Monday, January 23, 2017

MAYOR'S ILLEGAL VOTE TO APPROVE HIS OWN BID TO PURCHASE TAX RESALE PROPERTY PART OF BIGGER DEAL


By Juan Montoya
For the months preceding the Nov. 3, 2015 vote where Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez's bid for a tax resale property forfeited for delinquent taxes was discussed in executive session and put for  a vote in open session, he had been negotiating with the Texas Rio Grande Legal Rural Aid to sell the non-profit the property next door where his law offices were located.

The tax resale property was located at 1224 E. Van Buren, next to the mayor's law firm at 1206 E. Van Buren.

And despite the prohibition in the Texas Government Code requiring an affidavit of conflict of interest and the prohibition of a public official's further participation or vote on the matter, Martinez was present in executive session when John Guevara, the representative of the tax-delinquent firm Linbarger Goggan Blair and Sampson, made the offer on 16 properties to the full commission, including the mayor.

A videotape of the Nov. 3 meeting.
meeting meeting which shows Martinez participating in the unanimous vote to approve the bids on the 16 properties – including the one he bid on – is on the city's website for the Nov. 3 meeting.

The property in question was a half-lot (rear) of Lot 3, Block 153 of the Brownsville Original Townsite.

TRGLRA was looking for a place to relocate from their cramped office at a historically-restored residence in the Brownsville Historical District at 531 St. Charles Street that belonged to former Cameron County Judge Gilberto Hinojosa. The holdup that prevented TRGLRA from purchasing the property from the mayor for his property at 1206 E. Van Buren St. was the lack of adequate parking space.

It just so happened that Martinez heard that the half-rear of Lot 3 next to his office was held for resale by the tax-delinquent properties attorneys and bid on the property July 7, 2015. His $5,200 bid for the property assessed at $13,500 was put before the Cameron County Commissioners Court, the trustees of the Brownsville Independent school Board and the commissioners of the City of Brownsville.

All approved the sale on Nov. 3 and the properties were sold. The buyer was Antonio Martinez, the same Antonio Martinez who signed as mayor accepting for the city of Brownsville (See graphic of the moment the unanimous vote was cast below).


In the months following the sale – after Martinez had paved the half lot and turned it into a parking lot, the TRGLRA bought Martinez law office properties assessed at $336,124 by the Cameron County Appraisal District.

There is no record of what the TRGLRA paid Martinez for his offices. But given the added parking spaces provided by the half lot Martinez acquired with his illegal vote, conservatively, that price tag could conceivably go over $500,000. The $5,200 investment in the tax resale property allowed Martinez to reap $100,000s more on the sale of his offices held up by the lack of adequate parking spaces.

The appraisal district's files show that the TRGLRA purchased the property from THT Tales LCC, a corporation with offices at 1206 Van Buren, in Brownsville which lists Martinez as its principal on Nov. 1, 2016.

That same property was transferred to THT Tales by TM Valley Enterprises on June 24, 2011. TM Valley Enterprises also lists its offices at 1206 E. Van Buren Street in Brownsville and lists Tony Martinez as its president.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

GOVERNORS, PEMEX BLAMED FOR FUEL SHORTAGES

By Juan Montoya
Remember our recent post about the increased number of motorists and truckers form Mexico coming over the Rio Grande to fill up with diesel and gas?
With increases in the price of fuel soaring from 20 to 40 percent depending on where in Mexico they live, more and more Mexicans are driving across the border to take advantage of the relatively inexpensive gas right across the northern border.

Not only does Pemex blame organized crim for tapping into its pipelines, but numerous news sources – incuding Univeral and NorteDigital – are laying the responsibility on four former Mexican state governors, including two from Tamaulipas, for proifiting handsomely from a scheme that sent the fuel from the Cuenca de Burgos to El Mesquital in Matamoros and then into the United States. The scheme, according to these new sources, was to send the fuel to the United States and then into the national pipelines for its sale.

Investigators estimate that Castillo and his political associates were realizing about $2 billion in annual profits. When Castillo was arrested in Mission, he had $1 million hidden under the floorboard of the jet and found several duffle bags in his home at the Cimarron Golf Club in Mission with $36 million in cash.

NorteDigital reported that Castillo has close ties to the four governors and that the residents of El Mesquital were recently relocated to prevent the scheme from being discovered. 

El Mesquital is under the vigilance of the Mexican Navy. They claim that when Luis Videgaray, Mexico's Secretary of the Treasury (Hacienda), arranged for then-candidate Donald Trump to visit Mexico, Trump's advisers alerted them to his involvement and that of former Tamaulipas governors Manuel Cavazos Lerma, Tomás Yarrington and Eugenio Hernández.

As if that scheme wasn't enough to put a dent on Mexican gasoline supplies, Pemex also reported that some federal police officials say Pemex personnel may have aided the tapping by not only the Tamaulipas conspirators, but by others across the country as well.

“The people who are illegally tapping must have the knowledge necessary to drill the pipes and install the valves,” Benjamín Grajeda Regalado, head of the National Gendarmerie, told the newspaper El Universal.
Official data helps support the Gendarmerie chief’s claim: between 2006 and 2015, 123 Pemex employees and 12 ex-employees were arrested for collusion in the theft of fuel.

A report by the Attorney General’s office says that 2,616 people were arrested for crimes related to the theft of hydrocarbons throughout the country between January 2010 and April 2016.
Other reports indicate that an average of 23,500 barrels of fuel – magna and premium gasolines and diesel — are stolen each year, representing earnings of up to 21 billion pesos (US $983 million) lost to organized crime groups.

El Universal reported that in the last five years there has been a steady and pronounced increase in the number of illegal taps: in 2012 the total reported was 1,635; by 2015 that figure had leapt to 5,252.

According to the most recent data made available by Pemex, 2,221 illegal taps were detected in the states of Guanajuato, Puebla, Tamaulipas, Veracruz and the State of México during the first five months of 2016.

Martín Íñiguez of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), who specializes in national security issues, told El Universal that the steady growth of fuel theft started during the war on drugs declared during the administration of ex-president Felipe Calderón.
At that point, drug cartels began looking for other sources of income, said Íñiguez. They discovered oil and that they could steal it with the collaboration of Pemex personnel and local authorities.

