Tuesday, August 23, 2016

CORNEJO-LOPEZ REMOVED FROM THE BISD BALLOT, HER SEAT AS 404TH JUDGE UP TO JUDICIAL CONDUCT COMMISSION

By Juan Montoya
Late this afternoon usually reliable sources inside the Brownsville Independent District have said that 404th District Judge Elia Cornejo-Lopez name will be  removed from the Nov. 8 election where she had filed as a candidate Monday for Position 5 to unseat incumbent Catalina Presas-Garcia.
El Rrun-Rrun has been unable to confirm the reports with the BISD because the withdrawal reportedly came shortly before the closing time for the main offices of the district.
However, sources at the Cameron County Elections Office told this medium that Administrator Remi Garza had informed Cornejo-Lopez that she could not appear on two ballots for an election held on the same day (Nov.8) because it was against the Texas Election Code.
The Texas Election Code that prohibits running for two positions on a ballot for elections held the same day.
Sec. 141.033. FILING APPLICATIONS FOR MORE THAN ONE OFFICE PROHIBITED. (a) A candidate may not file applications for a place on the ballot for two or more offices that:
(1) are not permitted by law to be held by the same person; and
(2) are to be voted on at one or more elections held on the same day.
(b) If a person files more than one application for a place on a ballot in violation of this section, each application filed subsequent to the first one filed is invalid."
Three other candidates are on the ballot for the same position. They are Laura Perez-Reyes, Erasmo Castro, and Laura Castro
The removal of her name from the BISD ballot comes on the heels of news that at least two persons have filed online complaints with the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct saying that her entry into the non-judicial contested election not only violated the code of judicial conduct but by filing as a candidate she had also relinquished her seat on the 404th bench.
Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct states that": "Canon 5: Refraining from Inappropriate Political Activity 
(3) A judge shall resign from judicial office upon becoming a candidate in a contested election for a non-judicial office either in a primary or in a general or in a special election. A judge may continue to hold judicial office while being a candidate for election to or serving as a delegate in a state constitutional convention or while being a candidate for election to any judicial office."
TEXAS CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT (As amended by the Supreme Court of Texas through August 22, 2002)
Presas-Garcia said she will follow through with her complaint and blogger Robert Wightman also filed one online and included the ballot drawing tear sheet and her application declaring herself a candidate on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Since she relinquished her judgeship "upon becoming a candidate in a contested non-judicial election, (see graphic) at 4:58 p.m. Tuesday, two minutes before the filing deadline, that would seem to imply that she is no longer a district judge and cannot sit on cases before her court.
What will this mean to the court docket that is scheduled for Wednesday? Will those proceeding be legal or will she still conduct business regardless?
And she is also subject to the Judicial Fairness Act of the Election Code which requires her to return all political contributions she has received after she named her treasurer (her husband Leo Lopez). 

RUNNING SCORECARD: TONY YZAGUIRRE 3, D.A. SAENZ 0

By Juan Montoya
Make that three dismissals within the space of three working days in the prosecution of the so-called Operation Dirty Deeds.
On Friday, the Cameron County District Attorney’s Office dismissed the case against Jose Mireles, who served as a lieutenant with the Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collectors Office.
Also on that day, charges were also dropped on former tax investigator Pedro Garza Jr.
And just today we have learned that the D.A.'s Office dropped charges against tax office dealer/notary supervisor Omar Sanchez-Paz August 23, today.
Mireles was arrested in January with County Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre Jr., Garza Jr. and Sanchez-Paz.
Charges are still pending against Yzaguirre, and Claudia Elisa Sanchez, who was later arrested in connection with “Operation Dirty Deeds.”

WILL CATY'S COMPLAINT AGAINST ELIA CORNEJO-LOPEZ FORCE HER TO RESIGN AS JUDGE OF THE 404TH OR REMOVE HER FROM THE BISD BALLOT?

"Canon 5: Refraining from Inappropriate Political Activity
(3) A judge shall resign from judicial office upon becoming a candidate in a contested election for a non-judicial office either in a primary or in a general or in a special election. A judge may continue to hold judicial office while being a candidate for election to or serving as a delegate in a state constitutional convention or while being a candidate for election to any judicial office."

TEXAS CODE OF JUDICIAL CONDUCT (As amended by the Supreme Court of Texas through August 22, 2002)

By Juan Montoya
On the morning after 404th District Court Judge Elia Cornejo-Lopez filed to run for the contested Position 5 on the November 8 election for the board of trustees of the Brownsville Independent School District, local blogger Robert Wightman emailed us a comment where he said he had filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on judicial Conduct.
His complaint is a companion to one filed with the commission by incumbent Catalina Presas-Garcia today.
Wightman, if it was really him that sent us the comment, states that Cornejo-Lopez "is already out" and that he had sent his complaint to the commission early today.
We hope we are not being taken in by a prankster, but in reading the Judicial Canon Wightman cited above (Canon 5, [3]), it would appear to the average layman to be pretty clear that once a judge enters a contested election (there are five candidates running for Position 5 held by incumbent Caty Presas-Garcia) for a non-judicial office (BISD board of trustees) either in a primary or general election (Nov. 8 is a general election), he or she "shall resign."
Wightman posted to us that he is sending the tear sheet requested by the commission staff. If applying for  place on the ballot and then actually getting on the ballot is enough proof to make Cornejo-Lopez resign, the proof is all there on the BISD website for all to see.
The, as the dialogue on the issue continued, someone cited the Texas Election Code that prohibits running for two positions on a ballot.
Sec. 141.033. FILING APPLICATIONS FOR MORE THAN ONE OFFICE PROHIBITED. (a) A candidate may not file applications for a place on the ballot for two or more offices that:
(1) are not permitted by law to be held by the same person; and
(2) are to be voted on at one or more elections held on the same day.
(b) If a person files more than one application for a place on a ballot in violation of this section, each application filed subsequent to the first one filed is invalid."
Does this mean that Cornejo-Lopez has no choice and can no longer serve as judge having abdicated the position by her filing for BISD trustee? Or does that mean that the BISD can remove her name from the ballot and leave her as judge?
And will the commission linger in their decision until after the Nov. 8 election?
If Cornejo-Lopez's filing was done in moment of blind rage, it may have been a hefty (and embarrassing) price to pay for a fit of anger.

FATHER-IN-LAW OF FORMER CITY COMMISSIONER, BISD TRUSTEE PAT LEHMANN DIES AT 89

From The Brownsville Herald
Cesar G. Riojas 89, was born October 27, 1926 in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico. 
Cesar G. Riojas ObituaryHe and his wife Porfiria moved to Brownsville in 1954 and raised their family. Before moving to Brownsville, Cesar served as a paratrooper in the Army, 82nd Airborne Division. 
He was a family man who worked for Franklin Corporation for 32 years and later for the Charles Corporation for 10 years as manager and district supervisor before his retirement. 
He became a U.S. citizen in 1994. 
His legacy is marked by a strong work ethic and unwavering love and commitment to his wife, children and grandchildren. 
From teaching his grandchildren how to ride a bike to keeping them busy with wood projects, he devoted countless hours making sure not to miss any of their milestones. He is survived by Porfiria P. Riojas, his wife of 64 years, and four daughters and a son, Patricia Nielsen and her husband Paul of Dallas, Rose Marie Lehmann and her husband Patrick of Brownsville, Elizabeth Hernandez and her husband Marc of McAllen, Judy Ann Rubinstein and her husband Carlos of Austin, and Cesar Riojas, Jr. and his wife Brenda of Harlingen; 12 grandchildren, seven great grandchildren and his sister Celeste Holdenberg. 
He was preceded in death by his parents, Marcial Riojas Viduarri and Maria de los Angeles Garcia de Riojas.
Visitation is scheduled from 2 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, August 23 at Buena Vista Funeral Home with the Rosary starting at 7 p.m. 

Our sincere condolences to Rosie, Pat, Carlos Rubinstein and wife Judy Ann and the extended Riojas family.

ELIA CORNEJO-LOPEZ: VOTE EARLY AND VOTE TWICE 4 ME

By Juan Montoya
Come this November 8 – and during the early voting period from October 24 to November 4 – if you live in Brownsville, you will be able to vote twice for Elia Cornejo-Lopez.
Her name will appear on the general ballot which will include the first presidential race where a national political party will field a woman as their candidate. She will be listed on the ballot as the only candidate for the 404th State District Court as the Democratic Party nominee.

On the other ballot she will be listed as one of five candidates for Position 5 on the Brownsville Independent School District.
How did we get to this peculiar moment?


