Failed attempt to place former EDC CEO on board sparks conversation on bylaws

Published 12:40 am Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Members of the Port Arthur City Council will soon host a workshop regarding local and state government codes following a failed attempt last month to place a former employee of the Economic Development Corporation on its board of directors.

On June 20, Councilman Willie “Bae” Lewis proposed the appointment of Floyd Batiste to the PAECD board.

A roll call vote was taken, with Lewis casting the only vote in support of the appointment.

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Lewis had the issue placed on Monday’s council agenda, requesting a presentation regarding the authority to swear-in an appointee.

City staff brought forth Texas Local Government Code 504, which says “a director is appointed by the governing body of the authorizing municipality, serves at the pleasure of that governing body and may be removed by that governing body at any time without cause.”

City Attorney Val Tizeno said in 2018, the bylaws of the EDC Board were amended so the board would be a mirror of the council, with each councilperson appointing his or her own representative.

“We’ve always gone by that process, respected what they said, instead of having it where everyone had to come to agreement for a name. We did that for several different boards,” she said. “The EDC bylaws are bylaws of that entity. It doesn’t govern the city. Some of the confusion may lie in the fact that we’ve always respected that process and that is the practice and the process we’ve had. So when questions were posed, ‘what do the bylaws say?’ They’re the EDC bylaws. They’re not the council’s bylaws. But we’ve followed that practice.

“When the item was voted upon and the council voted no, there’s nothing in a non-profit organization’s bylaws that are going to override the authority that is given to the city council by the state.”

Tizeno said the June 20 move to block Batiste from the EDC board was the first time council had taken such measures since the bylaws were amended in 2018.

“There is no law that overrides the council’s ability to say no,” she said. “The council is the buck-stops-here on all matters affecting the council.”

Councilman Donald Frank said it has been “purely a custom” of councilmembers to accept recommendations without moving against them.

“When Councilman Lewis did make that recommendation, we did vote on that individual because the council was aware of some situations and some circumstances that I will not discuss here now, because I don’t know if those situations have been cleared up or where they are at this particular time,” he said. “But we were aware of some situations that placed the city at risk as a council, and we acted in accordance with that information to do what was in the best interest of our city. It was not personal. It was not a personal act against a councilmember.

“We simply had information which he did not have which was shared with him after that happened and occurred. And so he has been made aware of that now.”

Batiste served as CEO of the EDC for 17 years prior to resigning after a staff member filed a grievance against him in 2021, citing a hostile work environment, among other things.

Batiste denied the allegations.

On June 27, councilmembers held an executive session to discus pending litigation regarding a civil suit against the city that is related to the grievance.

No action was taken.