Friday, December 19, 2014

IF NOT SYLVIA, WILL ARNOLD BE NEXT COUNTY CLERK?

By Juan Montoya
There's been a glitch in the posting of $400,000 by four individuals to pay for the $500,000 performance bond of Cameron County Clerk-elect Sylvia Garza-Perez.
As our three readers have read here, for some unknown reason that many speculate may have to do with a loan default or possibly a possible court judgment against her, no local surety companies have agreed to issue the required coverage.
She was able to secure only $100,000 of the state-required $500,000.
Then, as of late Thursday, word out on the corridors of the courthouse was that she had acquired the addition $400,000 through the posting of the remaining money from four individuals – City of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, Arvan Tucker, Butch Barbosa and one other unnamed individual.
But now we have learned that the county's legal counsel is insisting that the surety be made in cold hard cash and not in property or other collateral or it cannot be accepted.
This last Wednesday all the newly elected officials gathered at the Dancy Building to take their oath of office administered by county clerk Joe Rivera. Noticeably absent from the group was Garza-Perez, who could not take the oath because she could not secure a bond.
State law requires that "If a bond is required the taking of the official oath must be endorsed on the bond."
Before beginning to perform the duties of office, the county clerk must execute a bond either with four or more good and sufficient sureties or with a surety company authorized to do business in the state as a surety. In lieu of the bond, the county may self-insure against losses that would have been covered by the bond. The bond must be approved by commissioners court, made payable to the county, conditioned that the clerk will faithfully perform the duties of office, and in an amount equal to at least 20 percent of the maximum amount of fees collected in any year during the term of office preceding the term for which the bond is to be given, but not less than $5000.00 nor more than $500,000.00. If a bond is required the taking of the official oath must be endorsed on the bond. The bond oath shall be recorded in the county clerk’s office and deposited in the office of the clerk of the district court.
We have it on good information that a majority of the county commissioners are against voting for the county to set aside $400,000 to insure Garza-Perez since they could not justify this to their constituents. And waiting in the wings in case that she cannot satisfy state requirements is Arnold Flores, the runner-up to Garza-Perez in the Democratic primary who we understand is already bonded.
Further, a majority of the commissioners aren't comfortable with accepting the sureties offered by Martinez, Tucker and Barbosa because of the huge potential for conflict of interest.
Martinez is the mayor of Brownsville and holds countless properties in the city that have to be recorded with the county clerk. Additionally, in the course of doing the public's business, conflicts between the county and city may arise which may give the appearance of favoritism between the county clerk and the mayor of the city.
In the case of Barbosa, who is said to have been picked by Garza-Perez as her chief of staff, the conflict is even more severe. How can an employee of an elected official post a surety bond on his boss when she must administer the office – and all matters of personnel discipline and compensation – equitably and fairly when she is indebted to one of her employees?
In the case of Tucker, an auditor with the City of Brownsville, other questions pertaining to having a county clerk in his debt would surely arise.
Those tangible potential economic conflicts of interest pale in comparison with the political ramifications of having the county clerk indebted to four people for $100,000 a piece. While no one is saying the contributing of that money to an elected official constitutes a bribe, there is major historical precedent for that assumption.
The Texas Association of Counties states in its manual that the oath of office first appeared in the Constitution of 1845. The manual states that the clause requiring a denial of bribery first appeared in the present Texas constitution and was the direct outcome of the official corruption which had reached alarming proportions during the reconstruction period.
As it relates to oaths, the Texas Government Code provides that the official acts of a person who fails to qualify as an officer are void.
Additionally, a person who has not qualified for office is not entitled to receive payment as the officer or exercise the powers or jurisdiction of the office. Without having qualified for office, a person has no right to the position.
However, where an officer has taken the oath and given a bond, which has been accepted without objection and not questioned at any time during the term, the officer may nonetheless be held to be a de jure officer even if the qualification was not in strict compliance with the law.
When it comes to bonds, Texas law requires that officials required by law to give an official bond shall file the bond with the officer’s oath of office.
Generally, the required bonds must be given before an officer begins performance of any duties of office. An officer who is required by law to give an official bond and who fails to execute the bond within the time prescribed by law may be removed from office.
In the end, it will be up to the commissioners court to decide whether Garza-Perez's oath and bond are sufficient for her to take office. But even here, state law trumps the commissioners' acts.
Texas law states that "Before beginning to perform the duties of office, the county clerk must execute a bond either with four or more good and sufficient sureties or with a surety company authorized to do business in the state as a surety.
"In lieu of the bond, the county may self-insure against losses that would have been covered by the bond. The bond must be approved by commissioners court, made payable to the county, conditioned that the clerk will faithfully perform the duties of office, and in an amount equal to at least 20 percent of the maximum amount of fees collected in any year during the term of office preceding the term for which the bond is to be given, but not less than $5,000 nor more than $500,000. If a bond is required the taking of the official oath must be endorsed on the bond. The bond oath shall be recorded in the county clerk’s office and deposited in the office of the clerk of the district court."
The question then becomes: Given that there is no precedent in Cameron County of the court accepting "four or more good and sufficient sureties," or of self-insuring a county clerk, will the commissioners go out on a limb to have Garza-Perez take office and put the taxpayers' money at risk for her?
This Monday, there will be a special meeting called by the commissioners court but there is no item relating to the Garza-Perez issue on it. Unless an item is posted for another special meeting before the year is up, it may be difficult for Garza-Perez to take her office. In any case, Flores is waiting in the wings.

AT TSC, KIKO CONTINUES TRAGIC COMEDY OF ERRORS

By Juan Montoya
Did anyone perchance get to see the televised meeting of the Texas Southmost College board of trustees?
If you did, you are still scratching your head like we are are on the item dealing with the "temporary" consultant that President Lily Tercero hired for the transition from a partnership with UTB to independent accreditation.
That was in November 2011 that Dr.Leonardo de La Garza came on board as a consultant to Tercero,  just a month after she herself was hired in October.
And now, three years later, this "temporary consultant" has become a de facto fixture of the Tercero administration when the average life of a consultant doesn't extend for more than six months at best.
Hired in November 2001, de La Garza was – and still is – a vendor and associate of Dynamic Campus, an IT firm which specializes in selling Ebooks and Information Technology (IT) to school districts and entities of higher education like community colleges and universities.
By all measures, De la Garza moved fast.
By May 2012 – some six months later – De la Garza had steered a $1 million  IT contract to "Dynamic Campus, the computer firm for whom he had worked for more than three years before.
Then, on September 2012, four months after the $1 million pact, the company locked three segments of IT services to Dynamic Campus for an additional $10 million extending into 2015 with an option for another three years.
Who would have thought that from November 2011 to September 2012, De la Garza would have landed more than $10 million in contracts to his former employer?
That was on top of his consultant fees which have cost TSC taxpayers more than $200,000 since his hiring. Among the fees included in the total is a $2,000 monthly retainer and a $1,500 fee for expenses every time he visits Brownsville and the TSC campus.
At Thursday's meeting of the TSC trustees, the item that read "Discussion and Possible Action on Dr. Leonardo de la Garza's contract," took man interesting turn.
Placed there by trustee Adela Garza, the discussion took an interesting turn.
There was a healthy discussion on a line-by-line analysis of de la Garza's employment where trustee Trustee Trey Mendez explained the temporary nature of the consultant's contract to other trustees.
After an open debate, a Kiko Rendon called for a vote on ending the contract and four trustees – Dr. Rey Garcia, Kiko Rendon, Ed Rivera and Art Rendon – voted to extend it. Garza, Mendez and Hinojosa voted against. The vote by Art Rendon turned out to be the swing vote and he went with the three eventual majority.
Then things took a bizarre turn.
Instead of discussing the consultant's contract and how long the "temporary" gig was going to last, trustee Garcia read a resolution from a prepared text. In it, the "whereas" extended the full page and extolled the virtues of Tercero and De la Garza. Garcia asked that the trustees approve the resolution he had prepared. In fact, none of the trustees had a copy of the ad hoc resolution penned by Garcia.
Despite calls for a ruling on the propriety of taking a vote on an item not listed on the agenda, board president Kiko Rendon quickly gave his assent to the vote, a clear violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA).
This has become par for the TSC board. At their October 16 meeting, a negative vote on a motion by Garcia to stop the annual "membership" payments by the community college to the shadow government called United Brownsville, Kiko Rendon became – in the inverse – a vote to approve the possibly illegal payments.
The same thing happened last night.
Rendon allowed a vote on Garcia's fawning resolution and a majority – Garcia, Kiko Rendon, Ed Rivera and Art Rendon – voted to approve. Only Garza, Mendez and Ray Hinojosa voted against approving the resolution saying it was out of order. Again, Art Rendon was the swing vote again and chose his three allies on the previous vote.
Why did Kiko Rendon allow the vote on the resolution to take place when there was no such resolution listed on the board's agenda for the meeting?
And why didn't Frank Perez, the board's attorney, stop the board from taking the illegal vote?
Art Rendon – who replaced Rene Torres as trustee without an opponent – voted for the resolution in praise of the virtues of Tercero and de la Garza.
Coincidentally, Perez was Art Rendon's attorney in his Whistleblower's lawsuit against his employer, the Brownsville Independent School District, charged that BISD trustees had also violated the TOMA as part of their allegations on the violation of his civil rights.
Rendon was reinstated at his job, got back pay, and a nice lump of change in a settlement.
Was the fact that his former client is now a trustee instead of a plaintiff make a legal difference?
Does the majority ignore the possible impropriety of the college president having a paid consultant who was also a vendor for the IT services he sells the college?
Is it a conflict of interest for a vendor to have a direct say in what IT contract services the college awards? And her former boss as well?