Cornejo-Lopez has interpreted Texas law and the judicial canon of ethics to permit her to run for both positions even though she incumbent of the 404th. And if by some chance she wins the school board race over her five opponents (including the incumbent Catalina Presas-Garcia who she sees as her nemesis), will she have to resign her judicial position?

The law appears to say yes.
But then again, people who know the judge say she is audacious, determined and resourceful in attaining her goals. If there is a way for her to run for the school board and keep her place on the bench, you can bet that she'll find it.
And don't doubt her political clout. As the only candidate to the 404th in the primary she drew 19,962 votes.

At the same time that she is running for both offices, her husband Leo Lopez will be a write-in candidate for the Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collector's office held by incumbent Tony Yzaguirre, now under two indictments with more than 20 counts including charges of official malfeasance, bribery and participating in organized criminal activity.
As sexy as the charges sound, making them stick may prove more difficult as prosecutors have discovered.

One would think that the adage about the key to winning an election in South Texas is to have your opponent indicted would apply and give Lopez the victory hands down. But there are at least three other write-in hopefuls running at the same time and it like doesn't look like Tad Hasse will be able to dissuade any of them from uniting behind one candidate to have a  chance of beating Yzaguirre in November.

In fact, Yzaguirre won the Democratic Party primary and got 11,528 votes even after he had been very publicly indicted and arrested by a joint force of state troopers and federal agents as the cameras were rolling in front of the Cameron County courthouse only two months before the primary election.
Lopez knows it will be a hard row to hoe to defeat Yzaguirre, especially now that two of his co-defendants have had the charges dismissed against them by Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz.

The fact that his wife Elia is also running for two offices isn't going to help Leo any. Further, if anyone raises a legal issue, it could prove a distraction from his efforts to convince the voters across the county to pencil in his name below Yzaguirre's on the ballot.

Some contend that Cornejo-Lopez has to "resign to run" and vacate her district court position (and $180,000 salary that goes along with it. Others say that the law prohibits "holding" two offices, not merely running for them.
It's a fine a distinction and it may take a court to settle the matter. But until then, we have the peculiar situation where you can, as Democrats like to quip, the opportunity to vote early and (in Elia's case) vote often.

DIRTY DEEDS SCORE: TONY YZAGUIRRE 2, SAENZ 0: D.A. SNATCHES DEFEAT FROM JAWS OF VICTORY

Various Sources:
Perhaps the critics were right when they charged that the arrest and prosecution of Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre may have been rushed prematurely to benefit the reelection of District Attorney Luis V. Saenz.
The arrests of Yzaguirre, tax investigator Pedro Garza Jr., dealer/notary supervisor Omar Sanchez-Paz, and Jose Mireles, who served as a lieutenant with the Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collectors Office, on January were hailed as the culmination of a state bribery investigation called “Operation Dirty Deeds” carried out by an investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety which used informants who reportedly filmed and recorded alleged crimes in that office.
 On Friday, the charges against Garza and Mireles were dismissed, ostensibly to focus on their boss Yzaguirre.
The group had been accused of taking bribes and other charges.
In a prepared statement, Saenz said “The charges on Mireles were dropped last Friday. We intend to try the main defendant, Cameron County Tax Assessor Collector, first. After we prosecute Mr. Yzaguirre we will then prosecute any of his employees that may have been involved. It would be beneficial to Yzaguirre and his defense team to try his employees first. That is why we are doing this.”
Since the defendants cannot be charged with the same crimes, Saenz's claims may ring somewhat hollow. 
Prediction: Yzaguirre will be offered a plea bargain where he will plead guilty to one misdemeanor count and be granted deferred adjudication for one year if he leaves office with all his benefits. If Saenz is lucky, Yzaguirre will accept and Saenz will spin this failure as a triumph for his Public Integrity Unit.
To the two defendants who were arrested publicly and with much fanfare before the cameras before Saenz's reelection: Sorry!

Monday, August 22, 2016

COUNT THEM, THE 20 CANDIDATES ON BISD BALLOT: 10 MEN, 10 WOMEN ASK FOR YOUR VOTE IN NOVEMBER

Position 3 ( Incumbent Otis Powers)
1. Argelia Miller
2. Herman Otis Powers
3 Josette A. Cruz
4. Jorge Valdez
5. Philip T. Cowen

Position 5 (Incumbent Catalina Presas-Garcia)
1. Laura Perez-Reyes 
2. Erasmo Castro
3. Elia Cornejo-Lopez
4. Caty Presas-Garcia
5. Laura Castro

Position 6 (Incumbent Minerva Peña)
1. Roberto Uresti
2. Rhonda Cavazos
3. Ana Hernandez-Oquin
4. Ken Wittenmore
5. Minerva Peña

Position 7 (Incumbent Jose H. Chirinos)
1. Norberto Rangel
2. Jose H. Chirinos
3. Rico Bocanegra
4. Dr. Sylvia Perez-Atkinson
5. Orlando Carlos Treviño

CONDOLENCES IN ORDER FOR LINDA SALAZAR, RUBEN CORTEZ

Special to El RrunRrun
We didn't know it at first, but after inquiring of friends and some of our readers asked about whether we knew the gentleman on the photo with this post was, we found out it was one of the Cortez family.
Lucio Ruben Cortez 73, of Brownsville, Texas, died Friday, August 19, 2016, at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Brownsville.
He had been previously married to Justice of the Peace Linda Salazar and had her son Ruben Cortez. He is now a member of the Texas State Board of Education and previously a trustee of the Brownsville  Independent School District.
Linda eventually remarried to a man named Salazar who passed away a few years ago.
We send out condolences to the Cortez family (especially to Yoli, Irma, and Andy and all the rest) and to Linda and Ruben.
RIP.

TODAY'S BISD FILING DEADLINE POLITICAL SCIENCE LESSON: HOW THE SAUSAGE IS MADE AND GIVEN TO LOCAL VOTERS

"Law (and politics) and sausage are two things you do not want to see being made. No one should see how laws or sausages are made. To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making. The making of laws like the making of sausages, is not a pretty sight." 
Otto von Bismark

By Juan Montoya
With more than a dozen people indicating that they will vie for the four positions open on the Brownsville Independent School District election this November, the candidates – declared and undeclared  – will pile into the district's boardroom at 5 p.m. today who decide whose seat they will seek and learn who their opponent(s) will be.
The drawing for a place on the ballot will follow at 5:30 after the the final filings.
This much we know.

Position 3 currently held by Otis Powers is up for grabs with the incumbent facing former trustee local attorney Philip T. Cowen, BISD staffer Argelia Miller and just today someone named Jorge Valdez filed for the position. He lists his occupation as a private investigator and has Silverio "Silver" Cisneros as his treasurer. Cisneros, you will remember was one of three an unsuccessful candidates for Pct. 2 Constable against Abel Gomez.

Position 5 currently held by Catalina Presas-Garcia is facing Laura Perez-Reyes and Erasmo Castro. Perez-Reyes is a political newcomer and is the court coordinator of Cameron County Court-at-Law #3 under Judge David Gonzales III. Castro has run unsuccessfully for mayor and for county Democratic party chairman and has been identified with social media and his Cheezmeh group Facebook page. Presas-Garcia is completing eight years on the board and is running for her third term.

Position 6 is currently held by Minerva Peña and she is being challenged by Roberto Uresti, Anna Elizabeth Hernandez Oquin and Ken Wittenmore. Uresti has run for city commission before. Peña retired from the Texas Department of Public Safety. Wittenmore is a retired 30-year BISD administrator who has worn a number of different hats ranging from elementary school teacher to employee benefits administrator and finance administrator for the district's food service administrator. This is Hernandez-Oquin's first foray into electoral politics. She is a local businesswoman who owns two McDonald's Restaurant franchises.

Position 7 is currently held by Jose H. Chirinos and is being challenged by Dr. Sylvia Perez Atkinson, Rigoberto Bocanegra and Orlando Carlos Treviño. Atkinson has held positions as superintendent in several school districts, including assistant superintendent in the BISD and is currently employed as an assistant superintendent in the Rio Hondo ISD. Treviño is currently a security guard with the district. Bocanegra is a Brownsville firefighter and an officer in the firefighters' union. He is well known in local political circles and has been actively engaged in numerous political campaigns in the past.

Uresti had first filed for Position 7 but withdrew from that race and filed for Position 6 against Peña.
And, lurking in the shadows is 404th District Judge Elia Cornejo-Lopez who has named a treasurer (her husband Leo) but who hasn't said what position she will vie for.

