Friday, November 21, 2014

CHICKENS COME HOME TO ROOST: PONZI SCHEME VICTIMS SUE

By Juan Montoya
A victim in a $3 million, "Ponzi scheme" has charged in a lawsuit that he and other victims were never paid restitution on properties that were bought with their money and later sold  by then-Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos.
Named as defendants in the lawsuit filed by Mike Irby, of Mercedes, are Cameron County, County Judge Carlos Cascos, DA Luis Saenz, former Asst. DA David Gonzales, and Brownsville attorney Fabian Limas who was the receiver for the victims of the scheme.
Irby says that some of the defendants reside in Cameron County and that the properties confiscated, forfeited, and sold are located in Cameron County.
According to the lawsuit, Richard Ferguson, the propagator of the Ponzi scheme, came to visit him at his home in Mercedes on January 2005 offering him the chance to invest money with an expectation of realizing a profit. Ferguson told Irby that he could secure government grants for a fee and a percentage of the grants he received. He told Irby that he was licensed to apply for the state grants and could therefore charge a fee for his services. He also told Irby and other investors that he had successfully secured grants for different business and individuals in the past.
Irby also charges that Ferguson told him that he could secure environmental feasibility studies for a fee that the state would then purchase for a significant profit.
Based on these representation, Irby said he invested $16,000 with Ferguson to acquire the grants and environmental studies. To date, Irby said, none of the grants or feasibility studies have been accepted or funded. He charges that Ferguson took the money for his own personal gain never intending to invest it.
In fct, in an exhibit he provided with his lawsuit, Irby shows that some 150 investors were biked by Ferguuson with sums ranging from as little as $710 to $325,000. The bilked cover everything from professionals to small businessmen and investment firms. The total amount documented by investigators indicated that Ferguson had induced them to invest $3,065,037.
Then, on February 2007, Ferguson was indicted for theft by deception also known as a "ponzi" scheme.
On March 2009, Ferguson pleaded guilty to theft by deception and was sentenced to 12 years in the Texas Department of Corrections and ordered to pay the $3 million in restitution to his victims, including Irby.
Between February 2007 and March 2011, Ferguson – as part of his restitution agreement – transferred title to numerous properties partly purchased with his $10,000 investment and transferred at least $1.8 million to the named defendants Cameron County, et al.
Irby further states that at least one of the forfeited properties was sold for $159, 000 to Orville and Cecilia Jackson, of San Benito by then-Asst. D.A. David Gonzales. Gonzales is now judge of the Cameron County Court-at-Law #1. Irby claims the property sale was improper because any sale of property that belongs to the county can only be transferred by the county judge after approval by the commissioners court and after placing the property for sale at public auction.
In all, Irby lists that the county sold at least 14 properties (including that sold to the Jacksons) for about $1,204,650. Some sold for more than $300,000 and the lowest paid the county $18,000.
Then, on September 2011, Ferguson – represented by attorney Gilberto Hinojosa – came before Judge Arturo Nelson for a habeas corpus seeking relief from his prison sentence and told the court that he had paid "full restitution" to the victims of his scheme. Representing the county was Rene Gonzalez.
The court found that Ferguson had "made full restitution" as previously ordered in the judgment and reduced his sentence to eight years on December 2011. During all this time, Irby claims, "Villalobos acted directly in these transactions and received personal benefits to which (he and others are) now liable."
This allowed Ferguson to be released on parole and he was released.
Irby claims that the defendants should have known that none of the $1.8 million gained by the DA and the county with the sale of the properties that were purchased with the victims of Ferguson's "ponzi" scheme was never paid as restitution to him or the other victims. He charges the defendants with fraudulent misappropriation of funds.
Irby also charges that the defendants negligently misrepresented to the court that they would distribute all monies recuperated from Ferguson to the victims. Irby also charges that the defendants acted with gross negligence and conspired civilly to deprive him an other victims of the restitution ordered by the court. These actions constituted fraud and constructive fraud, Irby charges.
As receiver of the victims' restitution, Irby charges in his lawsuit that attorney Fabian Limas had a fiduciary duty to act on their behalf and did not. He charges that up to now Limas has not taken any action to recover their losses. He asks the court to order Limas to perform his duties and, if he fails to do so, to disqualify him and replace him. Irby claims he suffered actual damages not to exceed $50 million and seeks exemplary damages to be determined by a jury.

FOR SOSSI, A USUAL PERFORMANCE WORTHY OF PINOCCHIO

By Juan Montoya
Facts took a back seat in the hearing before Judge Arturo Nelson's 138th District Court Thursday.
Foremost among the fibbers was none other than City of Brownsville contract attorney Mark Sossi, who clearly taxed the credulity of the people assembled in the audience and the lawyers and the bench.
Sossi at any one time argued against the truth. Here are some of the beauts:
1. The City of Brownsville had not decided whether it was actually going to sell the 48-acre Lincoln Park property to the University of Texas System for $6.5 million.

Fact: After the November 4 City Commission meeting, where the commission voted to authorize the city staff to negotiate the sale of Lincoln Park, 4-3, with Mayor Martinez breaking the tie, the UT Board of Regents met in El Paso November 5 and 6.
A press release concerning the regent's meeting indicated they viewed their purchase of Lincoln Park as a done deal with an agreed upon price. The exact wording was:
"The property (Lincoln Park) is critical for the growth of the institution due to its size and proximity to the academic core of the campus; there is no alternative site of equal benefit available. The City of Brownsville has indicated that it plans to use the BARGAIN SALE proceeds to replace the park facilities at locations (note - plural) more convenient to the public.
Bargain Purchase Price: $6.5 million
Appraisal: Appraised by Acquire and Patterson, Inc. (July 23, 2014) market value range from $8,860,000-$9,360,000
Lease back at no cost to the City of Brownsville for a period not to exceed 5 years, so that the City of Brownsville will have time to construct alternate park facilities elsewhere."

2. Commissioner Rose Gowen, who voted to go forward with the sale, does not work for UTB or the new UTRGV. She is the medical director for UT Health research unit related to the UT Brownsville and UT-Houston, which Sossi said is a "totally different entity" that has nothing to do with UT-Brownsville.
Fact: As Luis Saenz said, "UT is UT" whether it's in Brownsville, Austin, San Antonio, or El Paso. The entire UT System is run by the UT System Regents and is under their authority."
Sossi later stipulated that Gowen was a UT employee and that she received more than 10 percent of her income form the system.

3. Sossi and Texas Attorney General representative William Deane questioned the appraisal skills of former Mayor Pat Ahumada and his assessment of the land on which Lincoln Park is located saying that the comparables made his comparisons not  credible.

Fact: Ahumada was using the same methodology that was used to push forward the sale of half a block and and empty building belonging to Abraham Galonsky in moribund downtown Brownsville for an unjustified $2.3 million. With 17 years experience as a certified appraiser, Sossi and Deans's arguments that he didn't qualify as an expert on local real-estate appraisals didn't hold water. Why didn't Sossi question the methodology used by the city to purchase Galonsky's property then?

It was obvious to many there that Judge Nelson was more bent on protecting Gowen's professional reputation as a doctor and a city commissioner than of respecting the rights of the people who were trying to defend the giveaway of the city's assets to the UT System.

Would you buy a used argument from contract lawyer Sossi or an abused mayorship from Tony Martinez? Watch the noses grow some more.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

BULLETIN; NELSON DENIES TRO ON LINCOLN PARK SALE

Word has reached us that 138th District Court Judge Arturo Nelson has denied the granting of a temporary restraining order to stop the sale of Lincoln Park to the University of Texas system.
The motion for the TRO was filed by Cameron County District Attorney Luis Sanez and Ass. DA Matthew Kendall as private citizens. Saenz and Kendall were represented by attorney Michael Cowen.
In rendering his order, Nelson did not specify the reasons for the denial other that he had studied the arguments and evidence presented to him  by the plaintiffs and defendants.
Saenz and Kendall had argued that city commissioner Rose Gowen was in conflict of interest because she was working for the UT System when she voted for the resolution that gave the city staff the go-ahead to enter into negotiations with the UT System to sell the 48-acre park for $6.5 million, millions below the UT System's own appraisal and an independent appraisal performed by former mayor Pat Ahumada.
In reaction to the denial, a local political activist said the upcoming city elections on  May 15 – for which mayor Tony Martinez has already announced for reelection – would become a referendum on the park's sale.
"If you want the park sold, vote for Tony. If you don't want the park sold vote against Tony," he said.