Thursday, December 18, 2014

ONE OF BROWNSVILLE FINEST POPPED FOR BAD CHECKS

By Juan Montoya
Apparently, the easy money and the wiles of a woman may have tempted one of Brownsville's best-known motorcycle cops to leave the straight and narrow and allegedly succumb to vile temptation.
The Brownsville Police Dept. website on Wednesday announced the arrest of the much-loved motorcycle patrolman Ruben Castillo after investigators allege that he had been cashing checks made out to him and drawn from a local company where she worked. The PD did not name the woman or the firm involved.
The formal charges were 1. Theft (State Jail Felony) and 2. Forgery (State Jail Felony).
Castillo apparently posted bail because today he was not at the Rucker-Carrizales Detention Center in Olmito.



SYLVIA: I GOT FRIENDS (AND DEBTS) IN HIGH (N LO) PLACES

"Sylvia is getting people to back her bonds. Mayor Tony Martinez is said to have backed her for one bond in the amount of 100K, so has a gentleman by the name of Arvin Tucker and Butch Barbosa, with a fourth unknown. I do not believe others can get the bonds for her. If the County had to put the cash for her, shouldn't individuals supporting her do the same? Cash bonds not surety bonds where you pay a fraction of the money needed. And is there not a conflict for Mayor Martinez to be doing this?"
Commenter today in El Rrun-Rrun

By Juan Montoya
Has Cameron County Clerk-Elect Sylvia Garza-Perez managed to get four local individuals to put up the necessary $100,000 each to allow her to comply with state law that requires that amount of surety for that kind of office?
We still don't know why she wasn't able to acquire the necessary bonds for her to take office, other than there might have been a loan default or a court judgment on her record in the past.
If you recall, Garza-Perez did not participate in the oath-taking ceremony Wednesday because she had not submitted the bond.

State law requires that: Before beginning to perform the duties of office, the county clerk must execute a bond either with four or more good and sufficient sureties or with a surety company authorized to do business in the state as a surety. In lieu of the bond, the county may self-insure against losses that would have been covered by the bond. The bond must be approved by commissioners court, made payable to the county, conditioned that the clerk will faithfully perform the duties of office, and in an amount equal to at least 20 percent of the maximum amount of fees collected in any year during the term of office preceding the term for which the bond is to be given, but not less than $5000.00 nor more than $500,000.00. If a bond is required the taking of the official oath must be endorsed on the bond. The bond oath shall be recorded in the county clerk’s office and deposited in the office of the clerk of the district court. TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE, §82.001.
Additional coverage: The county clerk is additionally required to obtain an insurance policy or similar coverage from a governmental pool operating under Chapter 119

Regardless, as the commenter wondered, if the mayor of the City of Brownsville has business with the county, would Ms. Garza-Perez be compromised in some way in dealing with the city's top elected official?
We have been told that Barbosa is going to be made her chief of staff (or chief clerk?) so he might be looking at it as an investment. Or is it a payback? Barbosa was the longtime clerk for the late federal judge Filemon Vela Sr. and was also a city commissioner. He lost at his last attempt to win public office as trustee with the Brownsville Independent School District.
Now Tucker is a native of India who is also an auditor at the City of Brownsville. He is very active in the commercial sector and is a member of Brownsville's Indian entrepreneurs who are active in hotels and real estate. Sylvia is listed on his Facebook page as a friend.
Given Garza-Perez's strong showing in her election for county clerk, one cannot disallow the suggestion that there might be an understanding of political support for all three or their candidates in coming elections. Who would be beholden to who then? 
  

SISTER,SISTER: BROWNSVILLE-MATAMOROS REAFFIRM VOWS

By Juan Montoya
On October 17,1995  a unanimous city commission made up of Mayor Henry Gonzalez and  commissioners Jackie Lockett, Ernie Hernandez, Pete Benvides and John Wood voted on a resolution to bind Brownsville to Matamoros as sister cities.
Now, there has been no shortage of sister cities declared by the city of Brownsville through resolutions.
These include resolutions for such exotic locales as the one on Matamoros, Lin An, China July 31, 2001, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico Jan. 20, 2004, Aguascalientes, MX. April 06, 2004, Santa Catarina, Mexico, Villa Capri, Italy, Nuevo Leon, NL, Mexico, Santiago, NL, Mexico,  Huejutla De Reyes, Hidalgo, MX , Sept. 08, 2009, Tampico, MX May 20, 2011, and one on Saltillo, Coahuila, MX April 2011, which the city commission never got around to present.
What relationship Brownsville Brownsville has with, say Huejutla De Reyes, Hidalgo, or  Lin An, China, is left up to your imagination.
But what makes the second bonding with our sister city directly across the Rio Grande is that like the in-breeding attributed to the hill people on the southern states. We've already done it once and then we went and did it again on Sept. 16, earlier this year.
Now, why on earth would you want to have two sisters with the same name? Next year, that original relationship will have been 20 years old. The new on will be one.
The resolution to "re-establish" our sister city designation with Matamoros is done every year at Charro Days when dignitaries from both cities meet at the Gateway Bridge and go through the ceremonies. Lately, that's been a one-way street because dignitaries like Da Mayor Tony Martinez and the commissioners haven't stepped across the river to return the favor to their Matamoros counterparts.
Seen in this light, the resolution to "re-establish" the sister-city relationship with Matamoros may have been a wake up call by city manager Charlie Cabler not only to ingratiate ourselves with the new mayor of Matamoros Leticia Salazar, but also to remind Martinez that there is a city across the river who, just so you'll know, is also your sister.

MAYOR LETY: "SCRATCH THAT. I'M NO LONGER HERCULES."

Mayor Salazar


Mexico News Daily
Back in September, “We are all Hércules!” was Matamoros Mayor Leticia Salazar’s rallying cry when she introduced the city's new tactical operations squad, Grupo Hércules, made up of ex-security forces personnel.
But since the murder of three Americans and a Mexican October 12 no one, it seems, is Hércules or has responsibility for it.
The murder victims had gone missing two weeks before after having been accosted and taken away by armed men at a restaurant in the nearby town of El Control. Witnesses have stated that the men identified themselves as members of Grupo Hércules. When the bodies turned up, each one had a bullet wound in the head.
The mother of the three Americans, Raquel Alvarado of nearby Progreso, Texas, has accused the mayor of responsibility for the deaths of her children. But the mayor herself has now distanced herself from the police unit, and disavowed responsibility for it.
State officials have said that nine Hércules officers are under investigation, but last week the federal justice department took over the case.
However, it appears the more productive investigative work has been done by Alvarado’s ex-husband, Pedro Alvarado, who lives in El Control. He interviewed witnesses to the kidnapping of his children, Erica, 26, Alex, 22, and José Angel, 21, and Erica’s boyfriend, Mexican citizen José Guadalupe Castañeda Benitez, 32.
He learned that men in military-style uniforms had beaten their victims, put hoods over their heads and taken them away in armored trucks bearing the coat of arms of the Matamoros city government. The officers identified themselves as part of Grupo Hércules and warned witnesses against speaking about what they had seen.
Pedro Alvarado continued searching for his children for the next 16 days, during which time he and his son Pedro Jr. discovered the victims’ missing vehicles, a Jeep Cherokee and Chevrolet Tahoe, at a car dealership. The plates had been removed but some of the owners’ belongings remained inside.
After a heated argument with the lot’s manager, the latter relented and the cars were moved to the street, but not until he had made a phone call. Members of Grupo Hércules soon showed up, leading the Alvarados to believe they had been the recipients of the call.
The officials behaved in a threatening manner, according to Pedro Sr., and ordered them to have the vehicles removed. Two pickup trucks full of officers escorted the Alvarados to Pedro Sr.’s house.
It turns out that the lot on which the vehicles were located belongs to Luis Biasi, the city’s Secretary of Social Development and Well-Being, who also has a close relationship with Mayor Salazar.