“There are mayors that protect members of criminal organizations with their own municipal police departments. They are also associated with people from Pemex, officials from municipal, state and federal police departments and, I wouldn’t doubt, with the governors themselves,” said the researcher.

Fuel theft has become the third most profitable activity for criminal organizations, after trafficking in drugs and people, Íñiguez said.
The greatest number of pipeline taps detected during the current federal administration have been found in Hidalgo, Jalisco, Michoacán, Puebla, Querétaro, San Luis Potosí, Guanajuato, Colima, Coahuila and Tamaulipas.

FLORA QUERY: DOES ANYONE KNOW WHAT KID OF TREE THIS IS?

(Ed.'s Note: One of our three readers is attending school in Houston and sent us a photo of a draped in Spanish moss and asked if we knew what kind of tree it was? We guessed that it was some kind of cypress, although it was just a guess. Does anyone out there know the true species?)

Saturday, January 21, 2017

CUELLAR'S ANCESTOR AND HIS FIGHT AGAINST BIGOTRY

(After we posted the story of our friend Joe Cuellar's ancestor John F. Webber, a white settler who was married to a black slave and had a family in the early days of Texas, one of our readers informed us that the story of his fight against discrimination was in a book called "The Evolution of a State" by Noah Smithwick published in 1900. We searched for it and found it on the Internet. We post it here to give our three readers an idea of the deep-seated prejudice that Webber and his family confronted.)





HOW THE MAYOR VOTED TO SELL HIMSELF A TAX RESALE PROPERTY; FROM " FRAUD FOR DUMMIES 101" (UPDATE)

By Juan Montoya
As the poet Robert Browning once wrote: "Less is more Lucrezia."
So, too, we shall try to paint a more prefect picture of the alleged illegal vote taken by Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez that allowed him to sell himself a piece of tax-resale property adjacent to his law office at 1206 Van Buren.
That property's street address is 1242 E. Van Buren St. (rear).

The first photo is of the minutes of the Nov. 3, 2015 regular meeting where a unanimous city commission – after emerging from executive session where John Guevara, representing Linbarger, Goggan Blair and Sampson LLD and city attorney Mark Sossi outlined the bids/offers for 16 property offered for sale for tax delinquency. Included among them was the one highlighted above (2015-071). The street address was 1226 E. Van Buren, next to the mayor's law office. Note that the minutes show that Martinez participated in the executive session discussion and later voted for the city to accept the bids for the 16 properties, including the one he had bid on.

The second photo above shows the transfer of the property to Antonio Martinez with an address of 1206 Van Buren St., the mayor's law office. There is only on attorney named Tony Martinez there, and that's the mayor. So we have a situation where Martinez not only discussed the sale of the property in executive session, but also emerged from the session and voted (as is shown on the videotape of the meeting on the city's website) for the city to accept his bid. He then signed off on the sale to himself on behalf of the city.


The photo above is a screen shot of the Nov. 3 meeting which shows Martinez presiding over the meeting at the time that the vote was taken (17 minutes, 17 seconds into the regular meeting) and the offers for the properties, including his, were approved "unanimously," as the minutes above show.

The Texas Local  §§ 171.001-.010  states that: A public official who has such interest is required to file, before a vote or decision on any matter involving the business entity or real property, an affidavit with the city’s official record keeper, stating the nature and extent of the interest. Id. §171.004(b).

In addition, a public official is required to abstain from further participation in the matter. Id. However, a public official that is required to file an affidavit is not required to abstain from participating in the matter if a majority of the members of the governing body have a substantial interest and are required to file and do file affidavits of similar interests on the same official matter. Id. §171.004(c).

We looked high and low and could find no affidavit filed with the City Secretary and we filed an information request for any such affidavit if there was one filed with the city attorney. But even if there was, the code is specific that Martinez could not participate further in the matter, not even in the discussion on whether to accept the bids for the properties. The record shows he did and that he voted to permit himself to buy one of the tax resale properties which is now a parking lot for his law office. His bid was for $5,200 and the appraised value by the Cameron County Appraisal District was $13,500.

Now, aside from Martinez, Guevara with the delinquent-tax attorneys had to know the bidders and the amounts and the identity of the bidders to brief the city commissioners, the trustees of the Brownsville Independent School District and the Cameron County Commissioners Court who also signed off on the bids.

At least one city commissioner (Cesar de Leon) has told us that if he had known that Martinez was the bidder for one of the properties, he would not have allowed him to participate in the deliberations or voted to accept his bid. What about the others?

BROWNSVILLE JOINS NATIONAL WOMEN'S MARCH MOVEMENT

(Ed.'s Note: Brownsville protesters for human rights joined hundreds of thousands across the United States and all around the world to make a statement to the incoming Donald J. Trump administration that he will not have a free hand in setting the agenda for the coming four years. Mass rallies were held in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. as well as a number of other cities. Called the "Women's March," it drew huge (in his own words), huge, numbers of participants. The local group marched from Washington Park to the federal courthouse this morning.)

BND SECURITY GUARD UNDER CHIEF CARLOS GARCIA BUSTED

(Ed.'s Note: Employees and staff at the Brownsville Navigation District (Port of Brownsville) were stunned when officers with the Brownsville Police Department showed up and headed for the BND Command Center under the direction of Chief Carlos Garcia and arrested security guard Daniel Lopez. The charge, according to the BPD blog was Continuous Sexual Abuse of a Child, a first degree felony. Since the Cameron County Inmate List site is almost continually down. we were unable to determine whether Lopez had posted bond and whether he was ordered to stay away from his alleged victim. We will continue trying to get the info on the accused.)

MARY ESTHER SOROLA TEES OFF RE-ELECTION CAMPAIGN


Friday, January 20, 2017

AWASH IN OIL, MEXICO CONSUMERS GO TO U.S TO BUY FUEL

By Juan Montoya
Wonder why you're seeing more cars and trucks with Mexican license plates filling up on the U.S. side of the border?
Why there is a line of 18-wheeler cabs lining up at Wal-Mart to top off their double tanks?

