Councilor Kenneth Marks went “on file” this week to try to clear up confusion surrounding travel expenses presented to council members on Tuesday evening.
The council had been asked to vote on $9,157.14 for Mayor Thuman Bartie and Pro Tem Mayor Donald Frank to attend the National League of Cities annual conference in Washington, D.C.
“I just want the public to know that I received an email or text yesterday regarding travel costs,” he said. “And I’m going to read some of it, and then I’m going to give you some details. I won’t identify who sent this, but I thought that was what he meant, and that’s why I’m bringing it to the council today.
Tags read from the message.
“‘If you vote to approve more of Thurman’s or Frank’s travels when I stand before the council, I will be,'” he said, pausing to add, “and there’s bad grammar here,” before continuing, “I’m gonna be to make sure you totally get it. Man, you’re completely sold on this town.
Marks said he expected other council members to receive similar messages from the sender.
“I went back and researched the diaries to see exactly what our historical data is showing us, and I came back to 2017,” he said. “And I’m going to give you some information because I want this recorded so that whenever it comes back to us, we’ll know there’s precedent for what’s happening in terms of travel.”
In April 2017, three board members attended the conference the previous month with approved expenses totaling $9,300. The following year, one person participated for $4,700. In 2019, a total of $11,273 was allocated for one person attending a mayors’ conference and three council members attending the National League of Cities conference.
In 2020, $515 was spent on virtual conferences. Marks said “we had a budget that would be commensurate with previous spending.”
The following year, $2,300 was approved for five participants on two trips.
“It’s like we’re not good stewards because our leaders are going to these conferences,” he added. “But unless we have representation in those rooms and meetings and connect with people, we won’t be able to access the funding that comes from the federal level.”
He gave an example of being in the mayor’s office discussing the streets when a call came in about a $43 million plastic factory project. The link was established by a presentation from the Port Arthur Economic Development Corporation and a recommendation from the Mayor of Houston.
Ultimately, the project was not awarded to Port Arthur.
“What I’m saying is that we as a council in our budgeting process are actually budgeting for the travel costs of our leaders, whether it’s the mayor or the acting mayor or the council.” , did he declare. “And it’s up to us to really represent this city…so that we can benefit from those kinds of connections.”
Frank thanked Marks for reviewing previous travel expenses.
“All of this happens and happens when individuals don’t fully understand what council is, what council should be doing,” the acting mayor said. “Our city needs to take it to another level, and that can only be done if we move our city forward and ultimately engage individuals in a 21st century dynamic and in the room. You have to be in the room for things to happen and transpire.