Longtime councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr. returns to bench following election

Published 12:42 am Friday, May 19, 2023

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A familiar face has returned to City Council with the May 6 election of Willie “Bae” Lewis Jr. to represent Port Arthur’s District 1.

Lewis, who served for 18 years beginning in 1983, was sworn in Wednesday following the joint general election in which he garnered 409 votes or 50.68 percent of the turnout. His opponent, Tieranny Decuir, earned 398 votes or 49.32 percent.

Lewis also ran for mayor in 2022.

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Now back on the bench, Lewis said he opted to run again after hearing complaints from residents.

“I returned to council to bring balance to city government in favor of the citizens,” he said.

Of his goals, Lewis hopes to alleviate flooding on W. 17th, W. 18th and W. 19th streets through directional drilling. The process would guide floodwaters directly to the Drainage District 7 pump station at 19th Street and Stilwell Boulevard.

In addition, Lewis hopes to enter into an inter-governmental agreement with Jefferson County Commissioner Shane Sinegal to utilize county crews to assist with street repair.

One of Lewis’ goals is to address the funds transferred from the capital improvement plan in order to beautify Woodworth Boulevard.

The project first went before council in November and is expected to cost approximately $10 million. A design by Arceneaux Wilson and Cole included rehabbing pavements, widening sidewalks, enhancing lighting, adding additional parking near Lakeshore Drive and adding irrigation as part of landscaping.

To date, council members have approved $7.2 million toward the project. City Manager Ron Burton said there was $10 million in the capital improvement plan that had not yet been allocated.

“That’s a violation of the bond covenant,” Lewis said. “We went to the voters and told the voters they were going to issue those bonds and use those for streets and drainage. You cannot do anything else. You have to spend that money for what it was programmed for.”

The same concern went before council in April when Harold Doucet spoke in opposition. Doucet, a former councilman, will be in the June 24 runoff against incumbent Kenneth Marks for District 4.

“The additional money that you’re requesting to make this section pretty is not what we passed the bond for,” Doucet told councilmembers. “We passed it to fix streets. If we got $4.2 million, we should add more streets and fix streets because that’s what the bond was for.”

Doucet was on the council at the time the capital improvement project was approved.

Councilwoman Charlotte Moses, who was also on council in 2018 but left office Wednesday due to term limits, told Doucet the decision to allocate money belongs to councilmembers.

“This council has the right with four votes to change anything,” she said. “And the directive is, from this council, we saw the presentation of Memorial Boulevard. We respectfully all agree that that’s what we want to see for Port Arthur. And anything can be brought back up to this council with four votes and changed.”

United Citizens of Port Arthur

Lewis has been an active member of United Citizens of Port Arthur, a grassroots group of residents pushing to change the city’s voting system from majority to plurality.

Plurality voting automatically appoints the candidate who receives the highest number of votes, while majority requires one candidate to receive more than 50 percent or face a runoff among the top two.

Lewis said United Citizens is pushing to change the voting system, eliminating expenses tied to runoffs.

“We just have to fine tune it,” he said.

Councilmembers currently serve three-year terms, which requires majority voting by order of the Texas Constitution, according to information previously given by City Attorney Valecia Tizeno.