(Leo Lopez, by the way, was also a former candidate for Cameron County Pct. 2 commissioner in 2014, and is now one of several write-in candidates who will seek the Tax Assessor-Collector position in case that incumbent Tony Yzaguirre, Jr. is convicted on any of 21 charges contained in two grand jury indictments.)

But take this with a grain of sand. Candidates have been known to switch positions at the
moment for the ding on who files for what position. This happened last time when Presas-Garcia ran and the move resulted in a win.
This year Presas-Garcia has said she will remain in Position 5 regardless of who files. And during a recent meeting of the Cameron County Democratic Party, Cornejo-Lopez told some of those attending that she will run for whatever position Presas-Garcia files at the end. There is obviously bad blood between the two fueled by Cornejo-Lopez's resentment against the administration over the alleged mistreatment of one of her daughters attending high school and blames the board – and Presas-Garcia personally over the alleged slights.

And even when some legal observers say that Cornejo-Lopez will be fall under the "resign to run" requisite of holding dual incompatible offices, her supporters say that she would only have to resign her judicial position if she wins and not before. Already, Texas Attorney General opinions are being consulted to see which interpretation is correct. If both offices cannot be held and Cornejo-Lopez wins, she will have to decide whether she remains a judge at pays $180,000 a year salary or a BISD trustee which carries no pay.

One opinion concerning county treasurers indicates they can hold both offices but that if there is more than a year left in their term the "resign to run" provision applies. (Texas Attorney General Opinion: No. JC-490(2002). If she wins, she may not hold both as they have been deemed "incompatible." Is Cornejo-Lopez willing to that?
And you can't count out a stealth candidate who may decide at the last minute to jump into a race, do either on their own volition, or as part of a strategy by other candidates to take advantage of gender, ethnic or cultural differences between the candidates in any given race.

The board's majority before this elections was composed of former BISD Athletic Director and trustee Joe Rodriguez. His bloc included Carlos Elizondo, formerly president of the firefighters union and now Brownsville Fire Department chief and trustee Cesar Lopez. Chirinos, the incumbent for Position 7, formed the fourth vote of the Rodriguez majority. Chirinos has not filed for reelection and has lent an air of uncertainty to the process. Insiders say he will file but will wait until 5 p.m. to decide whether he will or not or what position he will seek.
Whatever Chirinos decides, the Rodriguez bloc needs Chirinos or one other of their backed candidates to win to retain control of the board.

Cowen, running against Powers in Position 3, is seen as a Rodriguez ally and could form the majority if he can overcome the incumbent and Miller could decide the outcome of that race if she draws enough of the female Latina vote and swings it one way or another. Powers is related by family to the Atkinsons and is a indefatigable campaigner. So this race is up in the air as is the sealing of the majority with Cowen by the Rodriguez-led majority.
In fact, Treviño, in the Position 7 race against Chirinos, is Powers' uncle and has told many that one of the reasons he is running is to avenge the removal of his nephew by the Rodriguez majority to replace him with Peña as board president.

There are other considerations here, too.

When Elizondo became fire chief, many of the firefighter union members interpreted that as him selling out the union for personal gain. This may be one of the motives driving Bocanegra, one of his principal allies in union activities and political activism, to run for the board. Add the fact that Bocanegra is being publicly supported by just reelected Cameron County  District Attorney Luis V. Saenz and his politiquero brother Mario and it adds another wrinkle to the works. The Saenz brothers were miffed that Elizondo backed his opponent Carlos Masso in the last election and might be looking to make his life miserable by supporting his former buddy Bocanegra to the BISD board.

Both Bocanegra and Elizondo are city employees as firefighters and – if the city and the BISD administration chose to question their candidacies and ability to hold elective office – it could possibly make them ineligible to serve. The city's personnel policy manual specifically prohibits a city employee from holding an elective office in city government or other jurisdictions if it is determined that it would constitute a conflict of interest.
Specifically, it states":
Section 702: Political Activity
"B. Specifically, City Employees may not engage in the following activities:
4. Hold an elective City office or hold an elective or appointive office in any other jurisdiction where service would constitute a direct conflict of interest with City employment, with or without remuneration. Upon assuming such office, an Employee shall resign or shall be dismissed for cause upon failure to do so."

There is some precedent for this to happen.
In El Paso, a fire department lieutenant was given the choice of keeping his job with the city or the seat on the board of the school district that he had just won in an election. In that case, the firefighter gave up his seat and retained his job. A replacement was appointed by the board's majority.
http://archive.newspapertree.com/news/2450-updated-newly-elected-socorro-trustee-cannot-take-office-and-keep-city-job
When Elizondo won his election to the board in 2014, no one brought out the prohibition, possibly because he was not in a supervisory position with the city as a union president. But now, as chief, that has changed. Bocanegra is a lieutenant on the force and also theoretically subject to the prohibition.

The policy, it would appear, was adopted by the City of Brownsville for a reason.
We have been told that the district's administration is mulling over the Elizondo issue and looking for a resolution to the potential conflict of interest.
Now, who will take the bull by the horns? There is ample doubt that the City of Brownsville administration with its ethically-challenged counsel Mark Sossi will call forth the issue. And we also doubt that the BISD administration – which counts on his vote with the majority – will do anything about this either.

But just suppose that someone calls forth the issue in a courtroom. Would the city personnel policy on its employees (especially a department head) not holding elective or appointive office in another jurisdiction survive the test?

And is this the ace-in-the-hole being held by the Rodriguez majority in case one of their candidates wins or Elizondo decides (or is made) to resign after the election? The local rumors are that he would be replaced by the Rodriguez majority by his ally and soul mate– and former BISD trustee – Graciana de Peña to maintain his control of the board. And on the outside chance that Bocanegra wins, will he also be required to give up his seat and the majority also appoint someone to replace him?
Political science teachers and researchers, if you want to show your students how the sausage is made in Brownsville, have them attend the drawing tonight for a place on the BISD ballot.

With control over a $540 million budget, 7,000 employees and almost 50,000 students, a seat on this board will affect the lives of thousands of city residents, local commerce and businesses.

And with other interests involved in the elections such as the messianic OP 10.33 group led by Mike Hernandez III and United Brownsville's Carlos Marin looking for at least one win on their bonnet, and vendors of everything from barbacoa to windstorm insurance, the deceptively calm surface of Brownsville politics is fraught with roiling and nasty undercurrents below that rival those that have drowned countless illegal crossers in the Rio Grande.

Oh, yeah, wasn't this election about educating the children of Brownsville? Somehow, that seems to have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

MARTINEZ'S INTRANSIGENCE STILL DOGGING MPO MERGER

By Valley Morning Star Editorial Board
Those who live in South Texas don’t just consider themselves to be residents of their respective cities. They also see themselves as part of a single Rio Grande Valley community. We have common cultural interests and, generally speaking, common needs.

A couple of highways link our Valley cities together like charms on a single bracelet, and most residents think nothing about going from one Valley town to another to shop, for entertainment and to visit friends and family.

Some residents and leaders, therefore, believe we should regionalize our transportation needs and potentially increase our transportation dollars by consolidating our three metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) into one.

Lawmakers and policymakers in Austin claim regional unity would give us a greater voice in asking for state transportation funds. If we merged, we are told, our region could become the state’s fifth-largest MPO, bumping El Paso and behind the MPOs representing population giants such as Houston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Austin and San Antonio.

Three MPOs currently serve the Valley: the Hidalgo County MPO, Brownsville MPO and the Harlingen-San Benito area. Our area has far more MPOs than other areas of Texas. For instance, the North Central Texas Council of Governments is the MPO that represents the North Texas cities of Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington, Denton, Lewisville and McKinney. And that MPO receives the most state funding.

Many local officials support the idea of a merger, which has been discussed and studied for over a year. But some notable holdouts include the mayors of Harlingen, San Benito and Brownsville and even mayors of smaller Hidalgo county cities.

In a joint conference call recently with Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez, perhaps the most outspoken of the skeptics, he told the editorial boards of The Monitor, Brownsville Herald and Valley Morning Star, that he doesn’t oppose a regional transportation idea outright, but that he needs more information before he would commit the control and possibly funds from the Valley’s largest city to such a joint effort.

We believe his concerns are valid, particularly if answers to his tough questions are not forthcoming.

We call upon lawmakers in Austin and state transportation officials to give Martinez, as well as the mayors of McAllen, Harlingen and San Benito more facts and figures about what monies could be expected from the Texas Department of Transportation, as well as expected discretionary funds from the Legislature, if our region merged into a single MPO.

