Saturday, September 23, 2017

TRASH PICKUP AT BOCA CHICA YEILDS 4 KILOS OF PRIMO COKE

Special to El Rrun-Rrun

Did you hear about the bounty yielded by the bounty if the sea during the annual Beach Cleanup at Boca Chica Beach today?

It seems that the organizers dropped off kids and participants all along the beach from the mouth of the Rio Grande to the jetties with their plastic trash bags and set about collecting the trash accumulated by beachgoers and ships that dump their trash off the side.

Usually, the trash includes medical waste, plastic fishing netting and lines that endanger fish and wildlife and is the bane of ecologists.

Well, everything was going along swimmingly and the bags started filling when they noticed a couple of kids that had been left far out near the jetties. At fist they thought the kids were just slacking off until they saw them carrying some bundles wrapped in plastic and running toward the main group.

It tuned out that they had stumbled across four kilos of cocaine among the sand dunes that had apparently washed up from the water.

When Pct. 1 Commissioner Sofie Benavides found out she was horrified and called the Texas Department of Public Safety troopers and they promptly confiscated the stash. We hope that it didn't belong to a cartel or  drug gang because they'll probably be looking for someone to recover it from.

Hopefully, this will make the organizers do a look-see before they leave the kids out there on their own.
One of the county workers helping with the cleanup said the coke was prime. "Pura escama, bro."

WILL REMOVING DAVIS STONE ATONE FOR RACIST SCREED?



Friday, September 22, 2017

THE WEEK THAT WAS...SECRET TAPES, "N" WORD, INTRIGUE
















(Ed.'s Note. We're living in interesting times, it would appear. And when the local corporate media does not report on what's everyone knows is happening, the people turn to social media a ver que dice el rrunrrun. The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on...Time stands still for no one and with eclipses, floods, hurricanes and nuclear brinkmanship (or is it brinkspersonhip?) it isn't going to stop now. Let's see what tomorrow brings.)

A NIGHT OF GUITAR MASTERY TO WIND DOWN A HECTIC WEEK


PERKS OF MANAGEMENT: A WATER CLOSET OF HIS OWN

(Ed.'s Note: They get generous salaries, car allowances, parking spaces, and now, their own private water closet, we mean bathroom. Take a gander at the "family" restroom in the photo above. That bathroom is one of three on the lobby of City Plaza on Levee and St. Charles streets. One is for men, another is for women. The family restroom, we would guess in this age of transgender controversy, is for families; that is, in case a dad or mom wants to take one of their kids (male or female) and change their diaper or help them do their business.

Image result for michael lopez, brownsville ass. city managerBut if you go by the plaza try the door. It's always locked. We asked a staff member who works in an office on that floor how one could access the restroom and they replied that they had never seen any families use the restroom and that it is always locked. In fact, the only individual who has ever been seen using the bathroom is Asst. City Manager Michael Lopez who has a personal key and apparently is the only one who has one.

Lopez used to be the city secretary with offices down the hall before City Manager Charlie Cabler bumped him up as his assistant with a commensurate salary increase. But he retained his space in the city secretary's office. As far as anyone knows, he is the only one with a key and is entitled to a private privy. Those are the perks of office in the City of Brownsville pecking order, we guess.

Oh, Mr. Lopez, aside from this perk, is granted a $128,400.06 salary and a $461.54 monthly car allowance which amounts to $5,538 annually on top of that. We guess that entitles him to go about doing his business in solitary peace.)

COMMISSION TO RELEASE AUDIT RESULTS THAT SPURRED TAPE

Special to El Rrun-Rrun
Supporters of beleaguered City of Brownsville Commissioner Cesar de Leon are saying that the planned release of the audit made on some city departments will bare the motives behind the release of a surreptitious recording which was made by the  former head of one of the audited departments.

The meeting, originally planned for this coming Tuesday, instead might be a special meeting called for Friday of next week, and if not, for Oct. 2, the next scheduled regular commission meeting.

A 30-second rant on a four-hour long taping of De Leon where he used the "N" word to disparage the hiring of two black prosecutors by Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz has gone viral and made the national news. But the real story, his supporters say, is the fact that its release was being held as a threat to stop the release of findings of the audit of some city departments, notably the Brownsville Fire Department headed by then-Fire Chief Carlos Elizondo.

Elizondo, De Leon, and local bail bondsman Armando Magallanes who happens to have been appointed to the Brownsville Public Utility Board by the commissioner, met at the ranch of Armando's brother, 357th District Judge Juan Magallanes before Elizondo was demoted to lieutenant by City Manager Charlie Cabler. Elizondo is also a board member of the Brownsville Independent School District.

At that meeting, and unbeknown to De Leon, Elizondo was secretly taping the conversation that covered diverse topics dealing with city, county, BISD, the PUB, local jurists and lawyers, and many issues of a personal nature. Since all the participants were bilingual, the conversation weaves between Spanish and English with a dose of local lingo thrown in for good measure.

Why did Elizondo – who has gone AWOL from media in contrast with his attention-seeking nature before the tape's release – make the recording? Is it, as De Leon and his supporters say, to discredit the commissioner and take attention away from the results of the fire department's audit under his administration?

At several times during the recording Elizondo assures De Leon that he is with him and will support him through thick and thin. However, the fact that De Leon could not stop the city manager from demoting him and now from releasing the results of the audit which implicate Elizondo directly in city policy and administrative violations, may have been the motive for the release of the tapes.

According to a Facebook posting by city commissioner Jessica Tetreau, the tape was released after the commissioners moved to make the fire department's audit's contents public. City sources say that the audit found more than 70 violations, at least four of them linked directly to Elizondo personally.

"As many of you are not aware of, there is a major criminal investigation currently taking place at the city," Tereau posted. "On many occasions, certain commissioners were asked to stop or change the direction of the investigation and the probe of who was being looked at. When we refused to comply, we were threatened, and what you are seeing is a result. At our commission meeting on Tuesday, our audit findings will be made public."

For those of you who thought the fireworks were over, get ready for more.

TAKE TWO NINO FIDENCIOS, UN TE DE MANZANILLA, AND...


HURRICANE HARVEY VICTIMS STILL NEED ALL OUR HELP


Thursday, September 21, 2017

HEAR ENTIRE TAPE FOR YOURSELF: ELIZONDO, DE LEON


Special to El Rrun-Run

When the first snippets of a four-hour taped conversations first started appearing on the Internet, they were heavily edited and focused on statements made by City of Brownsville Commissioner Cesar de Leon and on his use of the "N" word for which he has apologized.

The selective snippets have led to nationwide notoriety of the commissioner and for Brownsville.

But there is more than one side to this story.

In this unedited version that former Brownsville Fire Dept. Chief Carlos Elizondo allegedly recorded to coerce the Brownsville City Commission to keep his position as chief in the fire department, Elizondo is heard commenting on a variety of Brownsville Independent School District issues where he is a trustee and on city issues that run the whole gamut.

If you listen closely, you will be able to hear the Elizondo was using his cell phone during the taping, indicating that he was taping it with a digital recorder. The intent was to hold the recording as a weapon to coerce De Leon to protect him from being demoted or fired. When De Leon couldn't protect him from getting demoted, Elizondo got his revenge by putting his edited segments on the Internet and social media.

He never expected that someone would post the entire tape online, including his own statements which showed a crass conflict of interest in several passages, including one where he promised to vote against BISD general counsel Baltazar Salazar in return for protection from De Leon. If this isn't a conflict of interest in Elizondo being a city employee and a BISD trustee at the same time, we don;t know what is.

