As a year marked by significant changes for Port Arthur and its people comes to a close, city leaders are looking back and looking forward.
2011 didn’t have any hurricanes, there was no major crime wave and there weren’t any scandals that rocked the local government in southern Jefferson County, but PA had its moments.
Perhaps the biggest events of the year were the City Council election, where six seats were up for grabs, and 16-year city manager Steve Fitzgibbons rattled off a series of complaints earlier this year against veteran councilman John Beard before the council eventually voted to buy Fitzgibbons out and move the city in a different direction. And on the sports side of things, it was a series of firsts as Lamar State, in only its third year playing division one JUCO basketball stunned the JUCO world and won the Region 14 tournament to a earn a trip to the school’s first ever NJCAA Basketball Tournament. And on the gridiron, under the guidance of PA native Kenny Harrison, the Memorial Titans rode the arm of Terrance Singleton and the legs of Nate Holmes to a semifinal berth in the 5A playoffs.
But have no fear, 2012 is drawing near, and while the economy has continued to wreak havoc on the area — and on streets, depending on whom you ask — there’s a lot to look forward to next year.
Bill McCoy, president of the Port Arthur Chamber of Commerce since July, spent the last part of 2011 getting his staff in order, identifying the needs of the Chamber and planning what lies ahead for both the Chamber and the city of Port Arthur. A 30-year veteran of running chambers, McCoy said he’s still working with local leaders to decide what 2012 will hold for Port Arthur.
“One of the things we hope to start next year is a Leadership Port Arthur program,” said McCoy, who spent 18 years in Pasadena before taking the post in PA. “I realize there are other leadership programs, but I really want to put together a program in Port Arthur to identify community leaders, get them together thinking about exactly what this city, this Chamber should be looking to because at the end of year, according to the figures we have, the unemployment rate has dropped slightly and our sales taxes are up over this time last year. So we’re hoping that trend will continue.”
McCoy pointed out that while most of the major expansion work done by the refineries is either done or winding down, he said some of those local companies will work on other area projects, so he’s encouraged by that. While streets have become a hot button issue in Port Arthur of late, the Chamber also plans to work with the city and the county to identify what streets need work in order to expand, widen and improve access to the downtown area, which McCoy said is something that will “always be on our horizon to see what we can to help the city and (Lamar State).”
He’s also looking forward to working with the Port Arthur Independent School District to let people know, “We’ve got a good school district,” McCoy said, “and people need to know the real facts and figures.”
D. Kay Wise, former city councilwoman and CEO of Port Arthur Logistics, said she’s not sure what the business climate will hold in Port Arthur for 2012. “I, like everybody else, would like to see things brighten up,” Wise said of the business prospects in the area. And as a new business owner, she said she’s spent a lot of time this past year trying to get her business off the ground, so for her, 2012 is as much a guessing game as anything to determine what the year will hold for business and the local economy.“It’s just too early to tell,” Wise said.
Still basking in the afterglow of Memorial’s history-making run at the state title game that was stopped a game short, Dr. Mark Porterie, a 20-year veteran of the PAISD, said the district is looking forward to a full year of the district’s new curriculum that will culminate at the end of the school year.
“Of course, we’re expecting students to be successful,” said Porterie, deputy superintendent. “We implemented the CScope curriculum, and from an academic perspective, we’re working very hard to make sure that it’s successful for all of our students.”
Porterie also mentioned the new core tests, the STAR tests that replace the TAKS test, and how much more rigorous of a test it is than the TAKS. He said the entire district, teachers and administrators, have been working hard to get teachers prepared for both the new tests and the new curriculum. Ultimately, though, he said there is some relief now that the district has completed many of the projects that were part of bonds passed in 2004 and 2007.
“We want to enjoy the new facilities and make sure our students are successful with the new state assessments; that’s what we hope 2012 has in store for us,” Porterie said. And Porterie even had a prediction concerning the Memorial football team in 2012 – “We’re so proud of them, and next year we’re going all the way!”
While Port Arthur will have a new city manager in 2012, for the first time in nine years, the city will also have a new councilman from District 5 as the city bids adieu to nine-year councilman John Beard, who has reached the limits of his term.
A native Port Arthurian, Beard said there’s still plenty of work to do in his last months as a councilman.
“First thing we have to do is get a new city manager in that’s going to help change the direction by reorganizing city government, which is what I was committed to when I first came on,” said Beard. “We need to reorganize and reinvent city government. It’s not a government outlined by the people, and it needs to be put back in that perspective.“We also need to look at improving some of our weak areas in terms of finance, and our working relationships, dealing with city streets, water, sewer and infrastructure. We need to put first things first again.”
Beard said the city also needs to get “sharper” with its business dealings if it’s going to attract new businesses to the area. “We need to fine-tune how we do business recruitment,” he said.
Beard, who “didn’t walk into City Hall yesterday,” said he’s been working to improve the city and working with City Hall since 1988, and he said he’s not going to stop his advocacy work to improve Port Arthur even after he’s finished on the council. And he didn’t rule out the possibility of running for mayor in 2013.
“If the opportunity arises, and the stars align themselves and God and my family and the community wants my services on another platform, I’ll answer that call,” Beard said. “But I can’t make any guarantees about that right now because you never know what the future holds.”
Fred Davis can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 227, or by e-mail at fred [at] theexaminer [dot] com.