Mexico started off this year 2017 with a 20 percent increase in fuel prices. More confusingly, prices will be different in 83 areas of the country plus the 7 border regions.
The border regions on the Mexican side are usually lower because the government wants Mexican gas station owners to remain competitive with the U.S. side so they won't come and fill up with gas over here.

The latest price differences between U.S. and Mexican gasoline and diesel prices are listed on the website Mexicomike https://www.mexicomike.com/database/runner/public/mx_fuel_prices_list.php
However, Mike says that he can't really tell you what the border prices are because they differ from state to state and city to city, when they have gas to sell.

His last update was January 2 and they give you a glimpse of what the Mexican consumer in the interior has had to shell out per gallon.
In the interior, Magna costs about $ $2.90 per gallon while it hovers between $1.97 to  $2.07 on the U.S. side, whey they can get it.

Diesel is even worse.  A gallon of diesel in Mexico averages about $3.11 compared with $2.26 in Texas. 
The difference is obviously apparent. So get used to seeing more and more cars from the other side of the Rio Grande locally. What else can they do?

Magna per liter in MXN$15.99
Premium per liter in MXN $17.79 
Diesel per liter in MXN $17.05 
Magna - Gal. in USD $2.92 
Premium - Gal in USD $3.25
Diesel - Gal. in USD $3.11 

Exchange Rate - USD - Official on date above 20.74
Liters per gallon 3.79

THE EVOLUTION OF HIZZONER DA MAYOR TONY MARTINEZ

By Juan Montoya
When supporters of Tony Martinez were campaigning for his reelection, they emphasized that – unlike his opponent and former Mayor Pat Ahumada – Martinez was already a millionaire and voters wouldn't have to worry about him coveting public money.
In fact, Martinez, is a spiritual man and pointed to a photograph of him taking the Sacred Host (communion) from his late son, a priest, in the private chapel he built in his home.


The reference was to Ahumada depositing a $26,000 check made out ot a vendor with the city for which he was tried and found acquitted.
"Tony is rich," they said. "He doesn't need the city's money."

What they didn't say was that Martinez was all too ready to spend it.
Upon his taking office, he went to a mayor's conference in Florida and was tickled to no end when a vendor told him Brownsville was fortunate to have been chosen from among hundreds of cities to participate in a banner promotion highlighting the city's attractions.

He committed the city to do business with a one-page agreement between it Community Showcase Banners, of Chicago, Illinois,and another office in Warsaw, N.Y.
The agreement indicated that it was signed by Martinez June 15, 2012, while at the mayors' conference and committed the city to a three-year period when the company can do business selling advertising banners to local businesses that will include the city logo on top and an ad from buyers on the lower third of the banner.

The agreement also called for the city to provide Community Showcase Banners "all necessary brackets, hardware, installation and maintenance of the banners.The city also agreed to give the right to use organization's name in connection with the representation, production, and marketing of the program..."

The agreement also called for the city to provide "identification of, and access to the preferred pole sites for proper banner placement, monitoring and maintenance of banners as needed throughout their display and installation of replacement banners as needed (and hand scribbled) "and no cost to the City of Brownsville."

Soon, after local business owners called on Cabler to ask if the company was on the up and up, the farce was discovered and the company went away. But that was just the beginning.

Next, Martinez found out that Cabler had carte blanche to spend up to $35,000 without going through the city commission. Like kid in a candy store, Martinez went to that well so often that purchasing questioned several of the bills and asked Cabler who had approved them. Cabler dutifully approved them as they landed on his desk "as per Mayor Martinez."

– In July 2012 he had City Manager Charlie Cabler authorize the payment of $1,500 to one R. Steven Lewis, a licensed architect and self-described "UTB Relocation Consultant." In a previous email, Lewis had said that he would just require payment of his air fare from California and his room at the Marriott Courtyard for "Mayor Martinez." Then, just five days later on July 31, Lewis apparently had a change of heart and Cabler received another email invoice from Lewis, this time for $4,500 for his "UT Brownsville Relocation Consultation." Martinez ordered the city staff to pay it.

– The Complete Streets Workshop" held May 16 featured Kevin St. Jaques, a member of the Complete Streets Speakers Bureau which was held at the mayor's initiative and which required the Brownsville Community Incentives Corporation (BCIC) to fork over $5,000, of which $2,300 was paid to Freese and Nichols, of Ft. Worth, to have Jaques tell us that our things as they were in Browntown left much to be desired.

–  Gil Peñalosa, the executive director of the 8-80 Cities, of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, came on Tony's behalf and told us on August 28-30 at a conference at the Cueto Building that we should be ashamed of ourselves for having such bad streets, sidewalks and phantom bus shelters. Almost a month (August 1) before Peñalosa browbeat the citizens, city administrators and local bigwigs over the condition of our infrastructure and lack of sidewalks and shoddy streets, the city meekly approved payment to him for $7,974 that included $6,500 for professional services, $988 for air transportation, and $485 for accommodations and meals in good old "American dollars," as he requested, not in discounted Canadian currency.


– The  building communityWORKSHOP of Dallas which includes four principals of Design/Program and another four support assistants have been working for Tony on his UTB proposal to entice the Hidalgo County-bound UT System to "please stay in little old' Browntown and we'll give you all kinds of land to do it (to date, about 80 acres)."
buildingcommunityWORKSHOP has made Tony's pipe dream an industry. It's first invoice for the ongoing work for Tony's UTB proposal cost us a tidy sum.

Their first invoice landed on Cabler's desk with a thud. The hit for putting together a Request For Proposals which could have been done in-house by a planning intern was not cheap. Would you believe $27,803.12 which included round-trip flights from Dallas to Harlingen for its principal at a cost of $541. 20 (Sept. 21), $347.20 (Oct. 3), and $535.20 (Oct. 8)?
Among the items in the invoice for the $475 monthly rent on an apartment (Sept. 21) needed to house the group's principals.