We had been offered this link at least half a dozen times, and now that it is all over the Internet, we will allow you to make up your own mind. Take time to listen to this and make up your mind for yourself.

Complete Recording - Click Here

COMMISSIONER'S REMARKS MAKE AP, THE NEW YORK TIMES


BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A city official in southern Texas has apologized for using a racial slur to describe two black assistant district attorneys.

The Brownsville Herald reports that multiple social media users posted audio clips this week featuring Brownsville City Commissioner Cesar De Leon. The clips recorded him using slurs and derogatory language when referring to two district attorneys working for the Cameron County District Attorney's Office.

De Leon says he's "very apologetic" for the profane language. He says the conversation was private and believes the discussion was recorded, edited and released by the person to whom he was speaking.

District Attorney Luis Saenz says he hires the most competent persecutors without regard to their race. He says De Leon's comments "are very shameful and hurtful."

A S. TEXAS NOVEL IDEA: LONGHORN CATTLE BARBEQUE PITS





















(Ed.'s Note: One of our seven readers was in downtown Browntown last night and saw this pickup truck pulling a trailer filled with a herd of longhorn BBQ pits. Now, we've seen some pits made out to be Colt 45s, hogs, etc., but this was the first time we have ever seen a longhorn motif. If your interest is piqued by these BBQ pits, call the man's number portrayed in the picture. If anything, they will be a conversation starter at your next backyard outing. Get on little doggie!)

WHAT NEXT? DISCLOSURES ABOUT THE BISD, CITY ADMIN?

By Juan Montoya
The controversy swirling around the anonymous release of heavily-edited recordings of remarks attributed to City of Brownsville Commissioner Cesar De Leon baring his feelings about local issues, elected officials and administrators and his fellow commissioners has led to speculation on what could possibly follow.

We know this much.

Commissioner De Leon was in a ranch that belongs to 357th District Judge Juan Magallanes (although the judge was not there) with Armando Magallanes, his brother, a local bail bondsman who De Leon appointed to the Brownsville Public Utilities Board, and with former Brownsville Fire Dept. Chief Carlo Elizondo, also a trustee on the board of the Brownsville Independent School District.

The selectively released snippets which depict De Leon using the "N" word to describe a couple of new black Assistant District Attorneys are but the tip of the iceberg on the range of public issues and personalities discussed in the session. Other releases – also highly selective – have been doled out an a timetable known only to those in possession of the original recordings.

De Leon has publicly apologized for using the word in what he thought was a private conversation. And DA Luis V. Saenz perfunctorily came out decrying De Leon's use of the term chiding the commissioner for using the word as an attorney and a representative of the City of Brownsville.

All fingers point to Eiizondo as a source of the recordings distributed on Facebook and other social media. The motive was said to have been his pending demotion as chief, a position he held a little over a year when City Manager Charlie Cabler picked him from among 39 applicants. At the time, critics said Elizondo lacked the firefighting experience and management skills needed to head the department.

Nonetheless, Cabler stuck with him, despite the fact that Elizondo had been accused in a lawsuit of cheating on his civil service examination for captain. After a lawsuit was filed, Elizondo's grades were lowered to the 69 he scored originally instead of the 71 which resulted after the numbers were fudged. Up until today, no one has been held accountable for the change. Former civil Service director Carlos Ayala Jr. said he suffered from stress and resigned when the furor erupted.

Elizondo's problems were further compounded when the Brownsville Firefighters Association Local #970 filed a criminal complaint with the Brownsville Police Department saying that he had withdrawn more than $8,000 from their Political Action Committe bank account through various ATM machines even though the Texas Ethics Commission had removed him as treasurer to the account five years earlier.

The Cameron County District Attorney's Office is investigating that complaint – among many others – involving the former fire chief, now a lieutenant.

But what else was discussed on the four-hour recording? We have learned that a whole gamut of public-interest issues – having to do with the city, BISD, and the PUB administrations – were aired that night. And it is not just De Leon's views that are reflected on the four-our session. The recording is replete with the roles specific administrators of BISD and City of Brownsville have played – or are playing – in the running of our public entities.

What is revealed is not so much De Leon's views, but the sorry state of affairs in which out public entities are mired.

And Elizondo, who was the poster child of the city, the school board and firefighters is suddenly missing in action as is his former assistant fire chief Ernie Estrada. Why?

Stay tuned.  

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

NEW PORT DIRECTORY PRODUCED IN-HOUSE, GRATIS


Special to El Rrun-Rrun
Those of us who have been around promotional literature from the different entities have grown inured to the expensive slick magazine work product churned out by the different public entities.

But the new 2017 Port of Brownsville Directory has to rate as one of the better products put out for the public. With a subtitle of "The Port That Works," the magazine – free of charge to the public – is one of the more informative pieces of promotional literature produced locally.

It lists all the port's tenants by owners, category, their mailing address, emails, faxes, and phone numbers. Then it lists them by alphabetical order as well.

You have, of course, the perfunctory listing of the port commissioners, the administration and the staff and their contact information. 

And when we asked Port Chairman John Wood what the cost of the slick publication was, we got an answer we didn't expect.

"Nada, nothing, not one cent," he said. "The directory was put together in-house with our staff headed by our Director of Marketing Steve Tyndall and published by Grunwold Printing Company here is South Texas. Advertising paid for the design and the production. We're very pleased with the result. We hope people and potential customers find it a useful tool to deal with the port."

Copies of the magazine are available at the city's libraries, the Tourist and Convention Center, the Chamber of Commerce, and the port free of charge.




ELIZONDO'S INSUBORDINATION MERITS IMMEDIATE FIRING: FAILURE OF CHARLIE CABLER TO ACT MERITS HIS DISMISSAL

By Juan Montoya
In any other city, in any other jurisdiction, if one of your workers or a subordinate selectively released information that was meant to ridicule the boss or cause the city's reputation and its public officials to be cast into public disrepute, the city manager (or administrator) would fire the individual on the spot.

But this is Brownsville, and when former Brownsville Fire Department Chief Carlos Elizondo released highly selective, and heavily edited recordings taken with his cell phone to use against his superior, city commissioner Cesar de Leon, nothing has happened.

What's more, he released them when he knew De Leon –a member of the board of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation – and his fellow commissioner Ben Neece were with interim GBIC Director Gilbert Salinas in Toronto, Canada on a trip that had been planned for months.

Is it any surprise, knowing Elizondo, that the release was timed when both men were out of town and they could not respond to the questions that were bound to surface once the doctored recordings were released to the four winds?

Undoubtedly, some of De Leon's views of his city commission colleagues, members of the board of the board of trustees of the Brownsville Independent School District, media types like us, black attorneys with the Cameron County District Attorney's Office which he slurred with the "N" word, fellow attorneys and even some members of the judiciary were not only intemperate, but sometimes odious.

But think about it.
You have an underling (Elizondo), a city commissioner (De Leon), and a local bail bonds man who is a member of the Public Utilities Board (Armando Magallanes) sitting around in a secluded ranch and the city employee is secretly making recordings of his boss with the idea of using them in case he feels his job threatened.

And that is exactly what happened right after Elizondo was demoted from his position as fire chief and he is facing possible termination of his employment. Someone said that now that he is not the chief, he is covered by the civil service rules that protect the rank-and-file firefighters. That is true, but insubordination is a good cause for termination regardless of whether one is civil service or not.

The contents are salacious and some of the statements made by the commissioner can't be defended in polite company. But only De Leon's comments have been published in mass media and the Internet. What did the other two say? This would never be allowed as evidence in a court of law. Is it possible that he goaded and led De Leon into making some of those outrageous remarks while he secretly recorded them and nudged him along?

