Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TRUMP AT DAY 95: GOVERNMENT WILL FUND KEY MAR-A-LAGO STAFF


From The Onion

WASHINGTON—Saying his administration was fully prepared in the event Congress does not pass a new budget by the end of the week, President Trump promised Monday that all essential Mar-a-Lago staff will continue to be funded during a government shutdown.

“Even if Congress can’t get a budget done, the American people can rest assured that all vital cabana and golf course employees will continue to perform their duties uninterrupted,” said Trump, explaining that temporary appropriations bills would exempt crucial waiters, chefs, drivers, and housekeeping staff from any action that will close entire agencies and prevent thousands of federal employees from reporting to work.
“Until a new budget gets passed, however, we will have no choice but to put all Mar-a-Lago pool boys and lifeguards on furlough and institute a hiring freeze across all landscaping departments. But while any shutdown can’t help but have some negative impact—the kitchen could run out of some appetizers, and guests’ bags might take longer to get up to their rooms—I want to assure all Americans that the core amenities of Mar-a-Lago will remain intact for the duration.”

Trump went on to say, however, that if Mar-a-Lago were forced to reduce the hours its tennis courts were open, outraged citizens should blame the Democrats.

DAY 91: O’REILLY PACKS UP FRAMED UP-SKIRT PHOTOS FROM FOX NEWS DESK



NEW YORK—Smiling wistfully as he gazed at the cherished mementos that had sat on his desk for much of the past 20 years, former Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly reportedly grew teary-eyed Thursday as he packed up the framed up-skirt photos from his work space following his termination by the cable channel.

“God, I have so many great memories from this place,” said the longtime host of The O’Reilly Factor as he stared down at the 8-by-10 glossy print showing a woman’s exposed underwear taken from underneath a news desk, before wrapping it in tissue paper and placing it gently in a cardboard box alongside a smaller three-panel frame containing photos of various women’s bare thighs.

“I worked with some truly amazing people who showed me some incredible things over the years. I’m really going to miss everything I got to do at this place—it was always such a good time. It’s hard to let go.” At press time, O’Reilly was seen wiping away a tear from the corner of his eye and popping a small down-blouse photo of a woman’s cleavage out of its frame and placing it carefully in his wallet.

DONALD TRUMP JR. TAKES SON HUNTING AT GLADYS PORTER ZOO


WASHINGTON—In what he referred to as an important rite of passage for his 8-year-old son, Donald John III, Donald Trump Jr. took his eldest boy to the Gladys Porter Zoo for his first-ever hunting trip, sources said Wednesday.

The daylong excursion, during which father and son could be seen wearing matching khaki fatigues and safari hats, was reportedly an opportunity for Trump Jr. to introduce the young boy to hunting by showing him how to track a wild animal through a zoo exhibit, set up the perfect shot just outside a fenced enclosure, and, if possible, hit the target right between the eyes as it lies sleeping.

“That’s it, D.J.—steady the barrel along the edge of the guardrail, just like that,” Trump Jr. whispered, appearing to swell with pride as Donald John III crouched near an ice cream stand in the zoo’s Cheetah Conservation Station and took aim at a cub playing inside a small enclosure 10 feet below. “Be very quiet or you’ll spook him. Now, whenever you’re ready, just exhale slowly and squeeze the trigger.”

“Great shot, son!” Trump Jr. continued as three valets from the hunting party set down the Trumps’ gear and entered the cheetah habitat to field-dress the carcass. “Let’s keep this spot until the zookeeper comes to feed them. When that happens, they’ll all move out into the open and we’ll be able to get a few more.”

According to sources, Trump Jr. and his son crept quietly along the paved footpaths—staying low and occasionally ducking behind an information kiosk—in the hopes of remaining undetected as they approached their next targets, Wilma and Zora, the two American bison housed by the zoo. Both animals were reportedly lapping water from a trough and caught unaware, allowing the father-son duo to take each of them out with three quick shots to the head, use a bowie knife to cut off the horns for souvenirs, and then continue on their way to the picnic pavilion for hot dogs and sodas.

Arriving at the zoo’s bird sanctuary, the Trumps are said to have switched from big-game rifles to scatterguns, bringing down a dozen flamingos, five whooping cranes, and a pair of North Island brown kiwi as zoo employees and families in the nearby gift shop screamed and ran for cover.

“The key to hunting is biding your time, D.J.—wait until those sea lions are trapped between the tank wall and your line of fire so you can get a clear shot at them before they swim away,” said Trump Jr., peering through the scope of his rifle at the aquatic mammals sunning themselves on a concrete embankment. “Later, when we go inside the Great Ape House, you’re going to be tempted to take a shot right away, but you have to be patient.”

“Eventually an orangutan will come down from its tire swing to grab a piece of fruit,” he added. “When that happens—bam, you nail him!”

Reports confirmed the highlight of the expedition came when Trump Jr. took down the zoo’s giant panda Tian Tian with just two shots, the first bullet shattering the Plexiglas barrier and the second hitting the animal directly in the heart. The Trumps reportedly took the opportunity to pose with their prized trophy, each triumphantly placing a foot on the blood-drenched panda as a hired photographer captured the moment.

The jubilant father and son reportedly ended their day by honing their marksmanship at the Small Mammal House, picking off mongooses one by one as they poked their heads out of their burrows.

“D.J., I was very proud of you out there today,” a misty-eyed Trump Jr. said as he tousled his son’s hair and tenderly wiped a smear of giant anteater blood from the boy’s cheek. “Maybe someday, when you have a son of your own, you’ll take him to the zoo and kill something really great like a white rhino, or, who knows, maybe you’ll take him to an aquarium and bag a dolphin. Even I haven’t done that.”

At press time, having deemed a gazelle carcass too small to make a good wall mount, the Trumps had abandoned the dead animal near a lemonade cart to rot in the sun.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

COWEN TO TAXPAYERS: ISSUE BONDS, RAISE TAXES "NOW"

By Juan Montoya
Is this any way to write an agenda for the Brownsville Independent School District's Facilities Committee?
The chairman of this committee, trustee Phil Cowen, shows he knows nothing about tact and being circumspect with his plans, or really doesn't give hoot what the taxpayers of the district think.

In the very first item, he says he wants to discuss "bond issue and raising taxes now."

Now this is the same trustee that as a candidate boasted of how he had build numerous district facilities in his prior stint as a board chairman hand had done it "without raising property taxes."
In the next item he wants vendor Paragon, who has garnered millions in contracts with the BISD to give him a quote on building four soccer fields and avoid the bidding process because they are Buy Board vendors.

The Facilities Committee meeting, according to the agenda, is scheduled for Friday, April 28, at 3 p.m. If Cowen is right, the district taxpayers should know whether they will get their taxes raised "now" at the meeting.

That is just the tip of the Cowen "BISD Proud" iceberg.

The next items are not really agenda items. Rather, they are more like directives to the administration on 3.,4.) whether to bid out for Porter or stick with the current design and whether to stick with Requests For Proposals and when an how the board should review the responses 5.) Whether to use half of the Tax Reorganization Election monies to build a Fine Arts Pavilion and if the BISD should entice the city to help build it 6.) To expand the vendor list to include Houston and northern Texas contractors to get more bids and better deals 7.) Discuss adding tennis, golf, swimming, and rowing into elementaries, middle schools and high schools (whenever appropriate).

If all these items seem to be discussions by one person rather than agenda items for the consideration of committee members, you are right.

It seems that Cowen is the sort who talks aloud as he types so it sounds more like a tedious argument than agenda items.

Could someone at the BISD please shelve this agenda and replace it with a legitimate one?

ZENDEJAS SKIRTS PURCHASING RULES ON PARAGON's MILLIONS

By Juan Montoya
Image result for esperanza zendejasDid Brownsville Independent School District superintendent Esperanza Zendejas deliberately bypass the district's purchasing/procurement process to unilaterally give a multi-million contract to Ft. Worth-based Paragon Sports to install artificial turf at three local high schools that has is costing the district close to $3 to $4 million?