MORE THAN A YEAR AFTER COURT ORDERS, FILES REAPPEAR

By Juan Montoya
On April 24, 2012,  current Brownsville Independent School District general counsel filed a petition to expunge public records of his three offenses of theft by check, one on January 15, 1983, and two on April 26, 1984.
Salazar was not an attorney when these charges of felony theft were brought against him in the 107th District Court. He ran an optical service as a private businessman.
He became BISD counsel in April 2013, a year after he had petitioned for the expungement in district court.
The 107th District Court Judge Ben Euresti – after hearing no objection from the assistant district attorney – granted the expungement and ordered all records associated with the charges removed from the files of all the courts and other law enforcement agencies that handled them.
But no one had told the Texas Department of Public Safety that among one of those charges was one for which Salazar had been sentenced to a three-year stint in the Texas Department of Corrections, modified to seven years probation, with which he complied.
Under Texas law, even if you have been granted deferred adjudication or served probation for an offence, it cannot be expunged.
In the case for which Salzar was convicted, the judge granted deferred adjudication contingent on his fulfilling his probationary period.
The evidence shows that in April of 1984, Salazar telephoned Coburn Optical, which manufactures lenses and machinery for the optical industry, and ordered merchandise to be sent to him at Salazar Optical and Medical Company in Brownsville, Texas. 
May 15th, 1984, Coburn Optical received a check in the amount of $5,700 for payment in advance of Order No. 4090. The firm's manager stated that several shipments were made to Salazar in April of 1984. 
"In most of the shipments, the check was received before we shipped the merchandise. In one instance, there was a C.O.D. shipment made," he testified before the court.
The manager asserted that if Coburn Optical had not received the check from Salazar they would not have shipped the order. After this check and several others were dishonored, a company representative telephoned appellant who agreed to send a cashier's check to cover all of them. That cashier's check didn't clear either.
Nonetheless, the 107th ordered Salazar to pay restitution and placed him on seven-years probation.
After that verdict was delivered on its behalf, the company sought to collect on three other checks that Salazar owed them and the Cameron County District Attorney moved to collect and charged Salazar with three other counts on a different charge in on March 1985.
As the court proceedings moved on, Salazar told the court that he was appealing his conviction on the initial charge and asked for a continuance on the later charges. The court agreed and awaited the 13th Court of Appeals decision on the first conviction.
In May 15, 1986, the appeals court upheld the trial court and  the trial process began in the other three hot checks.
The additional charges stemmed back to April 1984 and the process dragged on until 1990 when Salazar's attorney – after he had served his probation on the previous charge – filed for a dismissal on the others for want of prosecution. The court, presided over by then-Judge Gilbert Hinojosa, granted the dismissal.
However, when Salazar was contemplating applying for the BISD, he filed for the expunction of all the charges for felony theft against him and that's when the DPS appealed the trial court's expunction.
The 13th Court of Appeals stated that:
"We reverse the trial court's order and render judgment denying the petition for expunction as to all three offenses. We order any documents surrendered to the trial court or to Salzar returned to the submitting agencies." Delivered and filed the 15th Day of August, 2013, Dori Contreras Garza,
Justice.
Since August of 2013 until just this week, the district court's office could not produce the original files because it was behind on following the orders of the appeals court. 
Since Salazar was granted deferred adjudication, the conviction for felony theft was set aside and the other three that Hinojosa dismissed did not go to trial. However, since he served probation for the initial charge, the criminal record cannot be expunged and remains in the court records with the district clerk.
Salzar's sister ended up marrying one of the Lucio brothers. The decision to grant dismissal on the other charges was made by Gilberto Hinojosa.
The saying that having friends in high places gets you a long way couldn't apply to someone more than to our friendly neighborhood BISD legal counsel.

ON 104TH ANNIVERSARY OF MEX. REVOLUTION: A NEW ONE?

By Adam Goodman
Aljazeera-America

The Mexican Revolution, which launched on Nov. 20, 1910, was the first major political and social revolution of the 20th century. It brought an end to Porfirio Díaz’s 34-year dictatorship and transformed Mexico through land reform, the implementation of presidential term limits and the nationalization of natural resources.

Today, on the 104th anniversary of the revolution, Mexico faces another defining moment.

Since 2006, when then-President Felipe Calderón launched a war against Mexican drug cartels, more than 100,000 people have been killed and more than 22,000 have disappeared, according to conservative estimates. While the Mexican government is responsible for the violence and carnage the drug war has wrought, the United States is complicit: It has provided a market for drugs north of the border, sent guns south of the border and funded the drug war by sending $3 billion to the Mexican government through the Mérida Initiative and other programs.

Though drug-war-related violence has not let up during the first two years of President Enrique Peña Nieto’s term, he has largely ignored it. What’s more, his administration has changed the narrative to focus on Mexico as an economic success story. This, of course, has done nothing to reduce the killings and forced disappearances.

But now Peña Nieto, as well as the foreign investors he has worked so hard to court, can no longer avoid acknowledging the pervasive violence, corruption and impunity that continue to plague Mexico. The Sept. 26 abduction of 43 students in the southwestern state of Guerrero has eliminated whatever credibility his pivoting to economic issues might have had.

The students came from the town of Ayotzinapa, where they attended the Raúl Isidro Burgos Normal School — a rural teacher-training school with a long tradition of social activism, born out of the revolution. What happened to them is still unclear, but officials have claimed that the politically ambitious mayor of Iguala and his wife — both of whom had ties to organized crime and are currently in custody — feared that the students were going to disrupt an event later that day and ordered local police officers to stop them. When confronting the students, the police opened fire, leaving two students and three bystanders dead. A sixth person turned up dead the next day, his eyes and the skin on his face removed — a sign of a cartel-style execution.

Police then reportedly turned 43 students over to Guerreros Unidos, a local drug gang. According to the government, members of the gang killed the students, chopped up their bodies, added branches and trash to the pile, doused it in gasoline and set it aflame. They kept the fire burning for more than 14 hours, until all that remained was ash, some bone fragments and some teeth that “turned to powder” when touched, said Attorney General Jesús Murillo Karam. Three of the men who supposedly carried out this heinous, unthinkable crime provided information that helped authorities recover black plastic garbage bags filled with human remains.
Overthrowing Porfirio Díaz may have seemed as implausible 104 years ago as a Mexico with a restructured political system and highly functioning rule of law does now.

Officials have yet to confirm whether the remains in those bags belong to the 43 students. The students’ families do not believe the government — with good reason, based on history and how the investigation has gone thus far — and demand proof. (A special lab in Innsbruck, Austria, will test the remains in hopes of providing a conclusive answer, although it is unclear if it will be able to do so.)

At a Nov. 7 press conference, Murillo Karam emphatically denied that what happened to the 43 students of Ayotzinapa was a state crime. But the state has played an important role in creating the political culture in which something like this could occur. The Mexican Revolution was progressive in that it toppled Díaz, but it gave way to an authoritarian political culture via the formation and rise of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), which Mario Vargas Llosa famously described as “the perfect dictatorship.”

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GARZA: NEW MINDSET IS NEEDED IN U.S.-MEXICO-CANADA

By Tony Garza
U.S.  Ambassador (Ret.)

For the past twelve years, my work has taken me back and forth across the United States’ and Mexico’s shared border. 
I’ve watched as the two countries took steps forward, and sometimes back, steadily tying together communities from Mexico’s southern states up through northern Canada. It is clear to me that as Americans, we live in the world’s most dynamic region. But we have yet to fully capitalize on what can be achieved by working together.

Our three countries’ deep ties go back decades, but recent changes present an opportunity to create even stronger cooperation. 
Mexico’s wide-ranging and ambitious reforms (especially in its energy and telecommunications industries) are allowing for deeper regional integration than anything possible for over half a century. And new technologies and innovations in our energy sectors are unleashing production across the continent, making us—the United States and North America—increasingly energy secure.

The Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) recently released a new Task Force report on North America, chaired by General David Petraeus and Ambassador Robert Zoellick. The report succinctly captures North America’s promise as a global powerhouse, highlighting its almost 500 million people, quarter of the world’s GDP, three stable democracies, and innovative private sectors. Its urges U.S. policymakers to build on this continental base when they create policies both at home and abroad.