We also call on local leaders to continue discussions on this proposal and begin to set regional priorities for highway funds to alleviate concerns that one community or one area of the Valley will benefit from a merger at the expense of other communities.

“Can we have some hard answers to some questions? One: If we get more money. Two: How much? Three: Where is it going to go to? Those are the questions that have never been answered,” Martinez asked.

As a lawyer and businessman, it’s understandable that Martinez, who also is chairman of the Brownsville MPO, wants a strategic business plan that is waterproof and foolproof before entering into such a venture.

We respect that.

No one can argue that Brownsville has not shown itself as having been wise with its road funds and projects.

Over the years, the city has aggressively and prudently leveraged its local dollars to enable the creation of many wide-ranging projects to help the city stay ahead of road congestion and population growth. And it has done so with the help of Cameron County.

Last year, Cameron County Commissioners unanimously approved a $1.6 billion plan to fund county wide transportation infrastructure improvements by setting up a county wide Transportation Reinvestment Zone.

The county dedicates a portion of the tax increment on property in the zone to fund the development of road projects. These funds are leveraged with other federal, state and local funding sources to finance new construction and road renovation projects.

That is forward thinking and an example of how political unions and solid planning can provide a greater good.

But such a strategic execution requires solid planning. And as Martinez has reiterated, he and the mayors of San Benito and Harlingen do not feel that state officials have fully explained why it’s in their best interests to merge the MPOs.

McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said he understands that there are many variables at play with regards to the availability of state transportation funds. And he knows nothing is guaranteed. Nor is there a guarantee as to how lawmakers will see fit to disburse funds to a region, or not.

“I think the potential for money is worth the try,” Darling said about one RGV MPO. “Quite frankly with the Legislature’s approval and those kinds of things, if it doesn’t work you go back to what it was, but you won’t get anything if you don’t try.”

Transportation funds ebb and flow depending upon the state’s economy, oil revenue and other factors. When the economy is on an upswing, these monies are more readily available. Funds also are distributed based on several criteria, including traffic congestion, population and area needs.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, told us that one RGV MPO would enable our region “to have a seat at the table” and be eligible for the discretionary funds that lawmakers dole out.

Hinojosa recently wrote in a column: “The Valley is transforming into a beacon of education, research and technology. And we need this same transformation in transportation and infrastructure to complement the rest of our region’s economic boom. We cannot continue to be three small Metropolitan Planning Organizations that are fighting for transportation dollars, which are merely the leftovers of the state’s big MPOs.”

Saturday, August 20, 2016

GUS RUIZ: NEW KID ON THE BLOCK TRIES TO MAKE SPLASH

By Juan Montoya
It's only been five months since Harlingen attorney Gustavo Ruiz was appointed to fulfill the unexpired term of Pct. 4 Cameron County commissioner Dan Sanchez after the former commissioner ran for the county judge's seat and lost to former City of Brownsville Mayor Eddie Treviño.


Ruiz was appointed to replace Sanchez after he emerged victorious in the primary against Basilio "Chino" Sanchez March 1. He was appointed to Sanchez's seat on March 18 by County Judge Pete Sepulveda.

And the newby on the commissioners court has started to aggressively push for a new county warehouse for his precinct, even though county commissioners about two months ago rejected the proposals from consultants and engineers that they invest $1 million per county precinct for new warehouses for their Road and Bridge and Public Works crews.

This didn't deter Ruiz from having county administrator David Garcia include an executive session item in the special meeting agenda Aug. 16 to consider for possible action the purchase of real estate closer to Harlingen for his precinct's warehouse which is now at 201 N. T St.
No county officials would divulge or comment what went on in executive session but things have a way of leaking from that sieve-like bureaucracy to establish this much.

Apparently, when the subject was brought up as an item in executive session, Pct. 3 commissioner David Garza was miffed that Ruiz had even brought up the subject of buying land for a new warehouse in his precinct after the commissioners had rejected the cost of merely renovating the existing precincts facilities.
"No one had ever said the precinct needed a new warehouse," said a Pct. 4 resident. "But there has been talk of renovating the old one. Maybe he thinks it's too far from his house and office and wanted  a closer site."

Then, once it was explained that the land Ruiz was recommending for the new site of his precinct's warehouse, things really hit the fan.
Apparently, the new commissioner had his eye on property that belongs to the Bence Estate.
The Bence family has had extensive real-estate holdings and the late Leon Bence founded and operated the Bence Nursery Farms and was a real-estate developer. He died in 2010.
As far as anyone acquainted with the issue knows, the Bences were not even aware that Ruiz was trying to get the commissioners court to approve the purchase of the property.

What makes the issue somewhat political is that Sheila Garcia-Bence, wife of attorney Travis Bence, son of the late Leon Bence, won the Democratic primary for the new County Court-at-Law #4. She faces no opposition in the November general election.
For Ruiz to have Garcia place the item for consideration in executive session and possibly buying the property for his new warehouse is considered by many as a rookie mistake from a politician trying to impress his constituents with his political prowess. For others, it also shows that he does not understand that there is a process that is set in place when acquiring real estate.

"In the first place, no one has ever talked of replacing the Pct. 4 warehouse, much less to relocate it or purchase property to build a new one," said a source acquainted with the issue. "For Ruiz to get the county administrator to place it on the executive session agenda for possible action just shows how green he is. No wonder commissioner Garza exploded. It's just bad form."

Ruiz, court observers say, has shown a penchant for keeping his views close to his vest, and those attending commissioners court meetings often have a hard time hearing his statements because he often forget to turn on his microphone when he speaks on the court.
Perhaps, they say, it is a trait carried over form his job advising clients as a veterans advocate at the 444th District Veterans Court presided over by Judge David Sanchez.

"He's got his secretive bent that puzzles people when they first meet him," said a local lawyer. "Maybe it's a carryover from his years in the military."
The issue of the proposed property acquisition was tabled in the last meeting of the commissioners court and is listed on the executive session agenda set for the commissioners' consideration next Tuesday.

A TAXING DISTRICT BY ANY OTHER NAME....

By Juan Montoya
The latest wrinkle coming from the desk of Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda an his minion over at administration (David Garcia) is the (drumroll please) County Assistance Districts (CADs).
Oh, yeah!

You want the University of Texas System to build the Rio Grande Valley a medical school? Well, that will require a hospital district that will tax all the residents within it to provide what the state already provides (without a tax) to other parts of the state.

Do you want to have good roads?
Well, step right over here and set up a Regional Mobility Authority that will be funded through a $10 surcharge on your license plates and with the creation of a wonderful mechanism called a Transportation Reinvestment Zone which will put all the incremental taxes inside that are into the pockets of the TRZ.

Oh, but we would rather build toll roads so you can pay a little extra to our favorite contractors and keep them happy and contributing to our favorite politicians to keep us in the gravy. You understand that, don't you?
The CCRMA got its initial funding from a $10 surcharge on vehicle registration fees (las placas) staring in 2007-2008 until today. With the coutywide TRZ passed by the court, they will get those monies in addition to the millions from county license plates they already receive.

The passage of the countywide TRZ effectively ties the hands of countless county commissioners courts to come and place the CCRMA funds in the hands of a non-elected board.
Then pay the director of this CCRMA a hefty $230,000 salary. In the case of Cameron County, he can double as the county judge irregardless of any potential conflict of interest that may result. 
Below is an eye-opening view of the CCRMA "take" since its formation.:

Lic. Tags:
2007-2008: $896,913
2008-2009: $2,189,945
2009-2010: $2,516,338
2010-2011: $2,725,570
2011-2012: $2,800,570
2012-2013: $2,828,020
2014-2015: $2,905,980
Total: $19,785,142
Add the take from the existing TRZs ($708,532) and county property owners and motorists have given the CCRMA a tidy $20, 493,674.
County values have gone up between 2.8 to 3.5 percent in the last three years. This has resulted in an increase of some $1,126,395 to the county's general fund.
With the countywide that TRZ was adopted using 2015 as a benchmark, the CCRMA stands to get an additional $281,000 a year.

However, if only three of the planned five LNG companies come in, that means an estimated $10 billion in value of which the county would get $39,929,100 in taxes and the CCRMA would rake in $9,982,275 every year at 25 percent, not including the license tag money.

Now the Cameron County Commissioners Court wants you, the county voters,  to approve the creation of a CAD that would create an additional source of funding for the county.
They approved the order calling for the November election where voters would cast ballots for or against the creation of the County Assistance District. The CAD proposal was presented to the court by County administrator David Garcia who pulls in a not inconsiderable $180,000 for his labors.
County officials said the CAD, if approved, would help with the cost of projects and pay for parks, libraries, recreational facilities, museums and services that benefit the public health.

