PA needs changes in downtown, manager
In a region that has neglected its historic preservation, few will mourn the demolition of six downtown buildings in Port Arthur. The structures may have had some sentimental interest, as virtually any old building might, but they were too far gone to salvage. That’s even if their owners were inclined to make that investment. Google Maps records showed that most of their roofs were caving in, a death knell for most older buildings.
Floyd Batiste, CEO of the Port Arthur Economic Development Corp., had the proper perspective on the demolitions. “It’s a good thing for Port Arthur,” he said simply, even calling the old structures “blights” on downtown.
In this case, less is more. The clearing of the lots will improve the appearance of the downtown, at least allowing the possibility of replacing them with something better. Taking that next step will be more challenging, with few commercial prospects on the horizon for older Port Arthur. But if or when someone shows interest, the slate will be blank.
These changes, however, serve as another reminder that the City Council should step up and provide more significant changes.
The council has still not replaced former City Manager Brian McDougal, who was forced to resign a year ago. Harvey Robinson is still the interim city manager, and the council doesn’t seem too concerned about finding a permanent replacement.
This position is important for two reasons: The city manager is the top administrator in the city work force, so strong leadership is clearly needed there. Moreover, McDougal was exactly the kind of reformer the city needed, someone who came into the job fully aware of its challenges and determined to run the city staff in a professional manner again.
He tackled blatant problems that never should have been allowed to fester, like large numbers of water customers who were not paying their bills. In doing so, however, he apparently ruffled some feathers among city officials who were more comfortable with business as usual — even though that model was seriously failing the people of Port Arthur.
The city manager oversees 650 employees and an annual budget of more than $141 million. This is not a job that should be held by a temporary employee for more than a few months.
The council needs to resolve to fill this slot in the new year with a nationwide search for an energetic, visionary manager who can help Port Arthur get moving forward again. The demolition of old buildings downtown will help the city, as will the surging retail sector across U.S. 69 from Central Mall. But city employees need a dynamic leader to complement these efforts, and this box needs to be checked as soon as possible.