Embracing this type of North American approach will mean working together across a range of issues. Economically, it will require tackling the remaining trade barriers, such as regulatory divergences, complicated customs paperwork, and infrastructure bottlenecks. While in the three energy sectors, it will mean devising a North American strategy that lays the framework for smoother infrastructure integration and shared environmental and safety standards.

This approach also requires the freer movement of people and a flexible North American workforce. To achieve this, the Task Force supports comprehensive immigration reform in the United States and suggests pathways for both high- and low-skilled workers. At the same time, it supports deeper regional security cooperation. For common objectives—such as strengthening Mexico’s rule of law and identifying threats—working together, the report argues, will be the most effective path forward.

My home state of Texas is front and center in a lot of this, as a border state, a regional business hub, an energy player, and home to millions of Mexicans (and more than a few Canadians). But North America’s ties extend beyond the borders, and successes and failures will be felt far into the three countries’ heartlands.

This is all not to say that strengthening regional ties will be easy. Histories of mistrust, pursuits of narrow interests, and ups and downs in public and political opinions have all complicated deeper cooperation. And North America has also suffered from its own success. The region’s relative peace and stability (Mexico’s insecurity being the exception), has often relegated it to the political backburner, as global flare-ups capture policymakers’ immediate attention.

We are no doubt three very independent countries with distinct historical narratives, political systems, and societies. Yet as all three countries position themselves globally, especially vis-à-vis China and other emerging powers, our shared continental base is one of our best competitive advantages. North America should serve as the United States’ launching point into the coming decades. It is through working together that we will achieve more than any of our three countries could accomplish alone.

Now is the time to build on the Task Force’s approach to North America—which I would characterize as a critical and necessary change in our mindset. It’s time we embraced a more forward-looking vision in the region, and then moved it to the top of all our leaders’ agendas.

A&M TO UT: BUTT OUT OF OUR ENGINEERING SCHOOL PLANS

By Steve Taylor
Rio Grande Guardian
Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp says he is undeterred by objections from the University of Texas System to plans for an A&M school of engineering in the Rio Grande Valley.
Late last month, Sharp visited the Valley to watch Texas A&M University-Kingsville President Steven H. Tallant make an announcement about plans for an engineering program in Weslaco.

The same day, Pedro Reyes, executive vice chancellor for academic affairs at the UT System, sent a letter to Tallant urging him to reconsider his Valley plan and requesting an in-person meeting as soon as possible. Reyes said the plan laid out by TAMUK would duplicate engineering programs already offered by nearby institutions and that are planned for UT-Rio Grande Valley. Reyes said he was writing on behalf of UT-Rio Grande Valley, UT-Pan American and UT-Brownsville. Click here to read Reyes’ letter to Tallant.
In an email to the Guardian, Sharp was dismissive of the UT System intervention.
“Whoever wrote that letter from the University of Texas thinks a lot more about their university than they do the children of the Valley. It is time that bureaucrats and agencies started meeting the needs of Texas families instead of their own bureaucratic self-interests,” Sharp wrote.
“We intend to provide first class engineering education in the Valley, the likes of which have never been seen there and we will fight any obstacle in our way with vigor. We believe the leaders of the Valley stand with us as witnessed (that) Friday.”
Sharp was referring to an appearance at the TAMUK announcement by elected officials such as U.S. Reps. Rubén Hinojosa and Filemon Vela, state Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., and state Rep. Armando “Mando’ Martinez. The announcement about the engineering school was made during a luncheon TAMUK hosted at its Citrus Center in Weslaco.
Hinojosa told the Guardian that while he is a proud UT alum, he fully backs TAMUK’s plans to provide additional education opportunities for would-be engineers.
“I think it (the plan by TAMUK) is the right thing to do. A region like ours, with one and a half million people, soon to be two million… why not have two flagship universities so that students can have choices? We can double the number of engineering graduates,” Hinojosa said.
Hinojosa’s top agenda item during his many years in public service has been education. He was a member of the State Board of Education in Texas for ten years and founding chairman of the board of trustees at South Texas College. He has highlighted the need for more Hispanic engineers and scientists through the introduction of HESTEC Week at UTPA. In 1998 he amended the Higher Education Act to pump more funding into Hispanic serving higher education institutions. Its funding has since risen from $12 million to more than $220 million.

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SETTING WIGHTMAN STRAIGHT...IF THAT'S POSSIBLE

"...Albert J. Holl, was the attorney representing BISD, not Baltazar Salazar. So why did Montoya lie? Hell he could not tell the truth and say Art Rendon just cost the district another $175,000, through his incompetence - that would make Cata and Luci look bad."
Blogger Robert Wightman

By Juan Montoya
We don't usually make it a point here to go tit-for-tat with vexatious writer and legal malinger Robert Wightman, but we were told that he had written that we were liars when we had criticized Brownsville Independent School District general counsel Blatazar Salazar for the district's loss in the Whistleblower Act lawsuit brought against it by former bus driver Alfredo Sobrevilla.
We did no such thing, and in fact, pointed out that it wasn't Baltazar representing the district., but merely keeping an eye on the case.
The post included the context of our chance meeting with Salazar where he made indecorous entreaties that we have our picture taken together so that he could send it to Wightman and make him believe there was some kind of conspiracy between us.
We wrote: "The courtroom was empty of spectators and a witness was on the stand. Salazar made a beeline to where I was sitting on an aisle chair and took the one next to mine. After a while, he engaged me in small talk about whether I had worked at the Herald with his sister Melba, that the next witness was going to make some strong revelations against the bus driver, that John Shergold and Larry Warner were always bringing weak cases against the BISD, that Judge Lopez was doing a good job keeping the testimony focused, etc.
All this was said in hushed whispers and I could see that Judge Lopez could hear some of it and turned in our direction once or twice.
The Salazar said: "Hey, Bro, you ought to let me take a picture of me and you together so I could sent it to (Bobby) Wightman so he can think there's a conspiracy going on,"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing and I told him I thought Wightman was crazy and the last thing I wanted was my picture with him in that blog.
He then said: "Hey, Bro, what if I took our picture and put a $100 bill in front so he can think I was paying you off? You got to let me do it, Bro."
I could see the testimony and the conversation was eroding and I told him as much and left.
I though that was weird that the BISD legal counsel (even in jest) was making such ridiculous propositions but only told a few people who were also surprised at the lawyer's banter.
Salazar thought the bus driver didn't have a case against the BISD and I later found out that the jury had awarded him something like $175,000 in the case. Granted, much of it would go to Shergold and Warner and to the BISD lawyers defending the district, but it was a victory nonetheless, proving Salazar wrong. He was obviously having a bad day and even though he wasn't the lawyer representing the district in the case, he was the general counsel to keep an eye on district cases there."
Alright. Now, where is the narrative did we say that Salazar was representing the BISD?
We didn't. However, it has become abundantly clear that Wightman has some kind of obsession with this blog and that anyone associated with it automatically becomes his target. Notice the photos of those arch criminals he has listed on his site.
Let's see. He has Catalina Presas-Garcia, Alex Dominguez, Mary Esther Garcia and Sofia Benavides, and (now missing) Municial Judge Ben Neece.
What do these people have in common besides being El Rrun-Rrun's friends? Presas-Garcia won an election as a BISD trustee, as did Alex Dominguez as Cameron County commissioner for Pct. 2 and Mary Esther Garcia as JP 2-2 and her mother Sofia Benavides as Pct. 1 commissioner despite the vitriol and bad will of this misanthrope blogger. In other words, the people ignored Wightman and elected them to represent them.
Aside from that, Dominguez and Neece are successful lawyers as is Alex Begum, another frequent target of the envious-driven Wightman, a disbarred lawyer.
This man – aside from proving he's an artless liar – is being poisoned by his own hate. Is there anyone he likes besides Ernie and Erin Hernandez?