As of February, with more work still to be done, Paragon had been paid $2,112,389 on Zendejas' recommendation alone without having the vendor or purchase go through the biding or procurement process. Because all the work has not been completed, the final total is not yet known.

All evidence points to a decision made by Zendejas on her own (?) and pushed by her at the BISD Facilities Committee meeting, and that she did so at the recommendation of fellow superintendents with who she "drank coffee," according to notes and emails generated by the participants.

Electronic correspondence acquired by El Rrun-Rrun, indicate that when BISD Maintenance Administrator Cesar Guerra on October 19, 2015 first asked the administration who would be presenting the report on the district's soccer fields the next day before the Facilities Committee chaired by trustee/chair Cesar Lopez, Zendejas had directed him to Coach Jason Starkey because she could not remember his name. Starkey is listed on the BISD directory as the Lopez Early College High School Athletic Coordinator.

Guerra then emailed Rosario Peña, BISD's Administrator for Purchasing at 2:36 p.m. October 20, less than an hour and a half before the meeting, that Starkey had informed him that the presenter's name was William Chaffe, representing Paragon Sports which installs artificial turf on football and soccer fields and running tracks.

When Peña learned the presenter's name, she asked whether Paragon Sports was listed on the Texas Association of School Boards' vendor list. She then altered CFO Lucio Mendoza, Garza, Acting Area Administrator for Maintenance and Facilities Kent Whittemore, and Senior Buyer Corpus Zoroal, and BISD board secretary Pat Perez that trustee Lopez, Fcilites Committee Chair, was a Buy Board representative for the South, Southeast Texas and El Paso Regions (Regions 1-6, 19) and that he should abstain from discussions on the item.

In fact, Peña's concerns that Purchasing had not been involved in vetting Paragon Sports, a vendor listed on the TASB Buy Board were contained in an email she sent to the Superintendent and numerous district staff members involved in the construction of new facilities.

In that memo, she also cautioned Facilities Committee Chairman Lopez that since he was a regional director of the TASB Buy Board, he should refrain from participating in the discussion on in the eventual vote when the item came before the board.

The agenda item read: "Presentation on High School Soccer Fields." and did not mention the presenter or who had chosen the company install the artificial turf.
"The Purchasing Department was not involved in the selection process for this vendor," she wrote.

An information request to the BISD revealed that the installation of artificial turf has cost the district a pretty penny. In response to our requests, the BISD Public Information Office responded that as of February 13, 2017, the BISD has tallied the following totals in artificial turf at the high schools:

Number of campuses and BISD Facilities where turf has been installed :
· LOPES ECHS -- outdoor field .
· PORTER ECHS -- outdoor field.
· RIVERA ECHS -- indoor ½ field.

Names of architects, engineers and firms.
· LOPEZ ECHS : Paragon Sports ( installer) , Ambiotec (Engineer ).
· PORTER EC Paragon Sports ( installer), MGE Engineering .
· RIVERA ECHS Paragon Sports ( installer ) , n/a 

Payments to Paragon Sports.
· LOPEZ $ 819,146.00
· PORTER $ 997,964.00 ( adjustments to final amount are in progress).
· RIVERA $ 224,079.00

When Peña's email was circulated, notes written at the time by the participants indicated that Facilities Chair Lopez appeared at Peña's office just before the meeting in an agitated state and "extremely upset" demanding an explanation on why she had sent the email. Lopez said he had done nothing wrong and that he had a "13-month old child and that he could not afford to do anything wrong." When he was told the precautions on his recusal from participating in discussions pertaining to the presentation of a Buy Board vendor where he was a regional representative were done to protect him and the district, he apologized and left for the meeting. 

On the day after, on October 21, Peña was called to Zendejas' office with her boss CFO Mendoza present and chastised for ever having written the email without discussing them with Mendoza and her office first.

At that meeting, Zendejas was said to have told Peña that "she purposely does not let the board members know everything because she needs to keep them out of administrative recommendations. She also said that she had done nothing wrong, that she had picked that company at the recommendation of fellow superintendents that she has coffee with. She also wanted to know why Peña had emailed the board secretary (Pat Perez), that she did  not trust her, that the purchasing staff alerts her when (former trustee Catalina Presas-Garcia) was in her office, and asked what she was trying to provoke.

Zendejas also claimed that she had not interest interest in that vendor (Paragon) other than the recommendations coming from the other superintendents with whim she had coffee. However, during the Facilities Committee meeting she was unequivocal in her support for the company to get the contract even though it was just a presentation and not an "action" item.

The Buy Board is a Texas Cooperative which the BISD through board resolution, can participate in their purchasing programs and can contract with their awarded members such as Paragon.
Although the BISD is eligible to use all their awarded vendors and all purchases are allowed, the BISD Purchasing Dept. must still verify contracts to verify to ensure items being purchased have in fact been approved and must also verify contract terms and ensure they meet and conform with CH (Local) and ensure the "best value" to the district. The contract with Paragon and the purchase were not brought to the purchasing department for clearance in this case.

Peña maintained that the purpose for her email and her contact with the recipients was to protect the district and its trustees from a negative perception by the public, especially pertaining to the award of construction projects.

After the meeting with Zendejas, Mendoza called Peña on October 23 to his office and had her sign a memorandum where he prohibited from emailing or calling others to relay her concerns about purchases or potential conflicts of interest of others beside himself, and to refrain from contacting the board secretary in the future. Peña signed the memo as Mendoza had requested.

Then, on April 14, 2016, Peña received notice from Zendejas that she was being reassigned to Food and Nutritious Services' fiscal systems "in the best interest of the school district."
"The FNS Department continues to be under investigation and you leadership is needed," Zendejas wrote.
"Please not that this reassignment will not affect your contract days or your base rate of pay for the 2015-2016 school year. Thereafter your rate of pay will be commensurate to your assigned position."

On Nov. 3, 2015, item #41, under consent items, Paragon Sports Contractors was recommended by the administration to install artificial turf at the Lopez Early College High School at a cost of $870,236 without competitive bidding or going through the district's purchasing process. That would be just the first of many such contract awards from Zendejas to this company.

HILT JUMPS SHIP AT B.E.D.C., DID HE HEAR FOOTSTEPS?

By Juan Montoya
Amid indications that federal investigators had interviewed him and his former vice president on potential improprieties, Jason Hilts, the president and Chief Executive Officer at the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation has tendered his resignation effective this Friday, April 28.

Rumors abounded in municipal circles that FBI investigators had questioned Hilts and other BEDC officials, but no other details have been avaialble.

Hilts, a Michigan native, was named the city's top economic development guru with the City of Brownsville since 2002 even though he never was the top person of any organization, never worked at another economic development organization, only had some college courses under his belt, and by all accounts and purposes had limited formal training in economic development.

Newspaper reports at the time pointed out that the BEDC board awarded him an $80,000 annual salary coupled with benefits and a $500 monthly gas allowance. Additionally, Hilts had access to a BEDC credit card that he uses often for travel, meals and other expenses that he accounts for in many cases adding mostly up to more than $1,000 a month.

Lynn Puglisi, who Hilts eliminated from the BEDC in his reorganization, charged that Hilts was disciplined for making large personal purchases on BEDCs credit card such as jewelry and clothing when he was vice president of the BEDC years ago. Hilts acknowledges the actions and says they were a mistake, but denies he was reprimanded for the unapproved purchases after an audit was conducted of his finances.

The Brownsville Herald's Emma Perez-Treviño reported in Auguts 21, 2003, that: "When he was vice president in 1997 and 1998, the credit card facilitated the purchase of clothing from Mervyns in Los Angeles and Mission Viejo, Calif., slacks, shirts and men's coordinates from Dillards in Brownsville, more clothes from the Burlington Coat Factory in McAllen, a diamond ring from J.C. Penney in Brownsville, goods from Stein Mart in San Antonio, general merchandise and jewelry from Target in Brownsville, jewelry/repair/sales from Golden Time in Brownsville, and a $1,077.09 silver clock from the Jewel Gallery in Brownsville."

