Thursday, August 27, 2015

AN OPEN SECRET: SANCHEZ RUNNING FOR COUNTY JUDGE

By Juan Montoya
You don't have to go too far.
If you stop in El Ranchito or in other small towns near Harlingen, you will probably hear the local political activists talking about the fact that Pct. 4 commissioner Dan Sanchez wants to be county judge.
He can't openly come out and say it, mind you. But ever since the court was considering appointing a judge when Carlos Cascos left to become Texas Secretary of State, Sanchez has been making noises about getting the post. His supporters held spontaneous (?) rallies while the court was considering the appointment meant to spread the word they should appoint Sanchez.
He is now at the beginning of his second four-year term as Pct. 4 commissioner.
You might call it a sleeper candidacy.
However, there's a slight problem.
Article XVI, section 65 of the Texas Constitution provides that certain elected district, county, and precinct officers who run for another "office of profit or trust under the laws of this State or the United States" more than a year before the expiration of their current term of office automatically resign from office.
So, if Sanchez (or for that matter any other commissioner) wants to run for judge, they will have to resign their position when they announce publicly that they are running.
When the commissioners appointed County Administrator Pete Sepulveda to replace Cascos until the next general election (Nov. 2016), that meant that either Sepulveda would announce to run for the position, or another candidate, Republican or Democrat, might try to get their party's nomination.
"Dan (Sanchez) is on the horns of a dilema," said an El Ranchito resident. "He can stay as commissioner for another three years, or he has to resign to announce for four as county judge and take his chances in a countywide race."
Regardless of what Sanchez does, there are already grumblings about the fact that a Sanchez candidacy is an open secret in some quarters.
"Is some official going to take the bull by the horns and call him on it?" asked a Brownsville resident. "He's been overheard telling people he's going to run. It's time he is called on the question and tell people what he's going to do."

SALAZAR BLAMES NEW JP GRACIA FOR CASE BACKLOG

By Juan Montoya
After being allowed by the Cameron County Commissioners Court to use a little over $8,000 in lapsed salaries in her budget to try to address a backlog of some 20,000 cases, JP 2-1 Linda Salazar has found a new scapegoat.
She has been heard running around the second floor of the county judicial wing saying that the reason she is falling behind is because new JP 2-2 Jonathan Gracia is too busy lawyering and she has to take up the slack for him.
But in fact, it was Gracia's request to the court the week before that prompted Salazar to make her own request to use her lapsed salaries to pay her staff.
The Cameron County Precinct 2-2 justice of the peace said he discovered boxes of unpaid tickets after taking office in January.
“About 13,000 outstanding citations,” Gracia said. “You’re talking over a million dollars.”
And last Thursday, when commissioners questioned her on the backlog, she blamed the late Tony Torres for leaving her to take up that slack when he died in April 2011.
That's over four years ago, though, and Gracia has only been in office eighty months.
That's the least of her problems. Apparently, she told commissioners that there were some 3,000 warrants outstanding and that she needed the $8,000 to pay her staff to update her files and issue the warrants necessary to collect the dough. But how effective that will be depends on the constables and sheriff department deputies serving the warrants and bringing in the scofflaws"There's still the small matter of whether the statute of limitations has run out on some of these cases," said a defense attorney. "You really don't know how far back these go or if they can no longer be processed."
Gracia took over the JP 2-2 court from Erin Garcia Hernandez, who did not make the runoff for the Democratic Party primary in 2014. He took over in January. But even before Garcia had taken over, there was a already a large backlog of cases that had languished in both the JP 2-1 and JP 2-2 courts.
Now, with county commissioners scrambling to make up some revenue, the backlogs in uncollected fines and cases languishing in the dockets is being seen as a potential downfall.
"I know the sheriff has already said that he is going to start serving warrants," said a lawyer. "I don't know what good that is going to do."
A printout prepared by the Cameron County Auditor's Office in response to a query by an administrator indicates that there is potentially $12 million in uncollected fines from the county's JP offices. By far,the largest number of uncollected fines were generated by the Brownsville JP 2-1 and 2-2 offices, although the other JP offices in Harlingen and San Benito aren't lagging too far behind.
Depending on how much progress the Brownsville courts make (JP 2-3 Mary Esther Garcia-Sorola says she is current on her fines. She also took office January 2014 in a brand new court).
Some commissioners have said that the time that Salazar spends performing weddings (she leads all the JPs in that category) could better be spent addressing the case backlog. However, JPs are allowed to keep the payments they get for wedding ceremonies, which range anywhere from $150 to $250 or more if performed outside the office. Salazar has racked up an average of some 600 yearly, making more than $100,000 not including her salary.
"If I was making that much from weddings, I probably wouldn't pay that much attention to a $75 ticket that I wasn't going to keep for myself," chuckled a county employee.
Commissioners told both JPs that they wanted a report on the progress they made on the backlog once the lapsed-salary money ran out.

DONORS LINE UP FOR BLOOD MONEY AT PLASMA CENTER

(Ed.'s Note: To get an idea of just how bad things are for some folks, check out the lines waiting for the plasma center to open so they can make a few bucks to tide them over. Just one index measure of the hard times people are going through in Brownsville.)

CANTU JR. LEADS A CHARMED EXISTENCE AT RUSSELL ELEM.

By Juan Montoya
Ever wonder how some folks at the Brownsville Independent School District can lead such a charmed existence?
Where others are let go for the slimmest of all possible reasons, some just seem to develop a Teflon skin and continue to live off the public.
Some of our sources have told us that one such survivor with a checkered academic past has surfaced again, this time as the principal at Russell Elementary.
We speak of Oscar Cantu Jr., who in May of 2013, was exposed in the Brownsville Herald of padding his academic accomplishments with a bogus Ph.D. from a place called Canbourne University.
That's not all. Not only did Oscar Jr. claim a doctoral degree from that school, but his father, Oscar Cantu, Sr., a retired BISD administrator, also claimed a Ph.D. from Canbourne.
The BISD website names him as the principal of Russell as of June 2015 when he extends his greeting to the staff and students of the school. To his credit, he identified himself as "Mr." Cantu and not as "Dr." Cantu.
Oscar Cantu Sr., was at one time the principal of Hudson Elementary. After they were exposed,the district ordered them to cease and desist from "displaying their doctoral titles prominently on BISD websites and in e-mail and hard-copy correspondence."
And even though there was ample evidence that both had violated the BISD employee handbook by filling in false information on their application for employment, no action was taken by the administration and Cantu Sr. was allowed to retire quietly on his BISD pension and Cantu Jr. ended up being made principal of Canales Elementary and then was listed one time as an interim administrator in the district's Curriculum Dept.

Both used their political and family ties to entrench themselves in high-paying administrative jobs in the district and could not be removed until the district was shamed into removing them from their respective positions and move them somewhere away from the public eye.
In the case of both Cantu Sr. and Cantu Jr., that came about about three years ago when local education reporter Gary Long wrote an article focusing on their use of the doctoral titles.
In that article, Long documented how both "made frequent and public use of their doctoral titles obtained the Ph.D.s from an online institution whose degrees are illegal in Texas."
Cantu Jr. at first spoke with the Herald about his Canbourne degree, then told Long he would no longer make any statement because he said his "confidential information was being compromised."
However, both men steadfastly denied that they had profited from their fake degrees but did not explain why they had listed them on their resumes.
After Oscar Sr. left Hudson, he was placed as the administrator of Adult Continuing Education in 2006 through his retirement in 2010, when his fake PhD was made public. In those four years, his salary ballooned from $79,528 (2006), $89,372 (2007), $92,746 (2008), and $94,434 (2009-2010), a nearly $15,000 increase in four short years.
Oscar Jr., however, was not as fortunate. He ran into a slight domestic problem after his inappropriate involvement with a subordinate while he was principal at Juliet Garcia Middle School and had to take a paid leave of absence to deal with the stress.
As principal there in 2006, he was paid $74,566, $77,805 in 2007, $82,713 in 2008, and $84,334 in 2009 when he ran into his, ahem, little problem.
Still, after returning from his leave, in 2010, he was reassigned as principal at Canales Elementary at a decreased $79,119 salary, but his performance left much to be desired and he was moved to the curriculum department  at the same salary in 2011.
By 2013 he was moved to work as a specialist in language arts and as interim administrator at a $75,248 salary. Interestingly, this differed from what is reported for his slot in the Texas Tribune, which lists his salary at $120,937.
NameAgencyDepartmentTitleSalary
Oscar Cantu JrBrownsville ISDCurriculum & InstructionSPLST LANG ART$120,937

It might help to know that Cantu Jr. is married to the daughter former BISD trustee Graciana de Peña, who even out of office still carries some pull with "Old Brownsville," much like former AD Joe Rodriguez still carries clout with his old proteges on the district's staff.
So Cantu Jr. is back as a principal. How things change and still remain the same.