This should give other public officials with whom Elizondo has been related on a confidential basis. Has he been recording them along? And what about his interaction with his fellow trustees of the BISD and the administration? Do they feel comfortable that their remarks in executive session or in confidence are not being recorded? Who else has he recorded without their consent?

Image result for charlie cabler, carlos elizondoDe Leon will have to answer for his remarks in the court of public opinion, a forum that has rules of evidence which are less rigid than those that apply in a courtroom. We understand that the commissioners at last night's meeting asked city manager Charlie Cabler to resign and he refused.


We also understand that he is in the middle of an expensive construction project in his home and that local contractors are falling over each other to please the City of Brownsville's gatekeeper to the riches of its treasury. Was this the reason that Ernie Estrada – with vast connection with building contractors locally – was the man appointed assistant fire chief despite the fact that he lacked experience and rank in the department?

If Cabler does not act immediately to address this outrageous insubordinate behavior from a city employee under his direction, the city commission would be within their right to step in and do the job for him and consider him useless in his position and terminate him as well.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

SOURCE: C.M. CABLER TO RESIGN AT TONIGHT'S CITY MEETING

Special to El Rrun-Rrun

Heretofore reliable sources in the City of Brownsville say that City Manager Charlie Cabler will submit his letter of resignation at tonight's commissioner meeting, ending more than 35 years of working in the city.

His resignation comes at a time of controversy when the city is still reeling from the sudden firing of former city attorney Mark Sossi, the demotion of former Brownsville Fire Dept. Chief Carlos Elizondo amid calls for him to step down from the board of the Brownsville Independent School District, a continuous dissatisfaction over the delayed $500 million Tansaka power plant project that has raised utility bills by 35 percent over the past four years, the $2.3 million Casa del Nylon purchase for a friend of the mayor, and a commission that has felt it has to step in and do his job through the creation of budget, audit and agenda committees.

Today's surreptitious (and anonymous) release of electronic heavily-edited recordings targeting remarks by commissioner Cesar de Leon citing displeasure with his colleagues on the city commission could overshadow his reported resignation.

Cabler first worked in the Brownsville Police Department before becoming assistant city canager in 2002, and then served as Acting City Manager before being hired as City Manager on September 1, 2004.

His salary now stands at $220,000 with a $600 monthly car allowance.
The source did not say what reasons Cabler will cite for his reported departure.

ANONYMOUS EDITED RECORDINGS TRACED TO ELIZONDO

"Desperate times call for desperate measures..."
Special to El Rrun-Rrun

By now the Internet is filled with highly selective (and heavily-edited) snippets of conversations between City of Brownsville commissioner Cesar de Leon and unnamed parties where the first-time commissioner is quoted – sometimes unintelligibly – using the "n" word and has a few choice opinions on some his city colleagues and Brownsville Independent School District trustees.

In one, De Leon speaks negatively of some black attorneys hired by Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz where he rails against them for their reluctance to work out pleas with local attorneys.

"They're coming down to my fucking city and they are now trying to fucking put everybody in jail because they think we're a bunch of Mexicans that hit out wives, which couldn't be further from the truth, but that is how they see us...and I would dare use that word, but you know what, yes, there's a couple on "Ns" who think that all of us are a bunch of taco eaters.."

(We will not post the recording since the use of the word is gratuitous and the selective editing may have destroyed the context of De Leon's statements.)

He then takes his fellow commissioners to task differentiating himself from former mayor Pat Ahumada and current commissioner Ricardo Longoria saying "yo no soy rata"...calling former commissioner Deborah Portillo "una muerta de hambre," saying Rose Gowen turns a blind eye so you can go broke, and Mayor Tony Martinez for dispensing city jobs to friends.

The reference to Portillo, who left office last May, indicates that some of the recordings released anonymously date back to the former city commission and before.

In another De Leon refers to $1,500 he said is owed to him by BISD board president Cesar Lopez for some campaign signs made for him by the Graphic Spot, the company that later tried to collect on the cost of the signs from the commissioner.

"Somebody has to pay me $1,500 and until somebody pay me BISD is dead...and if you're tied in with him you owe me $1,500...la verdad es que it's a slap in the face que me cobre $1,500...and as long as Cesar is tied in with Graphic Spot, you're tied in with him..."

In another he is recorded saying that trustee Minerva Peña "esta pendeja y loca. I never liked her."
In another snippet, he calls

Graphic Spot has been linked to a scheme to curry business with the BISD through its association with Lopez and other trustees and its name surfaced in the investigation by the United States Department of Agriculture of Valco, the company that sold bad barbacoa meat to the BISD. The BISD stopped buying from Valco after it was learned that the company had been processing meat in Mexico to sell to Region One school districts. At that time, Valco was a vendor to the Buy Board, a national purchasing cooperative

Lopez, the BISD president, is a regional representative of the Texas Association of School Boards Buy Board.

It is this last comment about the listener being "tied in with him" that has led many local political observers to conclude that the person recording the commissioner (there are no others identifiable in the recordings) is none other than BISD trustee and recently-demoted Brownsville Fire Dept. Chief Carlos Elizondo.

Elizondo is currently being investigated for Theft by a Public Official after the Brownsville Firefighters Association filed a complaint with the Brownsville Police Dept. that he had spent more than $8,000 over a two-year period by unauthorized ATM withdrawals from the union Political Action Committee account.

He is also said to be trying to prevent the City of Brownsville administration from releasing an audit of the department that reportedly uncovered massive wrongdoing and policy violations, some of them directly tied to Elizondo. City Manager Charlie Cabler is said to have resisted advice from his legal department that he suspend Elizondo until the Cameron County District Attorney gets through with its investigation.

The recording are said to have been made by Elizondo on his cell phone and released after the firefighters association complaint and his demotion – and possible termination from the city and a potential indictment by a grand jury – in an effort to discredit De Leon, one of the commissioners pushing Cabler to take action on Sossi, the fire department, and its chief.

"These recordings are only snippets of longer conversations that took place in a ranch where De Leon and Elizondo were present and have been edited to put De Leon in a bad light," said a source close to the city administration. "They were conversations held in private between the participants and have been heavily edited to discredit the commissioner and derail the administration's actions against Elizondo. He figures that if he is going to go down, he will take everyone down with him."

The city source said that as time goes on, the full details of the alleged wrongdoings by Elizondo will be made public by the city and that when they are, it will show a massive pattern of misbehavior by the former chief.

Previously, Elizondo held the position of president of the firefighters association and left the group to become chief. Many firefighters accused him of being the force behind the scenes to cut a deal with the city and giving up long-standing benefits of his fellow firefighters for the position.

Before that, he was accused by some of his fellow BISD trustee colleagues of joining the majority on the board in exchange for their votes on his pet projects.

WHO "SET ASIDE" SALAZAR'S FELONY THEFT CONVICTIONS? ANATOMY OF A CAMERON COUNTY LEGAL SLIGHT-OF-HAND

By Juan Montoya

On January 15, 1983, Baltazar Salazar, then starting an optometry business in Brownsville, was arrested for issuing a check without funds. That case number was 83-CR-416-A.

Then, just a little after a year later, on April 26, 1984 he was again arrested for two counts of the same offense of theft by check. Those case numbers were 85-CR-450-A and 85-CR-23-A.

Evidence presented in a court hearing in the 107th District Court indicated he was given county jail and probation on two cases (83-CR-416-A and 85-CR-450-A).