ESTELA VON HATTEN RETIRED, DID NOT RESIGN: AND NO, JESSICA TETREAU IS NOT RUNNING FOR DISTRICT 1

By Juan Montoya
The blaring headline in yesterday's Brownsville Herald screamed that City Secretary Estela Von Hatten had resigned her office effective Dec. 31 and that Friday would be her last day of work.
Immediately after that, speculation began to surface that a number of things may have prompted her "resignation," "retirement," or whatever.
City Manager Charlie Cabler dutifully said the city will miss her, and we add our sentiment to his. Estela was always very forthcoming with our request for information even when some departments and elected officials weren't.
Now, there is a big difference between the headline announcing a "resignation" and a retirement.
Coming on the heels of a flubbed recording of a vote by commissioner Jessica Tetreau on the proposed sale of Lincoln Park to the UT System, it raises suspicions that the commissioner – who insisted that her vote was incorrectly entered into the minutes of the city commission meeting held February 25, 2013 to reflect that she did not attend that meeting – might have had  a part in her leaving.
We certainly hope not.
Tetreau was present at the meeting and did vote "no" when the final decision was made to negotiate the sale on November 4, 2014.
But the fact that she didn't vote Feb. 25 because she was absent from the meeting would have made no difference which way she voted one way or the other because the other commissioners did. The "no" vote Nov. 4 also made no difference because a majority of the commissioners voted "yes."
Besides, Lincoln Park is in District 1, the position being held by commissioner Ricardo Longoria who voted "yes" on the first vote and "no" on the later vote when he saw the writing on the wall.
Now, what does this have to do with Estela's departure from public service?
It means that those of us who make information requests to keep an eye on elected officials and public administrators might not get the fine attentions and positive consideration we've been used to under her watch. And that alone is enough to echo Cabler's remarks that "we'll miss her."
The Herald, instead of filing an information request and said a city spokeswoman said the city’s human resources department declined to release Von Hatten’s letter because it’s considered a personnel issue. So their headline writer called her departure a resignation.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

TERCERO HONEYMOON OVER; ???S OVER CONSULTANT, LAPTOPS

By Juan Montoya
The meteoric rise in the purchase of computers and Information Technology (IT) services at Texas Southmost College has accelerated ever since the the hiring of Dr. Leonardo De La Garza as a consultant to President Lily Tercero on November 2011, just a month after she was hired in October.
By May 2012 – some six months later – De la Garza had steered a $1 million  IT contract to "Dynamic Campus, a computer firm for whom he had worked for more than three years before.
De la Garza was moving fast.
By September 2012, four months after the $1 million pact, the company locked three segments of IT services to Dynamic Campus for an additional $10 million extending into 2015 with an option for another three years.
Who would have thought that from November 2011 to September 2012, De la Garza would have landed more than $10 million in contracts to his former employer?
That was on top of his consultant fees which have cost TSC taxpayers more than $200,000 since his hiring. Among the fees included in the total is a $2,000 monthly retainer and a $1,500 fee for expenses every time he visits Brownsville and the TSC campus.
At Thursday's meeting of the TSC trustees, there is an item that reads "Discussion and Possible Action on Dr. Leonardo de la Garza's contract." Questions have arisen over the propriety of the college president having a paid consultant who was also a vendor for the IT services he sells the college. Is it a conflict of interest for a vendor to have a direct say in what IT contract services the college awards? And her former boss as well?
Just 13 months before he landed the job with TSC as Tercero's consultant, on October 2010, De la Garza was part of the "Dynamic Campus" team hawking computer and Internet solutions at the Texas Association of Community Colleges' annual board of directors meeting held in Austin, Texas.
At the time he was listed as an employee with Dynamic Campus Solutions Inc., in effect an employee and salesman of the company.
A year later, the following October, 2011, the TSC board of trustees hired Dr. Lily Tercero, who was previously the chief budget officer of the Alamo Community College District in San Antonio. Before thatshe served for 12 years as associate vice chancellor for planning and budgeting at the Tarrant County College District (Dallas) under de la Garza.
The next month – November 2011 – TSC approved the hiring of De La Garza as part of her transition team. As part of his duties, he is one of the consultants to the TSC board when the members evaluate the TSC president.
Among some of the glowing letters of recommendation for the new president was one from de la Garza who said in his recommendation that: "...Tercero is "one of the best," noting she was actively involved in board decisions as well as her church and community. "She worked with me at Sante (sic) Fe Community College and at Tarrant County (College District)," the recommendation read. "Lily is one of the brightest and most hard working individuals I know. She is a star, she just shines, and she will be an outstanding president at Texas Southmost College."
Once on board, de la Garza took part in advising Tercero and the board on the necessary policy moves and expenditures to make TSC a free-standing institution once it gained operational independence in the fall of 2013. On of those was the colleges' information technology (IT) section. As a close personal adviser of the new president, he would have had a direct hand in advising the TSC administrative staff on formulating the Requests for Proposals (RFPs) for the new IT setup.
As the local daily reported in September 2011, IT services were some of the many assets that became intertwined as the "partnership" between TSC and UT-Brownsville developed.
On May 21, 2012, the TSC board of trustees engaged the services of de la Garza's Dynamic Campus Solutions Inc. to implement the college's information technology (IT) solutions.
Tercero said the college was aiming for state-of-the-art technology. At the time, the contract required a budget amendment, said Chet Lewis, TSC vice president for finance and administration.
The board approved the contract with a cap at $800,000 not to exceed $1 million and Lewis told then the price was for phase one of creating a new TSC system.
The local daily reported that the price "includes the creation of a new TSC website, the provision of network services such as email and phone, a help desk and a cloud, or protected Internet connection, for the school’s data. The phase will take place May 30 to Dec. 30 (2012)."


On April 2012, just one month before the May 21 $1 million award to Dynamic Campus Solutions, de la Garza was the featured "special guest" of Dynamic Campus Solutions in Orlando, Fla., during the 2012 American Association of Community Colleges' 92nd Annual Convention April 21-24 where the company invited participants to "stop by and see us and our special guest, Dr. Leonardo de la Garza at booth 822..."
De la Garza continues to be paid by TSC as a consultant to Tercero on a myriad of matters, but Dynamic Solutions has never been left out.
Just as Lewis warned that the initial $1 million outlay to the company for IT work was just the beginning, the TSC administration staff came back on September 20, 2012, telling the board that they "had worked with Dynamic Campus to develop an amendment to the contract to proceed with the remaining phase of the proposed services."
They recommended – and the board approved without the need for further RFPs:
1. $2,042,856 for FY 2013 (Jan. 1-Aug. 31, 2013)
2. $3,568,944 for FY 2014 and
3. $3,824,616 for FY 2015 with an option to extend the contract an additional three-year term.
Was de la Garza, while working as a consultant to TSC president Tercero and still associated with Dynamic Campus Solutions, receive a commission for the $10 million sale?
We can probably guess what his recommendations will be when the board evaluates his former employee Tercero.
Other questions during Thursday's meeting will concern TSC's existing inventory of laptop computers. TSC sells and leases laptops to students, but given the advancing technology, it is feared that some of the laptops may have become obsolete. A report is expected from the administration at Thursday's meeting.
Now, we've heard that a good word goes a long way, but in the case of de la Garza, his recommendation of his buddy Tercero was worth its weight in gold with $10,436,416 worth in IT contracts to his company Dynamic Campus Solutions, wouldn't you think?
Is Tercero's honeymoon with this board of trustees over?