WAS THERE A KIDNAP ATTEMPT ON FORMER MATA MAYOR?

By Juan Montoya
Numerous media sources and corroborating witnesses say that Alfonso Sánchez Garza, the former mayor of Matamoros, was the target of a foiled attack by armed men who he thinks were after his vehicle.
His wife, Silvia Guerra de Sánchez,confirmed the attempt and sid her husband was not hurt.
Her father and Sanchez's father-in-law Jesús Roberto Guerra – another former PRI mayor of Matamoros – also confirmed the kidnap attempt had taken place.
Sanchez posted on social media that he and his wife were driving on Calle Primera when armed men aboard a green Trail Blazer cut them off as they approached the intersection of Avenida Canales and ordered him to stop. He said he slowed down and when one of them was ordering to hang up on his cell phone, he sped off and was able to drive to his home where he sought refuge.
Sanchez, who is said to be the front-runner for the PRI nomination for mayor, criticized current PAN mayor Lety Salazar for the insecure conditions in the city.
Salazar is said to be considering making a run for Tamaulipas mayor. 
His contender within the PRI is Erik Silva, another another former PRI mayor. However, Silva has been named in federal indictments in connection with several Mexican nationals involved in organized crime.
Sanchez thanked the messages of support he received through social media. No Matamoros media reported on the attempt, although the Financiero and the El Mañana newspapers of Reynosa and HoraCero online newspapers published the news. 
Sanchez occupied the mayor's position between 2010 and 2013.
Salazar also reported in early March that there had also been an attempt on her life when the convoy she was riding in was attacked by armed men in two cars.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

SILGUERO PLEA BARGAIN YIELDS INSIDE LOOK AT JP SCANDAL

By Juan Montoya
Former Justice of the Peace 2-2 Erin Garcia Hernandez had just assumed office a scant two months before when the sister of one of her clerks told her some of her family members had a little problem and could she help them out with a favorable settlement?
Thus begins the story that embroiled the JP 2-2 court and became the focus of an investigation by the Cameron County District Attorney's Office, the FBI Task Force and the Brownsville Police Dept. The result was two indictments handed down by a county grand jury against two sisters and the questioning of court staff and Justice of the Peace Erin Garcia Hernandez. Garcia has never been charged.
The 140-page attachment to the plea bargain reveals the scope of the corruption that enveloped the court almost upon from the day that Garcia took over the office in late 2013 to serve the unexpired term of deceased JP Tony Torres.
It seems that Vanessa and Jaime Mercado and had approached Maria Velia Silguero, the sister of Liliana Cantu, Erin's clerk Liliana Cantu, and offered both women $800 in return for a favorable settlement in a small claims lawsuit they had filed against some relatives.
Silguero said she approached Garcia through her sister and later alone in the corridor of the courthouse.
According to Silguero's statement – and corroborated in part by Garcia – both women met in the hallway of the second floor of the county judicial wing, Silguero told Garcia that the defendants owed close to $15,000 to Jaime Mercado. She also told Garcia – and through her sister Liliana – that the Mercados were relatives even though they were not.  At this point Silguero said Garcia told her that they should file for a sum lower than $10,000 which would giver her jurisdiction in JP court.
The Mercados were assisted by Cantu to fill out the forms to file their small claim in January 11, 2013. The couple submitted a claim for $9,455. Garcia had taken over the court just a little over a month before in late November or early December.
And how much should she charge them, Silguero said she asked Garcia using her thumb and forefinger to signify the cash.
"Silguero said that Garcia told her that since they were family she (Silguero) should charge them whatever she wanted and whatever they paid to give towards her campaign," the investigative report attached to Silguero's no-contest plea continues.
"Silguero said that Garcia had BBQ fundraiser for her campaign possibly sometime in June. To donate toward the campaign. Silguero stated that she was going to give the money to Garcia by way of purchasing BBQ tickets. Silguero's sister Cantu gave Silguero 70-80 bbq tickets, and in turn Silguero gave approximately $600 to her sister to give to Garcia. Silguero stated that she intended the money as a payment to Garcia for a favorable ruling in the Mercado lawsuit and that the fundraiser was a way to disguise the payment to the judge.
In fact, Garcia did make a default judgement April 3, 2013 when the defendants in the Mercado lawsuit did not show up. But she quickly reversed that ruling when the defendants hired former Cameron County DA Armando Villalobos who on April 13, 2013 asked for a rehearing claiming they had not received notice of the hearing on the case.
Garcia dismissed the case against the defendants on August 7, 2013.
By then, on May 2013, less than a month after the April 3 ruling, a federal jury was picked to sit in judgment of the former DA on corruption charges. He was later convicted and sentenced to 13 years in federal prison.
According to the documents attached to the case, investigators found that the notice for the hearing on the Mercado case had been intentionally sent to a nonexistent address, unlike other notices sent to them which contained the correct address.
After Villaobos requested the hearing, Garcia reversed her ruling and dismissed the case. This led to a courtroom confrontation between Vanessa Mercado and Garcia where Mercado complained in open court that she had "given one of your clerks $800" to get a favorable ruling in their case.
The incident was witnessed by the clerks and a bailiff from the Pct. 2 Constable's office who later filed a report for the investigators.
After this confrontation, Cantu said she was called to Garcia's office where the judge told her she was giving her a "heads up" about Mercado because she knew she wasn;t going to stop there.
The investigators interviewed both sisters, the Mercados, and court staff over a period of  time stretching from August 2013 through February 6, 2014. There were at least 14 interviews during that time. At one point both sisters said they were "afraid" to make any statements involving the Hernandez family because they were politically powerful and were afraid they would "get them."
At the end of the report DA Investigator Zachary Rhinehart recommended that "this case be reviewed by a Grand Jury to consider the facts which indicate that Vanessa Mercado, Jaime Mercado, Maria Silguero, Liliana  Cantu and Erin Garcia "knowingly and intentionally" participated in an effort to solicit, accept or agreed to accept from one another" a bribe for a favorable ruling from Garcia in the Mercado case.
When she was asked by Rhinehart if she had any qualms about accepting cases of relatives of her employees, and whether she had done anything about the claims by Mercado that she had paid $800 to her employee in return for a favorable ruling, Garcia was equivocal. She told Rhinehart that "In hindsight I don't know if I should have or shouldn't have, in hindsight a reasonable person that she (Mercado) would have paid her (Cantu) to help arrange theh case, sure absolutely."
The Mercados, Liliana Cantu, and her sister Maria Velia Silguero were indicted by a grand jury. Garcia was not.
As a result of the plea, Silguero is being offered five years in jail, probated for five years. Silguero has not been formally sentenced yet. The case was heard by 103rd District Court Judge Janet Leal.

THE LIGHT IS GREEN, BUT THERE'S NOWHERE TO GO


























(This driver has the green light and is attempting to turn right at the intersection of Boca Chica Blvd. and southbound Paredes Line Road but he was prevented from making the turn by drivers who ventured out to the middle of the intersection as they wait for the light to turn green at the corner of Frontage and Palm Blvd. This scene repeats itself daily for drivers attempting to turn right on Boca Chica. There is a restriction on making red light turns at this intersection, but unfortunately, it is the only time that traffic clears from the intersection for drivers to make an unobstructed right turn. We observed that exasperated motorists were ignoring the red-light turn prohibition after about two or three traffic light cycles and took their chances of getting a ticket.)

IF TRUMP DENIES BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP, HOW ABOUT CRUZ?

