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Will Port Arthur Become the Next Detroit?

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The truth is that Port Arthur wasn’t very far from becoming the next Detroit even before Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey came to town.  I’ve been telling you for years this was coming, but considering all the clamor for new businesses and industries that could bring the people of the community meaningful jobs, there hasn’t been nary an ounce of effort to attract them.  After all, you can attract more bees with honey than you can an empty hive.  Hives don’t get much more empty than that of Port Arthur, Texas.

Harvey had a much more detrimental effect on Port Arthur than simply dumping enough rain to flood damned near everything in sight.  It took people from their homes and for many of them, forced them to relocate to other communities well out of harm’s way, and from which a large number of them have decided not to return from.  The end result is that property values in the community will again drop because of the increased number of abandoned properties that dot our landscape.

KFDM NEWSPort Arthur faces nearly $32M budget shortfall post-Harvey

Things like this are largely expected when Mother Nature has a hissy-fit around here, and to a certain degree even anticipated.  However, as you read through the news report, pay close attention to the part that describes part of this loss figure is due to a more than $2 million budget deficit in the Port Arthur Water Utilities Department.

PORT ARTHUR NEWSPort Arthur water utilities swimming in debt

And, just as one might expect when something like this crops up, guess who’s going to be expected to make up the difference?  Of course, the taxpayers!

KFDM NEWSPort Arthur residents face increase in their water bills

After you get done hearing all the excuses why this deficit has taken place, let me tell you that it’s my opinion the problem is more due to mismanagement of the department than it is anything else.  In the years following the purchase of our house following Hurricane Rita, I have had the displeasure of having to deal with the Port Arthur Water Utilities Department on two separate occasions.  What I found the leadership in the department to be is arrogant, insulting, obnoxious and about as unprofessional as they come.

The first incident involved not being charged for garbage fees on my city water bill.  I’m the kind of person that if I’m being provided goods or services, I expect to pay for them; and, that’s what lead to the difficulties I encountered when I tried to approach the Water Utilities Department to resolve the issue.  I called the phone number listed on my water utility bill dozens of times, each time leaving a voicemail message to please return my call.  I never received a single callback.  I wrote and mailed dozens of letter to the City of Port Arthur Water Utilities Department explaining the nature of the problem and providing easy personal contact information for them to use.  Not a single reply, phone call, etc.  I even went so far as to send a certified letter, return receipt requested, but it was refused.  So the next step was to approach my then City Council member, Bob Williamson.

Contacting then Councilman Williamson also turned out to be a mistake.  When first approached with the problem, and what I expected to be able to do to resolve it, Williamson gave me a cock-and-bull story regarding how the water treatment plant on the north end of Savannah Avenue always is loses money.  People, ask yourselves what I asked myself.  Just what in the heck does wanting to pay my garbage fees have to do with a water treatment plant that loses the city money?  For that reason, I began referring to then Councilman Williamson as “the King of Schmooze“, or just “Schmoozie” for short.  This didn’t go over very well with him, and he ceased talking to me almost altogether.

After roughly three years of trying to be able to pay my garbage fees, the resolve finally came with the help of another then City Councilman, John Beard, Jr.  Then Councilman Beard directed me to the then City Manager’s Office through which I was able to present my issue, actually be listened to and placed in contact with the than Department Supervisor.  Unfortunately, our first meeting didn’t go very well after I was accused of not following the procedures needed to contact the department.  When I said otherwise, I was called a liar.  It went downhill from there, but all of a sudden my water bills started reflecting a charge for garbage collection.  Problem resolved.  At least that one was.

The second incident began right after the new electronic meters were installed throughout the city.  Mine wasn’t working properly and my water usage costs was zero.  This went on for several months as I tried again to contact the city (same results) and did a little poking around town, talking to dozens of people.  What I learned in those discussions is there are hundreds of people who don’t get water utility bills from the city.  The reasons are multiple, but what it all boiled down to in the end is that the Port Arthur Water Utilities Department, for the most part, doesn’t know:

  • who owes it money
  • how much money is owed to it
  • hasn’t checked the hundreds of reportedly abandoned buildings not being billed to see if they’re now occupied
  • hasn’t any idea how many people aren’t being billed at all, or the reasons why not

Now add to this that over the last several years, every time a water or sewer line leaked, or ruptured, in Port Arthur, repairs were temporarily made using sub-standard materials.   This was something authorized by then City Manager Steve Fitzgibbons devised to save the city money.  The unfortunate reality is that those temporary repairs remain intact today, and recent ruptures and leaks can easily be attributed to the use of those sub-standard materials.   Permanent repairs were never made, and I have to wonder if the repairs made to recent situations also used more of those sub-standard materials?