Nonetheless, he was made the BEDC CEO and allowed to court firms from within the United States and abroad. Not all were successful, as is evidenced by an empty north Brownsville Industrial Park and an abandoned Colombia office.

Take a gander at what Hilts "invested" there without any tangible results:

The BEDC January 2016 report on the Colombian economic mission which shows that in the two and one-half years of operating an office there, they spent $197,590 in salaries for three Colombian nationals and office costs, and another $116,000 in travel for BEDC, city, port, state and private individuals.

And while the report does not show that one job has been created for a Brownsville resident so far, Hilts asserted that their efforts so far at "developing relationships" has the "potential" of bringing at least 11 mid-size operations in different sectors with $25 million and 200 jobs and another $300 million from two major projects in food processing and retail which might create 450 jobs and another 300 indirect jobs here. Alas, Hilts won't be there to be held accountable when  nothing materilializes.

Here's the breakdown on the Colombian operation funded to the tune of $314,438 from July 2013 to date to January 2016.
Staff and salary: Director of Recruitment: $50,436 yearly
Office Assistant:                                         $6,600 yearly
Office Assistant:                                          $800 monthly

Total multiplied by 2.5 years:                     $197,590

Travel:
July 15 to Sept. 13, 2013 Four Trips: (1.Medellin, 2.Bogota-Cali, 3.Bogota, 4. Barranquilla-Bogota,Medellin, Cali)
Fellow Travelers: City of Brownsville (Mayor Tony Martinez), BEDC staff, Port of Brownsville reps (Eddie Campirano, commissioners?, Office of the Governor of Economic Development, A Brownsville manufacturer(?), attorney (private?), labor consultant (?)
Why the Mayor? Hilts, in the December 8 workshop, stated: "In South America, a mayor is viewed like a governor or president. The meetings we set up are better attended if the mayor is with us."
Participants BEDC claims attended the "Invest in Brownsville Trade Mission": 375
$44,625

(Note: in the report sent to El Rrun-Rrun, Hilts did not identify the individuals who were taken to Colombia at public expense other than by their organizations. For example, he did not mention the Port of Brownsville commissioners or administrators who went with the BEDC.)

Oct., 7, 2013 to June 18, 2014 Four Trips: (1.Bogota, 2. Bogota, Medellin, Cali, 3. Medellin, 4. Ipiales, Cucuta, Tunja, Medellin, Barranquilla, Pereira, Santa Maria)
Fellow Travelers: BEDC, Office of the Governor ED)
Participants BEDC claims attended the "Invest in Brownsville Trade Mission": 503
$30,223

July 29, 2014 to August 16, 2014 Two Trips(1. Bogota, 2. Medellin, , Cali, Bogota, Cartagena)
Fellow Travelers: City of Brownsville (Martinez?, federal official (Filemon Vela?), Port of Brownsville (Eddie Campirano?),  Office of the Governor ED)
Participants BEDC claims attended the Invest in Brownsville Trade Mission: 193
$23,750

Oct. 27 2014 to April 23, 2015 Two Trips: (1. Medellin, Bogota, 2. Medellin, Bogota
Fellow Travelers: BEDC staff only
Participants BEDC claims attended the Invest in Brownsville Trade Mission: 51
$8,550

May 30 to Nov. 12, 2015 Three Trips: (1. Medellin, Bogota. 2. Medellin, Bogota. 3. Bogota, Cali)
Fellow Travelers: BEDC staff only
Participants BEDC claims attended the Invest in Brownsville Trade Mission: Not noted
$9,900

Total Travel by BEDC, City of Brownsville, Office of the Gov., Port of Brownsville, Brownsville Manufacturer, lawyer, labor consultant:
$116,848

(Hilts adds the caveat that: All travel is associated with meetings pertaining to prospective activity, trade missions, government officials, investor relations, entrepreneurs, port authorities and chambers of commerce. The face-to-face meetings with such representatives are derived through an internal lead generating process. In return, the meetings result in visits to Brownsville by prospective companies and participants for the inbound trade missions hosted in Brownsville.)

Results so far on our $314,438 investment in personnel, office and travel of our able representatives:
Jobs for local residents: 0, not counting Hilts and BEDC VP Gilbert Salinas
Jobs for Colombian nationals: 3

(Ed.'s Note: VP Salinas – also said to have been interviewed by the FBI – is now the Executive Director of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation.)

LUCIO INTRIGUE: WAS BILL A WARNING TO POINT ISABEL ISD?

By Juan Montoya
Remember the hastily-pulled Senate Bill filed by Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. to consolidate all the school districts in Cameron County into one and to have the trustees at the Brownsville Independent School District run the mega district until elections could be held?

After county school districts officials learned of the Lucio bill, he told a local television station that he had withdrawn it (SB 2112) because there had been an office mix-up and that it had been filed prematurely by someone on his staff without his consent.

Now some school district insiders say that the bill was merely a ruse by Lucio to warn the PI ISD that unless they played along and gave the LNG companies the tax abatements they had requested that would have placed a cap on the taxable value of the plants, the danger existed that they would be legislated out of office.

"This was a shot across the bow of the PI ISD showing them what they can expect if they continue to deny the LNGs their cap and abatements," said a longtime education legal counsel who has worked here and up the Valley. "Lucio was telling them they should play ball with the LNGS or else,"

The firestorm that erupted after word got out on the mass media of the measures contained in the bill irked numerous administrators and members of the boards of trustees of the eight school district in Cameron County. Lucio had submitted the bill March 10, but many local educators had not been aware of its contents until weeks afterward.

They pointed out that, if it had been approved. the boards of trustees of the eight school districts would have automatically been replaced by the trustees of the largest district, the Brownsville Independent School District until elections could be held based on a formula that would elect two members of the new district by county commissioner precinct and one at-large, making it a nine-member board.

"That would have thrown out 56 (eight times seven) elected board members by legislative fiat," said a BISD administrator. "That would have been unconstitutional and would have been stopped immediately by the U.S. Dept. of Justice."

Lucio, after years of being in the state legislature knew that to change the boundaries of any elective district, it would first have to be cleared by the U.S. Dept. of Justice Office of Civil Rights. There was  no provision for this in the bill he filed.

"How many sessions has he been in Austin where redistricting plans are drawn and they have to be cleared first by the feds?," asked Cameron County official. "Lucio knew this. He just thought the bill wouldn't clear the first committee where it was assigned. Why submit a bill without this caveat at all?""

It would also have meant that in the interim, the board of the BISD, with their 48,000 students, would have seen the student body jump to nearly 98,000 students. Also, the district's budget, which is about $545 million, would have increased to more than $1.065 billion.

Now school district insiders say that the bill was a ruse by Lucio to warn the PI ISD that unless they played along and gave the LNG companies the cap and tax abatements they had requested that would have placed a cap on the taxable value of the plants, the danger existed that they would be legislated out of office.

Since Lucio pulled the bill before it was even placed on the calendar or referred to a committee, will we ever know? If the PI ISD trustees change their minds on the abatements, we'll know they got the message.

VOTING STARTED MONDAY. DO YOU KNOW WHERE TO VOTE?

(Ed,'s Note: If you don't, this color-coded map gives you the four city electoral districts so you can tell if your district rep is up for elections. [ Click on graphic to enlarge.] This year, districts 3 and 4 are up for grabs as well as one citywide At-Large "B". Debby Portillo, the incumbent for District 3 decided not to run and William Garza and Joel Munguia are fighting it out for that spot.