NUMEROUS COUNTY STAFF PAID FROM DIFFERENT FUNDS

By Juan Montoya
Remember when the controversy over the payments of the Cameron County Administrator Pete Sepulveda and his administrative assistant David Garcia raised the hackles of some elected officials and county staffers?
For example, Sepulveda was getting (and is still getting) paid from at least four county departments as well as the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority (CCRMA). Last year an announcement was made that Sepulveda was going to be the full-time executive director of the CCRMA and leave the county, but until now, nothing has come of it. Until then, these a re the funds tapped to pay his salary::
County Airport Manager: $5,602
Planning and Inspection: $53,980
Veterans Bridge: $48,516
Los Indios Bridge: $19,391
Gateway Bridge: $14,151
Total (county) $141,580
Reg. Mob. Auth.: $75,00
Total (Salary): $216,580
30 percent benefits (est.): $73,190
(Est. Grand total): $288,770
His assistant Garcia was much the same. He was also getting paid by at least four county department plus the CCRMA until the county negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding with teh CCRMA and had that organization reimburse the county for Garcia's work. 
Below are the same numbers for Garcia:
Planning and Inspection (asst.): $56,089
Veterans Bridge (Assistant): $16,222
Los Indios Bridge (Asst.): $16,222
Gateway Bridge (Asst.): $17,121
Total (County) $105,654
Total (Salary) $180,654
30 percent benefits (est.): $60,210
(Est. Grand Total): $165864

Well, we thought that department was the only one using multiple funds to pay its top staffers but we have been set straight. Some of our readers reminded us that former Cameron County DA Armando Villalobos made ample use of the funds at his department's disposal to augment the salary of its employees.
The practice is apparently continuing under current DA Luis Saenz.
For example, a cursory glance at the DA's salary schedule indicates that chief investigator George DeLaunay  gets paid from three different funds. DeLaunay came to the DA's Office with good credentials. He was a special agent with the DEA investigating the 1985 murder of DEA agent Enrique “Kiki” Camarena.
They funds that are tapped for his salary are:
District attorney fund $65,500.00
DA Pre-trial Diversion fund $3000.00
DA Forfeiture$ 18,000.00
$86,500.00
+20.000 of benefits
Grand Total $ 106,500.00
Now, all this information is contained in the department's salary schedules that is readily available at the county auditors' and filed with the county clerk or Human Resources. In fact, it is open to the public and we had no trouble getting a  copy of it. All departments have one available for public inspection so it's no secret. We heard a rumor – and this is not confirmed – that some people in that department were irked to see the information appear on the Internet. Why? Who knows?
DA investigators make about $45,000 a year on average and carry the added responsibilities of being licensed to carry a gun, do raids, arrest people and generally are exposed to danger 24/7 plus do investigating work. But not all are compensated through the other funds.
Specialized positions such as the department's public information officer Melissa Landin started out at $33,000 ,plus benefits with a $1000 Comp Time Allowed total per year to $34,000.0. Add another $13,000.00 for benefits = $ 47,000.00. This amount comes from the DA annual budget approved by the County Fund Dept. 100-4750 Line item code 6003.
As of September 25,2014, Saenz gave her a raise. She got from the Fund Dept. 600-4750, an additional $ 3,500.00 from the DA-Pre-trial Diversion. If you'll remember, this Pre Trial Diversion was created by Armando Villalobos to hire his own people and pay raises. There was even talk (unproven as far as we know) that Mando had his favorite employees placed in that Division and that his HR was getting pay backs from the employees that received pay increases from the Pre-trial Diversion. We'll probably never know.
Melissa also gets an additional $7500.00 from Fund Dept. No. 900-4750 which is the District Attorney Forfeiture. 8-Liner money. About the only thing that hasn't changed at the DA's office is her title, still listed as Secretary instead of Public Information Officer.
Here is the break down for Ms. Landin:
$34,000.00 from the DA Budget
$3500.00 from the Pre Trial Diversion
$7500.00 from the District Attorney Forfeiture
+$13,000.00 benefits.
Total$ 58,000.00
To be fair, Melissa brings with her extensive social media networks that disseminate the activities of the DA's Office through Saenz's Facebook account and do spread the word of his good works. There was at one time a publications department that also hired people to write and lay out pamphlets and publications having to do with county services.  Perhaps that fund could be tapped as well to pay the county scribes.

NEW GAGGLE OF OFFICIALS TAKE OATH AT DANCY BUILDING

By Juan Montoya
Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Benny Ochoa came from Port Isabel and a host of others trickled in from all over Cameron County to have County Clerk Joe Rivera administer the oath of office fro their respective offices.
Ochoa, who said he had left Port Isabel at about 8:30 a.m. said he left early to have some gorditas in a cafe on International Blvd.
"They don't make them over at the port the way they make them here," he said, as he milled around with the rest of the elected officials who gathered at the Dancy Building to take the oath from Rivera.
Conspicuous for her absence was county-clerk-elect Sylvia Garza-Perez, whose difficulties in acquiring a bond surety to cover her office has thrown a wrench in the works for her taking office.
So far, she has been able to acquire about $100,000 in coverage but her office requirements are for another $400,000, to total $500,000.
Some of those present at the oath-taking ceremony said that it was possible for the new county clerk to have four persons put up her surety at $100,000 a piece for this year. Public officials require bonding at different levels .
"I don't know who would agree to put up $1,000 in collateral or personal property and have it held for a year," said one. "I don't know who would agree to do it."
Garza-Perez was not the only one who didn't show up for the oath. County Judge Carlos Cascos was also absent. It is possible for both to take the oath at a separate time with Rivera. This year the county will have a new county clerk, a new district clerk, several new constables, justices of the peace, as well as other elected officials like Pct. 2 and Pct. 4 commissioners Alex Dominguez and Dan Sanchez who did not have Republican opponents this past general election in November.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

WILL SYLVIA GARZA-PEREZ BE A NO-SHOW ON WEDNESDAY?

By Juan Montoya
With less than 24 hours before the bevy of winning office holders line up at the Dancy Building to take their oath and get bonded on Wednesday, it is anyone's guess whether Cameron County Clerk-Elect Sylvia Garza-Perez will be among them.
By now the news that she has been unable to get an insurance bonding company to issue a sufficiently large amount ($500,000) to cover her office has been making the rounds all over the county. Sources tell us that she has been visiting several area brokers trying to purchase the coverage.
It now appears that there is no majority on the commissioners court to authorize the county to set aside $400,000 from the general fund to cover the bond requirements of that office.
In a year fraught with quirks and turns of events that seem to develop almost on cue, if she can't acquire the coverage may result in her not taking office. In fact, her current boss and incumbent county clerk Joe Rivera was set to have her take the oath until the bonding glitch surfaced.
Why is Ms. Garza-Perez not bondable? Some sources tell us that there might be a loan default from years ago that makes insurers wary of issuing the required bond. Others say that it may be the result of some litigation or perhaps even a judgement against her.
When she was the chairwoman of the Cameron County Democratic Party, the organization owed the Cameron County Elections Office something in the amount near $44,000 for running their primaries and elections. At the time, Garza-Perez was said to have gone to Elections administrator Chris Davis claiming penury. In fact, the party was asked to vacate its meeting place in the old Majestic building when they could not pay the rent to the landlord,
In an ironic turn of events, if Sylvia had remained as a candidate for county judge and not for county clerk, the $1000 coverage she has now would have been sufficient to cover the office. However, the money generated by the various functions of the county clerk's office require the additional $400,000. Will we see the unthinkable take place that Joe Rivera will stay on as county clerk as a holdover until Ms. G-P straightens out the mess?
You know Cameron County, never a dull moment.

SALDANA IN FOR A TOUGH FIGHT IN CONFIRMATION



WASHINGTON — Dallas-based U.S. Attorney Sarah Saldaña is one step closer to running Immigration and Customs Enforcement — though she’s likely in a tough fight.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 Wednesday to move Saldaña’s nomination to the full Senate floor. But Republicans on the committee, including Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, opposed her nomination, setting up a potentially contentious confirmation process going forward. It’s unclear when the Dallas prosecutor will receive a floor vote.

Obama tapped Saldaña in August to lead ICE, a massive agency within the Department of Homeland Security. The post has been vacant for more than a year, partly a result of tension between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans.

One of ICE’s main missions is to track down undocumented immigrants — by far its most politically delicate challenge. After Obama announced his executive action on immigration, which would shield about 5 million from deportation, the issue has taken on an even bigger focus.