In the mayor's RFP to the UT System, he not only offered to sell huge tracts of publicly-owned land to the UT System at "fair market value," he also offered them other "incentives." Some of these were as follows:

* Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation - $2,500 to $5,000 for every University job associated with UTB's location downtown
* Brownsville Economic Development Corporation - BEDC will contribute tax revenue from increased sales, mixed beverage, and parking meter taxes to UTB for public realm improvements downtown.

*Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation - BCIC will provide funding and/or subsidies for "quality of life" projects, including cultural and athletic amenities in greater Downtown Brownsville

* Brownsville Metropolitan Planning Organization and BCIC - MPO and BCIC will increase bicycle infrastructure, including the extension of city hike and bike trails to better connect the UTB facilities with surrounding downtown neighborhoods and amenities

* Public Utility Board - PUB will provide reduced utility rates for new UTB buildings that are built to LEED accreditation standards

* Brownsville Metro - Brownsville Metro will increase their bus coverage area to better serve UTB's campus and to increase service frequency to UTB campus facilities.

But wait Gargantua hasn't had enough. Not quite yet, anyway.

During his tenure he has been the guiding force behind the issuance of millions in Certificates of Obligation that don't have to go to the public for approval. Sucha CO issuance was used to buy the $2.3 milion Casa del Nylon from his buddy Abraham Galonsky with the justification that the University of Texas wold buy the building from the city. UT didn't bite and the building sits empty.

The straw that almost broke the camel's back was his almost exclusive spending of a more than $3 million settlement between the city and the the city and the American Electric Power Texas Central Co. The mayor and administration, flying under the radar with purchases under the $35,000 limit after which they have to bring them before the full commission, has already tapped into it and only $2.6 million is left.

Among some of those "public expenditures" were the $45,000 that were spent to move Charles Stillman's "love shack" from Corpus Christi to the Cueto Building and then to the Linear Park. Oh yeah, why would millionaire heirs of Don Carlos need public money to salvage that eyesore?

That prompted commissioners John Villarreal (co-chair of United Brownsville) Jessica Tetreau, Deborah Portillo and Ricardo Longoria to ask administration (City Manager Charlie Cabler) to bring all items spent by the mayor and city administration before them and before they are spent.

Not only did he go along with the Brownsville Public Utility Board to issue $325 million of debt on an that already overburdened budget ($200 million), but he voted to approve rate hikes over the next six years that saw the bond ratings for the once-healthy municipally-owned utility slide into "negative."
Instead, everyone on the city commission applauded and voted on the BPUB's request to issue the natural-gas bonds that would pay for construction of the 800 MW plant and a natural gas and a water pipeline from up the Valley.

But even before the announcement of the plant's construction and PUB's "investment" in it, the city commissioners had already approved the rate hikes that would make the investment possible. No one – not one – commissioner spoke up against the massive debt being undertaken on the backs of the PUB ratepayers. And no one questioned how far down the road  it would be before the bond-rating agencies would begin to worry about the ability of the 80 percent of ratepayers in the nation's poorest city could stand the constant surge of rate hikes.

Those "small" increases were approved by commissioners in December 2012 during a special meeting. They adopted upwards rate hikes that will see city residents pay a 36 percent increase in electric rates over the next three years, a 20 percent increase in water rates over the same period, and a 6 percent hike in waste water costs over two years.
Image result for tony martinez, brownsvilleUnder the plan approved by both bodies, electric rates went up by 14 percent by October 2013 and will go up another 22 percent by October 2016.

Now, with the pile of money from the increased rates soaring toward $90 million and construction of the plant nowhere in sight, rate payers are asking why they aren't getting their money back and the rates remain abnormally high.

Like we said at the beginning, Tony was the millionaire we could trust and believe in. He had no need to take public funds like the ones before.
I guess we were wrong, weren't we? Por algo son millonarios los sinverguenzas..

BP AGENT TIED TO SMUGGLED MONEY, NOT TO SLAYING

By Jay Root
The Texas Tribune
BROWNSVILLE — Prosecutors on Thursday were able to tie Border Patrol Agent Joel Luna to some of the hundreds of thousands of dollars his brothers allegedly smuggled to Texas from Mexico, but they didn’t prove he had any direct involvement in the murder he’s accused of committing.

Luna is one of five defendants the state charged with capital murder and drug trafficking after the naked and headless body of Franky Palacios was discovered floating in the waters off South Padre Island in March of 2015.
The Border Patrol agent is on trial now in Cameron County along with his younger brother, Eduardo, whom prosecutors tie to the powerful Mexican Gulf Cartel. Their older brother, Fernando, took a plea deal and has spent the last day and a half testifying against his two brothers — a defendant turned star witness.

During several tedious hours of testimony, Fernando explained in detail how the murder occurred, saying that it was his younger brother Eduardo who shot Franky in the head and then dumped his body at a spot where he once went fishing.

Joel was not at Veteran's Tire Shop in Edinburg, where prosecutors believe Palacios was killed, at the time of the shooting, and the only discussion Fernando recalled having with him about the murder occurred after their younger brother Eduardo got arrested more than three months later. The federal agent did want to know, however, if blood had been spilled at the murder scene, Fernando said.

“[Joel] asked me what had happened, because Eduardo was detained, under investigation, and I told him what he had done,” Fernando said. “And he asked me if there were bloodstains. And I told him that yes, there was one small one. He shook his head and he left.”

Fernando also said after the murder he wiped text messages off of his phone in order to protect Joel from blowback at work since the defendants were in the country illegally and could jeopardize his employment at the Border Patrol.

“I erased them, with regards to my brother Joel, to not damage him, knowing that he had a good job and we had done something wrong,” said Fernando, growing emotional as he spoke.

The testimony came as prosecutors sought to bring Joel more directly into a trial that has largely centered on a murder that Fernando pinned on Eduardo, known as “El Pajaro,” or the bird. That’s the nickname etched onto a gold-plated gun authorities retrieved during the investigation. The barrel is also stamped with the phrase “Cartel del Golfo” — Gulf Cartel.

Chief prosecutor Gus Garza asked Fernando to discuss a transaction in which he and “El Pajaro” received an estimated $250,000.


