Look inside Port Arthur municipal hiring concerns shows failed drug tests, criminal histories

Published 12:18 am Thursday, January 13, 2022

With 42 vacancies within the City of Port Arthur since October, officials say two main things are preventing them from hiring most applicants — drug tests and criminal histories.

This week Human Resources Director Trameka Williams gave a presentation to City Council regarding the number of vacancies in relation to the last report that was given in October. The number, she said, has stayed the same; although the reasons have changed.

“This may fluctuate with terminations, retirements and resignations,” she said.

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Since October, there have been some hires. But the number of employees in Utility Operations has been reduced by three, Parks and Recreation has been reduced by 3, and a combination of all other departments has seen a reduction of 13.

There have been four terminations and three retirements since October.

City Manager Ron Burton said drug tests and criminal histories remain an issue, although it won’t prevent the city from hiring.

“We’re not going to employ somebody, for example, as a cashier who has a 45-page rap sheet and who has dealt with fraudulent checks,” he said. “No. But I can consider that same individual, because everybody needs redemption, to serve in a capacity where he or she does not have to handle money.”

Councilman Thomas Kinlaw asked about the descriptions of the open positions themselves.

“About 8-9 months ago, we were talking about job descriptions and rewriting the job descriptions on some of those jobs so we can fill some of those jobs,” he said. “Have we got to the point where we’re able to fill some of those lower-level jobs because of the concerns of the description posting.”

Williams said they have, citing specifically a job in drainage that formerly required a commercial driver’s license. That position now gives the employee six months to obtain the CDL.

Given the recent stink around trash pickup, Councilman Cal Jones asked how many of those positions were in the Public Works Department. He suggested considering people with criminal histories to fill those positions.

“They’re not around money,” he said. “Let’s look at the whole scope of things. Let’s take a big look at it.”

However, while the number is 17, Williams and Burton stressed those openings were in the department as a whole and not just trash pickup.

“We are attempting to work with individuals now,” Williams said. “It just depends on what they have on their background and where we want to place them.”

Burton agreed.

“That’s why I ask the HR department to be flexible…even I want to play a very critical part in that because I don’t think every individual should be written off,” he said. “I think there is opportunity for redemption as far as individuals are concerned. A part of the redemption process is to make sure that we provide them with gainful employment…especially if you are a citizen of the City of Port Arthur.”

Councilwoman Charlotte Moses asked the Human Resources department to provide another report in the near future that details how many applicants have failed drug tests and what drugs were specifically detected.

Williams said she would; and also plans to return to council with a report detailing the number of applicants, the number of hires versus terminations, the number of grievances and appeals, civil service, trainings being offered, safety meetings, and information on the accident review board.

A specific date for those reports was not set.