We thought that the public was already paying parks and recreational facilities that through its taxes and fees and thought the popular Certificates of Obligation that are passed by governmental entities without consulting with the voters. Libraries have certainly not been a traditional county service and county clinics have always been funded through their taxes as well.

Officials said the county would collect 2 percent sales tax on businesses outside the city limits that would make it equal to the amount businesses that are within a city limit pay in sales taxes.
Now, keep in mind that the cost for visiting the county beach parks at South Padre Island just doubled to $10 and will be used to fund an additional $30 million in "improvements" to the existing facilities.

With Boca Chica virtually sealed to the public because of the authority the county and state have given billionaire Elon Musk to open or close the beach depending on his SpaceX rocket-launch schedule and the fear of the Border Patrol checkpoint on the way back, SPI is virtually the only beach that will be open to the public.
So what happened to the Texas Open Beaches Act which guarantees public access to beaches along most of the state’s 367-mile Gulf Coast?
They're open only if you can pay, apparently.

So what is next? We have the regular taxes, the special district taxes, the CCRMA surcharge, the proposed hospital district tax, and now the county's bureaucrats want a few more bucks from the CAD.
Sepulveda told a news reporter that the tax could potentially bring in an additional $1 million for the county.
We have, on the books anyway, tax abatements for the likes of Tenaska, SpaceX, and more are planned for the LNGs that total tens of millions of dollars. Why not simply decrease the abatements or do away with them altogether and get the money from there instead of having the county taxpayer shoulder the load to subsidize these megacorporations?

What will brew next in the fertile minds of perpetual bureaucrats like Sepulveda and Garcia?
How about a Pampered Bureaucrat District? Or how about a Special County Slush Fund District? Or a Cameron Petty Cash Special District? Maybe even a Cameron County Rainy Day Fund District, or a Mad Money District in case they just feel like splurging on some other excess? On how about a Pete and Dave Welfare District?
Yeah, that's the ticket!

Friday, August 19, 2016

IS TETREAU CIRCUMVENTING CITY'S PURCHASING PROCESS?

By Juan Montoya
Just when you thought that City of Brownsville District 2 commissioner Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa would keep a low profile and try to serve out her second term in relative obscurity, BAM!, she strikes again.

If she's not talking about this or the other on her Facebook page such as buying expensive jewelry from her bod Deborah Portillo, a used Tesla car from her buddy Elon Musk, leading the cheering section for a local boy Joel Treviño on Univision's La Voz, being blessed by Pope Francis as he scooted around Washingotn D.C. in his Fiat, or agitating for the prosecution of the woman who – as a result of her child falling into the moat – led zookeepers to plomear a Hambere, the silver-back western lowland gorilla in Cincinnati who was born at the Gladys Porter Zoo, she tries her hand at being commissioner.

Now she is making recommendations on her Facebook page on which vendor to hire to provide the city surveillance equipment.
Remember when Da Mayor Tony Martinez had just sailed into office on his first term in 2012?
One of his first acts in office was to take a trip to Orlando, Fla. to represent the city in the U.S. Conference of Mayors National Meeting.
Well, Tony came back with a little something for the city.

He ran into David McCarthy, President and CEO of Community Showcase Banners, of Warsaw, N.Y.
As a result of that fateful meeting, McCarthy wrote Hizzoner Da Mayor that , "recently the City of Brownsville's Mayor, Tony Martinez, was awarded a community showcase at the U.S. Conference of Mayors National Meeting in Orlando, Florida. Nationally, there were only 15 Showcases awarded out of thousands of cities and towns across the country."

Well, weren't we the lucky ones?
His company, CEO of Community Showcase Banners, he went on to say, awarded Brownsville a "community showcase" opportunity to "show the city of Brownsville's economic vitality and the support of our business community."

Martinez agreed to give the Mountain man a nice letter from City Manager Charlie Cabler addressed to "Dear Brownsville Business Owner" stating (again) that "the City of Brownsville was selected for a nationwide program that aims to showcase both the public and the private assets of the city. We (who's we?) have accepted the services for, and will participate in, a three-year promotional campaign conducted by Community Showcase Banners." The letter includes a nice photo of Charlie with McCarthy.

What the letter didn't say was that the city's "opportunity" to participate in McCarthys' uplifting campaign to highlight the civic and business assets in the city carried a price tag. Cabler's letter to local businesses stated that "the company which selected the city for the program, Community Showcase Banners, will be reaching out to you and others in the community to participate."
Local businesses were approached by McCarthy (along with a buxom female assistant) and sporting a Super Bowl ring which he said he earned as a backup quarterback for Jim Plunkett when the Oakland Raiders won the Super Bowl.


Businesses could opt to buy into the showcase banner plan for as little as $695 a year which would get them one Bronze customized sponsorship, one street banner and a preferred pole (light pole from PUB?) site. For $1,095, the lucky participants will get what's called a Bronze+ customized sponsorship with two street banners and two preferred pole sites. You get the idea.

The Gold sponsorship (at only $3,3395 a year) will get you a customized sponsorship, five street banners and five preferred pole sites. The company will be able to use a City of Brownsville logo and "brand" the city's website, according to McCarthy's letter.
Now, we could forgive Martinez, after all this was his first year in public office and he didn't know any better than to encumber the city with obligations to a private vendor without going through the city's purchasing process or vetting the firm for legitimacy.

Over time, the banners never appeared and the idea was dumped like an embarrassing relative.
But Tereau is already on her second term and should know better.
In posts on her Facebook page she recommends that the city consider buying surveillance equipment from one Fernando Lazo and pointedly forwards the post to the Brownsville Police Dept.

Knowing how sensitive BPD Chief Orlando Rodriguez is to the wishes of his bosses (the city commissioners), we're sure that he will keep Lazo in mind if and when the surveillance contract comes up.

But is this the way to do the city's business? Does the feisty commish have inside knowledge (or a private interest) in this firm that would benefit her personally?
Why is she making sure the PD knows about this vendor?
It is one thing to promote a friend business then it's another to prompt it as a commissioner to the city BPD when she votes on their budgets, pay, promotion and union contracts.
Is the surveillance contract up in the very near future?

A PRAYER FOR OUR SONS AND DAUGHTERS OFF TO COLLEGE

Creator of all things
We send off our sons and daughters,
Your sons and daughters,
Into the world, your world, 
your great creation

Enlighten them that they
May begin to understand 
The mysteries and joys of that creation

Give them knowledge
That they may share it
And use their strength to help the weak
And be equals with the strong

That they provide succor to the sickly
And be a balm to the afflicted
That they become a light to those in darkness
And learn the power of humility

That they realize the chance
That they've been given
By those who never got to take
The journey that they've just begun

Straighten the crooked roads before them
Make plane the mountains and the vales
And quell the clouds of storms
That they may find their way in joyful peace...

And learn
To be
Good men and women

Thursday, August 18, 2016

IF A SABAL FALLS IN BROWNTOWN, AND NO ONE HEARS IT...

By Juan Montoya
Fernando Ruiz loved to address the Brownsville city commission on any number of sundry subjects.
Whether it was taxation, bond issues, certificates of obligation, or just the basic services the city provided (or didn't), he had a strong opinion and didn't hesitate to share it with the public officials.
"They're here to listen to us and to do what the people want," he used to tell anyone within earshot.
His friend Dagoberto Barrera was the same, as was Letty Garzoria, the Rev. Alex Resendez, Roberto Uresti, or one of the half-dozen local residents who wanted to give the commissioners an earful.
And, since the meetings were live-streamed, all the people in the city who tuned in to the city channel got to listen to their complaints. Some agreed, some didn't. Some though they were concerned citizens, others thought they were demagogues.
Alas, all that came to an end after contract attorney Mark Sossi gave the commissioners his recommendation that the citizen comment period be censored from the airwaves, citing some legalese about how gagging the citizenry from the mass medium would increase the diversity of the comments and protect the city from potential lawsuits. This happened during the Pat Ahumada administration.
Only one city commissioner, former journalist Melissa Zamora (now Landin) voted against Sossi's recommendation. She is gone to Harlingen now, but Sossi – and his questionable edict – remains.
Ruiz has passed on but the ban on citizens using the public airwaves during the meetings survived him. To the end, Ruiz maintained that having the commissioners' vote to prevent the citizens' comments from being broadcast was an infringement on the people's freedom of speech.
"They're the public's airwaves, not theirs," he railed. "They got the constitution wrong!"
On Wednesday, the Harlingen City Commission decided – after deleting the citizens comment period Aug. 3 because it would extend the executive session late into the night –  that it would be included at the end of the meetings. Harlingen does not broadcast its city commission meetings.
Mayor Chris Boswell said the city moved its citizen communication period to the end of meetings because cities such as McAllen, Brownsville and Corpus Christi held their public comment periods then.
Moving the citizen communication period to the end of the meetings makes meetings “more efficient” because people who come on business can more promptly complete their discussions with commissioners, Boswell said.
In McAllen, officials removed the city’s public comment period, Assistant City Attorney Victor Flores said.
In its place, Flores said, city commissioners make themselves available to speak with citizens after meetings.
The city used to hold its public comment period at the beginning of its City Commission meetings.
In Brownsville, after the airing of the public comment was abolished, and when Ruiz or others commented, it was usually to an empty room because the public usually left the room as did the members of the city commission.
"You were left talking to yourself," said a frequent speaker. "What's the use of airing your concerns if there was no one there to hear you?"
The mayors since the cyber gag was instituted on Sossi's recommendation, have not acted to restore it even after one – Tony Martinez – promised during his first campaign that he would restore their broadcast. Like other promises Martinez made – including establishing a code of ethics for city employees, commissioners and administrators – he never delivered.