On February 26, 1985, Salazar was found guilty of 85-CR-23-A, one of the April 26, 1984 cases. A trial court (107th District Court) found him guilty and he received a three year prison sentence probated to seven years. He appealed the judgment to the 13th Court of Appeals and the court affirmed the trial court's conviction on May 1986.

A Cameron County Asst. District Attorney said Salazar was given "county jail and probation" during a 2012 hearing on two of the cases (83-CR-416-A and 85-CR-450-A), but referred to certain "certified copies" of documents issued by the Cameron County District Clerk (Aurora de la Garza) purporting to show that the cases had been "set aside," but neither she nor Salazar presented such evidence to the court.

How these district clerk office "documents" came to be or how one could "set aside" convictions that had resulted in probation was not explained. Aside from the oral testimony in a Cameron County courtroom, they can't be found on the record.

Salazar left the optometrist trade a few years later and – despite the three felony convictions – was allowed to enter law school. On May 1994, he graduated from law school at Texas Southern University. He then plied his trade in Houston, occasionally taking cases in Cameron County and South Texas.

Fast forward to April 24, 2012.
On that day, Salazar filed a petition for expunction of the criminal cases in the 107th District Court where he had been tried, found guilty, and sentenced to probated sentences. (See graphic at right. Click to enlarge.)

Despite the fact that once a defendant serves community probation expunction is not statutorily permitted, the court bought his attorney's argument and granted the motion and on June 26, 2012 and ordered that all law enforcement agencies including the Brownsville Police Department, the Cameron County District Attorney's Office, the Cameron County District Clerk, and the Texas Dept. of Public Safety, among others, to seal all documents related to the arrests and convictions.

Less than six months later, on Dec. 20, 2012, attorneys for the DPS appealed Euresti's order granting the order of expunction to the 13th Court of Appeals and said Salazar had not presented evidence to satisfy the requirement that he did not receive community supervision and therefore could not have his record expunged. (See graphic at left. Click to enlarge.) They did not make a decision on the DPS' appeal until August 15, 2013.

But while awaiting the decision by the appeals court, Salazar heard from his friends in Brownsville that the Brownsville Independent School District might be looking for a school board attorney, and he applied and made his presentation April 1, 2013. Now, he knew he had three felony convictions, but claimed he had been "released from the charges" on his BISD application as he did to the 13th Court of Appeals. The pliant board of the BISD bought it. The Court of Appeals justices did not.

The next day, April 2, 2013, a majority of the BISD voted for Salazar's firm to be the BISD's board attorney at $20,000 a month ($240,000 a year). Later, after a three-year extension, that increased and today it stands at $288,000 a year.

But on August 15, 2013 the court of appeals reversed Euresti's order and denied Salazar's petition for expunction as to all three offenses. (See graphic at right. Click to enlarge.)

"We order all any documents surrendered to the trial court or to Salazar returned to the submitting agencies."

Even though the appeals court order was issued in August 2013, and dated Nov. 7, 2013 when it reached the trial court, it wasn't until November 25, 2014 – more than one year later – that Euresti dismissed Salazar's petition for expunction of his criminal records and sent his order to open the documents to De la Garza's office down the hallway. Why did it take Euresti more than a year to sign and expedite the order and implement the court of appeal's order to return the documents to public scrutiny?

It gets curiouser and curiouser.

If Euresti signed the dismissal order in 2014, why haven't the documents proving Salazar has three felony convictions been placed back on the public record? Did De la Garza sit on Euresti's dismissal order until she left at the end of 2014 and the new district clerk Eric Garza took office in January 2015?

When Garza was shown the Court of Appeals order reversing Euresti's granting Salazar's petition for expungment of his criminal record just yesterday, he immediately sought the documents and released them. The truth is now available for the public – and to the BISD board and Cameron County District Attorney – for them to accordingly follow their own laws and policies.

In the BISD's  "Employment Requirements and Restrictions: Criminal History and Credit Reports," it states that "No one convicted of a felony or and misdemeanor involving moral turpitude may be considered for employment in the district. Moral turpitude is an act of baseness, or depravity in the private or social duties outside the accepted standards of decency and that shocks the conscience of an ordinary person."

Among some of those crimes are included, of course, public lewdness, prostitution, theft or theft of service (in excess of $500 in value) and fraud.

A conviction is defined as "a finding of guilt or acceptance by the courts of a plea of guilty or nolo contendre."
The boards' personnel policy states that :At the Superintendent's discretion, the district shall not employ an applicant who:
1. Is a convicted felon...

But BISD Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas did not hire Salazar and the hiring of a board attorney is not left up to her discretion, and neither is it up to her to fire him or even to set his salary. That is the board's sole prerogative. Will it follow its own policy, or continue to implement that double standard in Baltazar's case?

Monday, September 18, 2017

BLIND MICE ON SAN BENE CITY COMMISSION SEE NOTHING

Special to El Rrun-Rrun

To a space alien coming in from the outer reaches, it might seem as if the San Benito City Manager  Manuel de la Rosa is acting as judge and jury that administrates so-called justice to the wrong individuals.

De la Rosa has proven his acumen for doing exactly the opposite things. For example, he fired the EDC Director and turned case over to the PD to investigate criminal activities.
* Results: That case is still there and nothing has resulted, according to the Police Chief Michael Galvan.

 Galvan, in turn, was accused by the San Benito Police Officers Association for a dozen or so violations of police policy and conduct unbecoming. evidence indicates he may have lied under oath in a mediation hearing, and some fellow officers have said that he sexually harassed a female officer and was laughing when he was touching her inappropriately.
* Results?: Nothing done by City Manager.

A police office arrested for DUI and other charges.
* Results: No Action taken by City Manager.

And San Benito's Fire Chief Raul Zuniga, with 30 plus years of dedicated service, is under a cloud accused of some violation that has not been made public. The Police Chief’s private recordings verify that De la Rosa and Galvan had discussions about him and about his salary and other topics long before this incident.
* Results pending: Reports have surfaced that De la Rosa wants Zuniga to have a demotion and reduction in pay.

Meanwhile the “Three Blind Mice” (Mayor Benjamin Gomez, commissioner Carol Lynn Sanchez, and Rene Villafranco) fully support the De la Rosa. A new kind of justice is evolving in San Benito.

D.A. ON TRAIL OF $2,000 PAID BY ELIZONDO FOR RECOUNT

By Juan Montoya

In 2014, Brownsville Independent School District board member Minerva Peña – a former Texas Department of Texas trooper – decided she was going to run for the newly-created Cameron County Justice of the Peace Precinct 2, Place 3 position.

There were two other candidates running, former Pct. 2 Constable Pete Avila and the eventual winner Mary Esther Sorola (formerly Garcia.)

The results for the March 4, 2014 primary showed Garcia had 2,628 votes compared to 2,489 for Avila. Peña was not far behind with 2,381 votes, 108 votes behind runner-up Avila.

Avila and Peña had tied in the early vote with 1,423 apiece. Avila's election day total of 1,045 carried him over Peña's 951.

According to Election Department rules, each candidate requesting a recount was to be charged $100 per precinct and the early vote. In Peña's case, it was total 45 precincts for a total cost of $4,500. Adjustments could be made if the recount was a hand recount or a machine recount. Nonetheless, it would cost at least $2,000 for Peña to get her recount.

Now, everyone knows that an 108-vote difference is difficult, if not impossible, to overcome in a recount. Yet, Peña said she owed it to her supporters to make the effort.

But first she had to come up with the cash, and she turned to her colleagues on the BISD board to see whether – as the candidates they had been before – they would help out a friend in need.