District 4 incumbent John Villarreal is facing off retired chief Municipal Judge Ben Neece for District 4. At-Large "B" incumbent Rose Gowen is facing Erasmo Castro for the citywide position. Early voting started Monday, April 24. Have you voted yet? To go to the city website, click on the link http://www.cob.us/DocumentCenter/View/1583)

PUB HONCHOS AGREE TO FLY OUT OF B'VILLE-SPI AIRPOIRT

         PUB-TENASKA WILL ALLOW SELECTIVE VIEWING OF "SECRET" MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING                        
By Juan Montoya
Starting today, officials, administrators, and staff of the Brownsville Public utility Board who need to travel to meetings and training seminars will travel out of the Brownsville-South Padre Island Airport.

They had used the Harlingen airport, according to insiders close to the city commission, because the airlines serving Valley Regional Airport there provide first-class seating and those flying out of Brownsville do not.

"They like to fly first class and the airlines in Brownsville don't provide that,' she said. "From now on, they promised to fly out of Brownsville."
The City of Brownsville has long subsidized airport operations to maintain air service here. But while one arm of the city is subsidizing the airport, the PUB was using public funds to patronize the airlines flying out of Harlingen.

"That just makes no sense," she said. "Here you have us using public funds to keep the airport going and these guys at the PUB are paying first-class fares out of Harlingen."

And in the other item heard in executive session, City of Brownsville commissioners agreed to table their call for a review and audit of the COB-Tenaska $500 million power plant and its feasibility after the PUB members told then that a Black and Veatch Engineering report on just that was due to be issued within a month. However, PUB officials agreed to let commissioners read the MOU, but not to make copies or its contents available to the general public.

These two items were the only ones at the joint COB-PUB special meeting held Monday at City Hall.

Commissioners have been under pressure from city residents after the January 2015 announcement that the city and Tenaska planned to build the 800 MW plant for $500 million. The city's share of power – 200 MWs – was going to cost $325 million, with the other 600 MWs to go to the private company Tenaska  for their $175 million. The city's share of the cost (more than one half of the $500 million) equals to one-quarter of the energy while Tenaska gets three-quarters of the energy produced for about 35 percent (one third) of the cost of the plant.

Originally, the principals – mainly PUB CEO John Bruciak and Mayor Tiny Martinez – said that the construction of the plant would hinge on the private company being able to sell the 600 MWs on the open market. However, their original projections of  an electric shortage were erased when two other gas-fired, electric generating plants came online. Now, according to Fitch Ratings, the new plants and others in the Rio Grande Valley have created a glut on the market that leaves more than 425 MWs available for consumers.

Eben before Martinez and Tenaska officials made the January 2013 announcement that the city and the company had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, city commissioners had unanimously approved an upward hike in utility rates to back the bonds to build the plant. Their vote assured that electric rates would increase by 36 percent  from 2013 to 2016, water rates 20 percent from 2013 to 2016, and waste water services 6 percent over over the first two years and stay there indefinitely.

Tenaska officials predicted the plant would be finished and up and running by June 2016.
There is no way of knowing what recourse the city had in terminating the MOU since PUB and city officials – including PUB legal counsel Eddie Treviño – have fought to keep the MOU secret from the public. Numerous requests for information have resulted in protests to the Texas Attorney General that its release would rove harmful to the company and the city because of the "competitive" nature of the energy business.

As a result of last night's joint meeting, PUB legal counsel and officials say they will allow city officials to view the MOU, but not to make copies or distribute the document to the general public.

Critics who heard that the PUB was going to release the Black and Veatch report remained skeptical of the PUB offer.
"These are the people that are paid by PUB to prepare impact studies and other energy-related services," said one. "How can we trust them to deliver an impartial report since they are paid by PUB?"

Monday, April 24, 2017

C.O.B.-PUB CONSIDER TENASKA AUDIT, FEASIBILITY REVIEW; COMMISSION TO REQUIRE CITY STAFF TO USE B'VILLE AIRPORT

By Juan Montoya
In January 2013, City of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez unveiled a plan for the City of Brownsville and private energy company Tenaska to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to build a $500 million natural-gas powered electric generation plant.

What few people knew was that the past December 17, 2012, the commissioners had approved authorizing the Brownsville Public Utility Board to undertake the project, and also approved the raising of the utility rates to back the bonds that would be issued for its construction. The original plans called for the plant to be finished by June 2016.

Now, five years after the vote and raising of the rates, there is still no plant as the increased rates generate what has been calculated at more than $90 million. Today, a majority of the city commission is asking for an independent review and fiscal audit of the project to determine whether or not it was a feasible idea to begin with. Their executive session agenda also authorizes the hiring of the energy expert to review the feasibility of the project.

Under the terms announced by Martinez back in January 2013, PUB would keep 200 (one fourth) MW of the projected 800 MW even though it was paying more than three-fifths ($325 million) of the cost. Under the general terms of the agreement, BPUB must acquire land and secure permits for its pipelines. Tenaska has to find wholesale buyers for the plant’s remaining 600 megawatts and secure federal, state and local permits — a lengthy process the company has already begun, a spokesman said back then.

But while they made it seem that selling the 600 MWs of power was a piece of cake, a glut of energy on the market has stalled the project. Under a clause in the closely-guarded MOU, Tenaska is not obligated to start construction of the plant until it has customers for the remaining 600 MWs.
Ever since then, when the PUB is asked for a copy of the MOU drafted by PUB counsel Eddie Treviño and the company's lawyers, the PUB has protested the informational request with the Texas Attorney General claiming it would be hurt if the"competitive" energy market and would release proprietary information to its rivals.

What was not widely reported at the January announcement was that a unanimous city commission led by Martinez had already approved a schedule of rate utility hikes to pay for the bonds.
Their vote assured that electric rates increased by 36 percent  from 2013 to 2016, water rates 20 percent  from 2013 to 2016, and waste water services 6 percent over over the first two years and stay there indefinitely.

The city also passed a 10-year tax abatement for Tenaska and promised to run water from its Robindale plant and purchase right-of-way for a natural gas line from Edinburg to Brownsville for the plant.
Then, Michael C. Roth, Tenaska's Director of Development went before the Cameron County Commissioners Court and asked them to amend the 10-year tax abatement agreement set to being in January 2016 to January 2018.
Roth justified the change saying the amendment will "sync" it its abatement agreement with the city.

"Given current market factors, we anticipate wrapping up power contracting by the end of 2016 and starting construction in early 2017," Roth wrote the court. "While the schedule is tentative and dictated by power contracts and market conditions, we believe additional supply of reliable energy is needed in the region and will continue to work to make this project a reality."

At their joint meeting in December, John Bruciak, BPUB general manager and CEO, said the agreement with Tenaska wasn’t the only option for addressing Brownsville’s electricity needs and keeping rates in check, but it was the best option. An alternative would be to build additional generating capacity a little bit at a time with small-scale projects, though that method is less efficient and cost effective, he said. Neither is buying additional power on the open market a feasible option in light of the state’s current electricity shortage, Bruciak said.

“We looked at a lot of things,” he said. “We did an integrated resource plan on the power supply that looked at everything in the state that was available. This hands down was the most economical and efficient for our residents.”

But there was something flawed in that analysis on which the construction of the plant was justified.
Since then, the Fitch Rating Service has said that there is a glut of electricity on the grid and that there are some 465 MW of extra power available locally after the completion of a similar plant in Edinburg went on line and construction has begun on another in nearby Harlingen.

PUB has not lowered the rates even after it appears that the city has no need for the plant. And now, as residents keep on paying the increased rates, there hasn't been a peep from both of these incumbents that they may have erred in their vote.
Today, at the joint PUB-COB meeting held in City Hall, protesters called for an end to the Tenaska project and demanded that the millions collected be returned to the residents and the rates lowered.

Another item on the commission's agenda is a resolution in support for the use of the Brownsville-South Padre Island Airport. Apparently, commissioners Jessica Tetreau and Cesar de leon want the city administration to order its employees who must =travel outside the city to use the Brownsville airport, which the city subsidizes, instead of going to the Valley International Airport, a city-owned airport three miles northeast of Harlingen.