ZENDEJAS GIRDS FOR WAR; DISSES BISD BOARD CANDIDATES

ZENDEJAS GIRDS FOR WAR; DISSES BISD BOARD CANDIDATES
By Juan Montoya
As the November 8 Brownsville Independent School Board elections approach  at least one "stakeholder" in their outcome is getting antsy.
That person is none other than BISD Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas.
At a recent meeting between with members of the local business community, Zendejas did the unthinkable. She told the assemblage that there were people she could not work with in her quest to remain at her $200,000-plus position.
As astounded school district administrators and business people listened, she said that she did not need Dr. Sylvia Atkinson, Catalina Presas-Garcia, Minerva Peña, or Otis Powers on the board if she was to lift the district to higher levels of achievement.
"We couldn't believe that the superintendent would use the meeting to campaign for specific candidates," said a person who attended. "She also said that she preferred to have Philip Cowen and (Hector) Chirinos to remain on the board. It was pretty unseemly for an administrator to openly campaign for members of the board who will be her bosses."
This is not the first time that Zendejas has been heard addressing the desirability of having her hand-picked candidates elected before local business and civic groups.
Superintendents, as we all know, live and die with a majority on the school board. If they cannot have the support of and keep a majority happy, it's time to get packing.
Well, Espy (or shall we say Adelita Zendejas) knows this all too well. She has demonstrated this to Brownsville residents when, in 1995 – with three years left on her contract with the BISD – she left to seek greener pastures elsewhere after her majority vanished.
As survivor of educational bureaucracies, she knew that the writing was on the wall when candidates who questioned her leadership won over her supporters on the majority.
When Zendejas left Brownsville in 1995 she landed a job with the Indianapolis Public Schools that lasted another three years until she was replaced with her assistant superintendent for facilities management.
At the time, a news account of her departure indicated that she had a "bankrupted relationship" with the board there.
When she left, she said that the board's support for her reforms had been "lukewarm."
The Indianapolis board paid her $158,100 – a year's salary and benefits – for her early departure.
It's a pattern that has followed her since.
In San Jose, California, Zendejas resigned two years before the end of her contract with the East Side Union High School District over criticism of her management style. According to Zendejas’ contract in San Jose, she made $225,000 a year. The board also paid her a portion of her salary when she left the district.  As part of the separation settlement, she continued working for the district as a consultant until Jan. 31, 2001 and collected a monthly payment of $14,000 (about $168,000 a year) plus benefits, according to the consulting agreement
At the Alisal Union School District in Salinas, Calif., Zendejas also agreed to leave in 2010 but negotiated a deal where she stayed on as a consultant with the district paying her $168,000 a year to do the same job.
Now back in Brownsville where she has family, Zendejas has nowhere left to go and she is out on the hustings trying to make sure that the "right" candidates win in the November elections so that she won't have to clean up her office of her personal belongings and seek another place to alight.
The math is simple. She has in her corner a majority of the school board that is made up of Joe Rodriguez, Cesar Lopez, Chirinos, and Carlos Escobedo.
Chirinos, who holds Position 7, and who everyone considers the weak link because he won his position in a runoff with Linda Gill by four questionable votes four years ago, is being challenged by the formidable Atkinson, the not-so-formidable Orlando Carlos Treviño, and firefighter/activist Rigo Bocanegra who has campaigned for just about every candidate for every position.
To make matters worse, Chirinos has not formally filed to run for reelection, so her majority on the board is not guaranteed.
If either Atkinson or Bocanegra wins, the majority vanishes. Treviño, Otis Power's uncle, is said to be in the race against Chirinos to avenge his vote to replace Otis as board president. Chirinos voted for Peña to replace Powers as president after she decided to play with the Rodriguez majority. They discarded her after they gained the firm majority with Elizondo.
The same goes for the post held by Peña on Position 6, a former ally who is no longer considered her supporter on the board. Peña is facing challengers Kent Wittenmore (a retired BISD administrator considered Rodriguez's ally, though not necessarily a sure vote) and Roberto Uresti, a gadfly who might be considered a spoiler in the race.
Even more uncertain for Zendejas, is the candidacy of Anna Elizabeth Hernandez OQuin, a successful businesswoman who owns two McDonald's franchises in town. Although Hernandez-OQuin has not filed formally, her appointment of a campaign treasurer form lists Place 6 as the post which she is seeking.
As if that wasn't enough to keep Esperanza up nights, Argelia Miller has entered the running for Position 3, throwing off the equation between incumbent Herman O. Powers and Philip T. Cowen. The Powers-Cowen race was going to be a tossup, but with Miller in the race, the Latina "blind" vote factor could tilt the race in Powers' favor, something that Zendejas dreads.
With such a chimerical mixture of candidates, Zendejas is seeing "moros con machetes" everywhere and has moved to gird her loins for battle the potential hazard to her reign.

WHY ARE SOUTHMOST AND SOUTHEAST B'VILLE RESIDENTS BEING SHORTCHANGED ON DELAYED EAST LOOP PLANS?

(Ed.'s Note: It's 9 a.m. today and drivers on International Blvd. were subjected to the full impact of heavy truck traffic. Trucks of all sorts, from those tankers carrying hazardous materials such as fuel, chemicals, etc., to those carrying steel rolls and other cargoes rumble past neighborhoods (bottom graphic), schools (see the graphic on top of chemical tanker trucks in front of J.T. Canales Elementary), high schools (Porter is down the street) housing projects (next to Canales), churches (across the street) and neighborhoods.
Accidents, God forbid, do happen. What would happen if one of these tanker trucks had an accident in front of Canales School and burst into flames and spewed its toxic contents into the school when school is open next week? Or what if there was an emergency vehicle needed and the ambulance had to use the expressway to get there quickly? Would they be able to maneuver past the long line of waiting trucks?
It's been 23 years ago since an overwhelming majority of Cameron County voters approved a bond issue for transportation projects. After more than two decades of being promised an East Loop that would divert heavy (and hazardous ) truck traffic from International Boulevard Cameron County and the City of Brownsville are making noises about actually building it. Local residents remember that it was in 1993 that then-Cameron County Judge (and later U.S. Ambassador to Mexico) Tony Garza, included the project as part of Project Road Map, an ambitious undertaking to upgrade the county's thoroughfares.
Plans called for 74 separate projects throughout Cameron County. Among Project Road Map's more ambitious components was a plan to extend Expressway 77-Highway 83 past Lincoln Park to the proposed site of the Los Tomates International Bridge, what we now call Veterans International Bridge. It would also convert Highway 48 into a four-lane highway, and create a loop beginning on Elizabeth Street and stretching to the Port of Brownsville.
That last one is the so-called East Loop. Instead, the bridge at Los Indios got first priority as is the controversial West Loop Boulevard (or bike and hike trail). And the East Loop that was needed 23 years ago and is critical today to safeguard the lives and safety of the residents there?)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

MAKE BELIEVE COPS, NURSES, ELECTED OFFICIALS THE NORM

By Juan Montoya
Criminals up the valley hit upon the idea early: Dress like cop, pretend you're the law, and you can con people and make money.

This make believe idea has caught on fire and now we have stories of people making believe they are nurses (35-year-old Juan Manuel Perez stole the LVN license number that belonged to someone else with the same name, and used it to gain employment as a nurse at local health care institutions for the last 18 months), cops ( Walter Sigler, 49, who was fired from Mission PD in 2013 was caught impersonating a Mission PD officer in May, when he disrupted a man’s arrest by Palmview Police Department officers), and God knows what is next.