(Ed's Note: Someone raised an interesting question the other day. If – as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump would have it – citizenship could be denied for children of undocumented immigrants who were born in the United States, what would he do about Ted Cruz?
Cruz was actually born in Calgary, Canada to a Cuban father and a U.S. mother.
Cruz clashed with Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night over whether the Texas senator would deport immigrants who came to the United States illegally if their children were born in the country.
The Congressional Research Service has looked at the question when Cruz's name came up and found that: "The weight of legal and historical authority indicates that the term 'natural born' citizen would mean a person who is entitled to U.S. citizenship 'by birth' or 'at birth,' either by being born 'in' the United States and under its jurisdiction, even those born to alien parents; by being born abroad to U.S. citizen-parents; or by being born in other situations meeting legal requirements for U.S. citizenship 'at birth.'"
There is no requirement of two "citizen-parents."
The CRS report took note of a federal court decision by the Northern District of California, which said that McCain would qualify as a citizen "at birth," and thus would be considered a "natural born" citizen, since he was born outside the United States to citizen parents.
The CRS did not look specifically at Cruz, and we can’t ask it to comment on him. The service works exclusively for Congress.
But Cruz, by being entitled to citizenship at birth because his mother was a U.S. citizen and by being in the U.S. for more than 14 years, would seem to qualify as a "natural born citizen" under the definition in the report.Cruz clashed with Fox News host Megyn Kelly on Tuesday night over whether the Texas senator would deport immigrants who came to the United States illegally if their children were born in the country.
When Kelly pressed the Texas senator on what he would do as president, Cruz said that he’s “not playing the game” and declined to answer the question.
“What would President Cruz do? Do American citizen children of two illegal immigrants, who are born here, the children, get deported under a President Cruz?” Kelly asked.
Donald Trump, she said, “has answered that question explicitly.”
“Megyn, I get that that’s the question you want to ask,” Cruz said. “That’s also the question every mainstream media liberal journalist wants to ask.”
Asked whether it is an unfair question, Cruz said that it is “a distraction” from solving the issue.
“You know, it’s also the question that Barack Obama wants to focus on,” Cruz retorted.

IF A LITTLE RAIN DOES THIS, IMAGINE A HURRICANE























(Ed.'s Note: A former city mayor used to say that if a dog peed near Four Corners, the area would flood. Well, the area around the City of Brownsville Municipal Court on Levee Street is not much different. A small thunderstorm around noon caused this flooding on the corner of 11th Street and Levee. Let's just hope it's not two dogs who have to do their business at once.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

CAN YOU GUESS WHO'S WEARING THE WIRE?

By Juan Montoya
For the uninitiated in local politics, above is a photo that appeared during a grand opening ('tis the season of grand openings, it would appear) of mixed-income family dwellings called Vista Monterrey at the Brownsville Country Club.
There was much ado about the event with the participation of IBC Bank (that's president Freddy Rusteberg looking over over City Commissioner Deborah Portillo's right shoulder) and Bill Fisher, of Sonoma Housing Adevisors of Dallas.
This will be Fisher's fourth housing development managed by Sonoma and include Bowie Gardens, Candlewick and at least another one near Del Angel Funeral Home (Tropical Gardens?).
Why is Fisher's presence in Brownsville Housing authority projects newsworthy?
Mr. Fisher was involved in a FBI sting in Dallas, where Sonoma is headquartered. He eventually provided the FBI and the state with audio evidence (he wore a wire) that got a handful of city
officials indicted for demanding bribes for their approval of his projects. Up to now, it has been the biggest corruption case in the history of that city.
The events took place in mid-January 2005, with Fisher one of the main players..
The case involved former City Plan Commissioner D'Angelo Lee, a car dealer named Rickey Robertson and con man Jibreel Rashad who claimed to be construction contractors. Robertson and Rashad had formed a phony company called RA-MILL just one month earlier, with Lee as a hidden partner.
In fact, it was later learned that Rashad  had just wrapped up a mortgage fraud scheme that would eventually land him more than 11 years in a federal prison.)
Fisher, whose business was using federal tax credits and tax-exempt bonds to build apartments for low-income tenants, needed city council support for a new project, and Lee claimed he could help him secure a vote from Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill. But first, Lee wanted money.

According to the Dallas Observer article about the corruption case Fisher had a tiny video camera attached to his lapel. A thick cord ran down his left side underneath his shirt and into his pants pocket to a recording gadget. A switch to turn the devices on and off rested inside a coat pocket. A transmitter, clipped on the outside of his black bag and disguised as a garage door opener, fed live audio to federal agents nearby.
The four men had previously discussed two options to win Hill's vote and city council approval of a zoning change needed in Hill's district for Fisher's Dallas West Village – a name Lee suggested because he often spent time in Uptown's trendy West Village. The first option would require Fisher to ink a series of contracts with RA-MILL for subcontracting work at several of his affordable-housing projects, including one for $180,000 to install concrete and dry wall at Dallas West Village. Or Fisher could simply write a check for $540,000—roughly 3 percent of the total cost for
Dallas West Village. And what work would Lee, Rashad and Robertson perform for all that dough? None. Fisher's refusal to pay would eventually become part of the massive federal case that led to convictions for Lee, Robertson, Rashad and Hill along with 10 other defendants, the story states.
 As a result of Fisher's cooperation with the FBI,  Hill is serving a 18 year prison sentence in a federal penitentiary in Kentucky while his wife, Sheila Farrington Hill, ewas sentenced to nine years in Florida. Lee received 14 years; Rashad, four years and nine months; and Robertson, three years. South Dallas shakedown artists Darren Reagan (14 years) and Allen McGill (two years), former NFL linebacker and concrete contractor Kevin Dean (two years) and lawyer John Lewis (one year and one day) also were convicted in the conspiracy.
So the local guys better be sqeuaky clean in their dealing with Mr. Fisher. He, apparently, has friends in high (and low) places.

To read the Dallas Observer article, click on link: http://www.dallasobserver.com/news/bill-fisher-handed-the-fbi-a-chance-to-clean-up-city-hall-does-that-make-fisher-mr-clean-6421758



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RAILJACKING AT WEST RAIL BRIDGE GRAND OPENING REDUX

By Juan Montoya
Just how many times can a bridge be grand opened?
Well, from the same city that brought you the Guinness World Record zumba dance to the Hooked on Life mass anglers, we now have what may be the third grand opening of the West Rail Bridge Relocation project out on Military Highway.
This time it won;t be the former mayor of Matamoros Alfonso Sanchez Garza, although he did participate in a grand opening there some time back.
And it won't be U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela.
But it will be Cameron County Judge (and 2016 candidate?) Pete Sepulveda and City of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez although the invitation states that the ceremony is being held "in conjunction with the City Commission, the Cameron County Commissioners Court, and the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority. Tuesday at 2 p.m. at the bridge site.
Let's see who won't be there.
Matamoros Mayor Lety Salazar won't be there, and neither will Gov. Greg Abbott, or his Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, perhaps the one public official who pushed for the construction of the bridge in the first place.
No, this show is to allow Martinez to place himself leading the parade on a project that he had blessed little to do with. In fact, some county staffers are complaining that the city has yet to plunk down its $3 million share for its construction. But that hasn't slowed Tony down any.
The last time Sepulveda had a grand opening and appeared in the newspaper was to escort a locomotive engine all the way to the middle of the bridge. Come to think of it, Pete may be practicing grand openings. Hopefully, the third time will be the charm. In the invitation, a Kansas City Southern train engine seems to be hurtling toward a Union Pcific engine in a otorized version of train chicken.
This has all the trappings of a city hijacking of a railroad.
After all, there already was the one  gran opening August 7 with the CCRMA, Commissioners Court, U.S. Rep. Fil Vela, Da Mayor, Port of Brownsville representatives, CBP officials, The media was there with TV crews were from Ch. 4, 5, and even Televisa.
Those of us who rememebr that far back realize that a similar event was staged in 2003 (see photo) where Sanchez Garza attended at the same bridge.
It has to be one of the most celebrated spans of all time. This time we understand that Finance Minister Luis Videgaray will be there as will his U.S. counterpart. Videgaray just finished opening the special SENTRI Pass crossing at San Ysidro, Calif.
We're not sure why Tony’s office set this up other than for the attention. County officials we contacted tell us that they understood that the invited big wigs were already to be invited by the county and the RMA. But unlike the current event being held at 2 p.m., the first event was held at 9:15 a.m. – a more reasonable time when the summer heat is somewhat tolerable.
The folks calling it a hijacking do so because there is little that the city did on the project. The contracting was all done by the RMA and the county commissioners court. The land was acquired by the county. The real question is why did the Judge allow this to be hijacked? In fact all, invitations came from the city – and not anyone else.
The political season has started way too early for some of us.