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

AWKWARD MOMENTS DURING TRO HEARING ON LINCOLN PARK

By Juan Montoya
First attorney Michael Cowen's PowerPoint presentation didn't work.
Then, his cell phone – whose use is strictly prohibited inside the 138th District Court by Judge Arturo Nelson – rang not once, but twice, the second time after he had been told to shut it off.
"Whose cell phone is that?" an obviously irked Nelson asked the bailiff.
"It's mine Your Honor," Cowen said looking for the cell among his briefcase and papers.
"You know better than that," Nelson told Cowen after the first loud ring.
"Yes, Your Honor, I apologize."
Cowen tried not to appear rattled after he placed his notebook and tried to lead the court and spectators through his argument, only to get a blue screen with a few lines of white text on the bottom. He then outlined the main points of his argument for the granting of the TRO sought by his client Cameron County District Attorney Luis Sanez who is suing as a private citizen to stop the sale by the city of the 48-acre Lincoln Park.
But Cowen wasn't the only one to draw sharp rebukes from Nelson.
Obviously not convinced of city contract attorney Mark Sossi's contention that the city had not yet voted to sell the park and that the filing for the TRO was based on "speculation," the judge admonished Sossi to stop his remarks and had to repeat himself until Sossi got the idea and stopped talking.
He was aslso unimpressed that Sossi and Texas Attorney General's Office attorney William Deane insisted that commissioner Rose Gowen did not have a conflict of interest when she voted to approve the resolution to have city negotiators follow through on the sale of the 48-acre park. Both men said that Gowen worked for the UT unit in Houston, and not in Brownsville or the UTRGV.
"Let's weed through this before we address that," Nelson told the men.
When former mayor and real-estate appraiser Pat Ahumada was on the stand, both Sossi and Deane questioned his qualifications to speak as an expert on behalf of the plaintiff. They pointed out that he had never appraised public parks and that his comparables were not credible since some of the properties were not in the downtown district where the park land is situated.
Ahumada then had to explain that appraisals were done on the land, not on the uses that the buyer would make of it. He has been a certified appraiser since 1997, some 17 years, he answered.
He then counted off the six property sales and some listings as comparable to the Lincoln Park real estate.
"I appraised that at $209,5245 per acre," he said of one property.
"Three hundred and eighty-nine dollars per acre," he said of another.
"Three hundred and forty-eight dollars," he said of another.
The city has quoted the number $6.5 million that it will get from the UT System for the 48 acres that comprise Lincoln Park. According to his estimates, Ahumada said the land is worth $230,000 per acre, totaling approximately $11 million. The UT System has quoted an appraisal for the same land of some $8.8 million.
By comparison, the city purchased Abraham Galonsky's Casa Del Nylon – a half-city block with an empty building – at $2.3 million.
If sold, the city would be accepting a price of  only about $135,416 per acre for Lincoln Park, as the UT Regents called it, a "bargain purchase" sale.
This, Ahumada assured Dean and Sossi and the court spectators, is the price of the land only, not the amenities, baseball fields, flora and fauna, infrastructure, etc.
"It's a beautiful park," he said.
At about that time, Cowen's phone rang loudly once again and a bailiff grabbed it from his desk and took it outside the courtroom.

DID GOP SHOOT ITSELF IN THE FOOT WITH OBAMACARE CASE?

By James Surowiecki
The New Yorker
A few days after the midterm elections, the Supreme Court announced that it would hear King v. Burwell, a challenge to the Affordable Care Act in which the plaintiffs are arguing that people who live in states which have not set up their own health-insurance exchanges—and who therefore find their insurance through the federal exchange, Healthcare.gov—are not eligible for tax credits that the law provides. 
These people are currently receiving subsidies, but if the plaintiffs win those subsidies will disappear. While victory for the plaintiffs once seemed utterly improbable—it was generally accepted that Congress intended for the subsidies to be available, and the entire suit is based on a phrase that’s often described as a typo—getting a hearing before the Court suggests that, at the very least, they now have a chance. 
Republican politicians are, as of now, gleeful at the prospect of the Court delivering a blow to Obamacare. But, once the economic and political consequences of those disappearing subsidies kick in, Republicans could well end up wishing King v. Burwell had never seen the light of day.
The lazy description of King is that if the plaintiffs win it could “scuttle” Obamacare. 
It can’t. 
Even if the Court finds for the plaintiffs, the rules and regulations that Obamacare put in place will remain intact—insurance companies will still have to accept all applicants, without regard for preëxisting conditions, and they’ll still be prohibited from charging people with those conditions higher prices. And the tax increases that fund the subsidies and the cost-saving initiatives in the law won’t go away, either.
What a victory for the plaintiffs in King would do is create two classes of citizens when it comes to Obamacare. For people who live in one of the fourteen states that have set up their own exchanges, like California and New York, things will remain as they are now. 
Residents of those states will continue to be eligible for those federal health-insurance subsidies, depending on their income, which means, for most of them, that insurance will be quite affordable. And, because the subsidies make insurance so affordable, lots of healthy people (meaning mainly young people) in these states will continue to buy insurance, with the result that the risk pools in these states will be more balanced and not overloaded with people who are older or who are sick. That will help to hold down price increases in those states in the years ahead.
By contrast, life is going to get much harder for people who live in states that have not yet set up their own exchanges. They’ll no longer be eligible for the subsidies, which means that many of them will have to pay hundreds of dollars more a month if they want to stay insured. Many of them won’t be able to afford that, which means they’ll return to being uninsured. 
And the problems won’t end there. Plenty of healthy, young people will decide to go without insurance, gambling that they won’t get sick. 
As a result, the risk pools in these states will be dominated by sick people (who will try, at all costs, to remain insured). Insurance companies will respond by raising the price of insurance to try to cover their costs, and that will drive more healthy people out of the market, leading to more price hikes, and so on. What these states may end up facing, in other words, is the insurance “death spiral” that the individual mandate and the subsidies were designed to avert.

To read the rest of this article, click on link below.

AT LINCOLN PARK HEARING, A NEW VERSION OF EVENTS

By Juan Montoya
We all thought that we were going to attend a hearing for a motion brought by Luis Saenz asking for a Temporary Restraining Order before 138th District Court Judge Arturo Nelson on the sale of Lincoln Park to the University of Texas System.
Then city contract attorney Mark Sossi said there was no sale the city has not agreed to sell the park yet.
He also contended that City Commissioner Rose Gowen – director of the UT Health research clinic – is not a UT System employee and that her vote in favor of going though with the sale did not constitute a conflict of interest on her part.
Instead, what we heard was Sossi informing the court that the city has not decided whether it's going to sell the 48-acre park to the UT System for $6.5 million so that the amenities there can be moved to a new location directly across from the sewage treatment plant across the expressway.
"They jumped ahead of the game," Sossi argued before Nelson against the granting of the TRO.
Sossi argued that there were still many things to be considered before the city commission actually takes a vote on whether to sell the park to the UT System such as the cost of relocation of the assets, expenditures of funds, and the city staff to come back to the commission on what the final price would be.
"A TRO cannot be based on speculation," Sossi said. "It's a little more complex that that."
Sossi and Texas Attorney General attorney William Deane confronted Michael Cowen – Saenz's legal representative in his  motion made as a private citizen – saying that the resolution passed by the commissioners only authorized the city's staff to negotiate with the UT System and bring back the results to the commissioners.
That would probably be a surprise to the UT System Regents who approved the “bargain purchase” of the land during their regular meeting Nov. 5.
On  Nov. 4, one day before, the city commission had passed the resolution on a 4-3 vote. Gowen, one of four commissioners who were present at the public hearing at Gonzalez Park voted to go forward with the sale.
Even the fact that Gowen is employed by the UT System was being contested by Sossi and Deane.
Cowen argued that Gowen – as the medical director of a UT Health research clinic in Brownsville – should not have voted on the issue. Gowen submitted a disclosure with the City Secretary on November 13, nine days after her vote. She stipulated on the disclosure form that she got more than 10 percent of her income from her employment with the UT System.
Sossi claimed that the UT research clinic where Gowen is employed falls under UT-Houston, and not under UTRGV or UT-Austin.
"She is employed by UT-Houston, not UT-Brownsville or the Regents," he argued. "They sued the wrong entity. They are an entirely different entity."
Cowen countered that all the UT System campuses and facilities fall under the UT Regents, effectively making it one entity.
The suit also questions the city’s findings to satisfy the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code before giving away parkland and questions the sale of land below fair-market value without an election.
"You have to have an election to sell it," Cowen said.
An appraisal by the UT System shows the land is worth at least $8.8 million with other private appraisals suggesting the land is worth in the neighborhood of $11 million. Former mayor Pat Ahuamda, who performed his own appraisal, said that recent comparable sales of land showed the park should fetch approximately $230,000 an acre and – after adjustments for size and location and what the market will bear – arrived at the $11 million figure.
Deane and Sossi sought to attack the methodology of Ahumada's appraisal, only to be countered by the former mayor. The two city's attorneys charged that his comparables – some of which were located on the expressway frontage road and in different parts of the city – were not credible comparisons. They objected to Cowen introducing him as an expert witness for property appraisals.
"Have you ever appraised a city park?" Deane asked.
Ahuamda replied that he had appraised the land only, not as a park, but as real estate that a buyer and seller could negotiate given the market conditions, the location and the size of the property.
"I don't appraise parks," he said. "I appraise land. The buyer or investor can put anything he wants in there, from apartments, or a business, or even a university. This is a very unique property. It is a wildlife corridor, access is very good, it has baseball fields and an education building. It is a beautiful park."
Nelson said he would take the exhibits and testimony into consideration and said he would consider Cowen's request that the sale of the park not be allowed to occur until the lawsuit filed by Saenz concludes. He promised to have an answer by tomorrow – Thursday – Nov. 20.
 After the hearing, some in the audience questioned the city's tactic of objecting to the property prices compared by Ahumada in his appraisal.
"When the commissioners decided to pay Abraham Galonsky $2.3 million for La Casa Del Nylon with only half a city block and a shell of a building, the appraisal they used included properties from as far away from the site as Alton Gloor, Price Road, and the frontage road that they are objecting to now," said one. "Talk about a double standard."