Pseudo cops raids in the northern part of the Rio Grande Valley have been a headache for law enforcement and a nightmare for residents who don't resist when look-alike cops show up and barge in the door demanding they hand over drugs and money they charge are in the house.

Usually, they get away with the ruse and the fake-cop raids continue.
Here in Brownsville, for some reason, we have not suffered the spate of fake-cop robberies except for the fake-cop arrests on 14th Street when tipsy patrons came out of bars and – afraid they would be charged with PI or DWI – handed over their wallets and keys to the fake cops who would later peel off and throw their empty wallets and keys down the alley.

In a way, those victims were lucky.
There has been a mass contagion of pseudo everything here that has plagued the local community.
You have fake U.S. students whose parents rent a hovel or trailer space in the city and acquire an address to get a free education compliments of the real citizens.
But it goes even further.

You have pseudo city commissioners (Jessica Tetreau and Deborah Portillo) whose opponents correctly pointed out that they had used their parents' addresses so they could run for their positions on the city commission.
But, of course, that complements the fake city manager (ex-cop Charlie Cabler), the ehtics-challenged pseudo city attorney (Mark Sossi), and the fake fire chief (Carlos Elizondo.)

Why fake?
Cabler does not have one graduate course of city management or urban planning under his resume and might as well have been fire chief since his main occupation seems to be to put out brush fires in city government and then sweep the ashes ( and some live cinders) under the rug. Meanwhile, he can orchestrate mass self-hugs by city officials while Browntown burns. A goodly part (more than $2 million) of the city's expendable grant income is then diverted to stuff like bike trials for the Queen Isabella Causeway which we all know is inside the city limits. Does anyone know when we annexed Port Isabel?     

Same goes for Sossi, whose legerdemain has allowed him to cover up his long list of sins including theft of a $167,363 judgment intended for his previous employer, the Willette & Guerra Law Firm, incompetence, two malpractice lawsuits from Brownsville residents who trusted him to represent them, reportedly stealing another $20,711.66 intended for employee unemployment benefits from the Texas Workforce, and a $100,000 tax lien from the I.R.S.
Add to that his appointment by Da pseudomayor Tony Martinez to draft a code of ethics for the city and the picture could not be more complete of a would-be city attorney.

Elizondo is not much different. Until recently, he had denied that he had been charged with felony theft back in 2002. That charged was "dismissed" by now-imprisoned 404th District Judge Abel Limas and Elizondo was defended by convicted court-appointed lawyer (and former District Attorney) Armando Villalobos. The "dismissal" was based on the fact that Villalobos negotiated a plea deal to have Elizondo pay restitution to the felony-theft victim and all was forgotten.

He then tried to pass a captain's exam at the city's Civil Service for the fire department and failed by two points scoring a 69. After two reviews, Elizondo's grade somehow changed to a 71. This angered firefighter Sacramento Diosdado who had scored a 70 and he sued in court. That, too, was "settled" and Cabler nonetheless made him fire chief over more qualified candidates.

Pseudomanager Cabler has also chosen to ignore City of Brownsville Personnel Policy Manual that prohibits a city employee from holding elective office in the Brownsville Independent School District. Or perhaps the delay is part of a bigger plan that is awaiting the propitious time to remove Elizondo from the district's board and replace him with an appointed trustee to the liking of the majority after those pesky elections are done in November.

It's not much different at Cameron County where we've had a pseudocounty judge riding shotgun over the other commissioners. Pete Sepulveda (actually the CEO of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority at a $230,000 salary) does not get paid by the county per se. His salary is paid by the CCRMA which gets its money from the $10 surcharge on license plates and on value-added taxation on Transportation Reinvestment Zones. Sepulveda has been there since Carlos Cascos went off to become the Texas Secretary of State and will give up the reins to county government in January to county judge-elect Eddie Treviño, the very same Eddie who oversaw the $1 gift to Carlos Marin as the architect of Imagine Brownsville-United Brownsville cum OP 10.33.

Taking over the job Sepulveda held preciously as county administrator is another psuedoadministrator David Garcia, in reality a political hire under Gilberto Hinojosa as a favor to Lencho Rendon, Solomon Ortiz's administrative assistant. Garcia as been doing fine, thank you, at his inherited $180,000 salary to administer five entire departments ranging from Public Works to Engineering, the international bridges, etc. Of course, no mere human being can do that, but we're playing make believe, remember.

Over at the BISD we have a pseudo superintendent who was picked from a pseudopool of one after a majority of the trustees under psueudocoach Joe Rodriguez conducted a psuedonational search, hired a pseudoconsultant, and formed a psuedocommunity committee to hire a new superintendent.
Every move was run through pseudoeducation attorney Baltazar Salazar, whose pseudo credentials in educational law were approved by the board trustees even after his firm scored lower than the six finalist law firms they considered. His efforts to expunge his criminal record were stymied by the Texas Department of Public Safety even after he appealed to an appeals court.

And among those trustees is none other than trustee Jose Chirinos whose dismal performance as BISD Transportation Director where he racked up more than $2 million in pseudo overtime for the bus drivers union and piled a redundant inventory that saw tires deteriorate on the racks and office supplies that were staked up to the ceilings, earned him the selection as head of the budget committee. Chirinos, who has fooled himself into thinking he is a real-issue trustee, is running for reelection in  November.

We also have a pseudo university whose main campus is in Edinburg while a semblance of a real one is passed off as UTRGV-Brownsville. The new UT Sytem chancellor saw what a sham the new "Institute of the Americas" was under former UTB president Juliet Garcia and axed the position, making her an advisor to his office instead. She is now writing a history of the origin of the UTRGV. Will there be a chapter on her utter failure as a "community university" president whose dismal performance forced local residents to put an end to the pseudopartnership between the UT System and UTB that resulted in the UTRGV being established?
Oops, we forgot. No pseudohistory of the UTRGV is going to contain the real truth.

And while we're at it, how about the pseudogovernment known as Imagine Brownsville-United Brownsville-OP 10.33?
We have a pseudo government running things here in the abeyance of city government and the psuedo mayor (really a real real-estate speculator with real public money) posing as an elected official while handing over the reins of government to the non-elected United Brownsville Coordinating Board (AKA United Brownsville cum OP10.33) ) and abdicating his civic responsibilities.

Now, pseudo Messiah Mike Hernandez III with pseudo philanthropist Carlos Marin (who formed the pseudo government Imagine Brownsville-United Brownsville cum OP 10.33 for a very real $1 million greenbacks) has allied with these pseudo philanthropists Ed Rivera and Fred Rusteberg, to uplift the masses from their poverty-induced stupor.
(Rivera, by the way, was also a pseudo candidate for the Brownsville Navigation District despite the fact that he lived in Laguna Vista, outside the district boundaries.)
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The latest OP 10.33 gambit and public relations stunt was to hand out insect repellent to a few residents living downtown with the stated aim of combating the Zika virus at the border, a pseudogambit to elicit goodwill from the peasants. The face of the OP 10.33 PR tour de force was none other than George Gavito, the former Port of Brownsville Chief of  Police who left under ambiguous circumstances. In no time, they were self-congratulating Hernandez (Our Organization's Founder) on a job well done. It was a huge non-success! No Zika virus cases were reported on that day...or the next.

And representing us at the state legislature are pseudo Senator Eddie Lucio, his son Eddie III and perennial Rep. Rene Oliveira. All these fine gents make us believe they are the public's representatives while simultaneously making a bundle by selling the public trust as "consultants" to such interests as engineering firms (Dannenbaum Engineering in Lucio Jr.s case which "engineered" the $21 million Bridge to Nowhere), and to private prison interests (in Willacy County), and the saying that fruit that doesn't fall from the tree was never more true than in the case of son Eddie Jr. who is now a $38,000 a month consultant to OP 10.33's Mike Hernandez III. Oliveira's subservience to delinquent-tax collector Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson and out-of-state PACs is the stuff of legends in Austin.

Add this to a pseudo downtown Brownsville, a psudo Cyclobia, a psuedo Healthy Communities, and a pseudo All-American city and one can see why others would try to emulate our leaders. And who is watching over all this falsity? Why none other than our pseudonewspaper (the Brownsville Herald) and a pseudo district attorney (Luis V. Saenz) who has mistaken political convenience for a very hazy conception of PR justice and law-and-order.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

MY BRUSH WITH FINANCIAL MASTERMIND ROBERT VESCO

By Juan Montoya
It was November, 1983, and it fell on my lot to have been covering the federal courthouse for the Brownsville Herald during the trial of three men who had been accused of being part of a scheme with fugitive financier Robert Vesco to smuggle prohibited sugar pelletizing technology from the United States to Cuba.

