• 68°

Port Arthur council, mayor debate bringing public meetings back to City Hall

Port Arthur residents will have to wait two more weeks before finding out if city council meetings will return to City Hall.

The topic regarding virtual meetings, which began in April 2020, was brought before the council Tuesday night, but ultimately tabled following a difference of opinion.

“No one was more careful than you were, Mayor, with no shots; and now you have both shots,” said Councilman Cal Jones. “Let’s open up for the citizens of Port Arthur. We’ll wear masks, social distance. Let’s open City Hall up and take care of business.”

Bartie, who contracted COVID-19 in December prior to receiving his first dose of the vaccine inMarch 2, said, “I’m not trying to rush it. If we decide to come back, it will be forever or whatever.”

During a March meeting, former councilman Harold Doucet Sr. addressed members questioning the legality of continuing to host virtual meetings.

“I think council needs to take a serious look at your digital meetings now,” he said at the time. “Leaders are going back into meetings all around us. Our citizens are asking when we’re going to (return). This is a meeting for the citizens and the city of Port Arthur.”

Doucet added that some residents could be unable to attend meetings due to lack of Internet availability.

“I as well agree that it’s time for us to allow any citizens that might not be technologically savvy to come to City Hall and approach us,” Councilman Donald Frank said Tuesday. “With social distancing, with vaccinations and that’s happening and transpiring. I think it’s time for us to open back up.”

Frank also asked the council to consider purchasing a different device to take temperatures that would eliminate the need for a security guard to do so with a handheld device.

“We need to be cautious,” Bartie said. “City Hall is not closed. The meetings we have by Zoom are to protect us and those who present to us. Other cities doing it like we’ve been doing it went back to open meetings, and within a couple of weeks tested positive (for) COVID.”

Councilmembers asked City Secretary Sherri Bellard to compile information for the council over the next two weeks to determine what needs to be done in order to return to safe, in-person meetings.

A vote is expected by the end of the month.