Cornyn, who supported Saldaña’s nomination for U.S. Attorney in 2011, said in a statement that he was “troubled” by the Dallas prosecutor’s recent remarks on the president’s orders. Saldaña said she believes Obama’s executive action was legal.

“I cannot support her nomination to be our nation’s chief immigration enforcement officer until she explains her views before a full hearing in the Judiciary Committee,” Cornyn said.

The deputy GOP leader’s position signals a shift from his apparent support of Saldaña in September, when he introduced her at a confirmation hearing and praised her qualifications to helm ICE.

OUT FOR A RELAXING DRIVE ON A WARM SATURDAY AFTERNOON COMPLIMENTS OF CAMERON COUNTY


(Ed's Note: The life of a public official has been compared to that of a fish in a fishbowl. This was made more obvious when one of our three readers snapped this  photo of Deputy Pct. 3 Constable John Keener on his way to a party this Saturday afternoon using the county vehicle outside his precinct. Recently we had several complaints about county  personnel using the official vehicles to drive to and from home, a practice that was supposed to have ended last year during the budget crunch. Are constables and other law enforcement elected officials next. Remember, there is always someone watching.)

CONTRIBUTOR WAXES POETICALLY ON ERIN'S LAST HURRAH


Twas the night before Election, when all through the house
Not an envelope was stuffed, not even a stamp.
The list of voters were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Politiqera soon would be there.

The voters were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of stolen elections danced in their heads.
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long hot nap.

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,

Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen votes
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below.
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature van, and eight tinny politiqueras.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St Politiquera.
More rapid than eagles her coursers they came,
And she whistled, and shouted, and called them by name!

"Now Herminia! now, Sonia! now, Joey and Norma!
On, Sylvia! On, Tomasita! on, on Quito and Ralph!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away! Dash away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of Mail in Ballots, and St Politiqueras too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each fat foot.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney came with a bound fat Erin bouncing off the ground.

She was dressed all in black, from her head to her foot,
Her clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of chicken plates flung on her back,
And she looked like a peddler, just opening the envelope.

Her eyes-how they twinkled! her dimples how scary!
Her cheeks were like sand paper, her nose with boogers!
Her full mouth was drawn up like a cute little hog,
And the beard of her chin was as dark as the night.

The stump of a pipe she held tight in her teeth,
And the smoke it encircled her head like a wreath.
She had a broad face and a big belly,
That shook when she laughed, like a bowlful of jelly!

She was chubby and plump,
And I laughed when I saw her, in spite of myself!
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave me to know I had everything to dread.

She spoke not a word, but went straight to her work,
And filled all the envelopes with prefilled ballots.
And laying on her finger a booger aside of her nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney she rose!

She sprang to her van, to her team gave a whistle,
And away they all drove like the down of a thistle.
But I heard her exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
"Stupid County People, I am Erin Hernandez and I am a JP no more.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

WIGHTMAN UNLEASHED ON CRITICS OF TSC SHORTCOMINGS

By Juan Montoya
It has gotten to the point where we now expect a knee-jerk reaction to any post we publish dealing with criticism of the Texas Southmost College administration and its board actions.
The posts will be subjected to the fine scrutiny of disbarred lawyer Robert Wightman who wants to have it both ways. He wants to criticize the critics but finds himself in agreement with the content of the criticism. He then berates the objects of his ire with the usual insults of homophobia, idiocy and character defamation. That is just the nature of that beast.
But of course, it's nothing personal. He is merely doing it in a literal way, and not in any real, tangible sense. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Is it, as federal agents told a friend at the trial of a politiquera recently, that he is the only one who believes what he writes? They sure as hell don't, they said.
For anyone who can look past the bluster of this hot air bag, I am not writing to expound on my talents as an economist, a scholar (as he claims he is) or as an armchair academic. I actually have a personal stake in the success of TSC. I not only got my academic start there, but also have a son who is actually attending the school and another who will when he graduates from high school in the next couple of years.
This is not an academic exercise for me and the parents of other students.
If I feel that the efforts of the current administration to gain accreditation have so far failed miserably, I will say it regardless of  who is discomforted by it. If I feel that the dependence on Ebooks by the college and the awarding of a multi-million multi-year contract to Dr. Lily Tercero's former boss and a vendor for Dynamic Solutions amounts to a sweetheart contract that benefits them personally, I will say it.
I challenge this misanthrope (he hates everyone) to produce the "check" he constantly claims that I am paid by this person or the other. It's so easy to hide behind a cyberwall and spew hatred without having to prove anything.
I am constantly amazed when this destructive individual who constantly accuses men of being "misogynist eunuchs" and "vindictive dicks" targets successful women who don't knuckle under to his mercurial intellectual demands. Pct. 1 Cameron County commissioner Sofia Benavides, her daughter JP 2-2 -elect Maria Esther Garcia, BISD trustee Catalina Presas-Garcia, and now, lately, TSC trustee Adela Garza, have all been victims of this demented schizo. But mail-in vote manipulator Norma Hernandez and her daughter Erin Garcia are the salt of the earth.
Garza, in his last post, has been called a "witch."
He rationalizes (if it can be called that) that "Adela is so ignorant she cannot see how Montoya's bizarre, homophobic, defamatory posts and comments cost Luci Longoria, Oscar Garcia, Robert Lopez, and Shirley Bowman the election."
Voters elect their representatives. To think that any one person has so much influence or importance to swing any election for or against any candidate is plainly delusional. Not one person, but thousands of voters cast their ballots for their candidates and we have learned to respect their wishes. They plainly don't believe Wightman when he rails against Benavides, Garcia, Presas-Garcia and Garza.
He can himself run for office like they did and see how far he gets. I can only imagine the reaction from the voters when they hear him start speaking his mind.
After all, it was the federal court in Washington D.C. which labeled someone else's frivolous and irrational lawsuit against the U.S. government "bizarre," wasn't it Robby?
Wightman sued the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, the FBI, its director and the U.S. Attorney General (among others) for not providing him with a special prosecutor who would investigate an imagined conspiracy to entrap him into applying for a credit card offer that he got in the mail.
In their opinion, the federal judges said Wightman's "factual allegations were conclusory and unsupported, representing the type of "bizarre conspiracy theories" and "wholly insubstantial" claims contemplated by the D.C. Circuit and others that had dismissed similar claims.
The court said that even though it recognized that pro-se litigants are "generally entitled to the benefit of less stringent than those applied to attorneys, in fact, Wightman is a disbarred attorney who "is presumed to have a knowledge of the legal system and needed less protections from the court."
The operative word here is "presumed."
So much for the keen legal mind cum economist, theologian, trend setter and arbiter of ethics and morals for the rest of us mere mortals.
As a loyal supporter of the trustees who stood up to the UT System and local adherents to Julieta Garcia's efforts to destroy the people's college, I feel I have the right to state my opinions when I feel that the TSC administrators and board's actions are subpar and deficient to the task at hand.
TSC has lost out on millions of an EDA training grant because it dropped the ball on the application even though TSC board president Kiko Rendon is on the Workforce board. That is a real, tangible loss of opportunities to the residents of the TSC district and its students. What is wrong with demanding effective leadership from this administration? Does this mean that if we do so we will  be subject to the insults and attacks by this weirdo?
If that is the price and those of us who care for TSC and its future (and the education of our children) must pay and also bear the ire and bile of this paid mastiff to do it, so be it.

DESPITE DROP IN PRICES, BANK PREDICTS BORDER SURGE

By BBVA Research
(Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria, S.A. is a multinational Spanish banking group. It was formed from a merger of Banco Bilbao Vizcaya and Argentaria in 1999, and is the second biggest bank in Spain.)
Mexico’s shale gas will certainly draw attention from drilling companies. 
The portion of the Eagle Ford Shale formation that extends into Mexico is part of the Burgos basin, where technically recoverable shale gas is currently projected at 343tcft, two thirds of Mexico's technically recoverable shale gas resources. 
Sabinas, Tampico, and Veracruz Basins account for most of the remaining reserves. Companies familiar and experienced with the Eagle Ford such as EOG Resources, Chesapeake, and ConocoPhillips, have comparative advantages and could lead Mexico’s shale gas transformation. 
Oilfield service companies like Schlumberger, Baker-Hughes, Halliburton, and Weatherford International could bring the technology needed for hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling. Smaller companies that focus on well-services may benefit as well.