Vesco wasn't in the court, and neither were two of the three men charged in the scheme.
Only one of the three defendants appeared for trial. Salvadoran Ramirez Preciado was convicted of violating the Trading with the Enemy Act and later sentenced to a five-year jail term by U.S. District Judge Filemon Vela on Dec. 19. Vela had upped Preciado's bond to $500,000 from $50,000 pending his sentencing.


The other two men were identified as Canadian organized crime figure Albert Anthony Volpe who jumped bond and attorneys presented a Mexican death certificate showing that suspect Alejo Quintero Peralta of Mexico City had been killed by a sister-in-law in a domestic incident. U.S. Customs agents thought Preciado was a Cuban intelligence officer.

I learned from Customs sources who worked the case that they had seized the sugar mill equipment at Valley International Airport at Harlingen, Tex., July 7. The three men suspected of working with Vesco were arrested at that time. Then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Jack Wolfe charged at the trial of the three men that a Vesco associate arranged their $50,000 cash bonds.
"Cuba is in the process of improving all faces of its industry and all the technology they need is in this country," Wolfe said. "Vesco was going to get it for them. We won't see the end of this for years and years."

Case files indicated that Vesco had arranged to buy the prohibited technology from California Pellet Mill Company, a subsidiary of Ingersoll-Rand, with offices in San Francisco. He used a Costa Rican outfit called Cominsa, later changed to Imbagua, an acronym In Spanish for water-pumping equipment. A man representing both companies, Jose MacCourtney, negotiated the purchase of 10 of California Pellet's mills plus extra equipment. In payment for the first shipment, a check from Barclays Bank in Nassau for $712,337.50 was deposited in California Pellet's account at the Bank of America.

The company produced machinery that compacted fine substances into dense solids ranging from animal food to municipal waste conversion into fuel. The application Vesco and the Cubans were trying to smuggle treated the residue from sugar-cane processing, bagasse. Bagasse can be converted into briquettes for fuel for a refinery's boilers. A refinery could thus be made self-sufficient in energy and perhaps have fuel pellets to sell.
The machinery was seized at the Valley International Airport, and in Chicago after the men's arrests in Harlingen. The equipment seized here was a recent model and probably the best of its kind.


At the time, our sources said that "the Cuban government had built a beach house for Vesco and at least six other men some said implicated in the original $224 million mutual fund swindle of IOS Ltd., an European-based mutual fund firm." 

Vesco was president and Milton F. Meissner was vice-president of of IOS Ltd., an European-based mutual fund firm.
A Jan. 11, 1976, indictment charged the two men with conspiracy to misappropriate the $224 million. At the time of Preciado's trial, Meissner was spotted by a newspaper reporter at the Varlovento Yacht Club near Havana. 

The government sources alleged that Vesco used corporations located in Greece, Costa Rica and Canada as fronts in the alleged scheme to circumvent the U.S. blockade.
It isn't often that a worldwide fugitive of such notoriety made his presence known in our neck of the South Texas chaparral, but the story made the wire services and newspapers in Detroit (where Vesco was born and raised) and in New York and other large U.S. cities because of the international aspect of the scheme.

Vesco was born in Detroit and became a millionaire by age 30. He spent decades on the run from US authorities not only for fraud, but for drug trafficking, bribing American officials, and illegal contributions to Richard Nixon. Vesco reportedly died in Cuba in 2008. A relative, who is living anonymously in a rundown Havana apartment,  told a news reporter that Vesco had a small funeral in Havana and is buried in a tomb that does not bear his name.
And we thought Brownsville was a quiet, little, out-of-the-way place.

GAVITO MAKES TV CAMEO FIGHTING ZIKA BLOODSUCKERS


By Juan Montoya
Add fighting avian blood suckers to the long resume former Cameron County District Attorney investigator, Port of Brownsville Police Dept. chief, narco-satanista vanquisher, and pioneer Brownsville family descendant George Gavito is compiling.
You could also add owner of Wowees flour tortilla tacos, and resurrector of the old Barrel House Bar in downtown Brownsville to that growing list of accomplishments.

In his latest reincarnation, Gavito has teamed up with his cousin Mike Hernandez III, the force behind the messianic OP 10.33 organization whose stated aims is to eradicate poverty in Brownsville by October 2033 (OP 10.33, get it?), to provide the front lines in the battle against the  Zika virus and to erect a chemical barrier and prevent it from making its way toward to the rest of valley. 

To that end, Gavito was making the rounds in the low-income areas of downtown Brownsville thbis weekend assisted by the St. Joseph Academy Bloodhound football team handing out cans of mosquito repellant to surprised residents. At about $4 a can, it means that cousin Hernandez might have plunked $4,000 for the 1,000 cans if he didn't get a discount at Sam's.

Somehow (we didn't ask how) he got the football team members to volunteer and pass them out.
Gavito told a local broadcaster that he chose this area to pass out the nearly one thousand cans because he knows finances are tight.
"These cans cost four dollars each. So you can't get them with food stamps," Gavito said.
 "That's the last thing they're going to buy and if it rains, that's the first thing they're going to need, so I think it's very important to get the message out," he added. 

How he knew that the people who got the repellant were on food stamps is beyond us. Maybe he knows the census tract statistics by heart, or something. 
In a previous lifetime I used to work at the Brownsville Herald with Gavito's uncle Oscar Castillo who told us his nephew was going to get in trouble with his facile statements.

That proved to be true after George found himself as the Cameron County Sheriff's Dept.'s poster boy during the Mark Kilroy murder investigation involving the satanista cult headed by Adolfo Constanzo outside of Matamoros that also captured "witch" Sara Aldrete.

All that is behind him now and – unscathed and still a free man carrying a little more weight and graying sideburns – he's back home teaming up with cousin Mike III to push back the frontiers of ignorance, corruption and injustice and to take a swipe at the pesky Zika virus in his spare time.
"Hey, buddy, you got to help out," George told us recently. "We went all over passing them out."    

Monday, August 15, 2016

TOP-HEAVY CITY LEGAL, MANAGEMENT RUNS BROWNSVILLE

By Juan Montoya
Ever wonder what it takes in legal and management costs to keep the City of Brownsville operating as it is, a well-oiled machine?
The city's mission statement reads: "To provide our customers efficient and quality municipal services with courtesy and concern."

Toward that end, the city – the poorest in the country, according to numerous surveys – has hired the top legal and management guns (literally) to provide the vaunted efficiency in the mission statement.
Local residents put up with bad streets, chronic flooding, and an occasional scandal or sexual escapade from some city employees, but we never really know how well compensated those in the higher echelons of the city are.


A public information request has yielded some interesting facts about the pay grades in the legal and management ranks that run our city.
(Click on graphic below to enlarge)

At the top of the managerial pecking order is city manager Charlie Cabler with a $220,000 salary, followed closely by city attorney Mark Sossi at $180,000 ($120,000 annual retainer and another $60,000 from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, GBIC, to sit in one their meetings).

In fact, Sossi's take in a year is almost half (44.1 percent) of the $407,000 paid to the other five staff members (lawyers and legal secretaries) in the department. The department's lowest paid legal secretary at $26,416 earns just under 15 percent of what Sossi is paid.
The department's assistant city attorney makes $55,606.25, the city prosecutor another $45,020.25 and the deputy city attorney makes $72,275.84.
And all that has been in the works since July 2009 when Sossi , Cabler and then-mayor Pat Ahumada signed on to a one-page contract that has netted Sossi at least $1,260,000 in the seven years that it has been in effect. (that's million with an "M".)
The situation with Cabler has not been much different.
His department's payroll totals $878,153, with his $220,000 totaling a little over one-quarter of it.
Low on the totem pole is an administrative specialist whose $21,786 annual salary equals less than 10 percent of what the boss takes home.
But on the high end, the city commissioners have seen fit to provide Cabler, an ex-cop, with three assistant city managers with salaries of $119,999.8, $123,600.05, and $139,049.87 to help him keep the city running smoothly. Between the three assistants and Cabler, they gobble up $602,649.84, or about 70 percent (actually 68.6 percent) of the department's salary budget.
Take a look around the city and its appearance and think about the legal entanglements that the city has had to endure (and pay for in legal fees and lawsuit settlements). Are we getting our money's worth?

rita