RICH MACKE COLUMN: Does Groves timeline seem suspicious?

The Groves City Council issue that has engulfed the city since March brings to the forefront other issues that citizens should seriously think about.

What started out as a young City Council member, Cross Coburn, making a mistake on a dating website has opened the door to a Groves City Council that normally keeps its business hush-hush. Which is not always a good thing for a community.

But people close to the situation have come to the fore suggesting that, prior to the news media being informed about Ward 1 Councilmember Coburn’s mistake, other members of Groves City Council began to actively seek his replacement.

Wait? What? My thoughts exactly.

This intrigued me to take a look at the process used to replace a recalled Ward seat for this city government.

Under the Groves city charter, If a vacancy occurs in the office of Councilmember, the remaining Councilmembers and Mayor shall appoint, by a majority vote, a qualified citizen from the ward in which the vacancy occurred to serve until the next regular election, at which election a Councilmember shall be elected for such place for the remainder of the two (2) year term, if any.

I would expect it is handled this way to eliminate the potential cost of an unscheduled election, when a need may arise to fill a vacant seat. However, what this process does is take the election process out of the hands of Groves citizens and voters to elect the best person to represent them on council from their ward.

Additionally what can possibly be created under a format such as this, is a “Good ol’ Boys Club” mentality where it would be easy enough to oust an individual that the majority does not want, dislikes or sides against.

To be clear, I’m not saying this is currently happening. Nor am I saying I am in support of the all the actions of Ward 1 Councilman Cross Coburn. But the timeframe below smells a little funny.

November 2017:  Cross Coburn awarded Ward 1 seat.

Feb. 22: An envelope was sent to Groves City Hall containing risqué photos of Coburn.

Feb. 27: Groves mayor calls Coburn to meet the next day in reference to the envelope.

Feb. 28: Coburn meets with the mayor.

March 5: The mayor and council members were advised by the city manager that Coburn couldn’t be kicked off the council; the only option is a citizen-driven recall.

March 9: Envelopes were mailed to local media outlets.

March 13: News stories run about the envelope.

May 4: Citizen-driven petition to recall Ward 1 councilman was filed.

Of course there is more to the story after this last date, but for this column, it’s all we need. As somewhere, between the week of February 22 and March 9, the lines became skewed.

Jumping back up to paragraph 3, where rumors have Groves councilmembers approaching other residents of Ward 1 to replace Coburn prior to the news media being informed, there was a very short time window of 15 days that this took place.

Was a City Council meeting held, with a quorum, during this time frame that had an agenda item to seek replacements for the Ward 1 seat? I can’t find one. There’s nothing on the city of Groves website or calendar. But I would love to see one if it exists. Or was it was a meeting between friends casually meeting at a local restaurant? If three of the five were in attendance, that makes a quorum.

If accurate, it should be a concern for citizens who live under any city government format. Being able to replace a council seat by choice of a majority, rather than election, could theoretically lead to the ousting of anyone that stands against the majority.

Of course there is nothing that citizens of Groves can do in this election to change this. Or is there?

Change only happens when citizens see the need for a changing of the guard. When they grow tired of the same-ol’, same-ol’. It’s not unlike the city of Port Arthur and citizens working to create long-term change. They, too, have grown tired.

Early voting starts this week. For the citizens of Groves, there are a few choices to make: Mayor of Groves, Councilmember Ward 2, Councilmember Ward 4, City Marshal and the recall election for Ward 1.

Vote for the individuals you feel will bring long-term, positive change to your community. I don’t have a dog in the hunt with these races as I don’t live or work in Groves. But citizens can begin a foundation to change much, if that is what they want and need.

By the way that Ward 1 issues were handled over the past year, from an outsider’s perspective, I believe there is a need for change. Groves citizens can start the process by creating a fair replacement ordinance that is more conducive to today’s political temperature.

Rich Macke is publisher of The Port Arthur News.

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