Notwithstanding these benefits, Mexico’s technically recoverable shale gas resources are far smaller than total resources because of geologic complexities and discontinuities of its onshore shale zone. As a result, some studies provide a more pessimistic outlook on the true potential of shale production.
Mexico will also need infrastructure to move oil and gas from unconventional fields. Pipelines, railroads, and vessels will be needed to move the hydrocarbons from the production centers to their final destinations. Around 80 percent of all the gas Mexico imports comes from the U.S. and 60 percent comes directly from pipelines in Texas.
The demand for natural gas will continue to increase by over 5bcfd as Mexico is projected to add 28 gigawatts of new electric capacity by 2027. As production begins to ramp up, exports will play a significant role in Mexico’s new energy landscape as energy companies in the U.S. may find an opportunity to sell natural gas overseas through Mexican export terminals. 
New pipeline projects being built across the Texas-Mexico border could double the amount of U.S. natural gas exports to 7bcfd, five times the maximum amount of natural gas that the Freeport LNG terminal will be allowed to export. In any case, the reform will encourage large investments in midstream infrastructure.
Macroeconomic and geopolitical benefits
Developing Mexico’s hydrocarbon riches will add production capacity to the region, strengthening the energy independence, security, and economic stability of North America. The liberalization of Mexico’s energy sector will also deepen the economic integration of the region. 
Although Mexico’s energy sector was originally excluded from NAFTA, it is expected to be included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, which facilitates trade and investments in the Pacific region. As a result, energy companies can leverage on the experience built by non-energy firms working across borders under the auspices of NAFTA. 
Simply, Mexico’s energy reform strengthens North America’s position as one of the top oil and gas producers of the 21st century.
Spillover to Mexican households in the form of lower energy prices and more jobs will greatly benefit both Mexico and the U.S. According to the Mexican government, the reform could create 2.5 million jobs by 2025 while BBVA Research estimates that Mexico’s long-term GDP could increase by 1 percent to 1.5 percent as a result of the reform. More jobs in Mexico will also translate into higher demand for U.S. goods and services and further reduce incentives to immigrate to the U.S. 
From a regional perspective, the benefits could also be significant considering the  multiplier effect of energy investments. 
Some studies suggest that in the U.S., one job created in the unconventional oil and gas industry supports four more indirect and induced jobs. This implies that opportunities for oil and gas companies will also translate in opportunities for other businesses in manufacturing, mining, and services, particularly those that are energy-intensive. 
This could also boost government revenues. Lower energy prices will reduce the need for electricity subsidies. This will ease pressures on public finances which remain one if not Mexico’s largest economic weakness. New investments in the Mexican side of the Eagle Ford Shale could bring economic prosperity to that region. 
The Eagle Ford Shale extends over Texas and the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Coahuila. This region has a combined population of 38 million (slightly bigger than Canada) and a GDP of $1.5 trillion in 2012. Under conservative assumptions, foreign direct investment in the area could add an extra 1 percent GDP growth, which may expand at an average rate of 6 percent per year, implying that the region could generate around $1.2 trillion in economic activity during the next decade, an amount similar to Spain’s economy. 
Faster economic growth in the border will narrow the socio-economic disparities between Texas’ border cities and big metro areas like Houston, Dallas, or Austin. If these border towns effectively seize the opportunity, the U.S.-Mexican border could see one of the most dramatic transformations in its history. 
The upside for Mexican border towns could be even greater if economic prosperity allows them to eradicate the bad reputation created by drug-trafficking and other illegal activities. 
If the increase in future energy demand falls below expectations, developing Mexican reserves would increase the supply of natural gas, putting further downward pressures on prices and profitability. In the oil segment, despite the advancements in seismic-imaging and deep-water drilling technology, some oil fields will not be profitable if prices experience a sharp decline. In fact, increased production in the Gulf and in other countries with vast reserves could result in unwanted oversupply, while growing reliance on non-fossil fuel and new technologies in the auto sector could significantly reduce the demand for hydrocarbons. 
In both instances, the incentives to invest billions of dollars in deep-water fields will decline. 
Forming reasonable expectations is crucial for private companies interested in Mexico’s energy industry. Mexico’s complex business environment highlights the need to continue improving the institutional framework, which in turn could enhance the potential of the energy reform. 
Therefore, prudency should be favored over excessive enthusiasm. Even with the reform, the role of the Mexican state in the energy policy will remain significant. In addition, despite substantial improvements in transparency and accountability, the energy sector could still be vulnerable to political cycles.
Bottom Line
Mexico’s energy reform will offer abundant opportunities to U.S. and foreign companies across energy and non-energy industries. Mexico is expected to regain its position as one of the top producers of hydrocarbons in the world. This has positive implications for the U.S. as it strengthens macroeconomic stability and energy security in North America. 
The multiplier effect of energy investments will give a boost to the Texas-Mexico border area, generating $1.2 trillion dollars in economic activity over the next 10 years. Last but not least, the success of the reform will depend on the quality of the implementation process. 

THE OTHER END OF THE PIPELINE: PORT'S LNG EXPORT PLANT


By David Robledo
Ft. Worth Weekly

I’m kayaking the bay that separates Port Isabel and South Padre Island when a large dorsal fin breaks the water. Another fin surfaces, and several more. My heart skips a few beats. And it looks like I’m surrounded … by one of the Lone Star State’s most lovable economic resources, a tribe of bottle-nose dolphins that inhabit Dolphin Cove, a rocky and deep sanctuary that slopes to the Port of Brownsville’s 45-foot-deep cargo-ship channel. 
Hundreds of sightseers visit this cove each summer day, hoping to get a glimpse of these animals that live at the southernmost tip of Texas’ most-visited beach.

The dolphins seem happy and ready to play. Anglers wade a few yards away on a sandy shelf that quickly drops off to become the cove’s edge. One fisherman hooks a fighter as I paddle past him.

There aren’t many places in the world where people can be surrounded by archaic wildlife and habitat as they are on this beach that helps etch the United States’ southwestern boundary. There are even fewer such places juxtaposed with notable restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and hotel and condominium rentals like those of South Padre Island.

The combination of natural attractions and first-world amenities has been a lucrative one on this island, which leads the state in per capita revenues generated by regular tourism, nature tourism, sport-fishing, and hotel-motel taxes. These revenues are hugely important to the economic zone that the island is a part of, a region that routinely posts the nation’s highest poverty rate.

Precisely because this area is poor, corporations that want to ship liquefied natural gas from the port of Brownsville — the Valley’s largest city and the nation’s poorest of its size — have found eager audiences for their sales pitch about the jobs and prosperity that their industry could bring. Government agencies and quasi-public corporations have already spent millions, and plan to spend upward of a billion dollars, to create infrastructure here for LNG development, including a power plant, a pipeline, a deepened ship channel, and highway spurs.

But those job-creation claims appear to be overblown, and while the LNG locomotive is picking up steam, authorities and industry spokespeople are sidestepping the question of damage to the environment and to the existing tourism economy that could far outlast any jobs that will be created.

If the public entities involved were to take the money they are spending to underwrite LNG export development and simply give it to the 1,000 or so employees who might end up with semi-permanent jobs, those workers would be millionaires.
To read the rest of this story, click on link below:
http://www.fwweekly.com/2014/09/10/the-other-end-of-the-pipeline/

Friday, December 12, 2014

IS GILBERT ANGLING FOR COUNTY JUDGE APPOINTMENT?