"Why is the city subsidizing its airport and then have its administrators and staff fly out of Harlingen?," asked a city official. "It's like someone shooting themselves in the foot. It just makes no sense. I'm amazes it took them this long to figure that out."

FIREFIGHTERS LOCAL 970 ENDORSE NEECE, CASTRO, GARZA

Special to El Rrun-Rrun
The endorsements of the local groups are starting to roll in.
The Brownsville Firefighters Association Local #970 announced that they are endorsing former Chief Municipal Judge Ben Neece who is challenging incumbent District 4 commissioner John Villarreal

The Local also announced it is endorsing Earsmo Castro over incumbent Rose Gowen for the At-Large "B" seat on the commission. The union also endorsed William Garza over Joel Munguia for the District 3 seat now held by Deborah Portillo.

Other endorsements that we have heard about include the Brownsville Realtors who endorsed Neece and Rose Gowen and didn't endorse anyone in the District 3 race so far.
The Brownsville Police Officers Association came out for Neece and Gowen. If you know the officers of the BPOA, perhaps they could post the endorsements on their website as should the others.

From the beginning, it has been apparent that Gowen, Munguia, and Villarreal were running as a  slate. If there was ever any doubt, check out the campaign workers wearing Gowen T-shirts and holding Villarreal signs.  

That has gelled their opposition into an ad hoc slate of their opponents, although the other three say they are running independently. 

The race for city commissioners and the endorsement by the union signals the diminution of control over the group by former union president Carlos Elizondo. Elizondo, now fire chief, needs the support of a majority on the city commission to retain his job since his contract comes up for renewal annually. There has been ample criticism of his apparent violation of the city personnel policy that prohibits a city employee from holding elective office within the city's jurisdiction. 

Elizondo is also a trustee of the Brownsville Independent School District. 
If these elections wrest majority control from Mayor Tony Martinez, he might be forced to decide on whether to retain his paid position or serve as a BISD trustee for no pay. For now, however, it is clear that he cannot deliver the firefighters union vote for the incumbents who put him there.  


NEECE CLARIFIES STANCE ON BIKING, WEST RAIL TRAIL

By Ben Neece
Candidate for City of Brownsville
Commissioner for District 4

There seems to be a misconception circulating about my position on quality of life projects in
Brownsville, and, in particular, those revolving around Biking, in Brownsville.
I’d like to make my position clear through this statement.
Yesterday, April 22, is good place to start. I attended, performed at, and helped produce the Seventh Annual Earth Day Festival, here in Brownsville. Shannon Guerrero, Rose Timmer and I have
worked on this event for 7 years. The event is held at the Linear Park, which is the origin of the
Palo Alto Hike and Bike Trail.

This year’s event was the largest and best attended of any of the past events. This is a positive event focusing on all of our citizens and our relationship to our Planet. The Farmer’s Market, which began after our first Earth Day Celebration, was part of the event, as it has been, in the past and benefitted from the additional surge of people attending the Earth Day Event.

Additionally, I was a member of the Brownsville Society for the Performing Arts for over 20
years, which was responsible for such annual events, such as: the Latin Jazz Festival (20 yrs) and
the Brownsville Guitar Festival (16 yrs). The BSPA has produced dozens of other events over the
last 22 years, including the annual Messiah Performances at the Performing Arts Theater.
Although I have, recently, retired from the Board, I am still involved in the Performing Arts
Academy Project and the BSPA Radio Station. These efforts have contributed, tremendously, to
the quality of life Brownsville enjoys.
I am, currently, a member of the Brownsville Historical Association, having previously served as
its President, as well. The BHA has been an integral part of the quality of life in Brownsville. We
recently merged with the Historic Brownsville Museum to provide support to its museum, which
joins our existing museums, nationally recognized resource center, the Stillman House, Market
Square and Alonso Building. The BHA has promoted Brownsville in many ways, contributing,
not only to our quality of life, but promoting Brownsville to academics and tourists, alike.
A little over 5 years ago, I started focusing my efforts to more humanitarian projects, after I was
appointed to the Board of the Ozanam Homeless Center. I decided that it was time to devote my
energy to the less fortunate of our community. We have instituted several programs toward that
end and have maintained operations, even during fiscally challenging times. Recently, we were
the beneficiaries of a generous donation to construct a Community Center, where we will have
our first clinic on Immigration issues April 27, 2017. This and our downtown homeless initiative
re real humanitarian programs that help the neediest of our citizens and residents.
Cyclobia:

I am not against biking or cyclobia. I have issues about its location, i.e. downtown, instead of the
Palo Alto Hike and Bike Trail. This is because I have heard the voices of the downtown
merchants, who are suffering, rather than benefitting from the street closings.
I am opposed to closing heavily travelled traffic lanes for “bike lanes,” especially when “bike trails” are immediately adjacent to the “bike lanes.” This is not, in my opinion, a appropriate allocation of
resources for our citizens. Many have expressed, to me, their displeasure with the increased
traffic congestion caused by the closures. More input from the citizenry would be helpful in
determining the proper allocation of municipal resources.
Friends of the West Rail Trail:
I would like to clarify my position, to assure that the Friends of the West Rail Trail are aware of
it. It is not often that an opportunity like the one presented by the abandonment of the Union
Pacific Railroad easement comes along. These are long term considerations that cannot be easily
undone. I understand the urgency of the Friends, because of loss of opportunity, after having
suffered for so long with blocked train crossing, the sounds of the locomotives and the danger
involved in having a train pass through your neighborhood.

I have stated, in writing, to your leaders, and twice in public forums, that I SUPPORT a “car free” West Rail. As stated, above, I helped develop usage of the Palo Alto Hike and Bike Trail, i.e. the Earth Day Festivals, and would do my best to develop the West Rail Hike and Bike Trail. My son and I spent many a wonderful time riding the bike trails, both on the Palo Alto and the Montebello “off road” trail, where we took our spills and spilled our blood, riding at Montebello.
I hope I have helped to clarify my position on these issues.

Please feel free to send comments or questions to my website at:
www.benneececampaign.com
Thanks for your consideration of me as your representative.

FIRE GUTS TWO-STORY VACANT HOME ON 13TH STREET



(Ed.s Note: for the second time in recent memory, this vacant home on 13th Street near the Jackson Street intersection caught on fire as police and fire fighters battled the blaze. However, low water pressure and the advanced state of the fire prevented them from putting the fire out before the entire building was gutted. We thank one of our seven readers for sending us these photos.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

OUR CHOICES, AND DECLARATION AGAINST TWO INCUMBENTS

Special to El Rrun-Rrun
(With Apologies to the Founding Fathers)

The unanimous Declaration of the voters in the 2017 Brownsville City Election

When in the course of local political events it becomes necessary for an electorate to dissolve the support which installed the mayor and the incumbents on the Brownsville City Commission, a decent respect to public opinion requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truth to be self-evident, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive and self-serving it is the right of the people to alter or to oust it, and to institute a new city government.

When a long train of abuses and usurpations, it is their duty to vote out such government, and to provide new leadership. The history of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez and incumbents Rose Gowen and John Villarreal has been a history of a repeated voting record  based on self interest and a pandering to interests other than the public good. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.

Martinez – with Gowen and Villarreal's support – have refused his assent to formulation of a code of laws, a city Code of Ethics, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. The promises of Martinez, six years ago, to formulate such a code was only lip service to which both Gowen and Villarreal have assented.

Image result for rose gowenThey have forbidden the city administrators to enforce laws of immediate and pressing importance, like suspending the enforcing of the the conflict of interest clauses in the city's personnel policy which would have prevented Fire Department Chief Carlos Elizondo from serving in an elected office at the Brownsville Independent School District until his assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, they have utterly neglected to attend to them.

They have refused to consult with the people on matters of great interest and which tax them immeasurably such as their personal advocacy for the construction of a $500 million gas-fired electric generating plant which resulted in a 36 percent increase from 2013 to 2016, water rates to increase 20 percent increase from 2013 to 2016, and waste water services by  6 percent over over the first two years and will stay there indefinitely.