Friday, August 21, 2015

TRUMP GOES BUNGEE JUMPING IN MEXICO CITY

By Juan Montoya
Did you hear that while in visiting South Texas, Republican front-runner Donald Trump (ever the entrepreneur) was looking for investment opportunities and was told about the wildly popular bungee jump at South Padre Island?
The Donald immediately sent one of his forward men to reconnoiter the business opportunity and wondered how he could cash in non the craze.
Recognizing Mexicans penchant for the daring and unusual, he applied for the franchise for the bungee jump to the government of Mexico City. The Mexicans, recognizing a sucker when they saw one, immediately granted him the franchise to El Zocalo, the nation's major square in El De Efe.
Trump's motives were not only to cash in on the bungee jumpers, but also to distract would-be immigrants by providing entertainment which would take their minds of the trek north. He asked a few of his undocumented employees in New York and they enthusiastically agreed with his vision.
Enthused, he and his team traveled down to the capital and set about erecting two huge cranes from which the bungee jumpers would launch. The preparations were under way and it came time to use sacks filled with sand approximating the weight of your average obese Mexican and a crowd gathered at the Zocalo to look on in wonder at the crazy gringos heaving costales of sand from the heights of the cranes above.
After a few dry runs, the contraption was ready and Trump decided he would make the first jump himself. He assured his helpers that everything was perfectly fine since the sacks of sand worked perfectly.
They fastened the harness on the Donald and he jumped off in a swan dive.
The crowd let out a roar as he descended and then bounced back toward the platform. His helpers were ready to catch him when they grew alarmed because the Donald seemed to have a bleeding gash on his forehead. They jumped back in fear and Trump went back below. Another roar came up from the crowd as he approached the ground.
The second time Trump came back up not only did he have the gash, but he also had a bump or two on his noggin.
This time the alarmed helpers grabbed him before he could fall back to the ground.
"What happened?" they asked him. "Did we calculate the height wrong? Why was the crowd screaming?"
Trump replied.
"No. No. Everything is perfect. The Mexicans down there loved it and kept screaming something every time I came down. What does the word piñata mean?"

PARKER'S SUPPORT FOR LNG PLANTS AT PORT SELF-SERVING

By Juan Montoya
Sensing a groundswell against the establishment of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants on both side of the ship channel of the Port of Brownsville, local custom broker and forwarder Frank Parker Jr., (President of Parker and Co.) has contributed his two cents expressing outrage at the public opposition to the projects.
In his letter to the editor of the local daily, Parker takes the daily to task for not portraying "the pluses" for the operation of the LNG plants.
First he asserts that the taxes generated by the plants would contribute to the tax base which are "vitally" needed for the school districts in the area and lessen the burden on the tax payers.
Well, yes and no, Frank.
While it's Brownsville residents who put up with the traffic congestion created by port workers and freight (yours included), who must deal with the threat of hazardous cargoes rumbling past our schools and neighborhoods, and in the majority of cases educate the children of the majority of port workers, the bulk of the taxes go to the Port Isabel ISD.
In fact, the PI ISD has to pitch in some $17 million yearly to the Texas so-called Robin-Hood plan for distribution to property-poor school districts. Brownsville is one of those recipient school district.
Look at the PI and Brownsville Independent School District boundaries closely and you will see that except for a strip of land along the westernmost edge of the Port of Brownsville, nearly all the industry (including Amfels, Transmontaigne, the shipwreckers, the Shrimp Basin, etc.) pay taxes to the PI ISD, not Brownsville schools. The LNG plants would be the same.
Brownsville school would probably educate the students who came along with their parents to work there. too.
As far as we know, there are no petrochemical course being taught at the local community colleges. If the plants were to be built tomorrow, the bulk of those "high-paying" – as in the case of SpaceX, – would probably be taken by outside professionals coming from somewhere else.
You yearn for "the increased number of ships...(that) will help the Port of Brownsville with revenue to help maintain our ship channel depth, to increase our international trade position as a major port. This will contribute to bringing larger ships with more cargo for our local and northern Mexico port markets."
Being a customs broker and forwarder, we can see why you'd be in favor of that.
Some of spinoff jobs you mention would benefit people in your business, we're sure.
It's easy to blame the Sierra Club for "dominating" the taking of our county lands for non-development" and ask when is it enough. Given the denuding of our resacas, the stripping of the northern side of the river of the sabal palm forests described by Spanish explorer Alonso Alvarez de Pineda as stretching for miles alongside both sides of the river, it's doubtful we can ever reforest the area to its natural setting. The LNG plants sure aren;t going to help.
No, Frank, LNG plants are not like the tank farms at the port. They are not holding highly volatile compressed gases at unearthly temperatures. Their contents are liquid at air temperatures. LNG gases are not.
You say that you don;t see why people "choose to protest the opportunity to experience the economic opportunity afforded other communities along the Texas coast that already have LNG."
It's little wonder then that you were silent when Gulf Stream Marine was allowed to come into the port by your fiends on the commission and were allowed to set up shop at non-union wages that sent the wages of local Longshoremen plummeting. That's why today the workers at the port are the lowest paid workers along the Gulf of Mexico coast.
We haven't even touched on the environment and aesthetic disasters that may result from the LNG pants being allowed to locate here.
But if you don;t care about our schools and our local workers, why would we think you would care about something as trivial as that?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

ON A LIMB: NO TSC ACCREDITATION DECEMBER, MAYBE JULY; ARE TERCERO, DE LA GARZA'S DAYS NUMBERED AFTER THAT?

(Ed.'s Note:  Following the posting of this piece earlier today, we got a call from a couple of Tercero's supporters who say we got the story all wrong. They called us and our ancestors some colorful names and hung up in a huff. They say that TSC might get its accreditation come December because it scored very well on the accreditation team's visit here (How do they know?). Well, we're from Missouri and we'll have to be shown. It'll take five months before the accreditation body makes its determination and we'll wait for that. Until then, we can only go by our experience and the precedent set by the Tercero administration in its past unsuccessful efforts at accreditation. We've been wrong before and we would love to be proven wrong here. But as they say in the Midwest, the proof is in the pudding. Until then, the story stands.) 

By Juan Montoya
Those of us who joined the four Texas Southmost college trustees as they anguished over the separation of the UTB-TSC partnership and return the district to its original mission knew it was going to be rough going.
During the battle in the trenches with those supporting the "partnership," spiteful words were said, enmities kindled, and entire families were split on the question. In the end, the community's elected representatives decided to return the college to its mission as a vehicle to provide an affordable education to local residents.
The board members who made the stand were pilloried, slandered, economically threatened, publicly hounded and – in one member's case – his business was visited by protesters demanding he change his mind.
Yet, they prevailed and went about selecting a college president to lead them on the road to accreditation. They opted to elect Lily Tercero, the former chief budget officer for the Alamo Community College District.
Tercero was highly recommended by her former boss at the Tarrant County College District Leonardo de la Garza. In return, once she was on board she recommended the board appoint him to the TSC transition team in November 2012. He hasn't left since as a "consultant."
In the current budget before the board for 2016, there is an $180,000 item for his salary. Even before he got to TSC, his company, Dynamic Campus, landed a contract with TSC to the tune of $10 million for computers.
And under the urging of TSC president Kiko Rendon and Ed Rivera, Tercero has also included an additional $20,000 of the TSC taxpayers' money to give United Brownsville as "membership fees" for unspecified services to the college.
Some have questioned the propriety of the president's former boss using his relationship with Tercero to make a killing for his company. Others wonder whether his duties as "consultant," which includes guiding the president's evaluation by the board, is also proper. After all, transition consultants don;t usually stick around for more than six months. This coming November, De la Garza will have been at Lily's side for three years. For a not-so-slight fee, of course.
But even if Tercero dished out the gravy to her former boss, she was hired principally because everyone was sold on the idea that she could whisk the district by in its accreditation efforts.
But even as the officials of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Collges have packed up their bags and are heading home after their visit to the TSC campus, there is some trepidation among administration staff that the SACSCOC will give its stamp of approval on TSC's accreditation application.
It won't be the first time that TSC's app has encountered problems. The last time TSC tried to get it through on September 2014, it was returned as incomplete. Tercero blamed the UTB administration under former president Julieta Garcia for not providing TSC with the proper documentation collected under the partnership. Tercero said she decided to choose to resubmit with data only from TSC.
And while assuring the readers of the local daily that students and parents have nothing to fear because the Texas Senate under the "partnership" will continue TSC's accreditation "to the extent necessary to acquire accreditation," she would not positively assert that accrediation will come in December.
The college needs to comply with one of 16 "comprehensive" requirements, no easy task. Neither Tercero nor her PR guy would specify what that item is.
So if the SACSCOC doesn't accredit TSC this December, why there's always July 2016.
"Think about it as job security for Terceo and de la Garza," said the TSC staffer. "If TSC gets it in December, she might be shown the door. So if it doesn't happen until July, that another good seven months."