But it’s important that everyone realizes this unheard of debt didn’t happen overnight, and I firmly believe it can all be attributed to mismanagement of the Water Utilities Department.

PORT ARTHUR NEWSFormer PA city manager said water issue festering for a long time

For as much as an awful lot of people in Port Arthur don’t like Brian McDougal for the things he did during his time as City Manager, the fact is that Mr. McDougal hit this nail right on its head!  Look at the things I experienced in my battles with the higher-ups in the Water Utilities Department, and then add to them the bull-smuckers relating to the temporary repairs on leaks and ruptures.  Are any of these indications of proper management?  Heck no! And I also have to ask just how many of you think anything has changed?

We all know the drill.  In addition to seeing our water utility bills skyrocket, you can expect that as the Water Utilities Department tries to reduce the debt and its budget, the very first thing to go will be the city employees on the low end of the food chain.  Not the administrators, not the supervisors, but the employees; those people working for little or nothing just trying to eke out an existence to provide for their families.  Is this right?  Hell no, but that’s the way of Port Arthur.  The departmental hierarchy will do whatever it has to in order to preserve its highly overpaid jobs at the expense of the little guy.  It’s a prime example of that Good Ol’ Boy way of doing things I speak so often of.

If there is another factor that makes the people of Port Arthur stand out from those in other communities is their apathy towards city government.  I think it pathetic that an average of 8% or less of the city’s registered voters ever cast ballots in local elections.  When I speak to people about why they don’t vote, the excuses are always the same.  “My vote don’t count“.  Yes, it does. It helps elect and re-elect people more interested in their own self-centered, self-serving personal and political special interests than addressing the needs of their community and constituents.  “I haven’t time“.  Fifteen or twenty minutes to cast a ballot?  Really!  “Who cares anyway?”  You should, we should and I do.  What more explanation do you need?  The overall unwillingness of the people of Port Arthur to accept their civic responsibility to vote is the primary reason why Port Arthur is what it is today; and, there isn’t anyone to blame other than the people themselves.

One more thing that stands out like a sore thumb here in Port Arthur, and that is the degree of racism demonstrated between blacks and whites.  Each blames the other for the city being as it is even though they are both at fault.  Although there are some of the nicest, most intelligent people in the world on both sides of this ethnic fence, there are also some of the poorest excuses for wastes of human flesh that I’ve ever encountered.  Social media has become the bane of community unity in Port Arthur as each group has their own closed groups, each calling out the other and calling them down. And it shows in the polls, too.  With the exception of a small spattering of whites, the vast majority of people who cast ballots in Port Arthur are black people.  And black people vote exclusively for black people.  It makes no difference what their background is, even if they’re felons or pedophiles, if their skin is black they’ll be elected … and re-elected … and re-elected again.  You can call me a racist until the cows come home, but this is all evidenced very clearly.

Right now is about the last chance the people of Port Arthur will ever have to stop the decline of their community and hopefully all work together to turn things around.  Granted, Port Arthur will never again be what it was a half-century ago, but there are things that can be accomplished to make Port Arthur not only better for the people who live and work here, but inviting to new businesses and industries that could bring our community meaningful jobs — something that almost everyone wants most!  But things are going to have to be put aside if Port Arthur is going to continue an existence.

It’s going to mean working together to rid our city government and administration of those we now have in office including, but not limited to the Mayor, all members of City Council, and the City Manager.  These people have all recently made it very clear not only don’t they want to hear from the people of the community, they want to restrict our local media as to who can report what, how it has to be reported and the times of day when media can acquire information necessary to adequately report.  Individuals who want to speak to the City Council have to submit applications to the City Secretary for approval, and few actually make it.  Then, for those select few that do get to address Council, they are limited to just a few minutes of time for their say.  Most often, while some citizen is stating his or her case, Council members haven’t so much as manners enough to listen.  They sit in their high chairs doodling, chit-chatting with other’s on the bench, etc.  Face it people, YOU DON’T MEAN A THING TO OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS!  Let’s get them out of there and elect someone with the community in mind as opposed to themselves and their greedy little self-serving pockets.  Each and every one of them.  This is your last chance, Port Arthur. Don’t waste it on racism or conventional politics.

Oh, and one more thing.  Here sits Port Arthur with an anticipated $32 million budget shortfall, and Mayor Derrick Freeman want to blow several million dollars the city doesn’t have on some new technology to track down where gunshots originate:

KFDM NEWSNew technology could bring gun violence down say one SETX mayor

Taking the guns out of the hands of people who aren’t supposed to have them in the first place is a lot more effective and cost efficient than spending money the city doesn’t have for such things as this.  Classic Derrick Freeman; they Mayor so well experienced at spending other people’s money.

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