all probability, the Mayor and the City Manager merely made subtle reference to the racial composition of Port Arthur, but that was undoubtedly sufficient to remind the long-time residents of southern Jefferson County of the racial advantages of consolidation. Thus, race was included among the several factors cited at the dinner meetings in favor of a merger with the surrounding municipalities.
During the weeks which followed, Port Arthur officials participated in an active effort to provide information regarding consolidation to the surrounding municipalities because Texas law required the smaller city to first petition and vote for consolidation.
On May 9, 1977, the City Council authorized Mr. Dibrell to investigate the cities involved and to prepare a detailed statistical report on the cost of municipal services, local ad valorem taxes, home insurance costs, the positions and salaries of municipal employees, and other subjects.
The resulting "packet of information pertaining to the proposed consolidation" was then distributed in the neighboring communities.
It included a draft petition to be circulated in the affected township in order to initiate consolidation and a draft ordinance which would provide for the establishment of an advisory council from each of the three cities to the Port Arthur City Council. Throughout the summer months, Port Arthur City officials attended a series of public meetings in Pear Ridge, Lakeview and Griffing Park to provide explanations and additional information.
Plaintiff City of Port Arthur offered the surrounding municipalities a series of inducements to consolidate. One of the principal attractions held out to the adjacent communities was Port Arthur's recently decreased tax rate.
Prior to 1977, the municipal property tax on homeowners was significantly higher than that of its neighbors because the City Charter precluded the annexation of adjoining industrial properties. Port Arthurians amended the Charter in 1975, however, so as to permit the necessary annexations. By 1977, after the City had negotiated very favorable contracts involving substantially increased payments in lieu of taxes from the industrial property owners, the tax rate was greatly lowered. Therefore, it became possible for Port Arthur to promise the surrounding townships a reduction in their property taxes and a five-year freeze on the 1976 property assessments in use at the time.
Consolidation also provided a vehicle for the neighboring areas to resolve various problems relating to water and sewage services.
For many years, each township had contracted with Port Arthur for these services, but legal disputes had developed over the prices charged. In addition, state and federal regulations implemented in 1976 required vast revisions to the water and sewer facilities in each city. Pear Ridge, Lakeview and Griffing Park did not have the financial resources to make the necessary capital improvements. Although Port Arthur had the funds with which to comply with the new regulations, it was unwilling to renew the disputed and disadvantageous service contracts. If the municipalities consolidated, however, Port Arthur would furnish the capital for the required improvements and would absorb by operation of Texas law the legal liabilities owed to it.
Other municipal services were offered to the three townships as part of the consolidation package. The deteriorating firefighting units in the outlying communities were to be joined with Port Arthur's full-time professional fire department; the fragmented police protection was to be unified into a single, enlarged police force; and the public library was to be made available to everyone at no charge.
Little increase in cost was anticipated because of the location of existing fire stations and the size of the current police and firefighting forces. Without consolidation and an increased tax base, however, the City announced that it was not economically feasible to continue providing the above services.
Finally, Port Arthur City officials pledged that they would establish advisory councils to the City Council from Pear Ridge, Lakeview and Griffing Park.
For a five-year transition period commencing on the effective date of the consolidation, the elected members of these councils would have direct access to and influence on the decision-making process of the municipal government. Although individuals and groups from other areas of the City were free to contact members of the City Council, no official advisory councils were created to represent those areas.
The benefits of consolidation did not inure solely to the neighboring communities. Port Arthur, for example, was extremely interested in maintaining a population in excess of 50,000 so as to remain entitled as a matter of right to funds from federal agencies including the Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD").
Were the population to decrease below the 50,000 level, HUD would diminish the amount of the direct grant by one-third each year; in the fourth year, the City would have to complete with other applicants for discretionary awards. Since 1975, the City had automatically received almost $ 10,000,000 in federal grants, but there was evidence that the municipal population was approaching the 50,000 mark. Between 1960 and 1970, the number of Port Arthurians had declined from 66,676 to 57,371. Before the dinner meetings at the Holiday Motel, City officials were in receipt of an estimate from the Office of Revenue Sharing indicating that there were only 53,557 residents in 1976 and population data published by the R.L. Polk Co. for the years 1972-75. In order to ensure federal funding for the foreseeable future, Port Arthur sought to consolidate with the surrounding municipalities. Having already annexed all of the adjacent black communities, the City turned to Pear Ridge, Lakeview and Griffing Park.
An increase in population also had other advantages for Port Arthur. Although the City would be required to provide services to the new residents, it was anticipated that the additional cost would be minimal and greatly outweighed by the increased tax revenue. The City Manager suggested that the economies were so apparent that it was unnecessary to prepare a detailed cost-benefit analysis.
Furthermore, Port Arthur hoped that the increased visibility resulting from consolidation would attract new businesses and thereby create new jobs.
In June, 1977, separate petitions calling for an election on the issue of consolidation with Port Arthur were circulated and signed by citizens of Pear Ridge, Lakeview and Griffing Park.
At the referenda elections held on August 13, 1977, a majority of the citizens in Pear Ridge and Lakeview voted for consolidation, but the residents of Griffing Park voted against it.
City officials of Port Arthur including Mayor Sadler then began campaigning for consolidation within the City.