By Juan Montoya
Some of our courthouse sources divulged to us today that 357th District Court Judge-elect Juan Magallanes has tapped local paralegal Ramon Cavazos as his court administrator.
This has raised some eyebrows from those in the know.
Ramon is a genuinely nice guy who once worked for Gilbert Rosas at one of Cameron County's Family Court. As far as that goes, Cavazos knows his way around the courthouse and is on a first-name basis with most court staffers.
He is also Magallanes' former law firm partner Gilbert Hinojosas paralegal and paper pusher who does some of the legal research for the former county judge and now Texas Democratic County chairman.
Hinojosa lost to current incumbent Carlos Cascos and then led the charge in the John Wood candidacy for the same position. It is no secret that state Democratic movers and shakers were less than impressed with the fact that Hinojosa's Democratic Party lost to Cascos – a Republican –  in a heavily Democratic county.
This has led some observers to question why Cavazos would leave Hinojosa's office. Why is Cavazos looking for work? Is Hinojosa closing up shop to return as County Judge?
No one can imagine that Magallanes would just try to steal Cavazos from Hinojosa. Cavazos does legal research and pushes the paper for Hinojosa. So the speculation now centers around the coming appointment for the county judgeship once Cascos takes the oath of Texas Secretary of State January 21.
Hinojosa may have Pct. 1 commissioner Sofia Benavides' vote, and he could probably convince Pct. 4 commissioner Sanchez to wait for two years to run for the judgeship and promise him his help then. But that's only two votes. It is highly doubtful that Pct. 2 commissioner Alex Dominguez would play ball with Hinojosa and provide the third vote for the appointment. In fact, we know that scores of calls have been directed at the commissioners on behalf of many candidates, including Wood and Eddie Treviño, among others.
Would Hinojosa be deterred by the fact that Democratic county judge candidate Joe Rivera became a candidate for judge after Hinojosa stepped in and backed Sylvia Garza-Perez for county clerk and Joe for judge?
Then again, remember when Hinjosa jumped in the Democratic candidate pool for county judge against Michael Puckett after her learned that incumbent Tony Garza – another Republican – announced he would be leaving for Austin to become George W. Bush's secretary of state? County democrats were outraged at this apparent show of disrespect for their candidate, who did not wait for Tony to leave before announcing.
If Gilbert proved then that he was not above being opportunistic and loyal only to himself, then the idea that Gilbert may be angling for the appointment is not so far-fetched after all.

THIN-SKINNED ERIN GARCIA AND LIFE AFTER JP COURT

By Juan Montoya
There are troubling rumors that JP 2-2 Erin Garcia will be seeking a public office after she leaves her office January 1.
Some rumors have her running for a city commission seat in May. Others say she will run for another JP office in the next two years.
To add insult to injury, we also hear that her father, the infamous Ernie Hernandez, her daddy and a former city and county commissioner, will also be seeking an office after he serves out his stint in deferred adjudication. He has been overheard saying that he may just go for broke and run for the mayor of the City of Brownsville.
If they do run and – God forbid – they get elected, we're in for a fun ride. No one, of course, gives them a chance in hell to win, but that has never stopped the Hernandez from thinking they are the Lord's gift to uplift the unwashed masses and be the representatives of the little people. And we thought that we were over that phase of our political development.
For being engaged in the hurly-burly of local politics, the Herandezes are a thin-skinned tribe.
How thin skinned you ask?
Take this case for example. Remember when the Internet, mainstream media, and the social media was abuzz with chatter of the Cameron County District Attorney's investigation of Erin's office? Apparently, she thought that local political gadfly Zeke Silva was committing slander against her by posting about those investigations on his Facebook page.
Never mind that the purveyor of "legal experience you deserve" confused slander with libel (slander is spoken, libel is printed or broadcast), she also thought that bthe local gendarmes would arrest Silva and charge him with harassment. Don't believe us?
Well, we tried mightily and were able to secure a complaint filed by Ms. Garcia against that loathsome Silva. In it, (BPD complaint 13110051) she complained to police that she and her family were being harassed online by Silva on the social network.
She also stated that "Zeke's posts are slanderous and are accusing her of using her position as justice of the peace to commit judicial misconduct. She also said Zeke is targeting her for political purposes."
The detective who filed the report indicated that the posts "were linked to media (television and newspaper) reports regarding an on-going investigation of Ms. Garcia by the Cameron County District Attorney's Office."
The detective's conclusion:
"the posts are in an informative manner and not in the harassing and insulting manner to constitute harassment as per the elements in the Texas Penal Code."
It took a lowly police detective without a law degree to explain the difference to legal eagle Erin and send her on her way.
But the fact that she went as far as to complain to the police about such minuscule matters is instructive on how the Hernandezes minds work, or in this case, don't.

WIGHTMAN: AN IMAGINED MASTER OF BUDGETS, AND JUST ABOUT EVERYTHING ELSE UNDER THE HEAVENS

By Juan Montoya
Now that a certain local blogger is trying to instruct us in the budget process and states that once the board members of an elected entity pass the budget at the beginning of the fiscal year everything is set in stone, we beg to differ.
Yes, elected bodies pass budgets as state laws require. Hopefully, they are balanced. If not, then some overestimate the projected income to make them so. The Gilberto Hinojosa county budgets are a case in point. Hinojosa and his former commissioner courts would approve budgets with inflated income projections and hoped that sometime during the year they could tap into lapsed salaries of bond interests to make up the deficit they knew was there.
And if you look at any agenda from almost every entity, you will notice that there are countless budget amendments made at almost every meeting. These can address salaries, outlays for products, materials and services, etc.
That an entity passes a budge at the beginning of the year does not mean that they automatically approve of the expenditures throughout the out of hand.
The budget instructor who was lecturing us on budgets pointed out that the the item before the Texas Southmost College board of trustee to discuss and take possible action on TSC's participation in United Brownsville was immaterial because the board had voted for a budget at the beginning of the year that already included the $25,00 "membership" payment to Fred Rusteberg's scam.
If so, why did board president Kiko Rendon and TSC President Lily Tercero place the item on the agenda in the first place then?
Jacks of all trades and masters of none like the blogger we speak of like to lecture folks loudly and long about how they should go about doing the people's business without ever having held an elected position. This particular individual lectures the Brownsville Independent School District board members and administrators on how to educate children, TSC on how to educate the bigger kids, the county on how to run its business, the judiciary on how to administer justice, the FBI on how to investigate crime, the president on how to execute the law, and God on how to be celestial.
To reiterate our point. The TSC trustees never voted to give $25,000 to United Brownsville. They did discuss and failed to act on giving the $25,000 to that organization.
The vote that was taken was a negative one. A majority of the trustees voted against a motion that would suspend any pending cash outlays or future payments to United Brownsville made by trustee Dr. Rey Garcia. They did not vote on any motion to make the payment because no one made it.
Does that mean that a negative vote on the motion will replace a positive vote on a motion to make the payment. That's not the way it works.
Trustees Art Rendon and Ramon Hinojosa wanted to delay the vote until there was a legal opinion and a presentation by United Brownsville before they voted. In other words, they would have been "nay" votes on a cash outlay if the motion to fund it had been taken.
If anything, this trivial issue on the part of the blogger gives him the opportunity to bash Adela Garza and others gratuitously. That, apparently, makes it all worth his while. Ah, those are that little man's trivial pleasures. What a life. What a waste.

NO BONDING COMPANIES WANT SYLVIA GARZA-PEREZ BIZ

By Juan Montoya
What do do the local bonding companies and their parent insurance companies know that we don't?
Apparently, they know enough that Cameron County cannot find one that will put up the elected official's bond for incoming Cameron County Clerk-elect Sylvia Garza-Perez.
Insiders tell us that county officials they have run out of possibilites to have Ms. Garza-Perez bonded because local insurers won't (or can't?) issue the bond necessary for her to take office.
Now the state statutes covering the bonding of the county clerk is pretty specific in Texas.
In the case that the county cannot find a bonding company, the county can self-insure the officials and be responsible for any loosses incurred during the term of office.
The Texas Association of Counties outlines the requirements for this bond.
County Clerk
Bond Requirements: Before beginning to perform the duties of office, the county clerk must execute a bond either with four or more good and sufficient sureties or with a surety company authorized to do business in the state as a surety. In lieu of the bond, the county may self-insure against losses that would have been covered by the bond.
The bond must be approved by commissioners court, made payable to the county, conditioned that the clerk will faithfully perform the duties of office, and in an amount equal to at least 20 percent of the maximum amount of fees collected in any year during the term of office preceding the term for which the bond is to be given, but not less than $5000.00 nor more than $500,000.00. If a bond is required the taking of the official oath must be endorsed on the bond. The bond oath shall be recorded in the county clerk’s office and deposited in the office of the clerk of the district court. TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE, §82.001.
Additional coverage: The county clerk is additionally required to obtain an insurance policy or similar coverage from a governmental pool operating under Chapter 119 15 covering the clerk and each deputy clerk against liability incurred through errors and omissions in the performance of their official duties. TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE, §82.003(a). The policy or other coverage must be in an amount equal to the maximum amount of fees collected in any year during the term of office preceding the term for which the policy is to be obtained. TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE, §82.003(b). However, the policy or other coverage document must be in an amount of at least $10,000 but is not required to exceed $500,000. If the policy or other coverage document provides coverage for other
county officials, the policy or other coverage document must be in an amount of at least $1,000,000. TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE, 82.003(b). The commissioners court may establish a contingency fund to provide the coverage required if it is determined by the county clerk that insurance coverage is unavailable at a reasonable cost. TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE, §82.003(c). An additional filing fee, not to exceed $5, may be established to pay into the fund. TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE, §82.003(c). When the fund reaches an amount equal to the coverage required, the clerk shall stop collecting the fee. TEX. LOC. GOV. CODE, 82.003(c).
It's too bad that the insurance companies whch have declined the business of insuring Ms. Perez-Garza aren't saying why they son't want any part of the business. Maybe Erin Garcia's brother can give her a little assistance in this matter.