At the time, the BISD was trying to establish a Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) training program and trustee Carlos Elizondo was in the forefront of trying to get it set up. Elizondo is a certified nurse and a firefighter who was recently demoted as fire chief. But at the time it seemed to be a good idea to enlist his services to set up the program for BISD students.

So on the day of the recount, he and a fellow firefighter drove over to the to the Elections Office to ask about the cost. They found out that the cost would be $2,000. Little did the other firefighter know that Elizondo had already written out the check and simply signed it and delivered it to help out his fellow board member.

The check had been drawn from the Brownsville Firefighters for Responsible Government account, a general purpose political action committee (GPAC) of the Brownsville Firefighters Association Local #970. Up until that time – March 2014 – everyone thought that Elizondo, who had been appointed treasurer of the PAC in 2008, was still registered as the treasurer.

But no one knew that the Texas Ethics Commission – citing the PAC treasurer's failure to submit reports on its contributions and expenditures – had removed him as treasurer. In fact, the TEC terminated his treasurer appointment on May 21, 2010. But since he was the contact person for the PAC, he kept the notice of termination and sanctions to himself and remained as the PAC's treasurer with access to the PAC's bank account.


Through May 21, 2010 through February 28, 2017, no committee campaign treasurer appointment had been filed by the PAC and no campaign finance reports had been filed with the TEC.

On May 16, 2016, City Manager Charlie Cabler named Elizondo as the city's new fire chief and he had to give up the labor association position. When the firefighters checked the PAC account, they found that more than $8,000 in ATM withdrawals had been made by Elizondo. And bank records only covered two years, with the period from 2010 to 20140 still missing.

Yet, when Elizondo was pushing for the establishing of the EMT program run by his close associates, he expected that Peña would be one of the supporters of the program given the fact that the firefighters had help to pay for the recount.

"Carlos was pissed when Peña started asking a lot of questions about the program that he was supporting," said a former colleague. "I gave that p---che vieja $2,000 for her recount and look how she pays me back," he was said to have fumed.

El Rrrun-Rrun has learned that Cameron County District Office investigators have already questioned some of the principals about the $2,000 PAC check. Each year, the firefighter donate an average of $8,000 to the PAC through paycheck donations. How much is missing counting all the years under the control of Elizondo will take some time to discover.

Meanwhile, and inquiry to the Cameron County Elections Office has revealed that Peña did not file a finance contribution report due July 15, 2014 that covered the period when she received the $2,000 for the recount from the PAC.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A HISTORIC PEEK AT RIO GRANDE EUROPEAN-NATIVE CONFLICT



By Dr. G.F. McHale-Scully

Historically, Brownsville takes pride in the distinction that the battles beginning the Mexican-American War and the battle ending the Civil War were fought in the city's vicinity. Is it possible that the first recorded conflict on United States soil between Europeans and Indians took place in the Brownsville area?

In 1519 Spanish Captain Alonso Alvares de Pineda dropped anchor at the mouth of the Rio de las Palmas, now known as the Rio Grande by most experts. Pineda commanded 270 men in four ships. He spent more than a month exploring inland and reported that 40 rancherias occupied both sides of the riverbanks.

These natives were the Coahuiltecans, primitive hunters and gatherers. Martin Salinas, in his book Indians of the Rio Grande Delta, estimated the population between 10,000 and 15,000.

Pineda reported that the inhabitants were hospitable. He likewise whetted his countrymen's greed for riches with descriptions of gold ornaments adorning these people. Pineda departed south and lost his life in the Panuco area, but his surviving crew members returned to Jamaica and delivered this information to Francisco de Garay, the island's governor and underwriter of the undertaking.

The stories of gold proved irresistible and the following year Garay outfitted another expedition under the command of Diego de Camargo.

"Camargo took 150 men, seven horsemen, and, in the likely event the Indians resisted giving up their gold necklaces, he brought an ample supply of artillery," pens Brian Robertson in Wild Horse Desert, a historical account of the Rio Grande Valley. "Camargo's group also included brick masons who carried materials to build a fort to protect the new colony."

Camargo and his conquistadores advanced approximately 30 miles up the river when the goodwill between the Spaniards and Indians came to an abrupt end.


Salinas relates the following showdown: "A large number of Indians joined together and threatened Camargo, who decided to attack. While on the way to burn one of the Indian camps, Camargo's little army was broken up by the Indians. The soldiers tried to escape, some by land, others by water. The Spanish boats were driven from the river by a large number of Indian canoes. The Indians killed at least 18 Spaniards and all seven of their horses. The Spanish sailed southward toward Veracruz."

Though Camargo reached his destination, many of his men died of starvation during the arduous sojourn and Camargo himself perished shortly after his arrival. This confrontation and the resulting Spanish losses may not rival the Little Big Horn in romantic lore, but the Indians inflicted such a disastrous defeat upon the Spanish that the setback would retard Europeans' progress into this region until Jose de Escandon established Reynosa, Camargo, Mier, Revilla (Guerrero) and Laredo in the late 1740s and early 1750s.

The Coahuiltecans of the Rio Grande Valley had challenged the best soldiers in the world and had crushed them. It would be more than 220 years before the Spanish would finally conquer the area. The time has come for the Valley's native peoples to receive credit for their remarkable achievement and commemorate this battle as the first of its kind between Europeans and Indians on U.S. land.

BISD GENERAL COUNSEL SALAZAR FAILED TO EXPUNGE RECORD

By Juan Montoya
It was April 1, 2013 – appropriately April Fools' Day – when current Brownsville Independent School District legal counsel was making his pitch to be hired by the district from among six firms that had made the cut.


When Baltazar Salazar came to the podium to make his presentation, he stressed the fact that he was a straight shooter who would "stab you in the front" in contrast to others who would stab you in the back.
He looked at trustee Minerva Peña and said pointedly: "I've known some of you since I was a kid," and said his goal was "not to make money."

He promised he would "tone down your legal expenses" and bring "stability, because you have chaos, and when there's chaos, lawyers make money."

The school district, he told them, had "become a cash cow" because the district did not follow procedure and said he was there "to serve the board as a whole."
In answer to a query by trustee Lucy Longoria, Salazar said that all board members had the right to speak out and that he believed in open arguments.
"You do have the right to speak out," he replied to her question. "I believe you have to have high moral values and high moral standards."

He also reminded them that he had represented the BISD in the past and that he was a product of Brownsville schools.
The next day, April 2, 2013, a majority of the board – Enrique Escobedo, Otis Powers, Minerva Peña, Jose and Chirinos – voted to hire Salazar over the other firms. Only trustees Longoria and Presas-Garcia objected to the speed with which the selection was made and to the fact that Salazar's firm had less experience in defending school district than at least five others. Apparently, Presas-Garcia said at the time, a majority of the board had already made a decision before the matter came to the full board.

And despite his stated openness before the board members, Salazar neglected to tell the board members that at the same time that he was speaking to them, the Texas Department of Public Safety was contesting the expungement of his criminal record that showed that he had been arrested on three felony charges, the last time one involving theft by check for $5,700.

Under the Texas Penal Code, Title 7: Offenses Against Property, Chapter 31: Theft, Section 31.03 and 31.06, they are considered state jail felonies if the value of the property stolen is $1,500 or more but less than $20,000 or the value of the property stolen is less than $1,500.

According to the record, Salazar issued a check without funds to Coburn Optical, an out-of-state firm, for payment of lenses for his Salazar Optical and Medical Company in Brownsville knowing that there were insufficient funds in his company's account.
Interestingly, judges sitting on the three felony charges in Cameron County granted Salazar probation on all three and he continued on his merry way doing business as usual.