By a vote of 6,449 to 1,223, Port Arthurians approved consolidation with Pear Ridge in a referendum election held on November 8, 1977. At the same time, 6,353 residents of the City voted for consolidation with Lakeview, and 1,181 voted against it.
Although the white community almost unanimously supported the merger, black voters were divided on the issue; the election results did not evidence severe racial polarization.
Certified copies of the results of the consolidation referenda held in Port Arthur, Pear Ridge and Lakeview were filed with the Texas Secretary of State on December 1, 1977, and the consolidation was officially consummated.
Henceforth, the City of Port Arthur was responsible for governing a population which was, according to 1980 census statistics, increased by 6,008 people including 80 blacks to a total of 60,493 of whom 24,710 or 40.85% were black and 3,825 or 6.32% were Hispanic.
The areas formerly known as Pear Ridge and Lakeview contributed over 16% of the whites in the enlarged community and less than 1% of the blacks.
4. The 7-0-1 plan
On November 28, 1977, the Port Arthur City Council fulfilled its promise to the Pear Ridge and Lakeview electorate by adopting Ordinances 77-118 and 77-119 which established Pear Ridge and Lakeview Advisory Councils.
The City Council also assembled an Advisory Committee for Council Election System for the purpose of proposing changes in the manner of electing council members in view of the expansion of the City.
Thirteen local civic groups were selected to appoint two members each to the Election System Advisory Committee. Of the 26 people designated to serve on the Committee, only 7 were black and 2 were Hispanic.
The record suggests that the Advisory Committee for Council Election System was racially divided.
According to the statement in the Committee minutes by Rev. Ransom Howard and the testimony of other black committee members, the white members generally favored an at-large system while the blacks supported a single-member district plan. Eventually, the majority of the Committee recommended to the City Council that the at-large election system be continued and that a seventh councilmanic position be added to the existing six-member council ("7-0-1" plan). A minority report proposing the adoption of a single-member district plan was submitted to the Council by five of the seven black representatives on the Committee.
Plaintiff argues that the City Charter only permitted the Council to increase the number of seats from six to eight without changing the election system itself.
Furthermore, the City claims that the addition of a seventh position was a valid effort to "increase minority representation."
These explanations, however, ignore the possibility of amending the Charter by means of a referendum election, and they do not justify the failure to read the minority report at the two public hearings held by the City Council on December 28, 1977, to discuss the Committee's recommendation.
Without attempting to answer these two questions, the Port Arthur City Council accepted the 7-0-1 plan recommended by the Council Election System Advisory Committee and enacted Ordinance 78-11 on January 16, 1978.
Subsequently, Ordinance 78-15 was adopted in order to make technical adjustments to certain residency district lines.
5. Annexation of Sabine Pass
Approximately six months after consolidation with Pear Ridge and Lakeview, the City of Port Arthur began to annex the area known as Sabine Pass, a separate unincorporated community located eight miles from the closest point in Port Arthur. In view of the problems encountered with the municipalities east of Port Arthur and the movement developing in Sabine Pass to incorporate, the Port Arthur City Council decided to annex the latter community.
The City had apparently planned to annex Sabine Pass about five years in the future for various economic and administrative reasons. Among the advantages cited by Port Arthur were obtaining a deep water port, sharing a common water supply, controlling offshore drilling activity, acquiring an area for industrial growth, and preventing fragmentation of jurisdiction.
By virtue of Ordinances 78-43, 78-47, 79-33, 79-34, and 79-67, Port Arthur's population increased by 501 including 31 blacks and 18 Hispanics according to the 1980 Census.
The City's total population advanced to 60,994 of whom 24,741 or 40.56% were black and 3,843 or 6.30% were of Spanish origin. Thus, since 1977, Port Arthur has enveloped within its borders 5,675 additional whites and 111 additional blacks who comprise 17.51% and 0.45% of the total number of individuals of their respective races in the enlarged City.
6. The 8-0-1 plan
Not having held councilmanic elections since April 2, 1977, the City made another effort to develop an acceptable election system at the beginning of 1980. Exhausting its Charter authority, Port Arthur City Council enlarged itself so as to include nine members ("8-0-1" plan).
Eight members were required to reside in different districts, and each had to obtain a majority of the votes cast by all of the qualified voters in the "new" City. Their two-year terms were staggered so that four council members were chosen one year, and the four others were selected the next year. The mayor continued to be elected at large every other year.
The task of dividing the City into eight districts of nearly equal population was assigned to Lyle Vickers.
His purpose and that of the City Council was to draw districts "to the maximum extent possible to elect at least two black candidates to the Council, and with a third candidate being elected as the population continues to shift east ... by 1984 or 1985." Using 1970 Census VAP data and considering the "electability of (particular) people, either current Councilmen or people off the Council," Vickers proposed the following districts:
Distric Total Population Voting Age Population
Total Black % Black Total Black % Black
1 8,289 3,694 44.58% 5,382 2,094 38.91%
2 8,216 10 00.12% 5,879 6 00.10%
3 7,474 844 11.29% 5,223 478 09.15%
4 7,983 1,045 13.09% 5,558 592 10.65%
5 9,065 8,735 96.35% 5,186 4,951 95.46%
6 8,317 5 00.06% 5,952 3 00.05%
7 9,761 8,305 85.05% 5,751 4,707 81.84%
8 7,023 563 08.82% 4,942 319 06.45%
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