FBI: WE'RE OUT TO STOMP CORRUPTION IN THE VALLEY


By Aaron Nelson
San Antonio Express-News 
McALLEN — The FBI has launched a special investigative unit to root out public corruption in the Rio Grande Valley in response to the high number of charges and convictions here in recent years.

The unit is putting special emphasis on Hidalgo and Starr counties.The task force was formed in November and is comprised of FBI agents and Texas Rangers, in partnership with Customs and Border Protection Internal Affairs, Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General, and the Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General, among others.

“We’re going after school boards, county commissioners, tax assessment offices, health care fraud, anywhere public money is received,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Rock Stone. “There is an inherent public trust in those offices and they must be held to a higher standard.”

Corruption scandals in just the past few years have toppled officials in school districts, local governments, courthouses and law enforcement.

Though quantifying corruption is inexact, the perception here and across the state is that the problem is pervasive. The issue of public corruption on the border even became a flashpoint during the Texas gubernatorial race when Atty. Gen. Greg Abbott in a campaign speech about his border security plan drew comparisons between recent scandals in Hidalgo County and Cameron County to third world practices.

The controversies did not escape the attention of the FBI, which announced the Rio Grande Valley Border Corruption Task Force this week to tackle what it recognizes as a serious problem.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

CAMERON COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS BACK TO NORMAL, SNAFU; DON'T LOWER THE RIVER, RAISE THE PIPES

By Juan Montoya
Ernie Hernandez is gone as commissioner for Cameron County's Precinct 2, but if you judged by the way some of the help the new commissioner inherited is acting, it's as if Ernie hadn't left.
Remember when everyone, even some commissioners, were prohibited form using the county vehicles to drive home because the budget was strained and the commissioners court ordered everyone to pinch pennies?
Well, apparently, that's all over with and the county is flush with dough. Now everyone and their brother is taking the county vehicles home and using them as their personal vehicles to and from their residence to the work site.
And it's not just administrative assistants and higher-ups. Even at Public Works, workers like Daniel Anaya who lives in Santa Rosa, on the county's northern fringes, is said to drives his vehicle home.
(Update: We have learned from the county administration that Anaya drives the county vehicle from his precinct job to a central point in San Benito where he car-pools it with other county workers to Santa Rosa. The practice of allowing county workers to take their vehicles home apparently is a holdover from Hernandez, the previous commissioner.)  
snafuThe same goes for Jose Sanchez, of Olmito, who drives his county vehicle each day to and from his crib to the job.
If that want the meeses are doing, imagine the Big Cats.
We have pondered mightily to understand why it is that City of Brownsville Public Works reject Santana Vallejo leads a charmed existence. He was sent packing from his city gig when there were reports that building materials from the city's sidewalk building program were somehow disappearing and ending up in the hands of a private contractor who made a pretty penny building sidewalks and driveways for private customers.
Then, when he ended up with Cameron County, there was an incident involving some workers in the county colonia unit selling discarded driveway pipes to private citizens in the rural areas. One of these was Vallejo, who escaped any consequences.
We saw the reports filed with the sheriff's department of county workers selling culverts, driveway pipes and caliche to colonia residents and keeping the money for themselves. When the charges were made, the residents who purchased the pipes were visited by defense attorneys who frightened them by threatening to accuse them as accomplices in the crimes.
Then a former county commissioner steps in to put in a good word with the sheriff department investigators and the then-Cameron County DA and allowed them to get off on a technicality and the case just sort of goes away. The accused were then allowed to return to work and avenge themselves with the county workers who made the report to law enforcement. Vallejo returned as crew supervisor.
We thought that it was all over.
But now we see the results of keeping these same sujetos and of letting them loose on Cameron Park laying drain pipes from Rancho Viejo Road to the resaca behind  the colonia. That in itself is not a bad thing. The Resaca has long been stagnant because of different entities dropping the ball  on removing obstacles to its flow. Still, the levels of the Resaca rise abnormally during a heavy rain because the water is blocked from the rest of the Resaca system. It seems that no one downstream wants to see that water passing through their part of the resaca.
Well, the intrepid Vallejo places his compadre Ruben Gonzalez as foreman in charge of the crew placing the drain pipes. No one ever accused Gonzalez of being an intellectual heavyweight, much less a civil engineer.
He had the workers dig the trenches for the drain pipes and they end up being lower than the level of the resaca so that water is flowing up to the street from the resaca instead of down from the street to the water.
This reminds us of a comedy with the title "Don't lower the bridge, Raise the river."
This is not Gonzalez's first brush with smallness.


He, after all, was the foreman who ordered workers into a Cameron Park ditch trench with the protection in case the walls collapsed. Guess what? The walls collapsed and one worker was seriously hurt and had to be hospitalized. The county ended up paying the tab for Gonzalez's negligence.
Only after photos of county workers continuing to work under those hazardous conditions appeared on this blog was there an effort to find out where the wall-collapse protection equipment had disappeared. Then Public Works workers found it covered by weeds in the rear of a warehouse in San Benito.
Now, with more storms on the horizon, just imagine what's going to happen to the streets nearby when the water in the resaca rises?
How do these people continue to be placed in positions of authority when they have demonstrated themselves to be lacking in skills or leadership? We understand that once a month – at the end of the pay period – Vallejo goes around soliciting "voluntary" donations from the lowly workers to fete the new commissioner and other elected officials to some carne asada compliments of the workers.
To be fair, the new elected officials inherited this motley crew from the previous elected officials and since they are under civil service protection, it will take extensive disciplinary documentation for them to answer to their obviously unacceptable performance of their public employment. That, we have been assured, will be pursued if evidence of lackluster performance warrants.
That aside, can anybody explain how work of this caliber of performance can continue to be endured by the Cameron County Public Works Department?
The entire Cameron Park colonia would like to know.

KIKO, TERCERO DROP THE BALL, TSC LOSES MILLIONS

By Juan Montoya
Even though Texas Southmost College board president Kiko Rendon sits on the Workforce Solutions Cameron board and college president Lily Tercero was granted an extension to submit an application for the funds, the college lost out on part of $10 million of an Economic Development Administration training grant for students.
The announcement of the grants was made Sept. 22 and included $1,202,145 in Economic Adjustment funds to the University of Texas at Brownsville, Brownsville, Texas, to fund the build out of the internal sections of a business incubator including radio frequency labs, classrooms, incubator offices, warehouse space, and outdoor radio systems at the STARGATE Technology Park in Lower Rio Grande Valley region.

It also included $1,199,999 in Public Works funds to the City of Port Isabel, Texas, to fund the acquisition and renovation of an historic building to serve as a new Culinary Arts Institute and $1.2 million in Economic Adjustment funds to the City of Pharr, Texas, to support the construction of an International Trade Center in the City of Pharr.
The TSC application for the grant – which already had the letters of support from Texas Rep. Rene Oliveira, U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela, and Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez – was never completed. This even thought EDA officials – primarily Pedro R. Garza, head of the Austin EDA office – informed local Workforce officials and the college, that he was ready to grant them yet another extension after they missed the Aug. 16 deadline to file the completed application.
 "It wasn't because it took any techinical know how," said a Workforce board member. "It seems like they are just inept over there. This was  anon-competitive grant. All TSC had to do was do their part and they would have gotten it."
The incomplete TSC EDA application, he said, is till sitting on the shelf.
The fact that Tercero has not hired a grant writer may have played a part in the failure by the college to get the grant, sources say. Even though she has access to a grant writer working for UT-Brownsville, Tercero has proved reluctant to use the staff member.
"She hired a paid consultant to help her with grants at $40,000, " said a TSC staffer. "They told her that they didn't do that type of (EDA) grant."
As far as Rendon, sources at Cameron County may he has told them that he is considering resigning from the Workforce board because he wants to dedicate his time to other endeavors.
"We don't know how many millions TSC students lost out in training funds," said the source. "But there are other grants out there that they are in danger of missing if they don;t shape up."

rita