They have unilaterally erected a multitude of new offices at public expense for the gentrification of their downtown centres and sent hither swarms of parking meter officers to harass the common people and used the people's assets to feed their illusions of grandeur through the use of City Manager Charlie Cabler's $35,000 discretionary spending cap.

Martinez has combined with Gowen and Villarreal  to subject us to a subsidization of the oil-and-gas wealthy UT System, giving their assent to their acts of pretended legislation which would have despoiled the poorest community in the nation of their property and assets to give to the UT System. Da Mayor has conspired with others, such as Villarreal and Gowen, to attempt to give Lincoln Park away to the UT System and place the people's park across the street from a sewage plant where the odors, most vile, emanate.

Image result for john villarreal, brownsvilleWe hold Martinez, Gowen and Villarreal responsible for imposing taxes on us without our consent such as the millions of dollars in Certificates of Obligations with which he has purchased properties of his friends and cronies that has resulted in their acquiring wealth and the city suffers in the removal of properties from the tax rolls, thereby increasing the burden on the average taxpayer. They have used this as a subterfuge to keep from asking the people who will pay these instruments of debt or for their opinions and consent.

We hold Gowen and Villarreal responsible for ignoring the city charter, and allowing Martinez to discuss and vote on his purchase of tax-delinquent properties in violation of the Texas Local Government Code, thereby increasing the value of his lands and enriching him through this illegal stratagem.

They have plundered our assets, ravaged our municipal budgets, impoverished our town, and destroyed the commerce of the merchants downtown by continuing to have them pay for the Cyclobias much favored by La Chizquida Gowen to push for the use of bicycles as her answer to bring health, wealth and prosperity to all instead of creating jobs, improving our drainage or providing the most basic services such as fixing our streets and building sidewalks for our people to walk on. Instead, Gowen has steered millions toward the construction of bike and hike trails for the recreation of the landed few. So far, these cyclobia events have cost the city taxpayers $543,898.70
Image result for rose gowen

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the continued depredation of his ethics-challenged legal henchman Mark Sossi whose known rules of litigation are an undistinguished destruction of morals, values and right that affects all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince and his henchmen Gowen and Villarreal, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, are unfit to be the rulers of a free people. The promises of Martinez, Gowen and Villarreal to remove the gag on the public on the public comment period during their meetings have been ignored.
Image result for el rrunrrun, free speech

Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our brethren in the Texas Legislature. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our existence and  conditions here.

We have appealed to the native justice and magnanimity of the Texas Attorney General and the Texas Commission on Ethics and our pleas have fallen on the deaf ears of Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio, Tex Reps Rene Oliveira and Eddie Lucio III and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence.

 They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our separation, and hold them, as we hold the Martinez, Gowen and Villarreal, enemies in war, in peace friends.

We, therefore, the voters of the City of Brownsville, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of Browntown, solemnly publish and declare, that these united barrios and electoral districts that all political connection between them and the city commission, is and ought to be totally dissolved. 

ZENDEJAS SKITS PROCUREMENT RULES (AGAIN) ON PARAGON

By Juan Montoya
Did Brownsville Independent School District superintendent Esperanza Zendejas bypass the district's purchasing/procurement process to unilaterally give a multi-million contract to Ft. Worth-based Paragon Sports to install artificial turf at three local high schools that has is costing the district close to $3 to $4 million?
As of February, with more work still to be done, Paragon had been paid $2,112,389 on Zendejas' recommendation alone without having the vendor or purchase go through the biding or procurement process. Because all the work has not been completed, the final total is not yet known.

All evidence points to a decision made by Zendejas on her own (?) and pushed by her at the BISD Facilities Committee meeting, and that she did so at the recommendation of fellow superintendents with who she "drank coffee," according to notes and emails generated by the participants.

Electronic correspondence acquired by El Rrun-Rrun, indicate that when BISD Maintenance Administrator Cesar Guerra on October 19, 2015 first asked the administration who would be presenting the report on the district's soccer fields the next day before the Facilities Committee chaired by trustee/chair Cesar Lopez, Zendejas had directed him to Coach Jason Starkey because she could not remember his name. Starkey is listed on the BISD directory as the Lopez Early College High School Athletic Coordinator.

Guerra then emailed Rosario Peña, BISD's Administrator for Purchasing at 2:36 p.m. October 20, less than an hour and a half before the meeting, that Starkey had informed him that the presenter's name was William Chaffe, representing Paragon Sports which installs artificial turf on football and soccer fields and running tracks.

When Peña learned the presenter's name, she asked whether Paragon Sports was listed on the Texas Association of School Boards' vendor list. She then altered CFO Lucio Mendoza, Garza, Acting Area Administrator for Maintenance and Facilities Kent Whittemore, and Senior Buyer Corpus Zoroal, and BISD board secretary Pat Perez that trustee Lopez, Fcilites Committee Chair, was a Buy Board representative for the South, Southeast Texas and El Paso Regions (Regions 1-6, 19) and that he should abstain from discussions on the item.

In fact, Peña's concerns that Purchasing had not been involved in vetting Paragon Sports, a vendor listed on the TASB Buy Board were contained in an email she sent to the Superintendent and numerous district staff members involved in the construction of new facilities. In that memo, she also cautioned Facilities Committee Chairman Lopez that since he was a regional director of the TASB Buy Board, he should refrain from participating in the discussion on in the eventual vote when the item came before the board.

The agenda item read: "Presentation on High School Soccer Fields." and did not mention the presenter or who had chosen the company install the artificial turf.
"The Purchasing Department was not involved in the selection process for this vendor," she wrote.

An information request to the BISD revealed that the installation of artificial turf has cost the district a pretty penny. In response to our requests, the BISD Public Information Office responded that as of February 13, 2017, the BISD has tallied the following totals in artificial turf at the high schools:

Number of campuses and BISD Facilities where turf has been installed :
· LOPES ECHS -- outdoor field .
· PORTER ECHS -- outdoor field.
· RIVERA ECHS -- indoor ½ field.

Names of architects, engineers and firms.
· LOPEZ ECHS : Paragon Sports ( installer) , Ambiotec (Engineer ).
· PORTER EC Paragon Sports ( installer), MGE Engineering .
· RIVERA ECHS Paragon Sports ( installer ) , n/a 

Payments to Paragon Sports.
· LOPEZ $ 819,146.00
· PORTER $ 997,964.00 ( adjustments to final amount are in progress).
· RIVERA $ 224,079.00

When Peña's email was circulated, notes written at the time by the participants indicated that Facilities Chair Lopez appeared at Peña's office just before the meeting in an agitated state and "extremely upset" demanding an explanation on why she had sent the email. Lopez said he had done nothing wrong and that he had a "13-month old child and that he could not afford to do anything wrong." When he was told the precautions on his recusal from participating in discussions pertaining to the presentation of a Buy Board vendor where he was a regional representative were done to protect him and the district, he apologized and left for the meeting. 

On the day after, on October 21, Peña was called to Zendejas' office with her boss CFO Mendoza present and chastised for ever having written the email without discussing them with Mendoza and her office first.

At that meeting, Zendejas was said to have told Peña that "she purposely does not let the board members know everything because she needs to keep them out of administrative recommendations. She also said that she had done nothing wrong, tha she had picked that company at the recommendation of fellow superintendents that she has coffee with. She also wanted to know why Peña had emailed the board secretary (Pat Perez), that she did  not trust her, that the purchasing staff alerts her when (former) trustee Catalina Presas-Garcia) was in her office, and asked what she was trying to provoke.

Zendejas also claimed that she had not interest interest in that vendor (Paragon) other than the recommendations coming from the other superintendents with whim she had coffee.