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

GOWEN: THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE, FILES AFFIDAVIT: JESSICA HEARS FOOTSTEPS IN AUSTIN

By Juan Montoya
Almost as an afterthought, city commissioner at-large filed paperwork with the City Secretary's office claiming that the fact she is the director of  UT Health research clinic and that she voted to give the UT System 48-acre Lincoln Park did not constitute a conflict of interest.
The timing of the filing of the paperwork is usually done before elected officials vote on an issue that may at y raise the conflict-of-interest issue.
But what do you expect from Gowen and her buddy Tony Martinez, who has earned himself the moniker of Tony Tormenta because of the tempestuous way he is tearing through the city's assets in his quest to give them away to the UT System?
As a result of the plan to give away Lincoln Park, a body of resistance has awoken in the city and numerous candidates are said to be lining up to run in the city commission races. Among them are Roman Perez, who lost to Ricardo Longoria in the Place 1 race last time around by a scant 70 votes.
Da Mayor has already stated he will seek re-election this coming May, but he can rest assured that the glitter has worn off the Believe in Brownsville slogan that carried him to the mayorship last time.
Also up for re-election is Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa, Longoria, and Estela Chavez-Vasquez, a full majority.
Tetreau, as is characteristic of her, has stated that the folks in the state capital are cringing in fear at her annoncing her re-election. In a post (where else but in FB?), the intrepid commish stated that
she had "been receiving quite a few calls from concerned colleagues..saying that someone from the office of one of our elected officials in Austin has been making false statements about myself and and my seat on the city commission. The statement is that I am intending to vacate my ELECTED position as commissioner, therefore you should support him in running for my spot..."
Well, we knew the commissioner carried some weight, but not as much as to have the folks in Austin fretting over her seat on the city commission. Who could than nasty rumor monger be up in Ostin? Or is this just another figment of Jessica's fertile imagination?
They're probably generating baseless rumors about Jess up in Washington D.C., we're sure.
Gowen, on the other hand, has a few years left on her tenure before she comes up for re-election and is using that cushion to ram through her pet projects. Have you gone down Sixth Street where the project to decrease one lane and narrow it down to two? Go there at about the time the students are released at Cummings Middle School and see the congestion that develops. This, after all, one of the main arteries of the city. Why on earth could the city have adopted Gowen's plan to narrow the artery that leads to downtown and the warehouse district along Fronton Road?
The 9 a.m. hearing in Judge Arturo Nelson's 138th District Court will focus on the objections of Cameron County District Attorney and as a private citizen that Gowen should not have been able to vote for the sale because of her position as the medical director of a UT Health research clinic.
Gwen included on the disclosure form a reference to her position with UT Health, work for which she receives more than 10 percent of her gross salary.
The measure passed 4-3 on Nov. 4 and the UT Board of Regents followed suit in approving the “bargain purchase” of the land during its regular meeting Nov. 5. Gowen filed her disclosure form on November 13, a full 10 days after she voted.
Saenz's lawsuit raises six legal issues with the city’s plan to sell Lincoln Park to the UT System, the first of which is Gowen’s relationship to the sale.
The suit questions the city’s findings to satisfy the Texas Parks and Wildlife Code before giving away parkland and questions the sale of land below fair-market value without an election.
An appraisal by the UT System shows the land is worth at least $8.8 million with other private appraisals suggesting the land is worth in the neighborhood of $11 million.
And can you notice the spin that our allegedly impartial newspaper placed on the public outcry at a hearing in Gonzalez Park?
"A public hearing last month where the city attempted to generate excitement for the new park instead became a soapbox for those opposed to the move," the news story reads.
Now, we don;t hear that kind of loaded reporting when the reporter ignores that the city commission voted not to make the public comments before it broadcast on the city's televised meetings.
Negotiations between the entities were held up Nov. 7, however, when Saenz and co-plaintiff Matthew Kendall filed suit and Nelson signed a temporary restraining order barring the sale until after a hearing.
The hearing will be held Wednesday (tomorrow) in Nelson's court.

DIFFERENT TAKE ON CASCOS-HINOJOSA LONGTIME FEUD



By Peggy FikacSan Antonio Express-NewsPeople celebrated in their own way when Greg Abbott, the governor-elect, picked Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos as secretary of state.
Cascos, born in Mexico, spoke of the work he wants to accomplish with our southern neighbor. Abbott highlighted the appointment as evidence of his promise to reach out to all Texans.
Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., a Brownsville Democrat, celebrated the choice of a South Texan he thinks will do a "wonderful" job.
Texas Democratic Party Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, who is from Brownsville, said he was happy about it, too.
Um, yeah.
"We’re delighted that he has been appointed secretary of state because it gets him out of Cameron County as county judge," Hinojosa said, slamming the job Cascos has done. "We’re happy to get rid of him."
Cascos took Hinojosa’s comments in stride.
"I believe that I will do a much better job as secretary of state than he has as Democrat Party chair," Cascos said, though he added, "I respect Chairman Hinojosa. We were friends for a long time before politics got in the way." 
The appointment of Cascos also drew this letter from a resident of Pharr that was published int eh McAllen Monitor.

Judge’s new appointment
Hats off to Gov.-elect Greg Abbott who captured over 50 percent of the male Hispanic vote. He just appointed Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos as secretary of state, a rare Republican judge from Brownsville. This was not a token appointment to please Hispanics, but an earned one.
It was an olive branch to all Texans and sends the message that if you are qualified then you will be considered. Hopefully this will at least open voters eyes in the RGV to consider someone other than a Democrat.
I predict Abbott will be president of the United States in the very near future.
David Anders,
Pharr

Sunday, November 16, 2014

FRUTTY VILLARREAL TO BE HONORED BY CAMERON COUNTY


By Juan Montoya
If ever there was a home-grown bohemian conjunto accordionist living among us, it is undoubtedly Fructoso "Frutty" Villarreal.
Born and raised in the Rio Grande Valley, he was raised on conjunto music and has been fighting the demons associated with the conjunto genre since he was born.
"I was raised poor and my mom had all the Freddie Gomez 45s and 78s." Villareal told a reporter in an interview. "He (Gomez) had no schooling. He was raised poor. All he could do was sing and play guitar, and that's what Conjunto is about."
Villarreal knows something about the lifestyle of a traveling conjunto musician. His bouts with the ups and downs of life on the road and the associated impact on his family life and income have not only made him bear the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, but also honed his voice to a world-weary rasp that he uses with great effect in his music.
The selection above is one of his best known compositions that has earned him the moniker of a Conjunto Legend. 
The Cameron County Commissioners Court will present the resolution honoring him as a Conjunto Legend Tuesday at 9 a.m. on the second floor Oscar Dancy Building, 1100 E. Monroe, in Brownsville.  

TURKISH PRES.: MUSLIMS, NOT COLUMBUS, FOUND AMERICA

By Ishaan Tharoor
World News Report


In a televised speech in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed that Muslims had discovered the Americas three centuries before the voyages of Christopher Columbus. He was addressing a summit of Muslim leaders from Latin America.

"Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century. Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus," Erdogan said. "Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178. Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast."

Erdogan is not shy of making provocative statements, whether it's about his political rivals, ethnic minorities or social media Web sites. His latest remarks are, in comparison, less incendiary.