SEPULVEDA, GARZA DUCK COUNTY BUDGET AND SALARIES; DOMINGUEZ'S MOTION, AS JUDGE PRO-TEM , LIMITS RAISES

By Juan Montoya
Citing a prior commitment to serve as executive officer of the Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, County Judge Pete Sepulveda and Pct. 3 commissioner David Garza ducked out as the commissioners court was getting ready to hold public hearings on the budget and salaries for county employees and elected officials and on setting the tax rate.
Noticeable for their absence, the empty chairs where they should have been squirming under the demands of the public officials and the irate complaints from taxpayers seeking respite from the continuing spiral of high property appraisals were empty.
Of course, Sepulveda could hardly be asking for a raise since he is already raking in $230,000, but not from the county. He is fully compensated by the CCRMA.
Instead, judge pro tem Pct. 2 commissioner Alex Dominguez chaired the meeting and guided the meeting.
After going through the public's comments, Dominguez made a motion that no commissioner or the county judge get a raise. He also moved that the district clerk and county clerk – since they took over salaries set by long-tenured predecessors – also merited no raises.
Dominguez suggested that no justices of the peace should get a raise, but that their staff get a 5 percent raise instead. Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre will get no raise either since he is the third-highest paid elected official. District Attorney Luis V. Saenz, who gets a supplement from the state, also got no raise under Dominguez's motion. Only Cameron County Treasurer David Betancourt whose salary has not been raised in the past five years got a 5 percent raise.
As pro tem, Dominguez moved that law enforcement, including sheriff department and constables for precincts 1 through 5 should get a 10 percent raise.
After some discussion, the three commissioners present – Dominguez, Pct. 1 commissioner Sofia Benavides, and Pct. 4 commissioner Dan Sanchez – voted unanimously to pass his motion.
All told, the total of Dominguez's motion for raises for county officials totaled $41,395, about the cost of one year's salary for one employee.

COURT QUERIES JP SALAZAR'S PLEA FOR STAFF OVERTIME

By Juan Montoya
Coming on the heels of the Cameron County Commissioners Court granting JP 2-2 Jonathan Gracia's request to use lapsed salaries on his budget to pay his staff overtime to address the serious backlog in cases in his court, his neighbor JP 2-1 Linda Salazar's plea emulated his request.
Gracia inherited a backlog of some 13,000 cases from previous JP 2-2 Erin Hernandez-Garcia and has been whittling away at them at the same time that he is handling the day-to-day business in his court. He took office in January 2015.
"He is pretty current but needs time to work exclusively on the backlog left over by his predecessors," said a county administrator. "And he's using the lapsed salaries in his office and not requesting any extra money from the county."
Salazar is asking the commissioners to pay her staff citing a backlog of some 20,000 cases. However, Salazar did not inherit the backlog, but was in charges of the court since she was first took office in 2005 and has held that office for the last 10 years. The backlog has accumulated during that time.
She told commissioners that she would concentrate on some 3,000 warrants that are outstanding in her court. Salazar blamed computer program changes, carryover former JP Tony Torres, and a turnover in personnel for the burgeoning backlog.
Some court insiders say that the commissioners questioned her request because Salazar has established herself as the front-runner in performing wedding ceremonies above all other JPs in the county. By law, JPs can charge any fee they want for performing the ceremonies and pocket the money themselves.
The latest figures we have been able to get show that in the first four months of 2015, Salazar had already married 155 couples. At a medium-range charge of $200 per couple, she racked up $31,000.
If her rate persists, she could well marry some 620-700 couples by the end of the year.
At an average of $200 a couple, this marrying JP could rack up a not inconsiderable sum of $124,000 in 2015. Compared to her $53,708 combined salary and auto allowance, it ain't noting to be sneezed at.
By contrast, by the same time Gracia's had racked up only 63 marriages and JP 2-3 Maria Esther Garcia recorded 16 marriage ceremonies.
A Cameron County Clerk's Office records indicate that Salazar performed 760 wedding between January 2013 and July 11, 2014.
With all this time dedicated by the JP 2-1 office staff for lucrative weddings, is it any wonder that the commissioners are reluctant to pony up to give her staff raises?
But that isn't the only beef that the county has with the JPs' offices. There 's the little matter of uncollected fines once the count processes a citation or small claims.
Figures obtained from the Auditor's Office indicate that Salazar's office (201 on the graphic at right) has some $2,262,254 in uncollected fines on 10,230 cases adjudicated.
Gracia's JP 2-2 (202 on the graphic) tops her in money amounts inherited from his predecessor Garcia with a carryover from previous JP Kip Hodge and before that Tony Torres.with $2,639,499 on 9,597 cases.
"If she wants extra money, maybe she can do something about spending less time on wedding ceremonies that benefit her personally and concentrate on collecting the $2.2 million in uncollected fines owed the county," said the county employee.

COMMUNITY, ENVIRO ACTIVISTS PROTEST TAXES, RAISES, LNG

By Juan Montoya
A growing coalition of community, environmental and neighborhood activists petitioned the full Cameron County Commissioners Court not to raise taxes, award pay raises or consider tax abatements for the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas plants planing to locate on the channel of the Port of Brownsville.
Representatives from community and environmental groups in Laguna Madre, Port Isabel, San Benito, Rio Hondo joined a spokesperson from Citizens Against Voter Abuse under the umbrella of Valley Interfaith to make their point.
Nearly a dozen speakers took to the podium at today's 8:45 a.m. commissioners court meeting and said that as the commissioners considered raising taxes to the rollback rate, they should not consider giving county employees and elected officials pay raise or the the companies tax abatements that will be paid by their higher property taxes.
Since the comments came under the public comment section, neither County Judge Pete Sepulveda nor the commissioners were required to reply to the group's request.
They told the commissioners that property taxes should be used to address the needs of the colonias and communities in the county, and not to give abatements to the billion-dollar generating companies building the plants.
"We stand in opposition to the tax abatements," said CAVA's Mary Helen Flores. "Any increase in property taxes should be used to provide service like street lighting for the neighborhoods and colonias."
Their comments ranged from their concerns abut the impact of the companies on the environment, to the increasing burden on taxpayers to fund their construction.
"There should be a risk evaluation when you consider granting these tax abatements." said one. "In the case of LNG plants, the risks are up here and the benefits are down here."
A woman from San Benito said the commissioners should not issue the 100 percent ax abatements requested by the companies since all industries were different and "one size does not fit all."
She pointed out that apart from the higher property taxes the county was considering, there was also the proposal to increase the Port of Harlingen by six cents per $100, the proposed health district by 25 cents, the homestead exemptions and the proposed 100 percent exemption for the 19,000 veterans in the county.
"We are left holding the tax bag," she said.
If approved, the tax abatements for the LNG plants probably won't apply until sometime in 2020, but realistically, probably 2022. Today the county gets nothing from the lans since it is on Brownsville Navigation property.
Nonetheless, a speaker took issue with the fact the property tax payers are bearing the burden of providing pay raises, paying for the abatements and for the payment of the recent $22 million verdict against the county for allowing construction of hotels on land donated to the county for parks.
"We shouldn't be paying for a bad decision," she said to applause.  
  

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A CALL FOR ASSISTANCE TO OUR 3 READERS

(Ed's Note: We have started out search engines to write a post of pre-PUB utilities in Brownsville. However, this dates back to 1928 before PUB had been established by a close popular vote. Specifically, we need any and all information (including photos, is any) our readers may have on these folks who started the ball rolling way back when. They are:

1. Electric Connections: Pete Rocha 

2. Transmission, Water: Faustino Villarreal (Mario's dad)

3. Water Dept.: Mr. (?) Muñoz (Cheo's Dad?)

4. Sewer:  Mr. (?) Recio

These people (and as you can see, we don't even have some of their first names) were the pioneers of utilities in Brownsville even before PUB. Whatever information you can provide us will make the post a better one and a recognition to the people who were the foundation of public utilities here. Thanks in advance.) 