Less than four months after his presentation where he said he had the highest of moral values, on August 15, the 13th Court of Appeals issued a memorandum opinion (13-12-00771-CV) reversing the expungement order signed in the 107th District Court. Salazar's three felony arrests remained on his record and the DPS's objection to them was upheld.

DPS had argued that Salazar had been given county jail time and probation and therefore did not qualify for expungement.
"We reverse the trial court's order and render judgement denying the petition for expunction as to all three offenses," said the appellate court's opinion and memorandum written by Justice Doris Contreras Garza.

It is interesting to note that former BISD Superintendent Carl Montoya was a licensed law enforcement officer and that trustee Peña doesn't fail to remind anyone within earshot that she is a former DPS officer. How then, did Salazar's checkered past get through these law enforcement hotshots and why did they bend over backwards to hire a firm that was obviously lacking in educational legal experience in comparison with the others?

They then voted to pay him $20,000 a month – limited their meetings to once a month – and then, on December 10, 2013, the same board  majority voted to extend Salazar’s contract for another three years. Just recently he had to settle for 288,000 salary when the trustees were reluctant to hike him tom the $300,000 he had requested originally.

When one applies to the BISD for any employment there is an item on the application that asks if you have ever been convicted of a felony or for a crime involving moral turpitude. Was Salazar truthful in the presentation of his bona fides with the board? And if a felony conviction keeps out a janitor from gaining employment withe the district, shouldn't three felony arrests on his record?

Represented by his attorney Noe Garza, Salazar swore and signed under oath that he had never been convicted because the statute of limitations had expired and that he had been "released," that the charge had not resulted in a final conviction, and that there was no court-ordered community supervision (probation).
Based on that presentation, 107th District Judge Ben Euresti signed the Order of Expunction June 26, 2012.
"The court finds that the petitioner has been released, that the charge (s) have not resulted in a final conviction and is no longer pending, and that there was no court-ordered community supervision...The court further finds that the prosecution for the offense for which the defendant was arrested is no longer possible because the limitations period has expired."


The appeals court begged to differ and ruled that the expungement could not stand and that the documents placed away from public scrutiny be returned to the district clerk's files.

We are still looking for the civil case file where he filed for expunction (2012-DCL-3092A) because apparently it is lost somewhere and no one can seem to find it. Are the missing records yet another wrinkle in this man's bag of tricks?

COB LAVISHES CAR ALLOWANCES, CARS TO 12 CITY STAFF

By Juan Montoya
Each year, the city of Brownsville pays $85,525 in car allowances to 20 city officials and staff members despite the fact that except for seven of them, all work in departments or hold offices that also have city vehicles at their disposal.

In fact, of the 20 city officials and employees receiving car allowances, only seven work in departments where cars have not been provided. The city has 636 vehicles in its rolling stock inventory, but most of these are with the police, fire department, and street and Public Works.

Four city commissioners each receive $332.08 a month, or $3,876.96 annually in car allowance for a yearly total (times 4) of $15,507.84. City commissioners, or those other city staff who receive the allowance, are not required to keep logs of their mileage or destinations.

The four city commissioners receiving car allowances are Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa, Ricardo Longoria Jr., Joel Munguia and Ben Neece. The commissioners are not provided with city vehicles.

And while some use the allowance for their travel, Neece said he has used his to benefit three social service organizations in equal parts. They are the Ozanam Homeless Center, Friendship of Women, and Casa Carlotta Petrina.

The other three who receive a car allowance but whose departments are not provided with a city vehicle are:

1. Asst. City Attorney Allison Bastian, $323.08 a month, $3,876 annually. Her salary is listed at 72,275.84.

2. Grant Writer Marina Zolezzi, $72,099.87 salary, $276.92 a month, $3,323.04 annually.

3. Public Health Administrator Arturo Rodriguez, $89,562.72 salary, $323.08 monthly, $3,876.32 annually

(It is difficult to figure just how much these individuals travel daily in the course of performing their city duties, but anecdotal evidence indicates that many rarely leave their offices during the day.)

With the availability of city vehicles to do the municipal duties, the car allowance for the majority of those receiving in effect is money from local taxpayers to drive their cars to and from work. For most of the time, cars allotted to their departments remain parked in the city's parking structure at City Plaza. (See graphic at right.)

Below are the city staff receiving car allowances, the number of vehicles available to their department, and the car allowance totals for the month and the year.

These are:
City Manager's Office (3) : A 2013 Ford Fusion is assigned to the department. City staff indicate that neither Gonzalez nor Lopez travel outside the office very much. Cabler uses his private vehicle.

Charlie Cabler, $220,000 salary, $553.84 monthly car allowance, $6,646 annually.
Pete Gonzalez, $143,221.31 salary, $461.54 monthly, $5,538 annually, .
Michael Lopez, $128,400.06 salary, $461.54 monthly, $5,538 annually.
Total Car Allowance for City Manager's Office: $17,723.04

Municipal Court (1): Four 2008 Crown Victorias and a 2001 Ford Prisoner van
Judge Robert Lerma, 109,634.93 annual salary $184.62 monthly, $2,215.44 annually

Finance (1): One 2004 Ford Explorer
Lupe Granado, $86,141.33 annual salary$276.92 monthly, $3,323.04 annually

Purchasing(1): One 2017 Dodge Ram 1500
Roberto Luna, $70,868.72 annual salary, $323.08 monthly, $3,323.04 annually,

Human Resources(1): One 2005 Ford Taurus
Oscar Salinas, $86,141.33 annual salary $276.92 monthly, $3,323.04 annually

Public Works Adm.(1): Five; a 2015 Chevy PU, a 2013 Ford Fusion, a 2004 Ford F150, a 2000 Ford F150, and a 1999 Chevy PU
Santana Torres, $78,785.41 annual salary, $461,54 monthly, $5,538.48 annually

Parks Administration(1): One 2008 Chevy Trailblazer
Nicole Damaris McGlone, $74,412.21 annual salary, $369.24 monthly, $4,430.88 annually

Parking Operations(1): Three; a 2009 Ford Escape, a 2001 Ford cargo van, and a 2001 F150 PU
Robert Esparza, $72,627.36 salary, $369.24 monthly, $4,430.88 annually

General Planning(1): One 2015 Chevy Silverado
Constanza Miner, $89,999.94 annual salary, $461.54 monthly, $5,538.48 annually

Building Inspection(1): 11 Fords or Chevy vehicles ranging from a 2004 F150 to a 2016 Chevy Silverado
Evaristo Gamez, $70,868.72, annual salary, $230.76 monthly, $2,769 annually

Total: 34 city vehicles available in the departments where the 12 city staff receive car allowances.

Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation: (Why the city pays car allowance to a separate corporation funded by a percentage of the sales taxes is not explained.)
Rebecca Castillo, $84,999.82 salary, $230.78 monthly, $2,769.36 annually.

Some city commissioners say that the 2017-2018 budget process is too far along to address the car allowance issue. However, the newly-established commissioners' audit and budget committees have items on the budget like the car allowances in their sights and will surely revisit them in upcoming budget years.)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

ALONG THE ROAD THAT NATIVES AND OBLATES TROD...

Special to El Rrun-Rrun

As the morning sun glows through the thick fog announcing its presence with a skyline of white and gray – with that also appears, the most unique highway in America, the Military Highway.

Born in days of Zachary Taylor and sidelined by the brush country of then – it meandered along the north bank of the Rio Grande from Brownsville to Laredo.

In 1961, Henry N. Ferguson wrote, “A stranger might travel its two-hundred-mile length without once suspecting he was in the United States.”

