PA City Council removes City Manager
Port Arthur City Council and City Manager Floyd Johnson agreed Thursday, Jan. 30, in a closed executive session that Johnson would leave his position effective immediately.
Council members Morris Albright III, Robert Williamson, Kerry “Twin” Thomas, and Robert Troy requested the special meeting to discuss “the evaluation, duties, discipline or dismissal” of Johnson.
After the council was in executive session for more than three hours, Johnson’s attorney, David Bernsen, said that he would prepare an agreement outlining terms of Johnson’s separation for council members to vote on Monday, Feb. 3.
City Council approved the agreement Feb. 3 with only Councilmember Willie “Bae” Lewis voting against it. According to Cade Bernsen, Johnson’s attorney, Johnson is leaving with a total payment of more than $100,000, including a six-month base salary payment of $79,849, $13,820 in sick leave and $7,140 in vacation leave. Cade Bernsen said the city has also agreed to pay $3,300 toward Johnson’s retirement fund.
After the decision, Johnson made a statement to the council, city employees and to the residents of Port Arthur.
“I want all employees to remember, and all citizens to know, I have had in my heart, and the core of my efforts, doing what is best for the city of Port Arthur,” Johnson said.
Lewis said council members were unhappy with Johnson’s performance, especially in filling the vacant positions of public works director and parks director.
Mayor Deloris “Bobbie” Prince did not comment specifically as to why it was decided that Johnson should leave his position.
“The city manager was a very nice person. We just needed to find somebody who was more in line with the needs of the city of Port Arthur,” Prince told the Examiner.
Cade Bernsen, an attorney with Bernsen Law Firm, said his client believes concerns voiced that he was not meeting the standards expected by the city in his job duties were invalid.
“He disagrees that he wasn’t performing well,” Cade Bernsen said. “He’s a good, intelligent man and absolutely qualified for the position. I think he was performing very well. He had a vision to revitalize the city of Port Arthur. He was executing that vision. There were some people on the City Council that just didn’t get along with him. Sometimes relationships don’t work out.”
Lewis expressed concern that council members might have violated Texas Open Meetings laws by discussing the possibility of terminating Johnson and attempting to gather the necessary votes to do so prior to the Jan. 30 meeting and that when written evaluations were requested last June regarding the city manager’s job performance, council members Albright and Thomas did not submit evaluations but met with Johnson in his office prior to the Jan. 30 meeting and asked the city manager to resign, threatening to request an executive session be called to discuss his termination if Johnson refused, an act Lewis called “harassment.”
“Each council member was supposed to turn in a written evaluation,” Lewis said. “I find it interesting that the two council members that met with the manager, neither one turned in an evaluation. If they had a problem they should have put it on the evaluation. They did not follow protocol.”
Voting against Johnson’s separation agreement Feb. 3, Lewis seemed to show support for Johnson following the Jan. 30 meeting.
“If he’s satisfied with it, I am satisfied with it. I just wanted him to be treated fairly,” said Lewis about the agreement, adding that he was dissatisfied with how the situation was handled, describing it as “unprofessional and very reckless with taxpayers’ dollars.”
Lewis referred to former city manager Steve Fitzgibbons leaving the city in 2011 with a settlement payment of $224,681. The City allowed him to stay on until January 2012.
Fitzgibbons dropped a lawsuit filed against the city in March 2011, which claimed a council member harassed him.
“We just went through (this) three years ago, spending taxpayers’ dollars, getting a manager and interviewing people,” Lewis said. “Now we’re going to have to do this all over again. It’s going to be difficult to get professional people to work for us because of how the council treats people here. You’ve got to treat these people professionally and fairly. You’ve got to allow a manager to manage.”
Lewis said the residents of Port Arthur need to pay more attention to city government and how their tax dollars are spent.
“The voters need get interested in city government and need to go to the polls,” Lewis said. “We have nine council members two-thirds of them are coming up for re-election in May.”
The General Election for the City of Port Arthur will be held on Saturday, May 10. The last day to file for a place on the city of Port Arthur ballot is Friday, Feb. 28, at 5 p.m. Candidate filing forms and information documents are available at www.portarthur.net through the homepage Election Information link. Positions on the ballot include Council Districts 1, 2, 3 and 4, as well as at-large Council Positions 7 and 8.
Council appointed assistant city manager John Comeaux acting city manager, Mayor Prince said.
Prince said the city would be fine moving forward.
“John will be city manager … until we can find a city manager — however long that will take,” she said. “I am hoping the council will take its time and do a thorough search before making a decision on anyone. This decision is too important to be in a rush.”
Kevin King can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at kevin [at] theexaminer [dot] com.