To read rest of story, click on link below:


Thursday, January 19, 2017

BROWNSVILLE GOES VIRAL OVER SHAM RUBI QUINCEANERA


By Juan Montoya
We are reluctant to even approach this subject because it seems so naco to us that we didn't think that people on this side of the Rio Grande would be carried away by this turn of events.


We were, obviously, wrong.



What started out as a family invitation from the father and mother for "everyone" to attend their daughter Rubi's quinceañera was used by Internet pranksters to make it a worldwide web invitation.
After announcing which bands would play at the event, Rubí’s dad boasted that they would have a 10,000 peso chiva, an amateur horse race with a prize of 10,000 pesos to the winner. Oh, and he also invited – everyone – to the event.


Soon everyone got into the act through Facebook "memes" and the thing spun out of viral control. Pranksters began saying that Shakira, Los Indomables, and other major bands and personages – even the Pope – were going to attend. It was all a sham and Rubi's father clarified it saying that only the family friends of her town in San Luis Potosi were invited.



That didn't stop people from continuing the game. The Kotex Company in Mexico is said to have offered her 20 years of feminine care products,and other companies lined up to reap whatever economic or advertising profit they could get from the fabricated event.




Guess what?
Just yesterday it was Brownsville folks' turn to make fools of themselves.
Rubi and her parents were invited to Brownsville (By who? Who knows?) to ride the wave of their 15 minutes of fame.

Commissioners Ricardo Longoria and Deborah Portillo took a photo op with her and her parents and Portillo even threw in a few trinkets from her jewelry store as a gift. We have no idea what Longoria kicked in.


In fact, Portillo is said to have had her as a special guest at a jewelry style show for her store. The DJ? Longoria, of course.

A furniture store in Brownsville invited potential customers to come in and take a photograph with Rubi nas her parents and join the great fun also.



Then Jennifer's High-Tech Salon and Spa invited her clients over to her shop so they could take photos with them. We even heard that Bogus Ford in Harlingen threw in a Mustang to the family as a quinceañera gift for the girl.




But what is really distressing is that Rubi and her parents were invited to Perkins Middle School in the Brownsville Independent School District where they would give a talk on "culture."


What started off as a joke has now blossomed into a brazen money-making enterprise that has even been allowed to enter our public school under the guise of teaching our school kids this mercantile type of "cultural awareness."



Is it a coincidence that the local daily even has a story about some students in a local school helping out two students to celebrate their own quinceañeras, apparently independent from the Rubi phenomenon and she  shows up?



We can understand commercial enterprises trying to glean some notice from the public by pandering to this type of naco Internet events, but to pass this off as cultural education in our civic government or public education institutions is drastically lowering the cultural bar for a meme laugh.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

VOLUNTEERS DIDN'T KNOW OF SCHOOL CLOSING PLANS

(Ed.'s Note: This feel-good article appeared today in the Education Section of the local daily. In two of the photos Brownsville Independent School District Superintendent and two trustees (bottom Carlos Elizondo and top left Cesar Lopez) gave awards of recognition to parent volunteers at two schools, Cummings Middle School on the bottom and Longoria Elementary on top.

Enedelia Alfaro was honored for her dedication at helping Cummings and Dolores Lopez at Longoria. The photo at Cummings was taken Dec. 6, and the photo at Longoria was taken Nov. 30, 2016.

But just yesterday, January 17, 2017, Zendejas and her administration brought forth a proposal that both school be closed and that the students be assigned other schools. Would the two parents have been as happy as they seem to be when they were giving the recognition for helping their kids at their schools if they knew the administration had this plan in mind all along?

Zendejas and the two trustees knew. Why didn't they tell them? Fortunately, a majority on the BISD board did not take action on the agenda item and demanded that Zendejas show them alternatives to closing the schools and cited the lack of public input as a reason for tabling the decision. But to the average reader, it seems like a nice thing to do for parent volunteers even if they keep them in the dark.)

WILL D.A. PROSECUTE MARTINEZ? DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH

By Juan Montoya
The sitting in of an elected official in executive session of the City of Brownsville commission, voting to approve accepting a bid on a tax-delinquent property , and then signing as the chief executive of the city while he was the buying one of the properties auctioned off at a tax resale would get anyone indicted.

But will the current Cameron County District Attorney prosecute everyone equally given the political ties that bind him to City of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez?


Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz – as a special prosecutor – indicted and prosecuted Harlingen city commissioner Kori Marra for much less. She sat in on the discussion of an downtown revitalization district that would assess property and business owners an tax for improvements. She did not vote.

Now that is has come to light that Martinez had bought a rear lot adjoining his law office at 1206 E. Van Buren in a July 2015 tax resale, then sat in a vote held during a regular meeting on Nov. 3 that approved his own bid of $5,200 on a property assessed at $13,500.


The Texas Local  §§ 171.001-.010.  states that: A public official who has such interest is required to file, before a vote or decision on any matter involving the business entity or real property, an affidavit with the city’s official record keeper, stating the nature and extent of the interest. Id. §171.004(b).

In addition, a public official is required to abstain from further participation in the matter. Id. However, a public official that is required to file an affidavit is not required to abstain from participating in the matter if a majority of the members of the governing body have a substantial interest and are required to file and do file affidavits of similar interests on the same official matter. Id. §171.004(c).

There were no affidavits filed in the city binder for the item or conflict of interest statements on the record.

The property in downtown Brownsville described as 2015-071 –the rear one half (1/2) lot No. 3 in Block One Hundred and fifty-three (153) of the City of Brownsville, together with any or all improvements therein (01-0000-1530-0030-00)
The street address, according to the Cameron County Appraisal District (CCAD), was 1242 E. Van Buren St. (rear).

It is, in fact, a parking lot addition to the existing Tony Martinez law offices.

Already, loose tongues are saying that the DA's
Office dares not prosecute Martinez since Tony Martinez's son Trey (Benigno) Martinez held Saenz's announcement of his candidacy for DA and also held his victory party in the office Trey shares with his father Tony Martinez, the mayor of Brownsville.

There is no record in Saenz's expenditures report for 2016 of any political contributions, in-kind or otherwise, from the Martinez Law Firm.

