The Calhoun Port Authority has operated for decades without any bylaws. A new move to enact a code appears to be a step forward after voters tossed out two longtime incumbents in the May elections.
At their last meeting, port board members discussed the draft of what could become their first-ever bylaws for hours, delving into contentious subjects, such as retirement benefits for board members and talking to the press, before ultimately calling it a night and agreeing to pick up the discussion later.
If you’re not fully aware of the agonizing slowness with which the wheels of local government turn, you may be thinking that discussions of the board’s controversial pension plan have gone on long enough. After all, didn’t the Advocate report that the program was a taxpayer-funded aberration, unique among 46 ports surveyed in the Gulf Coast region? And wasn’t there a sustained public outcry (on this and a variety of issues) that resulted in the ousting of the port chairman and his longtime ally on the board? And hasn’t the board’s constituency sent a clear message that they’ve had enough of this sort of thing?
The fact that the debate is still dragging on should send a clear message that progress is slow – and that two new board members do not a majority make.
Of course, we’re heartened by the fact that the board plans to establish bylaws after years of being governed only by the state code and a series of local resolutions. We’re also thankful for Luis De La Garza’s meticulous efforts to take some of the proposed new bylaws to task and for the fact that he and fellow newcomer Jay Cuellar have voluntarily opted out of the controversial retirement benefits, a rare show of integrity that doesn’t always make it off the campaign trail.
And we’re glad the board agreed to omit from its bylaws that “a commissioner should refrain from speaking to the media and press.” Its attorney pointed out that prohibiting officials from talking to the press would violate their right to free speech. Of course, the fact that such a restriction was even considered should be enough to make the public want to keep keeping an eye on the Calhoun Port Authority. Talking to the press – representatives of the public – is an obligation all elected officials should carry out.
The May elections weren’t the end of the story; they were just the start of a new chapter that includes the drafting of the port authority’s bylaws. Such a process is complex and time-consuming in the best of circumstances, let alone when an organization’s past has been as rocky as the Calhoun Port Authority’s and when the two newest members were voted in on a platform that differs vastly from that of their predecessors.
The next election for the Calhoun Port Authority board won’t be until May 2021. Unfortunately, it’s increasingly clear De La Garza and Cuellar need more allies on the six-member board.
Until then, the public needs to continue pushing for accountability and transparency, and the Advocate will do the same. A lot has changed at the Calhoun Port Authority since the illegal hiring of former Congressman Blake Farenthold as its lobbyist, but more remains to be done.