located on the fifth floor of city hall, was closed Tuesday and each councilmember and Mayor Thurman Bartie signed into the meeting remotely. The same videoconferencing format will be used for each city council meeting until the coronavirus pandemic ends, Mayor Thurman Bartie said.

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All six city council positions are up for election, and the postponement would not affect term lengths, although it is not clear exactly when the terms would begin. Bartie will begin the second year of his three-year term in July.

Asked about the election delay with about a month to go, Bartie said: “If I were a candidate, I’d be disappointed. This goes along with the times we’re in. This is all over the country. It’s not unique to Port Arthur. In fact, in our region, we have been the last ones to act on it.”

Greg Richard, a council candidate for District 4, was concerned that he would have to pick up lawn signs in accordance with Texas law preventing candidates for public office to place those 90 days before the election, although City Secretary Sherri Bellard said she is awaiting a decision from Secretary of State Ruth Hughs concerning that.

“It is what it is,” Richard said. “I’ll have to go back and pick up all those signs. All the money people spent already is a waste.”

Tuesday’s motion called for city attorney Val Tizeno to prepare an ordinance to postpone the elections. A formal vote on the ordinance will take place at either a special meeting April 7 or the April 14 regular meeting.

The postponement to Nov. 3 complies with state and federal laws, since that is the next uniform election date, Bartie said.

The delay does not automatically postpone the Port Arthur Independent School District board elections, Bellard said. The PAISD and the city have a contract to conduct their elections together.

Port Arthur ISD Superintendent Dr. Mark Porterie could not immediately be reached Tuesday, but he told The News in a March 24 article the district would follow the city’s lead in rescheduling its election.

PAISD board member the Rev. Donald Ray Frank suspended his campaign for Position 8 on the city council, citing his desire to help residents focus on protection from coronavirus.

“I commend the city council for making that decision” to postpone, Frank said. “Many of our campaign workers are senior citizens. That’s what we need to focus on to get past this COVID-19. When you talk about lives, we can’t get those lives back due to this heinous and hideous virus.

“I got all my [campaign] stuff here at the house. I was signing contracts for billboards, but it doesn’t matter right now.”

Frank does intend to re-launch his campaign and can continue to serve as board trustee.

“I’m ready still to serve the city of Port Arthur in this [school board] capacity,” he said. “I’m really operating in my pastor capacity right now. This is a very strange time.”

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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