In the true holiday spirit of giving, someone from the Port Arthur City Hall leaked a rough draft of the city’s performance review to the media. The official, final copy of what is affectionately known as The Mercer Report is expected sometime in January, although there is an outside chance it could be finished and released before the end of the year.
It’s the question of who leaked the document and who actually saw the document that has Internet message boards, City Council members and city officials buzzing.Long-time Port Arthur City Councilman John Beard from District 5 is concerned with why Steve Fitzgibbons, who is slated to leave his post Jan. 15 after 16 years with the as city manager, had the copy of the report in which he made notes on the draft but did not share the draft with members of the City Council.
Beard – who is adamant that he had not been provided a copy nor had he seen a copy of the draft as of Wednesday, Dec. 7 – also contends that Mayor Bobbie Prince and fellow councilman Bob Williamson were privy to copies of the seven-page draft that was first leaked to a local television station. That station posted “highlights” of the report on Monday and then a local blogger posted the entire draft on his Web site. The Examiner obtained the copy through the Web site, and there were in fact notes that Fitzgibbons made when reviewing the draft, which he said is commonplace for city managers when reviewing a report from an outside agency.
Beard asserts that one of the three were responsible for the leak and did not believe what Prince told The Examiner on Monday — that she had not seen the report.“According to my sources, it was the (city) manager, Bob Williamson and the mayor that leaked the copies, and it’s my understanding that there are copies lying around the police department,” Beard said. “How is it that the council didn’t get a copy? The council is the one that approved and OK’d this report. The council commissioned this. So how did this get out to all these people and members of the City Council did not receive a copy?”
Both Fitzgibbons and Prince steadfastly deny leaking the document. Fitzgibbons said he made the notes on the draft and did hand it out to “roughly a dozen” staff department heads for them to review and comment on it. The 63-year-old Fitzgibbons contends one of the people he gave it to might have leaked it, and he’s dismayed by that.
“I have no clue who did it, why they did it, or what whoever did it would hope to accomplish,” said Fitzgibbons. “I know there are people who appear to want to attack the city in any way they can, and if they are the ones who did it, maybe their motive is to hurt the city, I don’t know; I’m just speculating.”
Coincidentally, one of the critiques in the report said “city departments tend to take a relatively informal approach to managing the workforce and work activities, particularly in maintenance operations.”
Earlier this week, Prince, who denies seeing the report but admitted she saw the cover letter after someone printed it off the Internet, called it “disgusting” that someone would want to harm the city.
However, the mayor had particularly choice words after hearing Beard’s assertions that she not only saw the document but also leaked it.
“I have never seen that report, as God is my witness,” Prince said, “John Beard does not speak for me; you want the truth, ask me. John Beard is not smart enough to think for me, and contrary to whatever he thinks, I have not read that report.”
Beard said he is afraid the implementation of the report will be affected by the leak.
“My concern is, how does this affect the process?” said Beard. “Once this happened, why is staff in a scramble to possibly prepare a response? The response is going to come from the City Council and how we’re going to implement the recommendations. And given how Steve Fitzgibbons is going to be leaving, it begs the question, why is he concerned about it when it concerns his tenure? I’ve got a real problem with that.”
Fitzgibbons disputed any notion that he was trying to steer the report into a favorable direction for himself and said his review of the draft is standard procedure in the case of an outside agency’s report on the city. He’s also not concerned that it would reflect poorly on him, and that in fact, the report can point out the things the city has done well and suggest changes to help the city run more effectively, which he said he’s strongly in favor of.
“You review drafts, you discuss drafts, you provide additional information if necessary, but that’s the process and I’m sure they would tell you that’s the process they use everywhere and that’s the same process for almost any report that would be done, at least in my experience, but that’s generally how reports are done,” Fitzgibbons said.
Several messages left with The Mercer Group, which is handling the Mercer Report and the city’s search for a new city manager, were not returned.
While Fitzgibbons declined to comment on anything that was presented in the draft and said he would hold off on making any comments regarding the report until it is officially released, he did say that he doesn’t feel the final findings are an indictment of his 16-year tenure.
“I would have a hard time understanding how that would be,” Fitzgibbons said. “If there are improvements we can make, fine, and if there are some things we could have done better, I wish we would have. But I certainly don’t look at it that way. I don’t really look at it as anything more than trying to figure out a way to do things better. And if the report can come out with a way to do things better – and I hope it does – I view that as a positive thing.”
Antone Goudeaux, who runs the Facebook group P.A. Politics, saw the leaked first part of the report online and said “the city is in trouble,” based on what he saw, pointing out the city’s high workforce cost, which is roughly $70,000 per person, according to the report.
He also noted how the report indicated Port Arthur has done next to nothing with the suggestions laid forth in the 2020 Vision document, and Goudeaux feels that after the money the city received after Rita and Ike, coupled with money received and generated from the refinery expansions, that Port Arthur missed a “golden opportunity to rebuild this city.”
“But I hope I’m wrong,” said the 45-year-old Goudeaux, who owns a small business in Port Arthur, EnergyWise Solutions.
Moving forward, Derrick Freeman, one of the newer council members who won a run-off election in June for the District 7 position, said he was disappointed by the leak of the report. He has seen parts of it that were on the Internet – there’s a second part that has allegedly also been leaked – but said he hopes to take what the final copy suggests and get to work making the city of Port Arthur more efficient.
“I’d like to think the council has a grasp of what’s going on,” said Freeman, “but there were a lot of different people that gave a lot of different suggestions, and we need to look at everything. But this is something that doesn’t need to be put on the shelf; we take time to go through (the report) thoroughly and take what we can and implement it.”
Fred Davis can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 227, or by e-mail at fred [at] theexaminer [dot] com.