Port Arthur EDC’s outgoing CEO & Mayor Bartie share opinions on economic engine’s turmoil

Published 12:40 am Friday, July 30, 2021

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The outgoing chief executive officer of the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation, Floyd Batiste, believes the organization has done some good things for the city and its residents.

He also believes there is more good to be done in the future.

But as Batiste, who has spent 17 years heading up the organization, prepares to bid adieu on Sept. 30, he worries about the EDC’s future.

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A staff member filed a grievance against Batiste in February, of which Batiste said he disagreed with “100 percent.”

Port Arthur Newsmedia has filed a request for information about the grievance.

The Port Arthur EDC board, however, accepted the findings of the grievance as shown in the minutes of the April 29 meeting. The only one voting that voted against reprimand was John Chirafis, who resigned from the EDC board last week.

“I probably made a hasty decision and thought maybe it’s time for me to go,” Batiste said this week from his office at 501 Procter St. “I submitted my resignation and, after that, sat back and thought about it and got a lot of phone calls, some from citizens.”

He then went back to the board and asked members to reconsider his resignation, but they did not accept, Batiste said.

There’s more to his resignation than the grievance though.

The EDC and Port Arthur City Council are separate entities; the council has final approval on projects put forth by the EDC. Earlier this year City Councilman Donald Frank brought up discussion of changing the designation of the EDC from Type A to Type B, saying it would allow the board to “promote and develop new and expanded business ventures that create or retain primary jobs.”

The Port Arthur EDC is a Type A, which can fund industrial development projects such as business infrastructure, manufacturing and research and development, as well as funding military base realignment, job training classes and public transportation, according to the Texas Comptroller’s website.

A Type A can put propositions for Type B projects on an election ballot and let voters make the decision.

A Type B EDC can fund all projects eligible for Type A, as well as parks, museums, sports facilities and affordable housing. However, Type B EDCs are subject to more administrative restrictions than Type A.

Batiste feels the EDC is better off as a Type A organization.

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie worked to address what he called misinformation released to the press regarding the city’s alleged intention to make changes to the structure or personnel of the Port Arthur EDC.

“Despite outside statements to the contrary, the Port Arthur City Council, and I repeat, the Port Arthur City Council does not have the authority to change the designated type of EDC without voter approval,” Bartie said during a press conference at the front of city hall this week. “And I will repeat that. We can’t change anything without voter approval.”

The decision for the change would rely on voters by way of a proposition.

“To date, there has been no formal action by the Port Arthur City Council to even initiate change to the type of EDC, nor is the city council aware of a particular group of voters who want this action to be brought forth in the form of a proposition for this change at this time,” Bartie said.

The Port Arthur EDC is located in 501 Procter St. (Mary Meaux/The News)

Batiste on Type A vs. Type B

Batiste readily admits he is not a politician but an administrator, saying it is his job to carry out the will and duties of the board members and city council.

“We have all seen and heard certain council people would like to take a different direction,” Batiste said, referring to the city council’s earlier discussion regarding the types of EDCs.

He said he is not against a Type B organization — every other community in the region is a Type B except for Port Arthur.

“But knowing this community, knowing the politics of this community, knowing the needs of this community, in my mind I think the way we are is the best way to be — a Type A,” Batiste told Port Arthur Newsmedia.

Batiste said he doesn’t have statistics but believes the Port Arthur EDC has put more money into Type B projects than any community in the region.

“We’ve put money in parks,” he said. “We’ve put money in streets. We’ve put money in housing.”

One issue with having a Type B EDC is the board can consist of up to three city council members. Currently, with the Type A organization, each board member is named by a councilmember.

The problem for Batiste is his fear the EDC will change and decisions will be made for certain individuals or organizations.

“I’m not saying that’s going to happen,” he said. “It presents that opportunity and I don’t want to be in that position.”

Who nominated board members:

Councilmembers each appoint a person to the EDC board.

Here’s the listing:

  • Mayor Thurman Bartie appointed Rhonda Conner.
  • District 1 Councilwoman Ingrid Holmes appointed Darrell Anderson, who is the board president.
  • District 2 Councilman Cal Jones appointed John Chirafis.
  • District 3 Councilman Thomas Kinlaw III appointed Christopher Smith.
  • District 4 Councilman Kenneth Marks appointed Rashad Harris.
  • Position 7 Councilwoman Charlotte Moses appointed Dallas Smith.
  • Position 8 Councilman Donald Frank appointed Roosevelt Petry.

While Batiste’s last day as CEO is Sept. 30, Chirafis’s resignation took effect immediately.

“Floyd was a special person that brought a lot of good things to the city of Port Arthur,” Chirafis said in an earlier interview with Port Arthur Newsmedia. “I just didn’t like the direction (the council) was trying to take this board. There’s a lot of stuff going on there that I couldn’t be part of.”

Now, with Chirafis gone, Jones will appoint another person to the EDC board.

Jones said he would make the appointment during the Aug. 3 council meeting. He did not want to announce the name until the meeting.

Jones said the EDC is in turmoil, and the city council is trying to work with them on the problem, adding the CEO has issues with his board and, in his opinion, was disrespectful to councilmembers.

“Like my poor mama said, may she rest in peace, this too shall pass,” Jones said. “We’re doing what’s best for the citizens of Port Arthur.”

Finding a new CEO

The path to finding a new CEO is first in the hands of the EDC board.

Currently, Batiste said, the board is working on a description of his current job duties and will make whatever amendments needed for the job description. The next step is for the EDC to seek Requests for Qualifications.

In the meantime the board can appoint an interim leaders.

Later, after the EDC finds its next CEO, the decision will go before city council for final approval.

Bartie said there is no target date, and the EDC will let them know when they reach this point. More than likely, according to the mayor, whoever the EDC choses to appoint, the council will approve. This is because the EDC would have done due diligence during the hiring process.

Bartie also added he is not trying to run the organization but wants to be transparent because it involves public funds.