They echo the research of a small coterie of scholars who believe there's archaeological and documentary evidence of Muslims in pre-Columbian America. Erdogan is apparently citing the disputed work of Youssef Mroueh, an academic affiliated with the As -Sunnah Foundation of America.

In a 1996, Mroueh referred to the presence of a mosque spotted by Columbus along the Cuban coast. "Columbus admitted in his papers that on Monday, October 21, 1492 CE while his ship was sailing near Gibara on the north-east coast of Cuba, he saw a mosque on top of a beautiful mountain," writes Mroueh.

Most scholars insist the "mosque" mentioned was a metaphorical allusion to a striking land feature. There have been no archaeological discoveries of Islamic structures pre-dating Columbus's arrival in the New World.

To read the rest of the article, click on link below:

IS DAN MAKING IT EASY FOR CASCOS TO GET HIS 3 VOTES?

By Juan Montoya
A movement to convince the Cameron County commissioners court to appoint Pct. 4 commissioner Dan Sanchez to county judge may be bordering on illegality and force the portly representative to resign his position if it is determined that it constitutes him announcing he is a candidate for the post.
Sanchez has made it no secret that he is definitely interested in the position and is quoted told a newspaper today that he is "interested in the appointment if the commissioners see that I'm the right leadership."
Also, longtime Sanchez supporter Nolan Perez has been flooding the social media with an announcement asking his supporters to "join us as a host on December 3 evening at Harlingen Country Club for a fundraiser for Dan Sanchez for judge,  thanks, Nolan."
Do the published statement that he is interested in the position and the campaign activity of his close supporters constitute an announcement of Sanchez's candidacy for the position?
If so, the Texas Association of Counties website states that "the Texas Constitution provides that it is an automatic resignation for an officeholder to announce candidacy or file for a public office other than the one currently held if more than a year and 30 days remain in the term."
Sanchez was re-elected to a four year term in the Nov. 4 general election and will be sworn in January 1.
The association's website, answers the question "What does it mean to 'announce' candidacy for purposes of 'resign to run?"
"According to the Attorney General,a public officer may trigger an automatic resignation by making "certain and public" announcements on candidacy such as that a reasonable person would conclude the officer without qualification intends to be a candidate for an office other than the one currently held.
"For example, a county commissioner with more than a year on (his) term tells a friend on the phone that (he) is thinking of running for an unnamed different office. The friend tells a third party about the conversation. This would not constitute an announcement. On the other hand, the same commissioner would have made a certain and public announcement (to a newspaper of general circulation?) if, at a commissioners court meeting, (he) told the audience unequivocally that (he) was going to be a candidate for (county judge)."
If Sanchez is taken at his word that he is a candidate for the appointment, it would seem to trigger the constitutionally mandated resignation and he would remain in a holdover in the position until Cascos appoints someone to represent Pct. 4.
Cascos counts with at least one vote on the court (Pct. 3 commissioner David Garza). If Sanchez steps down, Cascos could then appoint someone else to take Sanchez's place. When and if, the commissioners court accepts Cascos' resignation effective Jan. 20 when he gets sworn in as Texas Secretary of State, this would give Cascos time to be able to vote for his successor.


  

Saturday, November 15, 2014

WAS THE BISD ELECTION A FAILURE BY BALLOT DESIGN?

By Juan Montoya
Now that the Brownsville Independent School District election has come and gone and the three trustees have been sworn in, obvious problems in the balloting for the district have become all too apparent.
According to voting totals, Cesar Lopez, Carlos Elizondo and Joe Rodriguez all won their respective positions on the board.
But it is the totals for the undervote in all these races that have cast suspicions in the process.
The Cameron County Elections Department indicate that a total of 19,152 voters cast ballots in the election. The total vote for Position 1 was 14,142, 13,776 for Position 2, and 13,913 for Position 4.
Why the difference between the total votes for district races and the totals in the positions?
A staff person at Elections told us that some of the 47 precincts in the district's were half in and half out of the jurisdiction, resulting in some voter ballots being over votes. That could explain some of the difference.
But the number of undervotes was a little more difficult to explain. Undervotes indicate that some voters did not vote in some of the races. That's understandable. But the pattern in the number of undervotes in the three positions, 2,789 in Position 1, 3,169 in Position 2, and 3,026 in Position 4, are too consistent to be mere accidental non-votes.
On average that's 2,994 (about 3,000) per race. If we write off the difference in the two races as overlapped precincts as the staffer explained, then we come to the conclusion that the undervotes were the result of  placing the BISD board election on the back of the same ballot used for the partisan general election.
In other words, many of those people who voted straight ticket (palanca) didn't bother to turn over the sheet to see if there were non-partisan races or propositions.
This is a fatal fallacy in the design of the ballot and on its face, the BISD was shortchanged on the $95,000 it cost to print both the ballots and to pay the personnel to run the precincts.
For example, even though only 19,152 voters cast a ballot in the BISD races, the elections office printed (and the BISD paid for) 54,714 ballots. The county paid for only 46,239 ballots. In total, the county elections office reports that they printed a total of 95,000 ballots.
We all know that Elections Administrator Chris Davis has stated in the past that he would rather err on the side of accuracy and caution than to get a fast count or deprive anyone of voting. But given the numbers above, the undervotes seem to be a function of a badly designed and thought out ballot.
Except for the race involving his father-in-law Joe Rodriguez, the undervotes in the other two races could have decided the election the other way.
If Davis can't see that (or admit to the mistake), then we'll just have to continue having the BISD subsidize the county and getting a bad product for their taxpayers' money.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE UNPLEASANT KIND: IS BISD LAWYER BALTAZAR SALAZAR: FEELING THE HEAT?

By Juan Montoya
The one and only time that I had ever spoken to Brownsville Independent School District legal counsel was when he was chosen for the job over seven other firms.
I knew his compadre de pila local businessman Mario Villarreal and he gave me his cell number so I could see if he would provide me with a photograph to run with the post.
He promised he would and never came through.
After that, I started looking into his practice an d found out that a majority of the school board members had chosen him over the other lawyers even though his law firm ranked near the bottom of the rankings in most of the categories. In fact, he didn't even answer his qualifications in more than a dozen categories in the BISD Request For Proposals for a legal counsel.
I folowed up with other reports showing that Salazar had not been totally forthcoming with the BISD on his applications and had neglected to disclose at least three felony theft arrests and one conviction where he was ordered to complete seven years of probation in lieu of three years imprisonment in the Texas Department of Corrections.
His application did list one conviction and another charge (not on the record) which he claimed had "been set aside."
He never told the board that at the very time that he was before them making his pitch for the $240,000 a year gig, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) was challenging the expunction of the three felony arrests and the conviction by the 107th District Court before the Texas 13th Court of Appeals.
DPS prevailed in the appeal of the expunction and the court ordered that the record of those felony offense be placed back in the court files. By all rights, and BISD policy, that criminal record involving crime of moral turpitude (felony theft), his conviction, his serving of the seven years probation, and his failure to include them on his application should have prevented him from gaining employment with the district.
It turns ut that now, even his compadre Villarreal has filed a complaint against him with the Texas Bar Association for not informing him of the status of a case for which he had paid him $3,000 of an agreed-upon $5,000 fee to expunge the records of his grandson.
As I said, I had never met Salazar in person, so that's why it was highly unusual to run into him twice in the span of two days this past week, both times, as it turned out, highly unpleasant.
The first was when I was told that BISD Transportation Director Art Rendon had testified in a Whistleblower Act lawsuit brought by former bus driver Alfredo Sobredia against the district and that the testimony in that trial would reveal numerous cases of  fraud and waste that the driver had reported that he alleged resulted in his dismissal from the department.
I got there the day after Rendon had testified and as I entered Judge Migdalia Lopez's 103rd District Court, he was standing outside speaking with another attorney and he followed me inside shortly thereafter. The courtroom was empty of spectators and a witness was on the stand. Salazar made a beeline to wheere I was sitting on an aisle chair and took the one next to mine. After a while, he engaged me in small talk about wheter I had worked at the Herald with his sister Melba, that the next witness was going to make some strong revelations agains the bus driver, that John Shergold and Larry Warner were always bringing weak cases against the BISd, that Judge Lopez was doing a good job keeping the testimony focused, etc.
All this was said in hushed whispers and I could see that Judge Lopez could hear some of it and turned in our direction once or twice.
The Salazar said: "Hey, Bro, you ought to let me take a picture of me an dyou together so I could sent it to (Bobby) Wightman so he can think there's a conspiracy going on,"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing and I told him I thought Wightman was crazy and the last thing I wanted was my picture with him in that blog.
He then said: "Hey, Bro, what if I took our picture and put a $100 bill in front so he can think I was paying you off? You got to let me do it, Bro."
I could see the testimony and the conversation was eroding and I told him as much and left.
I though that was weird that the BISD legal counsel (even in jest) was making such ridiculous propositions but only told a few people who were also surprised at the lawyer's banter.
Salazar thought the bus driver didn't have a case against the BISD and I later found out that the jury had awarded him something like $175,000 in the case. Granted, much of it would go to Shergold and Warner and to the BISD lawyers defending the district, but it was a victory nonetheless, proving Salazar wrong. He was obviously having a bad day and even though he wasn't the lawyer representing the district in the case, he was the general counsel to keep an eye on district cases there.
Fast forward to Friday night.
Emilio Crixell and his Bluzanos were playing at the Half Moon on Adams Street and I was at the bar at the short end of the L closest to the stage listening to them when a female friend who was to meet me there arrived and we sat to listen.
As we listened to the band, Salazar arrived accompanied by an old  friend of mine from the barrio. I shook hands with my old pal and they stood behind us between us and the stage. Even though there was room to stand elsewhere, Salazar stood right behind us so that when we turned in order to look at the band, and we couldn't but help looking him straight in the face and had to crane our necks to see the band.
After a while, the bar tender (my tocayo Juan) told me that Salazar had told him to put everything I asked for on his tab. I told Juan that I would pay for my own drinks and declined the offer. When my pal from the barrio sent me one I took it and thanked him.
We got up and were getting ready to leave and my friend went out ahead of me and as I was reaching the corner of the L, Salazar stuck out his leg and put his foot on the lower cross member of the stool blocking my way. I was surprised and moved his foot with my leg, which made him angry and he lunged toward me. I walked away as he was held back yelling curses at me. My old pal from the barrio (his companion) and Juan, the bar manager, came between us and told me to just go and I did.
My friend asked me what had happened and I told her that the school district lawyer had tried to stage a confrontation with me for no apparent reason.
I still don't know what prompted both of these encounters, but as the adult "professional" in the room, Salazar's actions and his propensity to intimidate don't reflect the kind of personality and judgment that one would desire in the legal representative of the BISD.

