Common ground exists despite clash between PA City Council, the EDC

John Beard might be gone from the Port Arthur City Council, but that doesn’t mean there was no excitement at the Tuesday, May 29, meeting.

And the fireworks didn’t come from the newly elected Willie “Bae” Lewis occupying the District 5 seat Beard had occupied the last nine years. Instead, it was his colleague to the right, Bob Williamson, recently re-elected to his third and final term on the Port Arthur City Council, who took the brunt of criticism from Port Arthur EDC board president Roosevelt Petry Jr. during his five minute speech to the council after a long Memorial Day holiday weekend.

“It was the citizens’ decision – approximately 15 years ago – who voted to have an economic development corporation in this city, not certain council members’ decision, so I would ask that the council respect the citizens’ decision,” said Petry, who was at times animated and other times monotone during his speech to the council.Petry, 49, owner of GP Industrial Contractors Inc., which is located in Port Arthur, argued that members of the City Council were badmouthing the EDC and yet hadn’t attended any EDC meetings.

He declined to mention members by name, but said he  has a problem with the negativity aimed  at the EDC and indicated it to the Council.

“Some of you have lied to the community, some of you have made statements that are untrue, some of you have tried to put fear in the voters, and some of you have basically misrepresented the facts,” said Petry before being stopped by Port Arthur Mayor Bobbie Prince.

After a short exchange with the city attorney and Prince, Petry challenged the members of the council to attend an EDC meeting and start working together to move Port Arthur forward, not before, of course, telling the members of the City Council how he thought the EDC board and the City Council stacked up against one another.“Our overall board is more qualified than this council as a whole, and I’ll say it front of everybody in here.” said Petry. “And we’ve done more for this city. The EDC has given money to the city – many times. But nobody wants to talk about that.”

Wednesday, a day after the City Council meeting, Williamson said he didn’t appreciate Petry lashing out at the council the way he did, and said that most of Petry’s vitriol stems from a comment Williamson made to a Port Arthur News reporter opining that the EDC had “lost focus” and “needs to be overhauled.”

Williamson felt  after an initial leak from the Mercer Report (an outside consultant’s evaluation of the city) indicated that the EDC needed to be abolished, outside influence from prominent members of the community and the EDC encouraged the Mercer Group to amend its findings and instead encourage the EDC to change its strategy of recruiting new business.

“You can’t sit in the office anymore and wait for someone to walk in” said Williamson. “You have to go out and recruit and be active and do those things that EDCs are put together for. Well, our EDC really doesn’t know what those things are.”

Williamson said he’s been discouraged by what he’s seen from the EDC – including, as he puts it, no record of early bookkeeping and questions as to what businesses the EDC has really brought in and the practices used by the board to how select businesses to receive EDC funding. The retired Port Arthur cop said he’s canvassing EDC financial records and has talked to several interested parties regarding EDC practices, and he plans on unveiling all of the information into what the EDC has been doing, and he said he’d like to have it ready in the next month.

“There’s a lot of stuff there, and I’m looking though it all,” said Williamson, who said if he’s going to be called out, he’s ready to challenge back.

Despite the Williamson’s contention, Petry said he stands by the job he’s done in the three years he’s been a part of the Port Arthur EDC and is committed to the EDC and the City Council working together to improve the Port Arthur economy while adding jobs to the city.

While he’s curious about the sudden timing and what Williamson expects to find in the EDC’s financials – “We’re audited by the same people as the city, and the City Council approves our budget and everything we do,” Petry pointed out – the longtime Port Arthur businessman said he won’t be bogged down by rhetoric nor deterred from the path he and the EDC are on to improving Port Arthur.

“This isn’t about individuals; it’s about doing what’s right for Port Arthur,” said Petry.