BOARD OVERTURNS ZENDEJAS ON SOLIS DEMOTION; FORMER VMHS PRINCIPAL PREVAILS ON LEVEL 3 GRIEVANCE

By Juan Montoya

In a clear rejection of her management style, a majority of the board present at Tuesday's monthly meeting of the of the Brownsville Independent School District sided with former Veterans Memorial High School principal Maria E. Solis on her Level 3 Grievance.

The vote was 5-0, with trustee Cowen abstaining. Trustees Dr. Sylvia Atkinson, Minerva Peña, Laura Perez-Reyes, Cesar Lopez, and Joe Rodriguez – the latter albeit grudgingly – voted to return her to her former level. Carlos Elizondo was absent.

The board instructed Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas to return her to her pay level and to a similar position she held before.

Once a grievance gets to Level 3, it means that the employee has exhausted all avenues for relief and the board decides the outcome of the complaint. If the board had denied her grievance, it opened the door to litigation in the local courts. In a previous meeting, the administration had suggested that the board hire an attorney to sit on the Level 3 meeting and make recommendations for their consideration.The grievance involved allegations that two board members had meddling in the purchasing and staffing at a school. A majority of the board turned Zendejas' proposal down.

Solis claimed to have been approached by board members Joe Rodriguez, Carlos Elizondo and Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas on a number of issues. Among these were:

1, the illegal hiring of coaches at the school
2. the hiring of Elizondo's wife (a counselor)
3. Forcing VMHS coaches to purchase athletic equipment from vendors associated with Rodriguez, himself a vendor for BFN, an athletic equipment vendor
4. Forcing VMHS principal Solis to contract with Joe Rodriguez's preferred vendors for graduation products (rings). Sources say that Rodriguez was pushing for the school to purchase graduation products (rings) from Herff Jones, the same vendor on the agenda who wants to donate 28 rings to Porter High School. The same sources say that Rodriguez told Solis that "You need to give business to these people. They take care of us."

Our sources at the BISD say that Solis, the former principal at Veterans Memorial High School, was a rising star in the district until she started getting personal requests from certain board members for hiring and purchases at the school. Then, out of nowhere, she was transferred to be the principal at Lucio Middle School, a clear demotion.

There was another wrinkle here. Solis' brother, Jorge Lerma, is a lieutenant at the Brownsville Fire Dept. Lately, we have heard that Elizondo is exerting pressure on Lerma and making his life difficult. Remember we told you about the city personnel policy that says that city employees cannot hold elected positions in local school boards because of a possible conflict of interest?

Section 702: Political Activity
"B. Specifically, City Employees may not engage in the following activities:
4. Hold an elective City office or hold an elective or appointive office in any other jurisdiction where service would constitute a direct conflict of interest with City employment, with or without remuneration. Upon assuming such office, an Employee shall resign or shall be dismissed for cause upon failure to do so."

Conveniently, Elizondo did not attend the BISD meeting or the city commission meeting Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the BISD rumor mill was working overtime with suggestions that board counsel had been directed to devise an exit strategy for Zendejas, who was given a raise and her contract extended before the Novemeber 2016 board elections.

Zendejas has been seen as doing the bidding for Rodriguez and Elizondo and the other members who comprise the majority of the board. However, the rejection of her actions in the Solis case indicates that other board members are starting to shy away from the Rodriguez-Elizondo core and aligning themselves with a new majority.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

COMPARED TO KORY MARRA, MARTINEZ'S VOTE TO BUY TAX-SALE LAND TAKES THE CAKE; WHAT'S THE D.A. GONNA DO?

By Juan Montoya
On July 7, 2015, delinquent-tax attorneys Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP had the sheriff hold a tax resale at the steps of the Cameron County Courthouse.
There were 16 properties resold that day.

After the time where the owners are given an opportunity to pay their taxes and reclaim the land, the three main taxing entities, the City of Brownsville, the Brownsville Independent School District, and Cameron Cameron County were asked to accept or reject the bids or offers for the properties.

Among them was one in downtown Brownsville described as 2015-071 - the rear one half (1/2) lot No. 3 in Block One Hundred and fifty-three (153) of the City of Brownsville, together with any or all improvements therein (01-0000-1530-0030-00)
The street address, according to the Cameron County Appraisal District (CCAD), was 1242 E. Van Buren St. (rear).


The property, measuring 3,000 square feet, is located next to the law offices of Tony Martinez, Horacio Barrera, and Trey Martinez at 1206 E. Van Buren Street. According to the CCAD information on the property, it was valued at 13,500. The bid for the property was for $5,200 in cash.


On November 3, 2015, the City of Brownsville Commission met in executive session with Mayor Tony Martinez presiding, to discuss the sale of the 16 properties with city attorney Mark Sossi, on recommendation by John D. Guevara, the delinquent tax firm representative.

After executive session, on a motion by commissioner Ricardo Longoria and seconded by commissioner Rose Gowen, the commission voted unanimously to accept the bids for the properties from the buyers. Among those who voted to sell the property for the taxes owed the BISD, the county and the city was Mayor Tony Martinez. In fact, in the tax resale deed carried his signature. (See graphic above)

On the Tax Resale Deed field with the Cameron County Clerk's Office, the property, assigned Instrument #2015-00046460 was signed over to the buyer by Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda, BISD president Minerva Peña, and Tony Martinez, the mayor of the City of Brownsville.

Everything seemed to have been done right except for one thing.
The buyer turned out to be none other than the same Tony Martinez. The Tax Resale Deed (see graphic right) lists the buyer as Antonio Martinez, 1206 E. Van Buren St. who sat in on executive session to consider accepting his own bid for the property.
In fact, in the tape of the commission meeting, Martinez calls for the vote and votes unanimously to accept his own bid. (See graphic below.)
 We have seen the Cameron County Attorney Luis V. Saenz go after other elected officials for much less. As a special prosecutor, he filed charges against former Harlingen city commissioner Kori Marra in March 2011.

Marra was acquitted of one conflict of interest charge and convicted of a second charge in November 2011 in Cameron County Court-at-Law No. 3, forfeiting her seat on the City Commission with less than one year remaining on her term of office. Marra was sentenced in 2011 to 30 days in jail and fined $500.
The charge was that as a city commissioner, she participated in a vote or decision on a matter that had a special economic effect on a business in downtown Harlingen in which she had a substantial interest without first filing an affidavit stating the nature and extent of her interest in the business.