Friday, November 14, 2014

BISD CREATES NEW HURDLES FOR PUBLIC INFORMATION

By Juan Montoya
We were interested in reading the new resolution that was going to be considered by the board of the Brownsville Independent School District this past Wednesday dealing with the election of members to the National School Board Association Council of Urban Boards of Education’s Steering Committee."
Since it was part of the agenda that was to be considered Wednesday, we went to the BISD's Public Information Office to see if we could get a copy of the resolution before the meeting on Wednesday. Tuesday was Veterans Day and all the BISD, city and county offices were closed.
We were asked to fill out a public information request and we asked if the BISD was going to make us wait the perfunctory 10 days before they had to turn over information or whether we could get it sooner.
Now, the resolution was included in all the board members', administrators, legal counsel agenda backup packets. It would have been a matter of minutes to make a copy and let us have it there and then. The only thing available to the public was a copy of an agenda, something that could be obtained online.
The staff members at the window said they would get back to us.
Well, the meeting came and went and still no copy of the resolution.
Why?
We understand that Drue Brown runs a tight ship, but isn't the mission of that office to provide the public with timely and accurate information about what goes on in their school district?
We were able to get a copy of the resolution from other sources. Our question is: Why is is that we had to resort to subterfuge to get the information that should have been readily available to anyone who asked?
If you go to the City of Brownsville's website you are able to get not only the agenda, but also a packet of all the backup to items that are not discussed in executive session dealing with personnel or real-estate purchases. You can get that stuff right off the internet.
In the county, you get a half-full deal. The agenda is available on the county's website, but the backup materials aren't. We have touched base with the county's administrator Pete Sepulveda, to no avail. Pete says it's up to the commissioners to ask that it be put online and so far no one has bit.
If you go to his office or to the county judge's office, you will be bale to obtain agenda and backup from one of the three or four full packages printed for the media, Otherwise, it's the same as the BISD, no backup.
Other entities where no backup info is available is the Texas Southmost College back up agenda material and the Port of Brownsville.
Some may complain that it would take too much paperwork. But if the backup materials were included with the agenda online, that excuse would be moot. We're calling again to the BISD and the county to make the information avai
lable so that we can post the relevant issues to our three readers. If our public entities have nothing to hide, what's the problem?

SUDDENLY, EVERYONE WANTS TO BE COUNTY JUDGE: CASCOS WANTS TO HAVE HIS CAKE AND EAT IT, TOO

By Juan Montoya
You have Dan Sanchez, Joe Rivera, Tony Martinez, Eddie Treviño, but to name a few.
The acceptance on Veterans Day by incumbent and Cameron County Judge-elect Carlos Cascos to be the Texas Secretary of State on Texas Gov.-elect Greg Abbott's cabinet means that come Jan. 20, there will be  a vacancy on the county commission.
Never mind that Martinez has just announced for re-election for mayor of the City of Brownsville and would have a hard time winning for dog catcher. Or that Treviño is associated with the establishment of the United Brownsville shadow government and is doing just fine as legal counsel for the Public Utilities Board, thank you very much.
How that vacancy will be filled is yet to be determined, but Cascos has told anyone within earshot that he wants to have a say-so in the eventual appointee by casting a vote as a sitting county judge.
"We're going to need someone that can work with the leadership, who wants to continue moving this county in the direction that it's been going, fiscally sound, conservative. It's really a tough job and we need somebody that's got the time to dedicate to it," Cascos said.
Cascos said he feels a responsibility to the voters after being re-elected to a third term. Having said that, however, he is hard pressed to explain how – after having won an election – he is now ready to leave it to take another one in Austin.
The county commission, which includes the county judge, may yet vote to appoint his replacement. But don't hold your breath that the Democratic commissioners will let Cascos have his cake and eat it, too.
The county judge's seat is a four-year term. However, his replacement will hold the position until the next general election in 2016.
When Cascos gets sworn in as a county judge on Jan.1, 2015, he hopes to be able to cast a vote on his successor, But it has yet to be seen whether he has the three votes on the court to allow him to cast that vote.
According to the Texas Association of Counties website, a vacancy in an elected public office occurs when"prior to the expiration of the current term, the officer dies, resigns, abandons office, is judicially removed, or accepts another office that lawfully cannot be simultaneously held with the current office."
Cascos would appear to fit into the last category since one person cannot hold both the position of Secretary of State and a county judge's position.
To maintain the functioning of the government, the Texas Constitution provides that a public official continues to perform the duties for the office (or hold over) until his or her successor takes office. While a holdover, the resigned officer retains all the duties and responsibilities of office and continues to receive the same salary and benefits.
Now, it's no secret that commissioners Dan Sanchez (Pct. 4) and perhaps even Sofia Benavides (Pct. 1) wouldn't turn down an appointment for county judge. And everyone knows that Cascos favors his conservative soul mate David Garza (Pct. 3). About the only new face on the commissioners court is commissioner Alex Dominguez (Pct. 2).
But there's the rub. If any one of these commissioners wants the appointment, they have to resign their positions, "holdover" until their successor is picked by the county judge (Cascos), and serve until their replacement is sworn into office. There is no guarantee, however, that three commissioners (including their replacement) will choose them, leaving them in the lurch.
According to the Texas Election Code, a resignation by Cascos that he is leaving his office must be signed, in writing, and delivered to the appropriate authority for acting on his resignation.
But there is wriggle room here, too.
"May a resignation of a county office be set to take effect at a future date?"
"Yes. It is important to note the date of resignation is effective is not necessarily the same as the date the vacancy is effective. A resignation letter may indicate the vacancy will occur at a future date. For purposes of filling the vacancy, the authority with whom the resignation was filed may appoint upon receipt and acceptance of the resignation and the newly-appointed officer may take office on or after the designated resignation date."
So Cascos may submit a signed letter to the commissioners court indicating he will leave office effective Jan. 20 of 2015. The commissioners may make an appointment once the vacancy is effective, but the newly appointed county judge may not take office until Jan. 20, 2015.
So suppose that Cascos tenders his resignation effective Jan. 20 but tries to have the appointment of a new county judge effective Jan. 20 while he is still in office so he can have a say so in the vote of his successor?
County commissioners court observers say it is highly doubtful that he will be able to garner the three votes necessary to force the commissioners to go along.
On the other hand, the commissioners may wait until Cascos leaves for Austin to be sworn as Texas Secretary of State, and once he is sworn in, and he accepts the office that cannot be held simultaneously, they will make the appointment. The vacancy of county judge is effective on the date the person (Cascos) qualifies for the second office.
Are there any set guidelines on how the commissioners appoint the new office holder?
"No. The commissioners court, county judge, or district judge, as appropriate, may devise the appointment process.
"Some counties, for example, publish a notice of the vacancy in the newspaper with a time period for interested persons to apply. Other counties ask potential appointees to fill out an application to establish their eligibility for the office. Neither is a required practice."
"Is there a requirement to appoint the candidate who came in second in the most recent election for the office to fill the vacancy?"
"No. The person appointed by the commissioners court, county judge, or district judge, as appropriate, must meet the qualifications for the office at the time of the appointment."
That means that even though Joe Rivera came in second to Cascos, it does not mean he has an automatic appointment, even though the four sitting commissioners ran as Democrats. The politicking on his behalf so far has been intense, sources tell us. 
Former Pct. 2 commissioner John Wood said he would entertain the idea of an appointment as county judge with the understanding that he would only serve for two years. He said that whoever is appointed to the position would have to run in four elections in a four-year term.
Since the next general election is in 2016, the appointee will have to run for his party's primary in March, and then for the general election in November. Two years later, he would have to do that all over again.
"That's a lot of campaigning in a short period of time," he said.
Commissioner (Dan) Sanchez has not kept it a secret that he would consider the appointment is he was sure that he had the votes before the resigned.
That has become obvious from the writings of a local blogger who chastised Sanchez (and Dominguez) for not filing affidavits in the local courts which released him to practice law here, as he said was required by law. That blogger (Robert Wightman) filed complaints against them for not complying with that requirement.
However, someone got ot him and now Sanchez is the finest thing since sliced bread.
"For the record I support Dan Sanchez for County Judge.  I know those who have never interviewed him hate him.  But I did have an in depth interview with him, and he knows what needs to get done.  He has studied the economic develop model of San Antonio and Bexar County.  He has met with the architects of that success.  He is more than the new Almighty running for mayor claiming he will cut your taxes while spending more on infrastructure.  Dan Sanchez actually has a plan based on studying real successful economic models for development.  This is what we need.  I would hope rather than trash him my fellow bloggers would sit down with him such as I have and learn what he knows about successful models of economic development."
Such praise coming from someone (a disbarred lawyer, no less) who wanted Sanchez removed from office just a few short weeks ago doesn't pass the smell test with anyone at the county. But at least we know which dogs Sanchez has chosen to lay with.
Is Dan confident of his chances that he will resign to run and take his chances. Remember Dan, Wightman has burned his bridges with Dominguez, Benavides, and Cascos, a majority. To get a recommendation from him amounts to the kiss of death with this majority on the commissioners court.