KING MARTINEZ'S PUB APPOINTMENT FIZZLES

By Juan Montoya
After four years (and starting his fifth) as mayor of the City of Brownsville, Tony Martinez pretty much has had his way.
He could nudge a pliant city commission to approve this and vote for that, sometimes even on items that they weren't even shown.
Take, for example, the city's answer to the UT System's RFP for real estate offers to place their new university (UTRGV). Tucked into the city's offer were some 83 acres of prime city real estate that it was willing to "transfer " to the UT for a song. Included in this bargain-basement offer was the city's 48-acre jewel known as Lincoln Park.
Once the public outcry erupted over the city's generous offer, some commissioners backtracked and grew sour on the deal.
They also approved the Brownsville-PUB deal with Tenaska to indebt the utility some $325 million for a gas-fired electric generating plant by raising rate-payers' utilities well into 2016 without any hope of the cost going down.
No one asked the feasibility of having a 800 megawatt plant when there were two going into Edinburg and another 800-MW plant going up in Harlingen. If the Edinburg and Harlingen plants went online before the Brownsville facility and Tenaska had no customers for the other 600 MWs, would it continue to build it?
Questions that were never asked of King Tony before are being asked now.
The clearest indication of this was the vote on the PUB board nominees Tuesday. Martinez had made it no secret the he wanted city commission candidate (and loser) Gerardo Martinez on the PUB board. As usual, he expected a pliant city commission to genuflect and give in to his wishes.
Alas, King Tony was told "no."
It stands to reason. Sitting at the At-Large seat that Gerardo Martinez waned was the winner Cesar de Leon. Did Martinez really think that de Leon would vote to place Martinez the Lesser on the PUB where he would toe the line for Martinez the Greater who already seats on the PUB board as an ex oficio member? At this juncture, Tony should have known better.
Instead, feisty District 2 commissioner Jessica Tetreau was able to get her votes to place businessman Rafael Chacon. Chacon's claim to fame is not in electric, water or sewer, of power plants for that matter. He is just a business buddy of the Tetreau from Coahuila who has a few pocket malls strewn around town. We don't even know if he owns a Tesla like the commish.
Likewise, District 1 commissioner Ricardo Longoria was able to garner support among his peers for his nomination of his pal Martin Arambula. Arambula certainly needed this morale builder.
Not that Armabula knows anything about the cost of utilities past his monthly bill or what the price of natural gas in China may be (although he's been there on the port's nickel), but between keeping the BISD's records in the right file and recycling cardboard, Martin gets bored out in the hinterlands where his office is located.
Besides, Longoria and Arambula have been pals forever, so he got in.
Chacon and Arambula replace Emmanuel Vasquez and Arturo Farias, a pair of quintessential "yes" men who feel perfectly at home being utilized by mean of greater means.
When it appeared to de Leon that his first choice of Martin Sarkis would not get a second, he nominated Armando Magallanes, 357th District Judge Juan Magallanes' brother. That went nowhere but de Leon justified Mando's nomination because he thought he would be a voice for the common people.
The upshot of all this is that King Tony is no longer having his unbridled way as he did in his first term. Is this vote the precursor of things to come?

B'VILLE OKS IMPLANTING FIDO WITH THE CHIP OF THE BEAST

By Juan Montoya
With the stroke of a vote, the commissioners for the City of Brownsville approved the fee schedule for implanting a microchip which Public Health Director Art Rodriguez claims will help reunite wayward pets with their owners.
But the fee schedule ( measly $5 per implanted chip) is part of a larger ordinance which aims to "control the pet population."
We have to be honest. We have not read the proposed ordinance. But if the chip is required for pet ownership and those animals caught without one without one are subject to be put to sleep, the effect could be devastating to pet lovers in the city.
Those paranoid among us say that if the city requires a chip implant as a condition of owning a pet in Brownsville, the chip could well be the precursor to the requirement by the Antichrist in Apocalypse that everyone wear 666, the mark of the Beast.
"We require you not to use plastic bags for shopping, to Zumba dance and fish in large numbers, promote the chisquiado (bike) lifestyle, and now to implant Fido with a microchip," said a village cynic. "Where will this top?"
If Rodriguez and his champions on the commission have their way, it might not be too long before fat-laden (and delicious) gorditas are outlawed, sugar-free buñuelos a thing of the past, and the landscape will be free of dogs and cats enjoying their freedom, said an irate citizen.
"The city should concentrate on keeping the streets navigable (even when it rains cats and, ahem, dogs), create jobs, and stay out of people's relationships with their furry friends," he said.

BIG BROTHERS MATA, BROWNTOWN MAYORS REWRITE HISTORY

"Two plus two equals five," 
From 1984
By George Orwell

By Juan Montoya
In George Orwell's 1984, Winston Smith works as a clerk in the Records Department of the Ministry of Truth, where his job is to rewrite historical so they match the constantly changing current party line.
This involves revising newspaper articles and doctoring photographs and over time, Smith becomes skeptical of the party.
And so it is with today's copy of the Brownsville Herald, where the signing of an "agreement" by Tony Martinez and Lety Salazar, the mayors of Brownsville and Matamoros respectively, is described as the "formalization" of that relationship after existing side by side on opposite borders of the Rio Grande since 1848, some 167 years ago,
That despite an October 17, 1995 resolution passed by the City of Brownsville and then-mayor Henry Gonzalez proclaiming them to be such.
And that despite the annual Charro Days week-long fest celebrating that sister city relationship since 1938.
In fact, the Charro Days website states that: "Over the years, Brownsville’s sister city of Matamoros has always been a key participant with Fiestas Mexicanas. In years gone by, international bridges were open during Charro Days, allowing family and friends to share the festivities. Even today, ties between the sister cities are celebrated each year with “Hands Across the Bridge”. In this ceremony of friendship, the mayors of Brownsville and Matamoros meet to officially began the celebrations."
So how is it then that this "formalization" can even be contemplated at this juncture?
Salazar was quoted in the Herald saying that some of the early developments of this "agreement" include "improved railway transportation for business efficiency, collaborating in educational practices at all levels, and allowing library cards for Mexican residents."
"My neighbor's child is my child," Martinez chimed.
Well, now. That's a mouthful. And a very revealing mouthful at that.
The West Rail Relocation and international bridge has been in the office for decades, if not longer. Salazar is probably not wrong in declaring that to be an "early" development. She probably wasn't even born when the plans for that project were being drawn up.
As far as collaborating in educational practices is concerned, well, that's striking at a tender nerve with Brownsville residents. After all, schools in the Brownsville Independent School District have been ordered by the federal government to accept children who can show a utility or rent bill with a Brownsville address. Matamoros parents caught on early and rented ramshackle apartments and trailer homes or had their kids live with relatives on this side to enroll them here and get a "free" education.
And Matamoros college-age kids are already allowed to apply for financial aid to attend college here.
Each day, charter school buses can be seen lining up to pick up students from Matamoros enrolled in classes here. Do you really think that the Brownsville public libraries can handle 800,000 new users?
It gets even cozier.  Rafael Vasquez Cardenas, Salazar's director of  "social concentration," in charge of controlling the hundreds of vendors who ply their wares in the city streets, is a bus driver for the BISD and has led bus drivers and monitors to demand better wages and working conditions.
As Martinez, who is the champion of a Catholic middle school said: "And, as sister cities, we have a responsibility to our neighbor's children."
That sentiment – that we hadn't really "formalized" the sister-city relationship – is carried over to a story on the city commission meeting Tuesday that states: "Although for decades Brownsville has claimed Matamoros as its sister city, a formal agreement stating such had not been signed until (the) ceremony..."
Even Don Pedro throws in his two centavos saying that "You'd think they would have formalized the relationship years ago..."
But we're not done yet.
Also discussed in Tuesday's city meeting was the plan to "enter into negotiations" with Altamira, Tamaulipas, to become a sister city. Altamira, by the way, is down the shoreline from Tampico, which is also our sister city. Is Brownsville two-timing Tampico with its sister city Altamira?
And why would we be forming a sister-city alliance with Altamira, the Port of Brownsville biggest competitor on the Mexican Gulf coast? Reminds us of the Jimi Hendrix tune "Red House" where he says: "Cause if my baby don't love me no more, I know her sister will.."
And two plus two equals five, of course.