The Buy Board is a Texas Cooperative which the BISD through board resolution, can participate in their purchasing programs and can contract with their awarded members such as Paragon.
Although the BISD is eligible to use all their awarded vendors and all purchases are allowed, the BISD Purchasing Dept. must still verify contracts to verify to ensure items being purchased have in fact been approved and must also verify contract terms and ensure they meet and conform with CH (Local) and ensure the "best value" to the district. The contract with Paragon and the purchase were not brought to the purchasing department for clearance in this case.

Peña maintained that the purpose for her email and her contact with the recipients was to protect the district and its trustees from a negative perception by the public, especially pertaining to the award of construction projects.

After the meeting with Zendejas, Mendoza called Peña on October 23 to his office and had her sign a memorandum where he prohibited from emailing or calling others to relay her concerns about purchases or potential conflict of interest to others beside himself, and to refrain from contacting the board secretary in the future. Peña signed the memo as Mendoza had requested.

Then, on April 14, 2016, Peña received notice from Zendejas that she was being reassigned to Food and Nutritious Services' fiscal systems "in the best interest of the school district."
"The FNS Department continues to be under investigation and you leadership is needed," Zendejas wrote.
"Please not that this reassignment will not affect your contract days or your base rate of pay for the 2015-2016 school year. Thereafter your rate of pay will be commensurate to your assigned position."

On Nov. 3, 2015, item #41, under consent items, Paragon Sports Contractors was recommended by the administration to install artificial turf at the Lopez Early College High School at a cost of $870,236 without competitive bidding or going through the district's purchasing process.

SO DOES THIS MEAN THE IS PUB VOTING FOR VILLARREAL?

(Ed.'s Note: It happens in very election. Supporters of candidates for the city commission such as John Villarreal's above, fin it easy to place one of his campaign sings for reelection on a lift P.U.B. lift station fence. By now, everyone knows that campaign signs are not to be placed on public facilities such as light posts or other public buildings. It is not only illegal, but it shows that the candidate's supporters don't care if they are breaking the law. On the other hand, perhaps whoever placed the Villarreal sing above got permission from the PUB to do it. If so, does that mean that the PUB has chosen sides in his race against former Chief Municipal Judge Ben Neece for District 4.)

                                                                           









Saturday, April 22, 2017

SOROLA: "IT'S NEVER TOO EARLY TO START 2018 CAMPAIGN."


(Ed.s Note: If anyone is thinking of announcing against JP 2-3 Mary Esther Sorola, they might want to reconsider after looking at some of the photos sent in from her golf fundraiser.

One of our from the seven readers sent in these photos from the event and it looks like the affair was a "smashing" success.  Event such as these are becoming the norm, not the exception. We remember when all a candidate had to have was an IBM electric typewriter and a Xerox copy machine to formulate their fliers and manufacture their campaign literature. Things have gotten a mite more complicated now with consultants, ad agencies and media buyers.

But if you get a turnout like this, it makes potential opponents think twice about entering the fray. "Got Justice?")

BEN: "AM I RUNNING AGAINST A GHOST, OR IS HE RUNNING?"

(Ed.'s Note: In one of my previous lifetimes I was the campaign manager of a barrio candidate for county commissioner who was terrified of speaking in public. At the time he was running against the late (great) D.J. Lerma, commissioner for Pct. 1. Just as today, several civic groups had debates (or forums) where the candidates were supposed to give their views of the public issues. Since it would not do that there would be no one representing the views of the challenger against the incumbent, it fell on me to show up as my candidate's surrogate. 

Now, D.J. was a first-rate attorney and he would have made mincemeat out of our guy. At the second forum (debate), he looked over where I was seated and asked: "Where's my opponent? Am I running against a ghost?" That brought the house down and all I could think of responding was a lame "Well, commissioner, maybe if you laid off the spirits you wouldn't see ghosts." 

The photos above were sent to us by one of our seven readers who wondered why incumbent District 4 city commissioner John Villarreal was a no-show at the Brownsville Board of Realtors forum held at their offices on Central Blvd. In fact, incumbent At-Large "B" commissioner Rose Gowen also didn't show up because she was vacationing with her hubby who she said was a teacher who observes Spring Break after the Easter holiday. It would have been enlightening to hear her and Villarreal's explanation on how it has come to be that the city has spent more than $500,000 to fund the cyclobia events in downtown Brownsville, a point brought home by Villarreal's opponent Ben Neece and Gowen's challenger Erasmo Castro. With early voting beginning Monday, it's hard to argue with those who say that both incumbents are ducking debates with their challengers.)

Friday, April 21, 2017

ENOUGH IS ENOUGH: GOWEN, VILLARREAL MUST GO. CITY HAS SPENT $543,898.70 FOR THEIR CYCLOBIAS AND FOR WHAT?

By Juan Montoya
We have not made it a secret that we have echoed the sentiments of downtown merchants who fret over the closing of streets and lost commerce because customers cant get to their businesses downtown.
Image result for rose gowenWhether it's dollar stores, segundas, nightclubs and bars, etc., the shutting off of access to the heart of downtown by the city to stage so-called Cyclobias and give local gentrified cyclists a chance to pedal around in circles is costing them business and money.

How would they feel if they knew that over the last five years, $543,898.70 of their tax dollars have been spent to put on these senseless extravaganzas championed by City of Brownsville Commissioner Rose Gowen and supported by the rest of the city commission? (Click on graphic to enlarge.)

If you notice, $316,981.05 is recorded as total expenses and there is deficiency of $228,917.65 that had to be made up from somewhere, the general fund, perhaps?

Gowen is running for re-election this year as is John Villarreal, the other incumbent. Deborah Portillo, seeing the writing on the wall, opted not to run for re-election and also quit as chair of United Brownsville, another unabashed city budget blood sucker.

Image result for john villarreal, brownsvilleWe've often wondered what it cost to have city laborers and Brownsville Police Dept. officers en masse on overtime overseeing these events.
Well, now we know.

Over the past five years, the public has paid police and city workers $122,824 alone in overtime to provide labor and security to these events. And after an hour or two of cycling around the empty (but guarded) streets and sporting their high-end cycling apparel, they leave. The city, in its dire condition, remains the same, if not worse for the lost commerce that downtown businesses endured.

And guess who foots the bill? Rose and John and their nattily dressed friends? No, You and me.

This city is lacking in the basic infrastructure such as drainage to prevent the chronic flooding that occurs every time we have a sudden downpour, sidewalks for pedestrians, bus shelters for the poor who have to endure the hot sun and inclement weather to ride the limping mass transit system called Metro, and do something about the city that has the appearance of a weedy junkyard. The city can barely keep the grass cut on its right-of-ways, but still has the bucks to stage these feigned quality-of-life charades.

Truman said that the buck stops here. That also applies to local government. While Da Mayor aTony Martinez is not running for reelection this year, Gowen and Villarreal are. They are the darlings of the bike-and-hike crowd who delight in telling the resident sof the poorest community in the United States that they must continue enduring the meager urban amenities the city provides them, and continue funding their pet projects such as these so-called cyclobias.

The bike advocates have given Villarreal and Gowen their quid pro quo. They have organized and paid for a mass mailing endorsing them against their opponents Ben Neece and Erasmos Castro. Neither Neece or Castro have spoken out against cycling. So why are the bikers against them? Could they be supporting Gowen and Villarreal because they are in debt to them for allowing this obscene waste of the public dollar?

They should have learned a lesson from their political support for Eddie Treviño as Cameron County Judge. He found out that he could not deliver the commissioners court to "adopt" the so-called Lower Rio Grande Valley Active Transportation and Tourism Plan. Cooler heads precvaield and saw through the smoke and mirrors of  the Gowen-Villareal "vision."

Enough is enough. We have to put  stop to this hemorrhaging of the people's money wasted so that Gowen can receive the accolades of the New York and Austin bike advocates and Villarreal can continue rubber stamping these initiatives. It's been five years of this huge waste of the community resources and where are the millions that were supposed to have been spent by the tourism seeking "active" destinations such as we label Brownsville.
We have to start somewhere and we have to do it now. Voting out Gowen and Villarreal in this election would be a good place to start.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

JP MARY ESTHER TEES OFF ON 2018 REELECTION CAMPAIGN


AT COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS, COMPADRISMO BREEDS INEPTNESS

By Juan Montoya
We have written tons of stuff relating to the compadrismo and favoritism practiced by supervisors and directors of Cameron County's Public Works Department.
That department is one of five under the direction of County Administrator David Garcia and his assistant Xavier A. Villarreal.