Its uniqueness centers around the brilliant flowers and exotic fruits that engulfed the fronts yards. There were picturesque haciendas that formed the perfect setting for the romantic vowels of Spanish music. And along the way, stood the farm houses resembling old cathedrals. Displaying its rustic art– the tools of toil from past generations.

Ferguson declared, the dusty road, once traveled by scores soldiers, was representative of this border’s golden past. Interwoven with the beauty, excitement and progress of the twenty-century.

Twenty years later…
A young Irish Californian, who attracted your attention with his west coast sunshine looks, was also intrigued by this mystical road. He came to Brownsville just like many did before him, and was consumed with the smell of fertile soil that was once described as the “Garden of Eden.”

G.F. McHale-Scully, grew up in San Luis Obispo and had fond memories of his Sunday rides with the family along the Pacific Coast. The sights and sounds were immeasurable, “never short of spectacular,” it was more than just a ride, he expressed.

Scully commented, “We were a good catholic family, constantly harangued by the old Irish priest that the family that prays together, stays together. It seems to me that the family that drives together, strives together.”

While in Brownsville, apparently those deep-seated rides from his past, continued in his new mother land. 

Time Warp in the Valley Past…. In this piece, written in 1982, Scully expresses his sensitivity toward nature and the landscape that adorns it… He eloquently wrote about the splendor he experienced in his voyages of discovery – traveling the highways of Rio Grande Valley.

For me… “Highway 281, exiting Brownsville, destination Hidalgo, an hour’s respite. There is history, a virginity, the sweet smell of manure mixing with fresh redolence’s of country air. Horses, cows and goats graze together by the side of the road munching on tall grass, turkeys and chickens darting past, their wings flapping in constant fright. Cats and dogs will never know a better life.”

The ancient highway has been a fascinating mixture of legend, fact and history. It has the flavor of past with today, a tint of the future. 

“I return from these excursions bittersweet. I see 281’s fate the same as Hidalgo, mass development the culprit. When I hear politicians proudly proclaim that we will have suburbia from Brownsville to McAllen by the year 2000. I cringe inside.
 
"I’m a melancholy, nostalgic fool, but I want to remember the simple beauty of 281 to tell my children what they missed.”

Buried treasure is not necessarily underground – the resurfaced road of today, stands on sacred ground. “A dignified sentinel, keeping watch over its land and people. While still revealing its charm of days-gone- by.

(Note: Excerpts from this story were taken from “Military Highway is Unique,” by Henry W. Ferguson and “Time Warp in the Valley ‘s Past,” by G.F. McHale-Scully. Photos by Joe Hermosa.)

CRUZ(?) WAS TWEETING ABOUT "LIKING" PORNOGRAPHIC VIDEO

Washington (CNN)Texas Sen. Ted Cruz told reporters Tuesday it was a "staffing issue" that led to a pornographic video being "liked" by his Twitter account – which has since been removed.

"It was a staffing issue and it was inadvertent, it was a mistake, it was not a deliberate action," Cruz said, according to the Washington Post.

He added: "We're dealing with it internally but it was a mistake, it was not malicious conduct."
An aide to Cruz confirmed the comments to CNN, adding that there would be an internal effort to figure out who was responsible.


Cruz declined to comment when asked by CNN about the incident.

DID ELIZONDO EVEN HAVE A RIGHT TO SPEND P.A.C. MONIES?

By Juan Montoya
On June 9, 2008, the Brownsville Firefighters for responsible Government, a general purpose political action committee (GPAC) of the Brownsville Firefighters Association Local #970, filed its campaign treasurer appointment with the Texas ethics Commission naming Carlos Elizondo as the committee's campaign treasurer.

As its treasurer, Elizondo was the contact person between the TEC and the association, responsible for filing contribution and expense reports periodically. He did so for the the the period covering June 9 to June 30, 2008, and for the period covering July 2008 to December 31, 2008, two reports in toto.
(Click on graphic to enlarge.)

From there on, until he became chief in 2016, he did not file any of the required reports with the TEC. In fact, the TEC terminated his treasurer appointment on May 21, 2010. But since he was the contact person for the PAC, he kept the notice of termination and sanctions to himself and remained as the PAC's treasurer with access to the PAC's bank account.

The TEC – based on Sec. 252.0131 of the Texas Election Code – "may terminate the campaign treasurer appointment of an inactive candidate or political committee that is required to file a campaign treasurer appointment with the commission...(It can do so) "if the political committee files a campaign treasurer appointment with the commission and more than one year has lapsed since the campaign treasurer of the political committee has filed any required campaign finance reports with the commission."

Through May 21, 2010 through February 28, 2017, no committee campaign treasurer appointment had been filed by the PAC and no campaign finance reports had been filed with the TEC.

On May 16, 2016, City Manager Charlie Cabler named Elizondo as the city's new fire chief.

Cabler selected him and made the announcement. Thirty nine other candidates with vastly greater amounts of experience apparently didn't have the "right stuff" that Cabler saw in Elizondo.  According to the job description, the new fire chief would be earning $100,000 a year.

(With his demotion, the labor agreement between the city and the Firefighters' Association sets his Elizondo's salary to 59,432.04.)

“The burden falls on me to make the ultimate call, and I felt that I have selected the best possible candidate at this time,” Cabler said then. 

The announcement was made at news conference at the historic Young House on St. Charles Street. Firefighters, elected officials, Elizondo’s family and others were in attendance. Elizondo’s wife, along with his daughters, pinned the fire chief badge on his suit, making it all official.

However, Elizondo's performance has not impressed the city commission as much as it did Cabler. An audit of the fire department discovered some 74 violations of city policy, some linked directly to the former chief, leading a majority of the city commission to pressure Cabler to demote Elizondo or remove him as chief.

One of the factors mentioned for Elizondo's demotion was the police complaint filed against him by the Firefighters Association charging that between 2014 and when he left in May 2016, there was more than $8,000 in PAC money unaccounted for. Their bank statement indicates that most of the withdrawals during this time were made by Elizondo at local ATM machines.

However, this may only be the tip of the iceberg because this does not include the period between 2010 and 2014. How much more may be missing is anyone's guess. If one extrapolates the $8,000 missing in two years by the four years, that's another $16,000 bringing the total to close to $25,000.

And – this is making some people nervous – if the Firefighters' PAC contributed to local political campaigns, were those campaign contributions illegal?

The Cameron County District Attorney is now investigating the Association's criminal complaint.

ELIZONDO: JOE & SUPER'S $3.7 MILLION VOTE ON BISD BOARD

By Juan Montoya
The last time the issue of the contract for Paragon Sports Constructors came around for the installation of artificial turf on four high school fields, the measure failed 3-3 with one abstention.

Tonight, the administration pushed hard by trustee Joe Rodriguez, will try to ram the ball over the bottom line. Rodriguez,also a vendor of sports equipment on file with the district, told his fellow board members at their last meeting that Paragon Sports was "the best in the world."

At the time of the original vote, trustees Dr. Sylvia Atkinson, Minerva Peña, and Phil Cowen voted "nay."
Rodriguez was joined by Laura Perez-Reyes and Carlos Elizondo to approve the measure.
Abstaining because of his employment with the Buy Board – of which Paragon Sports is a fee-paying member – was Cesar Lopez, the board chair.

For months now, many residents and district administrators have questioned Elizondo's continuing presence on the BISD board given the City of Brownsville's personnel policy manual prohibition against a city employee holding an elective office in the same jurisdiction.

The city's personnel policy manual's Section 702: Political Activity states that:
"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."