An appeals court overturned that conviction, but Marra lost her seat on the Harlingen city commission and spent time in jail.

Now, we wonder, voting to accept your own bid on a piece of property sold for delinquent taxes and getting it at less than half the assessed value would seem to us to be a slam dunk for Saenz if he decided to look into the matter. But as we've seen in the past in cases involving Marra, Ernie Hernandez, Joe Hernandez, John Chambers, Tony Yzaguirre, and Pete Sepulveda, Saenz is highly selective and prosecutes based on other considerations – some say political – than the equal application of the law toward everyone.

In fact, just two few weeks before Martinez sold himself the property, he invited Saenz to address the city commission on the issue of domestic violence on October 20, 2015.. The ambience can only be described as "chummy."

Will our DA do his job impartially this time around? Or will he allow this type of self-dealing to go unchecked while he sits in his office on the third floor of the courthouse just two blocks away from Martinez's office and the property in question?

LEVEL 3 GRIEVANCE: ELIZONDO, JOE ROD, PRESSURED PRINCIPAL ON HIRINGS, BUYING FROM SPECIFIC VENDORS

By Juan Montoya
The offal has hit the fan.
Remember the plan suggested by Brownsville Independent School District Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas that attorneys be hired to replace board members to hear Level 3 Grievances from district employees?

Once a grievance gets to Level 3, it means that the employee has exhausted all avenues for relief and the board decides the outcome of the complaint. But what if the grievance involves allegations against meddling by board members in the purchasing and staffing at a school?
And is it correct for board members to urge coaches at a school to buy athletic equipment from certain vendors?

31. Discussion, consideration and possible action regarding Level III Grievance No. 008/16-17 on Maria E. Solis

Our sources at the BISD say that Solis, the former principal at Veterans Memorial High School, was a rising star in the district until she started getting personal requests from certain board members for hiring and purchases at the school. Then, out of nowhere, she was transferred to Lucio Middle School. Why?

In her grievance, Solis is said to have been approached by board members Joe Rodriguez, Carlos Elizondo and Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas on a number of issues. Among these were:

1, the illegal hiring of coaches at the school
2. the hiring of Elizondo's wife (a counselor)
3. Forcing VMHS coaches to purchase athletic equipment from vendors associated with Rodriguez, himself a vendor for BSN, an athletic equipment vendor
4. Forcing VMHS principal Solis to contract with Joe Rodriguez's preferred vendors for graduation products (rings). Sources say that Rodriguez was pushing for the school to purchase graduation products (rings) from Herff Jones, the same vendor on the agenda who wants to donate 28 rings to Porter High School. The same sources say that Rodriguez told Solis that "You need to give business to these people. They take care of us."

So is that why the administration was all hot and bothered to change the Level 3 Grievance process?

There is another wrinkle here. Solis' brother, Jorge Lerma, is a lieutenant at the Brownsville Fire Dept. Lately, we have heard that Elizondo is exerting pressure on Lerma and making his life difficult. Remember we told you about the city personnel policy that says that city employees cannot hold elected positions in local school boards because of a possible conflict of interest?

Section 702: Political Activity
"B. Specifically, City Employees may not engage in the following activities:
4. Hold an elective City office or hold an elective or appointive office in any other jurisdiction where service would constitute a direct conflict of interest with City employment, with or without remuneration. Upon assuming such office, an Employee shall resign or shall be dismissed for cause upon failure to do so."

How long will the city and BISD continue to ignore the policies that they themselves have formed?

SCHOOL CLOSINGS, FLAWED PURCHASING PROCESS AT BISD

By Juan Montoya
There will be plenty of fireworks at today's meeting of the board of the Brownsville Independent School District.
RESACA, CUMMINGS AND LONGORIA SCHOOL CLOSINGS:
41. Discussion regarding a board resolution against the consolidating and/or closing of any school for the 2017-2018 school year without first receiving a comprehensive plan detailing budgets, alternatives, sufficient public input, notice, etc. (Board Member Request)
The board will consider the recommendation

The board member (not identified) who placed this item on the agenda probably did so at the request of parents and students who attend/or attended these schools. The administration has advocated the closing of these schools without announcing what plans, alternatives to closings, did not seek public input or gave notice of the plans to close them.

Hopefully, a majority of the board can get enough public support at tonight's meeting to force the administration and a board majority to make the process more transparent and accountable to the parents and students before launching such a drastic plan as closing a school.

APPROVAL OF DONATIONS OF 28 STUDENT RINGS WORTH $25,060
15. Recommend approval to accept $25,060.00 from Herff Jones for the donation of 28 student rings given to the Porter Early College High School 5A State Championship team.

On its face, this would seem to be a no-brainer. Why would the district not accept a donation from a vendor?
Could it be that there were additional rings in addition to the contract with Herff Jones ordered by a board member (Joe Rodriguez?) without asking the principal or the administration for the authority or if there was money in their budget to order them? Lately, Rodriguez has been said to be getting involved in the purchasing process at the BISD and at times has tried to steer the district's business toward selected vendors.

As we understand, there was not enough money in the budget at Porter on in the district to pay for the additional rings, and rather than explain why the rings were ordered (and by who), the vendor would rather donate them to the district without charge. If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. In a Level 3 grievance to be heard today, former Veterans Memorial High School principal Mary Solis is charging that Rodriguez was urging her to purchase graduation products (rings?) from Herff Jones. Why?

Who ordered the additional rings? Was there a purchase order issued for their acquisition from the vendor aside from the initila one? Were normal purchasing procedures followed in the ordering of the rings? If not, why not? Has Joe Rodriguez become Brownsville's Lord of the Rings?

THE EVOLUTION OF (IMAGINE) UNITED BROWNSVILLE SCAM

By Juan Montoya
It all started innocently enough.

Back in 2006, a Brownsville delegation including commissioner Ricardo Longoria went to Washington seeking federal funds for downtown revitalization. Eddie Trevino, the current Cameron County Judge, was mayor then.


