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Ex-councilman warns of open meetings violation; Port Arthur Council could return to in-person

Following a year of virtual meetings, Port Arthur City Council could soon resume gathering in person now that the state has reopened 100 percent.

During Tuesday’s regular board meeting, the question of whether or not the council was in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act was brought forward by former councilman Harold Doucet Sr.

“The concern is based on my observation on the workshop that was conducted on (March 12) and also the meeting that was conducted on (March 16),” Doucet said during the open comment portion of the session. “As I watched the workshop and also watched the council meeting, I was very concerned because what you were discussing and what you were talking about was basically determining the future of how we’re going to move.

“That is quality of life when you talk about parks; sewage and drainage and water lines, which is a priority and has been a priority for council and the city for years now. That was an extremely important workshop, and I was very interested in watching it.”

But others interested in participating, Doucet said, could be hindered by Internet availability.

“I think council needs to take a serious look at your digital meetings now. Leaders are going back into meetings all around us. Our citizens are asking when we’re going to (return),” he said. “This is a meeting for the citizens and the city of Port Arthur. This council needs to consider making our meetings back to where citizens can go. Not everyone can work a computer. Not everyone can get online for the computer. But we must allow citizens an opportunity to come before you and address you.”

City manager Ronald Burton said he plans to add that topic to the city’s next meeting agenda.

“We’re still abiding by guidelines (for the Texas Open Meetings Act) now, but I do plan on putting that on the next agenda,” Burton said.

Now that City Hall has resumed regular business hours, the city manager said it makes sense for the council to resume regular meetings, as long as proper social distancing measures are put into place.

Port Arthur has been conducting meetings by Zoom since April 2020.

Calls made the Texas Attorney General’s Office regarding current guidelines under the Open Meetings Act where not returned by press time.