The former city attorney Mark Sossi ignored letters from residents questioning why no one called the city on the issue. And city commissioners seem to be content to allow the question to fester.

City Manager Charlie Cabler has ignored advice from his legal department calling on him to suspend the former chief pending resolution of a complaint against him for taking more than $8,000 from the firefighters' PAC account through numerous ATM withdrawals while he was union president.

The Cameron County District Attorney is currently investigating the case as well as Elizondo's role in a local ambulance service as well as other irregularities in the fire department operations while he was chief.

Tonight, Elizondo's questionable vote will probably decide the issue if Cowen does a turn around and joins his pal Rodriguez and gives the $3.7 million contract to Paragon, Super Esperanza Zendejas' favorite company. She has said she discovered Paragon "over coffee" with her fellow superintendents and then and there made up her mind she would spend the millions (if the $3.7 million is approved, Paragon's take will be close to $7 million by now) on them based on her coffee klatch's recommendations.

If the city and the school district had insisted on following the law, Rodriguez and Zendejas would be a vote short even with Cowen providing his support.

Monday, September 11, 2017

TEACHERS, BISD EMPLOYEES AGAINST HEALTH INSURANCE HIKE


4. Recommend approval of the BISD Self-funded Healthcare Plan effective October 1, 2017.

By Juan Montoya

One day before the Brownsville Independent School District board of trustees is set to vote to approve a new employee health plan calling for steep increases over the next three year to offset a $13 million deficit, teacher and employees protested across the street from the main offices to show their displeasure with the plan.

The trustees in the insurance committee have called a special meeting to discuss the cash flow on the plan before the are set to meet for a special meeting called for 12:00 noon at the main office. They will take public comment and vote whether to recommend the plan's approval to the full board following their special meeting at 5:30 p.m. later that evening.

The trustees on the insurance committee are Carlos A. Elizondo, Chair, Cesar Lopez, and Laura Perez-Reyes.

Teacher association representatives say they will have a hard time getting anyone to attend the public comment section of the insurance committee because they will be working.

"They called the insurance meeting for 12 noon when everyone is working," said Alberto Alegria, president of the Texas Valley Educators' Association TVEA). "It's doubtful that I will be able to make it."

In previous meetings, Alegria and Patrick Hammes, Association of Brownsville Educators (AOBE) have voiced their opposition to the plan saying that it will make health insurance unaffordable for most BISD classified employees making less than $47,000.

Alegria said that as a teacher – a certified employee – he is in the $47,000 to $93,000 salary range and will have to pay $100. Classified employees making less will be required to pay $50 a month.

The district estimates that those BISD employees making less that $47,000 yearly constitute 58 percent of BISD employees. Those above that figure covered by the plan make up 42 percent of BISD employees.

Up until this year, the BISD had paid the full cost of health insurance to its employees and did not require the $50 or $100 payments. Employees paid a deductible for emergency room visits and co-payments for prescription drugs. Other freebies have also been ct out this year.

The district has two pay grades for its employees, certified such as teachers and administrators, and classified, teacher's aides, maintenance, etc.

"Imagine that over a year," he said. "That means they will have to pay $600 a year out of their pay."

Under the plan, in order to make up the BISD's self-funded plan deficit through higher premium charges, Alegria that the administration's proposal calls for a $88.92 increase for an employee who sadds his spouse to the coverage. For example, the current monthly premium paid by a BISD teacher to cover his/her spouse is $276.82 a month. Under the proposed plan, that will increase by the $88.92 for the 2017-2018 school year to $365.74.

The following two years will see an additional $88.92 per month to increase it to $454.66 a month for the 2018-2019 school year, and $543.58 per month for the 2019-2020 school year. In a fact sheet circulated to BISD employees, the district says that only 218 BISD certified employees (3 percent) have elected to cover their spouses. Annual costs are:

ANNUAL INSURANCE PAYMENT FOR BISD EMPLOYEE AND SPOUSE
2016-2017: $3,321.84 (currently) 
2017-2018: $4,388.88
2018-2019: $5,455.92
2019-2020: $6,522.96 
BISD administrators say that while teachers with spouses covered under the plan pay the $276.82 per month currently, the district is running a $266.75 deficit per employee and wants to make up the deficit over the next three years.

The same goes for employees who have their family covered by the district's plan. Only 6 percent of employees chose this plan (372 employees) because of its cost. They pay $462.96 a month for the coverage, which will increase by $74.37 a month to $537.33 per month this year, to $611 per month for the 2018-2019 school year, and to $686.07 by the 2019-2020 school year.

The BISD claims it is running a monthly deficit of $223.11 on the 372 employees under this plan.

ANNUAL INSURANCE PAYMENT FOR BISD EMPLOYEE AND FAMILY
2016-2017: $5,555.52 (currently)
2017-2018: $6,647.96
2018-2019: $7,340.70
2019-2020: $8,232.84

The district also proposes to increase the emergency-room room deductible from $150 co-pay to a $500 co-pay claiming that the higher co-pay will deter non-emergency usage by BISD employees.

At the demonstration across the street from the main office, some protesters waved signs with slogans against Salazar Insurance and United Health Insurance.

AFTER F.D. SHAKEUP, CITY BRACES FOR D.A. PROBE FINDINGS

By Juan Montoya
Capt. Margarito Gracia, the man terminated on the spot by former Brownsville Fire Department Chief Carlos Elizondo, has been reinstated to his position, a rank higher than the one currently held by Elizondo following his demotion.

After his demotion, Elizondo returned to being a F.D. lieutenant.

Department sources say that Capt. Gracia was back at his position this morning. He was called by Elizondo when the former chief found out that he and Brownsville Firefighters Association Local #970 President Jorge Lerma had filed a criminal complaint with the Brownsville Police Department charging Elizondo with withdrawing more than $8,000 from the union's Political Action Committee bank account from ATM machines without PAC authorization.

Gracia is the vice president of the association.

Meanwhile, Elizondo's tenure is being scrutinized by Cameron County District Attorney's investigators who have been making queries about the former chief's actions vis-a-vis an ambulance company. Several witnesses have been interviewed who have said that at Elizondo's instigation, some patients on other private ambulance companies were transferred to InterCity Ambulance when they were coming into the city.

We have heard that DA investigators know of at least three such transfers, one of them involving a veteran who did not have Medicaid coverage and is now having to pay from his own pocket, a quadriplegic boy and others. One reportedly involved a patient who died after the transfer.

What's more, it is suspected that not only did the chief play a role in some of these transfers, but that City Manager Charlie Cabler had been made aware of them when DA investigators interviewed him. City sources say that Cabler did not tell the city commissioners about the reports for two weeks until he was confronted – in front of Mayor Tony Martinez –  by other city commissioners.

Sources also say that despite the recommendation from city legal counsel that Elizondo be suspended without pay pending investigation of the theft charge and other findings in the department audit, Cabler refused to do it, choosing instead to demote him and send him back on the force.

There are even reports circulating that someone made a city radio available to the operators of InterCity so that they could monitor the calls for service. The full details have not been made public, either by the city or the DA's Office, but some are saying that Jarred Sheldon, who Cabler named interim fire chief, might have also been involved. Sheldon was one of two assistant chiefs under Elizondo. The other, Ernie Estrada, has also returned to his previous position as basic firefighter.

The new commissioners got commission approval to form audit, budget and agenda committees. The first audit made by the committee was made on the Fire Department operations.

"All the findings were made available to the DA," said a city source. "Commissioners were angry that Cabler had known all about the findings and the transfer reports but allowed the operations of the department to continue."

"This is far from over," said the source. "The DA's got everything."

rita