Image result for eddie treviño
There, they were told by U.S. Rep. Jim Oberstar of Minnesota and former U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz that there was money for Brownsville but that they needed to present a Master Plan to be considered for funding.




The contract – which quickly grew to more than $1 million – was awarded to Carlos Marin's Ambiotec. The plan was created, but unfortunately, the city's benefactors in Washington, Oberstar and Ortiz, did not get reelected. Many thought that was the end of that and placed the plan on a shelf since the purpose for its existence had disappeared.




Undeterred, some leading citizens of the community seized the opportunity and put their heads together to came up with something called the United Brownsville Coordinating Board.



The "mission statement " of the UBCB states that its purpose is to "lessen the burden" of government on elected officials and to "provide a forum" for community progress. The trio was self-appointed and their hand-picked nominees to the board served at their invitation. None of the three were elected officials.





Image result for fred rustebergThey appointed IBC President Fred Rusteberg, former TSC-UTB president Julieta Garcia and UTB-TSC VP Irv Downing as the troika in charge. They formed United Brownsville and invited some elected officials and others to sit on the United Brownsville as voting and non-voting members. Then-mayor Pat Ahumada, who followed Trevino and was suspicious of the plan, was not invited to join the United Brownsville board.



And how to fund their "operations?"



They got eight publicly-funded entities to fork over $25,000 each per year since 2009 to their unelected board.
These were the City of Brownsville, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation (GBIC), the Brownsville Independent School District, the Brownsville Navigation District, the Brownsville Public Utilities Board, the Brownsville Community Improvement Corp (BCIC) and the University of Texas-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College.






Image result for juliet garciaThe triumvirate, in turn, filled the United Brownsville board with pliant members who eagerly rushed to please Rusteberg, Garcia, Downing and Marin to do as they pleased with an imprimatur of legitimacy that they did not have.

This trio installed Mike Gonzalez, the former Tea Party mayor of Kyle, Texas, as its executive director at a $78,000 annual salary to carry out their mandate and ride herd over the elected and appointed public entities who pay the United Brownsville gang their tribute in the form of the  $25,000 "membership fee" to sit at the table and receive enlightenment from the freeloaders.





The former Tea Party mayor of Kyle, Texas, left a dismal track record in Kyle, having doubled property taxes and left the city in hock to finance his pet projects and those of his friends, never registered to vote in Brownsville and kept his homestead in Kyle throughout his tenure that ended in 2016. 





Since 2009, and until just this past year, United Brownsville drew the $200,000 in "memberships" from the eight entities, until members of the elected board such as the Port of Brownsville, Texas Southmost College, and now the City of Brownsville felt they were not getting anything in return for their annual $25,000 "memberships" so they could "sit at the table."

Over the seven odd years that United Brownsville milked the community, it easily collected more than $1.4 million in "membership" fees from the entities.




They also pushed behind the scenes to fund even more "master plans."


One of those was something called the Brownsville Strategic Infrastructure and Land Management Plan for which the Port of Brownsville, the Brownsville Public Utility Board and the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation paid a pretty penny, $$454,592.02 to be exact. 



That little plum was handed out to none other than Robin McCaffrey of Needham-McCaffrey and Associates, Inc. – the same firm that helped Gonzalez drive Kyle to financial debt and ruin.


The grandiose plan?

United Brownsville invented something high-sounding called the Bi-National Border Economic Development  Trojan horse. Under this "plan," the usual suspects – Rusteberg, Marin, Mayor Tony Martinez, FINSA's Sergio Arguelles, and Garcia – were in the process of hijacking the direction of this region's economic development to benefit a select cabal of their fellow travelers.  In fact, Treviño is a United Brownsville board member, too.





"Central to the BiNED concept is establishing advanced manufacturing locally to serve the electronics and automotive manufacturing industries that are booming in Mexico's interior."
If you have the stomach to read through this repetitive document, you will see that the same themes are repeated endlessly and the con goes something like this:





"Brownsville is poised to become the intermodal and trade hub linking the burgeoning markets in Mexico with its new oil discoveries in the Gulf of Mexico, reap the benefits of the new highway linking Matamoros with the west coast of Mexico to lure the China trade, and stands to leap into the future with SpaceX, a new steel plant at the port, and become a produce import center to rival Laredo and McAllen."


Throughout this document, United Brownsville and the coordinating board are named as the crucial cogs in the gears to launch a "poised" Browntown (Imagine Brownsville in a Greek profile) to ignite the economic firestorm that's coming.



Oscar Gacia Jr., – Julieta Garcia's son – was the vice-chair at PUB when the utility approved the expenditure to put together the plan, jumped ship and joined San Antonio-Jacob's Engineering just in time to garner the first phase of a $750,000 implementation contract recommended in the Super Duper Plan.




He got the first $185,000 for his "plan" and came back to reap the remaining $565,000 before the GBIC and then the BEDC.


However, word had gotten out that the initial "plan" that Garcia Jr. had delivered as his work product was 99 pages, 49 of which were nothing more than Xerox copies of the index cards that were used in some of the meetings of the "stakeholders" when they talked about "the plan."



Garcia Jr. was turned down, first by the PUB and the Port, who declined to participate in the next "plan" and the4n by the GBIC and the BEDC, who were being asked to fund Garcia's plan by themselves.




Just this past November the city commission – at the request of commissioners Longoria and Cesar De Leon – voted to stop funding United Brownsville. In fact, only two entities of the original eight are pitching in their $25,000. City commissioner Deborah Portillo, who had been Gonzalez's secretary at United Brownsville, was appointed as chair of the United Brownsville Coordinating Board over one employee, Laura Matamoros. Portillo resigned shortly thereafter to address "other priorities."




Meanwhile, except for Gonzalez, Portillo and Matamoros,  Needham-McCaffrey, Marin and Oscar Garcia Jr., not one job was created for the people of Brownsville throughout the Imagine Brownsville-United Brownsville- United Brownsville Coordinating Board metamorphosis. And what about the more than $3 million or more that the public paid for the seven years that this scam has lasted? Can anyone be held accountable for that waste of public funds?


Apparently not.


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