COP SHOT UNARMED B'VILLE 24-YEAR-OLD OVER STOLEN BEER

By Juan Montoya
The mother of the man accused of aggravated robbery and theft in the incident where a 24-year-old unarmed Brownsville man was shot and killed by police says it was all over a case of stolen beer.
Irma Juarez, mother of Jaime Gomez, being held in county  jail on a $40,000 bond, said her son had told her that neither he nor Jose Roman Rodriguez, 24, the shooting victim, had any weapons and that as he ran from the SUV, he turned and saw a police shoot the driver.
"“He took off. He just started running,” Juarez told a reporter for CHANNEL 5 NEWS. “He ran across the street. When he was running, he heard gunshots. He turned around, and he saw they were shooting.”
(In the photo at right, Juarez is standing to the left of Maria del Carmen Treviño, the victim's mother.)
Rodriguez's mother said the family hasn't heard any information from the Texas Rangers about the investigation. She still hasn't seen her son’s autopsy report.
The case has stirred indignation among family members and their supporters who say the length of time it is taking police, the Texas Department of Public Safety's Texas Rangers investigating the incident, and the Cameron County District Attorney to give them the true account of what happened has led them to suspect there is a cover-up in the offing.
The DA has said that the evidence will be presented to a county grand jury sometime in the next few weeks.
"Why is it taking so long for them to tell me who the officer was and why he had to shoot my son when he was not armed," said Treviño.
Even though the Texas Rangers have not provided the family with an autopsy, Treviño said that when her son's body was finally released to her three days after he was killed, he had tow bullet entry wounds to the left side of his body.
"One of them was on his left arm and the other was on the left side of his chest as if he had raised his arms when he was shot," she said.
Police haven't even said how many shots were fired.
Investigators from the Texas Department of Public Safety said Rodriguez died at the hospital as a result of the shooting.
News reports indicate that the efforts to keep the public away from the facts in the case started at the very onset. As part of the investigation after the shooting, police blocked off traffic from entering the area — near the Subway restaurant and the Brownsville Public Utilities Board sewer plant — for the better part of that Friday morning.
All DA Luis Saenz and BPD's Lt. Gerard Serrato and Commander Juan Hernandez said was that they could confirm that an on-duty Brownsville police officer had shot and killed someone earlier in the day.
Authorities said the officer involved in the shooting was unharmed.
However, their first statements that the officer had “shot and killed an aggravated robbery suspect between 1 and 2 a.m” were not confirmed at the press conference.
The changing stories and the fact that police have not said that Rodriguez was unarmed when he was shot have raised questions from his relatives.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

IS THERE AN INSURANCEGATE BREWING IN CAMERON COUNTY: WHY DID COMMISSIONERS ESCHEW $500,000 IN SAVINGS?

By Juan Montoya
There have been some general stories in the local press concerning the sudden departure of former Cameron County Human Resources Administrator Arnold Flores and the commissioners' renewal of its employees health insurance coverage with the Texas Association of Counties.
Generally, they gel around the opposition by Pct. 3 Commissioner David Garza and County Judge Pete Sepulveda to follow a consultant's advice on getting lower rates for the county's 1,600 employees.
No one, including Flores, Garza or Sepulveda will comment on the decision to drop both the consultant – Nick Long of Gallagher Benefits Services – and his recommendations based on his claims that he had already negotiated savings of up to 30 percent per employee.
The only documented reason for the move by Garza to drop Gallagher was reported in the local daily as stating that he did not believe the claims.
The TAC has serviced the county's health coverage needs since 2008 and this year Flores had gone out for Requests For Proposals. Consultant Long said that he had contacted 21 providers, 11 of which had indicated a desire to submit their proposals.
According to Long's estimates, in his negotiations with TAC, he had already negotiated at least $500,000 in savings using then other firms' interest in the contract as leverage.
At approximately a $1,152,000 annual cost, at the 30 percent reduction in cost per employee – or about 6 to 8 percent of the total cost – TAC had agreed to reduce the cost by $500,000.
With the consultant's services terminated by the vote of the court led by Garza, TAC will no longer have to abide by the reductions in its renewal, a hope held out by Sepulveda, who also voted to terminate Long and Gallagher Services.
"The TAC is no longer obligated to honor the concessions it granted in the negotiations with the consultant," said a county staffer. "They can simply renew and consider the county's request."
Sepulveda told the commissioners during the meeting that the county "was eyeing" some options within the TAC that could generate some savings, but nothing specific was mentioned.
No one is saying why Garza was so interested in staying with TAC, or for that matter why Sepulveda turned down the savings since Long was not getting paid for his services. Under the agreement with the county, Long's Gallagher Services was to be paid through its provision of ancillary services such as electronic enrollment, something that the county cannot afford.
Now that the county is limiting its options to the TAC, rumors are surfacing of possible personal relationships between Sepulveda and Garza and TAC personnel that might have influenced their decision to forgo the savings.
The fact that Garza is a pharmacist apparently made an impression in Pct. 4 commissioner Dan Sanchez, who voted along with him.
The only vote not to terminate the relationship with Long and Gallagher Benefits Service was cast by Pct. 2 commissioner Alex Dominguez.

B'TOWN-MATA SISTER CITIES: IF ESTRANGED, TRY, TRY AGAIN

By Juan Montoya
After 20 years of a less-than-blissful partnership, the mayors of the cities of Brownsville and Matamoros are reaffirming their vows to be sisters.
It is a ceremony many months in the offing, Mayor Tony Martinez and Matamoros Mayor Leticia Salazar will reaffirm their vows in a ceremony to be held at 11 a.m. at the Alonso Building before a select crowd of dignitaries who will be treated to a fine dinner afterwards.
But why they're doing this has left many scratching their heads.
A former city commissioner said he had been present when the original sister-city resolution was passed on October 17, 1995 and wonders what the motivation for the "re-establishment" of the relationship means.
"Does it mean there had been a divorce and we have been living in sin?" he asked.
In fact, no one knows why the ceremony is being held in the first place. Brownsville and Matamoros have been linked since Brownsville was established in 1848. And the relationship is affirmed each year during the Charro Days Hands Across the River ceremony. If cultural and historical motives are not the reason, then that leaves only the political, and that might be the ticket here.
"Mayor Martinez has not visited Matamoros in the five years he's been in office," said a Matamoros official. "Why re-establish the sister-city designation after all that time?"
(We have heard that Martinez has told anyone who will listen that he has a letter prohibiting him from visiting Matamoros due to security considerations. No one has actually seen it, and no one will say who sent it to him. For all we know it may be the perfunctory U.S. Dept. of State Travel Warning.)
The only reason might be the fact that the reestablishment of the designation may have been at the continued urging of Salazar, the female mayor of our, ahem, sister city, who is contemplating a run at the Tamaulipas governorship and needs the reestablishment of the relationship as a feather in her cap when she makes her run.
Another force behind the movement is none other than Brownsville Mexican Consul Rodolfo Quilantan, an individual little-liked in Matamoros who has been urging the move for the past year.
"They tried last September and had to cancel," said a Brownsville City Hall staffer. "A ceremony at the B and M Bridge (the old bridge) last March was also cancelled due to security considerations. Now they're trying it again. It doesn't appear that the security considerations have improved that much.

This week, the Excelsion newspaper published a blurb where Salazar is said to deny her involvement in the murder of three U.S. citizens by her paramilitary group Hercules in October 2014. Their vehicle was impounded in a lot belonging to her secretary of Social Development Luis Biasi. Since then, she and her administration have become the focus of the homicide investigation.
In fact, there is some credibility to the rumor that the lack of publicity for the "reestablishment" ceremony at the Alonso Building may have been toned down in part from preventing the victims' relatives to mar the occasion with protests as they did when Salazar rode in the Charro Days parade.
"There is really no need for this ceremony except for the political needs of Lety," said the City Hall source. We've always known we're sister cities. This is just something done to further her political career. Why is Brownsville Mayor Martinez lending his office to this?"

A POISONED SOUL PREVENTS A WIDOW'S REST

ANNIVERSARY

I went to visit you today, husband
Six months since you have passed
The sun, the wind, the deep-blue sky,
The swaying ebony trees
Sang of our past

I brought blue flowers for your stone
The ones you used to love
And I relived the days and nights we had...
Your face, your laugh, your touch

And then I came upon your plot
And was dumbstruck, and pained to see
The ones that I had brought, the pot
Broken and strewn amid the grass and weeds

Someone had thrown our flowers away
Replaced with plastic blooms instead
And in the place where "wife" was writ...
An ugly violent
scratch

There is a soul roaming the land
with poison in her breast
An offspring who's had venom fill her ear
By a jealous former mate
And who will drink the bitter cup of hate
Long after I join you in rest

