Thurman Bartie, Floyd Batiste debate Port Arthur issues ahead of runoff election

Published 3:55 pm Thursday, May 19, 2022

Editor’s note: To ensure impartiality while allowing for space, not all of the questions answered in Thursday’s debate are listed in this article. Also, each candidate gave longer answers than printed here. We selected the opening statements from each question.

BEAUMONT — Mayor Thurman Bartie and challenger Floyd Batiste took part in a debate Thursday in Beaumont, discussing topics that ranged from employment to development.

The event, hosted by the Press Club of Southeast Texas, gave each candidate three minutes to make opening and closing statements, and each were given two minutes to answer respective questions.

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Bartie and Batiste will take part in a runoff election for mayor on June 11.

Opening statements:

Bartie: “Before I was actually a person who was challenging the position of mayor in the City of Port Arthur. Now I return as the actual incumbent mayor of the City of Port Arthur. And I also ask citizens…allow me to continue the progress. And you may say, what progress? The progress of proven leadership. The progress of having the opportunity to have been faced with very many calamities — from hurricanes to garbage problems to COVID.

“In my leadership, in my mayoral administration here in the City of Port Arthur, I have been able to overcome odds that have been presented. With the help of a council, with the help of a city manager, and with the help of good citizens, I have been able to be what I think is a pretty effective mayor.”

Batiste: “I have 24 years of workforce development experience, managing workforce centers in Jefferson, Orange and Hardin counties. After those 24 years of operation over there, I came over to the City of Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation as the director of economic development. And for the last 17 years, I will say it was like a shipwreck when I first got there. Some of you remember; it was a shipwreck. And it took us years to put our hand on that steering wheel and stabilize that ship so it could go.

“And I will tell you guys that economic development (corporation) became a statewide-recognized economic development organization and a nationwide-recognized economic development organization. I was awarded an international lifetime achievement for the work we’ve done in Port Arthur.”

If you’re elected what will be the main, single goal you focus on? 

Batiste: “Since I’ve been in this campaign, it has kind of changed. Right now my main single goal…is putting EDC back where it was. Because right now it’s dysfunctional. And any community, if it’s going to survive, it’s going to survive through economic development. Good business brings about great community.

“The next thing is transparency — making sure the taxpayers and citizens understand what is going on over there. Because there’s a lot of misconception and mistrust of what those of us who are supposed to be in office are really doing.”

Bartie: “The top goal is to actually do what I’ve been saying all along — continue the progress. There have been so many different programs and things that have begun under or during my mayoral administration. We want to continue the progress, first of all, dealing with infrastructure and what we’ve done to be sure that infrastructure is addressed. A lot of the infrastructure in our city (in) some of those areas, it’s over 100 years old. And it’s because it was functional for so long, and then when those things become inoperable, then they’ve caused a major problem for everyone.

“I want to continue the progress with what we are doing for citizens as far as fulfilling their needs with being sure that what is happening on a national level actually also happens in the City of Port Arthur.”

What is the biggest challenge Port Arthur faces?

Bartie: “The biggest challenge that Port Arthur faces right now is to be sure that things happen in the way and in the manner in which they should. Right now in Port Arthur there is a great number of Port Arthurans who are not being considered for employment by our industrial neighbors, by others who are in Port Arthur. They are financially succeeding in Port Arthur, yet they would look over the exact individuals who are in that city — in my city — and will not give them a chance.

“It’s one thing to say that we can’t find anybody, but it’s another thing to say that we aren’t trying to find anyone. I want Port Arthurans to be able to…live life. If we don’t give them jobs, they can’t afford to buy those homes. If they don’t have the means to financially support their families, then they can’t live a fruitful life.”

Batiste: “I think the biggest challenge in Port Arthur right now is accountability and holding people accountable for what we want done. And the second-largest challenge is communication. There’s not enough communication among entities. Everybody is going on their own little road. Nobody is looking at the whole picture, they’re looking at their pictures. Economic development drives everything. It’s like a bicycle wheel. And in the middle of that wheel is a little hole, and that’s the people. But all those spokes are all these different entities that drive that wheel round and round. And if they can’t communicate together, the people will not be able to communicate.

“I think accountability, communication, I think training is very, very critical in Port Arthur. You heard the mayor talk about putting people to work. We have excellent relationships with the industries. I will tell you from my position in the last 17 years, industries want to work with us. Industries want to hire our local people. They’ve got to be trained. “

Pleasure Island has often been described as a diamond in the rough, but it’s been described that way for 20 to 30 years without full completion. If you’re elected, what would you like to see happen on the island, and what could you do to make that happen?

Batiste: “Pleasure Island, as you said… I’d like to see, we have to turn this whole thing over to project development. Municipality government, that’s not what we do. We as municipality government, we have to partner with private sector by helping them to bring traffic to that island.

“And we have a lot of amenities out there — some of the best bird watching in the world is right there on Pleasure Island. You have a disc golf course there, championship golf course…we have Logan Park where we used to have concerts. We have to bring people to that island to help that development survive.”

Bartie: “On Pleasure Island, actually the voters in the City of Port Arthur on May 7, they actually lit the fire for us by passing a resolution that would allow us to sell pieces of property. It’s going to be platted and fixed where private developers can purchase the property and do what’s necessary in order to enhance the lifestyle on the island.

“What we have actually experienced is the lack of investments because of restrictions that were set before us. Now, they’ve lifted the greatest restriction, which is that the city now can actually allow private developers to come in and do those things that would be, first of all, financially sound, and would attract citizens or even tourists to the island.”