The Administrator's Office oversees all non-elected County Departments including: Facilities Maintenance, Information Technology, Health and Human Services, International Bridge System, Human Resources, Parks, Planning and Development, and Transportation.

But while the getting's good, why not. Garcia clears more than $200,000 for his troubles while Villrreal draws a lucrative $185,000 salary.

Yeah, we know. There is  not humanly possible for these two to oversee all these departments on a day-to-day basis. And they don't. They delegate the job to the likes of Road Administrator Ruben
Gonzalez (El Gordo) and a handful of maintenance an construction foremen. It is these underlings who actually run the crews and pick the people who work for the road crews in the county. (That's Gonzalez in the graphic at right swigging a few.)

Many have come form local municipalities and utilities (City of Brownsville and PUB, for example). Some have left under a dark cloud amid allegations of wrongdoing.
To say they lack supervisory or professional road building and construction experience would be an understatement.

We have documented the many deficiencies of these gents in the past that has resulted in waste and pilferage, not to say sorry service to the residents and taxpayers of the county.
We have learned that just yesterday, an operator of a tractor mower in Pct. 3 named Lupe Guzman was involved in a collision while operating his equipment where he struck a vehicle. Now, in Cameron County that is not as uncommon as you might think.

But what makes this incident stand out is that Guzman just happens to be a good buddy with Road Administrator Gonzalez, who has taken him under his wing. In short, he is one of his favorites and can do no wrong. His coworkers say that Guzman drives a county truck and also operates county equipment despite the fact that he has to blow into a car breathalyzer under a court order to assure he has not consumed alcohol. He does this every time he leaves work at the yard. How was it that Gonzalez allowed this employee to operate county vehicles?

Under county policy, Guzman will now have to take a drug test and take a defensive driving course before he is allowed to operate a county vehicle again? Will he?

We have documented before that another Gonzalez, favorite, Construction Foreman Sanatana Vallejo, of Pct. 1, and who earns $45,614, was recently involved in an accident that he didn't report until he couldn't cover it up any longer. In that case, Vallejo backed up his county pickup into a fence post and broke one of his rear lights. He raced to a nearby car parts store and then brought the part back so that county vehicle maintenance employees could replace it and no one would be the wiser and he wouldn't have to undergo the drug test and defensive driving course. But the cat was out of the bag and he was forced to take the course. (That's Vallejo on the left with his favorite greeting.)

This was the same Vallejo who was charged along with others with selling cement driveway pipes that belonged to the county to rural residents and only escaped going to trial when his lawyers scared the witnesses into not testifying because they might be charged with buying stolen goods. Before that, while at the city, Vallejo left under  cloud of suspicion after it was discovered that cement from the sidewalk construction project he was in was ending up on private driveways and that property owners said city workers had installed them for them for a price

And remember when it was Gonzalez himself who was in hot water?
Back in January, Gonzalez, who earns $71,074, was driving County Engineer Paolina Vega and showing off the new 20-foot wide paved section of Oklahoma Road in the county's southwest end when he inadvertently slid off the newly-paved section and into a bar ditch with his passenger.

He quickly called some of his trusted workers and had them pull his truck out. There was going to be no report written, and things wold be kept quiet. But then someone threw a monkey wrench into works. A passing motorists saw the truck in the ditch and snapped a photo which they sent to this blog. (See graphic on top of this post.)

With the cat out of the bag, the county's Human Resources Dept. had no choice but to strip him of his driving privileges and make him take the defensive driving course. But of course, there was no disciplinary action taken against him since it was just an "accident."

It's not what you know, the saying goes. In the county, it's who you know an and politick for. 

NEED WE REMIND YOU OF LA BABOSA WIGHTMAN'S MANY SINS?














By Juan Montoya
We have been told that we have become the Target of the Day (again?) for disbarred lawyer and embittered misanthrope blogger Robert Wightman in his scurrilous Brownsville Voice blog.
Ever since Wigthman was run out of town on a rail because he defamed judges in Dallas and was jailed after he continued passing himself off as a lawyer online, he has gone as far south in the U.S. mainland because he can't make it anywhere else and there is no where else to go.

This legal malingerer has been able to get his student loans paid after browbeating the U.S. Dept. of Education into thinking he was a disabled vet, has been able to get a disabled veteran's discount on his property taxes by the Cameron County Appraisal District by claiming he has a service-connected disability from the Veterans Administration and has passed himself off as an expert in everything from nude beach going to academic and vocational education.

He is also something of a self-diagnosed hypochondriac who elbows real combat veterans out of the line at the VA in Harlingen and San Antonio and then complains about the treatment. All this from a man who served one and a half years in peace time in the States and was discharged based on a psychiatric report he claims never happened.

We are not the only ones in his Flavor of the Day targets. Anyone from the president of the United States, and elected officials at all levels who happen to disagree with his views are "morons," "eunuchs, "homophobic." "misogynists," etc. We have refused to use the Hispanic surname he adopted (Cervantes) because he only used it when he tried to run for Congress in an Hispanic district in Dallas.

We have gone back in our files and retrieved but a small portion of the postS where we have documented his sins and the parasitic nature of this creature. If you can stand the stench, click on link to read of La Babosa's foibles. http://thewightmanfile.blogspot.com/?m=1


FUROR ERUPTS IN DISTRICT 4 HOOD AFTER "SELECTIVE" PAVING

By Juan Montoya
The trouble from his neighbors for former City of Brownsville commissioner Ernesto de Leon started about two weeks ago.
At that time, city Public Works crews arrived and patched the potholes in front of his house on Jade Street. Neighbors around the corner on Lewis Street confronted him and asked him why the crews had patched his street and not Lewis, which is the main thoroughfare used by motorists to traverse between Honeydale and Russell streets.

"Is it because elections are coming and the commissioner for District 4 (John Villarreal) wants to get you on his side/," he said neighbors asked him.
"I told them I knew nothing about why the crews had come to my street and not to,Lewis," de Leon said. "And I didn't. It has been way back, probably back in 2002, when they last came out to patch."

Not long after the patching was done on Jade Street all the way to Fairfax Street and his neighbors on Lewis started complaining to the city and city commissioner Villarrreal, crews for a private company – GT Paving – appeared on the scene and began scarifying over the patchwork done by the city  crews. Then they started doing the overlay. They started at the intersection of Honeydale and Lewis, headed east and went south on Jade, and then all the way to Fairfax. (See graphic, click to enlarge.)

The section of Lewis between Jade and Russell was not included in the overlay plans, workers said.
"Our contract only calls for us to pace Lewis from Honeydale up to Jade and then go to Fairfax and include Emerald Street," said a flagman at the corner of Jade and Lewis. "That doesn't include the section between Jade and Russell." (See graphic at right of the intersection looking south on Jade from Lewis Street. The section to the right of the flagman on Lewis all the way to Russell is not included in the paving contract.)

"Now, how can they leave out Lewis from Jade to Ruissell if it's the main thoroughfare used by people to get from Honeydale to Central Blvd.?," a neighbor on the section that was not to paved asked. "Don't we pay taxes, too?"

The section of Lewis from Jade to Russell bears the scars and potholes of through traffic, said a resident of the section.
"People sue it as a shortcut from Honeydale to Central Blvd," he said. "The traffic that passes through here doesn't live in this neighborhood."

The sudden paving of streets just before the start of voting in city elections is not a new gimmick. City commissioners are infamous for pulling out all the stops on paving street just before voting begins. In this case, early voting starts April 24. Villarreal is being challenged by former chief municipal judge Ben Neece.

rita