8-17-2105
by juan montoya

Monday, August 17, 2015

AFTER A MONTH, NO ANSWERS IN COP KILLING OF MAN

By Juan Montoya
All they know of the son of their 24-year-old relative who was killed by a Brownsville Police Department officer is that he wasn't armed.
And as the one-month anniversary of his death approaches five days from now, no one has told them the circumstances of his death at the hands of local police.
"I still have no answers on how my son died," said Maria del Carmen Trevino as she and about a dozen relatives and supporters held up placards near the intersection of Lizca Street and University Boulevard this afternoon.
All the know so far is that Roman Rodriguez was shot dead between the 2300 and 2500 block of University Boulevard and that a BPD officer was said to have fired the two shots that killed him.
And as the Texas Rangers division of the Texas Department of Public Safety investigates the shooting, his relatives say that they have been kept in the dark concerning the details of his death
Trevino was not allowed to see the body of her son for three days following the shooting, and that was until she and a group of supporters protested in front of the police department.
And after police released her son's body for his burial a day later, she said they said he had a bullet hole in the upper arm and in the left side of his thorax, indicating his arm was raised when she did see his body in preparation for his burial
"No one is telling us anything," she told reporters then. "Did they shoot him as he was raising his hands to give up?"
Police haven't even said how many shots were fired.
Investigators from the Texas Department of Public Safety said Rodriguez died at the hospital as a result of the shooting.
Another man, 22-year-old Jaime Gomez, was arrested by Brownsville police and has been charged with aggravated robbery and theft in connection to the shooting, investigators said.
News reports indicate that the efforts to keep the public away from the facts in the case started at the very onset. As part of the investigation after the shooting, police blocked off traffic from entering the area — near the Subway restaurant and the Brownsville Public Utilities Board sewer plant — for the better part of Friday morning.
All Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz and Lt. Gerard Serrato and Commander Juan Hernandez said was that they could confirming that an on-duty Brownsville police officer had shot and killed someone earlier in the day.
Authorities said the officer involved in the shooting was unharmed.
However, their first statements that the officer had “shot and killed an aggravated robbery suspect between 1 and 2 a.m” were not confirmed at the press conference.
The changing stories and the fact that police have not said that Rodriguez was unarmed when he was shot have raised questions from his relatives.
This afternoon, the suspect's mother Irma Juarez said that her son, who is in custody charged with theft and aggravated robbery, was there to lend Trevino moral support. Juarez said that she is unable to raise the $4,000 in bail bond money to free her son. Before, Trevino told media representatives that Gomez had told a friend who visisted him in jail that he was afraid.

 

ON CROCKETT'S B-DAY, THE DEMYTHIFICATION OF HEROISM

By Juan Montoya
Today is the birthday (in 1786) of Texas myth and Alamo hero David Crockett.
For years Hollywood has given us a mythologized version of the final days of a coonskin-cap-clad Crockett and the other "martyrs" at the Alamo, the cradle of Texas liberty.
But a Crockett biography lays bare the cold facts: that Crockett was slave-owning n'er-do-well who came to Texas after having abandoned his family and was escaping his debtors.
The book, David Crockett, the Lion of the West, by Michael Wallis, W.W. Norton and Company, 2011, 379 pages, is a no-frills account of the life of one of the most mythologized figures in U.S. and Texas folklore. Even though everyone from stage plays in the 1800s and later Walt Disney characterized him as a happy-go-lucky backwoodsman whose folksy yarns and coarse humor endeared him to 19th Century voters who elected him to state representative of Western Tennessee in 1821, the picture that emerges from Wallis' book is vastly different.
Crockett here emerges as an avowed expansionist whose push west coincided with the rush to acquire as much free land as possible and to stay one step ahead of his creditors. Among those he met when he was a state rep was one James K. Polk, who was a senator in the Tennessee legislature and would later go on to become president.
In 1821, Missouri was annexed into the U.S. as a slave state and was the same year that Stephen F. Austin started moving settlers into the Mexican state of Texas-Coahuila. Crockett would go on to serve in the U.S. Congress where Wallis notes that he served with the greatest distinction that he did not get a single bill passed during his tenure. While he started out as an Andrew Jackson adherent, he fell out with "Old Hickory" after they parted ways on Crockett's proposal to allow settlers to squat on vacant land in the west. Jackson favored the construction of towns and allowing land speculators to profit in the process.
Under the so-called Manifest Destiny coined in 1845 by magazine editor John L. Sullivan, the national aspirations were defined "in terms of so many bears destroyed, so much land preempted, so many trees hacked down, so many Indians and Mexicans dead in the dust," Wallis wrote.
Crockett not only met Polk, but also met Sam Houston, another Tennessean who was escaping a ruinous personal relationship who as of 1834 was already "making plans for the liberation of Texas."
Houston and Crockett wanted to "liberate" Texas from a Mexican government that had abolished slavery, required new settlers to become Mexican citizens, join the Catholic Church, accept the language and laws of the country, and observe the ban on the enslavement of human beings.
Wallis notes that: "Like many others making the same journey at the time, Crockett understood what he faced once he crossed the Red river and left the United States. He had to be aware that, in the weeks before he departed (1835), the animosity had increased between the government of Mexico, and the American settlers, called Texians, in the Mexican state of Coahuila y Tejas. 
The white colonists were becoming increasingly tired of living under Mexican rule, and they headed for war with hopes of forming their own separate republic. Many of these Anglos were illegal immigrants and did not abide by Mexican law...By 1823 at least 3,000 U.S. citizens had entered Texas illegally, along with 700 legitimate settlers...
"By 1830 there were more than 20,000 settlers and 2,000 slaves living in Texas, making Anglos more numerous than Mexicans...

"The situation only worsened for the Mexican government," Wallis wrote. "By 1835. the population had ballooned to 35,000, including 3,000 black slaves."
In a letter to his cousin Mary Austin Holley, Austin wrote that in no uncertain terms: "Texas must be a slave country. It is no longer a matter of doubt."
Crockett arrived in Texas just a month or two before the confrontation at the Alamo in San Antonio. When he arrived, the Texians saw it as a good omen that the Lion of the West on their side. And even though Houston himself ordered the defenders of San Antonio to destroy the old mission and depart, Crockett, along with James Bowie and William Travis did not heed his call and were killed in the futile struggle with Antonio de Santa Anna.
"Bowie had become famous in many circles because of his trademark knife he used with proficiency in bloody duels and altercations," writes Wallis. "He did not himself make the knife; rather, his brother Rezin commissioned it for him. Some years earlier, the Bowie brothers partnered with Jean Lafitte, the notorious privateer who supplied mercenaries for Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans. The Bowies helped Lafitte traffic the many slaves he smuggled into Galveston Island and sold to plantation owners.
"Besides making a fortune as a dealer in human cargo and subverting the ban on the slave trade, Bowie – like Stephen Austin – also became a land speculator. He sold fraudulent claims in Arkansas Territory, masterminded a series of property swindles in Louisiana, and speculated in Texas land...(When his wife and two children died during a cholera epidemic)...Bowie went into an alcoholic depression that lasted until his death in a sickbed at the Alamo..."
And what about that other Texas martyr, Travis, an attorney by trade?
"A South Carolina native, Travis – like many others – came to Texas to escape bad debts and avoid going to prison. After abandoning his pregnant wife and young son in Alabama, hen entered Texas illegally and immediately became involved in the slave trade...He was one of the first to die at the final Alamo assault, of a bullet to the brain. He was 26 years old."
"No  one knows with any uncertainty how David Crockett died," Wallis writes. "His death has been obscured by legend. with accounts and theories of his death including scenarios both implausible and ludicrous...One popular theory was that Crockett died while swinging old Betsy over his head...some claimed he donned a disguise and snuck away from the Alamo like a sniveling coward..."
Houston spelled out what may have been the most likely scenario soon after the fall of the Alamo. In a dispatch sent to Col. James Fannin March 11, he said that "after the fort was carried seven men surrendered and called for Santa Anna, and for quarter. They were murdered by his order."
Houston's account was bolstered by Mexican army officer Jose Enrique de la Peña, an army officer under Santa Anna during the siege.
"Among the (seven)...was one of great stature, well proportioned, with regular features, in whose face was the imprint of adversity, but in whom one also noticed a degree of resignation and nobility that did him honor. He was the naturalist David Crockett...
"Santa Anna answered (General) Castillon's intervention in Crockett's behalf with a gesture of indignation and, addressing himself to the the sappers, ordered his execution."
To those of us accustomed to the Hollywood and Texas history versions of the Siege of the Alamo, this unflattering description of this historian might not be pleasing to read, but Wallis' documentation leaves little room for argument.
Crockett mythology notwithstanding, many Texans of diverse ethnicities have embraced the history of the Alamo as the Cradle of Texas Liberty and the old mission continues to draw visitors from throughout the state. In the picture above, Brownsville resident Gabriela Zavala (left), Mars Diaz (right) and Cameron Diaz (center) pose for a family picture in front of the Alamo grounds in San Antonio recently.

rita