TONY Z GIVES PRIMER ON VAQUEROS-TEJANO HERITAGE

By Dr. Antonio Zavaleta
(This article originally appeared in the Brownsville Herald)
The selection of a name or image to represent an institution or a sport’s team is not a simple matter. This is primarily because satisfying everyone is close to impossible. When a selection is made, even one that is unanimously supported, those involved can only hope that most will not find the selection offensive as with reference to a protected group or class of people.
Last week University of Texas Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey announced the university’s new mascot to the community. After careful consideration and input from student groups and others, President Bailey made an executive decision to present the Vaquero as the new mascot to the UT System Board of Regents, who unanimously approved it. I believe that President Bailey did a tremendous job in selecting a concept that represents not only our geographical area, but the history, culture and traditions of south Texas. The selection of the vaquero truly shows his sensitivity and respect for our home and region.
In fact, the area north of the Rio Grande to the Nueces River is the oldest and longest settled area of Spanish Texas, notwithstanding the long history of Native Americans here. By the 1600s, tiny settlements of Spanish immigrants began popping up along the Rio Grande. The Camino Real, King’s Highway, ran northward from Saltillo through the middle of the Tejano heartland, vaquero country, up to San Antonio de Bexar connecting the pioneers from the north and south.
These unique and resilient people came to be known as Tejanos and they lived and thrived in this vast grassland of the Wild Horse Desert for a hundred years before the Count of Escandon established his series of lower river settlements in 1750.
Long before the creation of the cowboy, Tejano vaqueros lived as small cattle ranchers developing traditions and culture as well as becoming the origin of the cattle industry in Texas. Vaquero families of men and women lived in the harsh region in jacales, houses made of mesquite and brush, fending off Comanche and Apache raids. The revered American icon, the cowboy, was shaped after the image of the vaquero.
I am proud to have a vaquero tradition, culture and history represent our university. There are so many opportunities for UTRGV to develop new university traditions around this iconic concept. For example, imagine the pride of a class ring with the vaquero emblazoned on its side.
Dozens of Spanish words derived from vaquero culture have been adopted into American English, demonstrating the importance of the vaquero in American and Texas history.
The list of adopted words begins with the quintessential “buckaroo,” a variation of the word “vaquero” often reserved for a young cowboy. The vaquero cultural lexicon is essential in modern English. For example, the vaquero worked on the “range,” a word that morphed into “ranch” and the “ranchero” morphed into “rancher.”
The vaquero mounted his “silla,” saddle, to his horse with a “cinche,” chinch. He used a “riata,” lariat also called a lasso. The cattle were herded into a corral. Seasonally, he would display his vaquero expertise at a competitive gathering called a rodeo.
What would our great Texas culture be without its rich vaquero heritage?
Vaqueros introduced many words for the preparation of food like “barbacoa,” barbecue, in which the animal is cooked slowly in a ground pit from the “barba” to the “cola,” from head to tail. Pan de campo, camp bread and pan semita, Semite bread, are part of vaquero food traditions. South Texas populations had a strong admixture of the Jewish Sephardim in their Judeo-Catholic background.
The rich mixture of cultures includes a strong influence of Basque farmers and sheep herders who settled in northeastern Mexico along the Rio Grande in the 17th century. The vaquero mascot brings these and many more aspects of our historic culture into the educational equation that should be understood, embraced and shared.
The vaqueros were experts at herding cattle through the thorny scrub brush of south Texas called monte or chaparral. They protected their legs with thick leather chaparreras the cowboys call chaps. Vaqueros often encountered herds of wild horses in the brush they called broncos. They protected their faces from violent dust storms with bandanas. These sudden and violent storms were whipped up by northerners in the winter they called nortes.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, the vaquero serves as an archetypal image of the south Texas super hero as described by Dr. Americo Paredes in his book about Gregorio Cortez, titled “With a Pistol in his Hand.” The humble vaquero Gregorio Cortez was wrongly accused of horse theft, perused by law enforcement, but escaped by performing a series of super-human feats.
Brownsville’s own Juan Nepomuceno Cortina is another larger-than-life vaquero superhero from the area of Rancho Viejo on the Military Highway. He was also wrongly accused of being a bandido, or bandit.
Cortina was from a wealthy river family. Family lore recounts that he was asked by his mother to take his vaqueros to recover their stolen cattle that had been driven northward to the vast King Ranch. Even though Cortina was a patriot, the United States waged war against him but he was never caught. Eventually he became governor of Tamaulipas, and has the distinction of fighting with his vaqueros at the Battle of Palo Alto and at the Battle of Puebla on the Cinco de Mayo. He lived the life of a superhero in exile, not allowed to return to his south Texas home.
The list of vaquero traditions and words adopted into the vernacular is extensive. Imagine the university clubs and organizations that will emerge by incorporating vaquero vocabulary and culture on campus. Think of the youth groups that could be called the buckaroos, developing cultural-historical curricula that will help schoolchildren understand their rich south Texas heritage throughout the region.
Rather than finding fault in a name, let’s find value in the heritage of the vaquero. UTRGV is off to a great start by branding our mascot the Vaquero. Honoring the vaquero honors a blend of traditions that make us unique and outstanding in the State of Texas. It provides us with a real opportunity to see the value of bilingualism and multiculturalism. Therefore, join in the yell, Go Vaqueros!
(Dr. Antonio Zavaleta is professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Brownsville.)

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