Councilman responds to remarks about Port Arthur travel expenses for mayor & mayor pro tem

Published 12:28 am Thursday, April 14, 2022

Councilman Kenneth Marks went “on record” this week to try and clear confusion surrounding travel expenses put before council members Tuesday evening.

Council had been asked to vote on $9,157.14 for Mayor Thurman Bartie and Mayor Pro Tem Donald Frank to attend the National League of Cities annual conference in Washington, D.C.

“I just want the public to know I received an email or text yesterday concerning the travel expenses,” he said. “And I’m going to read a portion and then I’m going to give you some detail. I won’t identify the person that sent this, but I took it as the way he meant it, and that’s why I’m bringing it to council today.”

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Marks read from the message.

“’If you vote to approve anymore of Thurman’s or Frank’s trips when I stand in front of council, I will be,’” he said, pausing to add, “and there’s some bad grammar here,” before continuing with, “I will be to make sure you totally get it. Dude, you are a complete sellout to this city.”

Marks said he expected other council members received similar messages from the sender.

“I went back and did some research with the agendas to see exactly what our historical data shows us, and I went back to 2017,” he said. “And I’m going to give you some information because I want this for the record so that whenever this comes before us again, we will know that there is a precedent for what is happening as far as travel is concerned.”

In April 2017, three council members attended the conference the prior month with approved expenditures totaling $9,300. The next year, one person attended for $4,700. In 2019, $11,273 in total went for one person attending a mayor’s conference and three council members attending the National League of Cities conference.

In 2020, $515 was spent for virtual conferences. Marks said “we had a budget that would be commensurate with previous expenses.”

The following year, $2,300 was approved for five participants on two trips.

“It’s like we’re not being good stewards because we have our leaders traveling to these conferences,” he added. “But unless we have representation in these rooms and meetings and making connections with people, we’re not going to be able to access the funding that is coming down from the federal level.”

He gave an example of being in the mayor’s office to discuss streets when a call came in regarding a $43 million plastics plant project. The connection was made by a presentation from the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation and a referral from the mayor of Houston.

Ultimately the project was not awarded to Port Arthur.

“The point I’m making is that we, as a council in our budget process, actually budget for travel expenses for our leadership, whether it be the mayor or mayor pro tem or city council,” he said. “And it’s for us to actually represent this city…so that we can benefit from those type of connections.”

Frank thanked Marks for looking back at previous travel expenses.

“All of this happens and transpires when individuals don’t fully understand what council is about, what council should be doing,” the mayor pro tem said. “Our city has to go to another level, and that can only be done as we move our city forward and ultimately engage in individuals in a 21st century dynamic and in the room. You have to be in the room for things to happen and transpire.”