Sunday, March 26, 2017

N.Y. BANKERS, S. TEXAS BARONS PROPPED DIAZ IN POWER

By Juan Montoya
It was December of 1875 when future Mexican dictator Profirio Diaz came to Brownsville seeking financial and military help to overthrow democratically-elected President Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada.
Diaz had lost the election called for after the death of Benito Juarez in 1872 to Tejada and was still smarting from that defeat.

So he went north seeking aid to overthrow Lerdo with his Plan de Tuxtepec.
While in Brownsville, he was allowed to set up his military headquarters at the house owned by the James Stillman, the son of Brownsville "founder" Charles Stillman. With Stillman's aid, he met with a gaggle of the leading New York bankers in Kingsbury, Texas, about 40 miles east of San Antonio and about five miles east of Seguin. It was at the railhead of the Galveston, Harrisburg and San Antonio Railroad (GH&SA).

The bankers represented the New York syndicate that was battling English interests who also wanted the rail and telegraph concessions in Mexico if Diaz was successful and eventually came to power. Historian John Mason Hart wrote that the men who met with Diaz and from whom he sought financial aid were some of the most powerful bankers of the time. They included such men as Thomas Wentworth Pierce, the president of the GH&SA , Andrew Pierce, his brother, James Griswold, Richard King, and John Solomon "Rip" Ford, among others.

The Pierces were the cousins of President Benjamin Franklin Pierce, the nation's 14th president who had left office in 1857 and were well connected in Washington and New York. The president had envisioned the United States to extend from Panama to the Arctic.  Thomas Wentworth Pierce wanted to direct the construction of the Pan American Railroad which was to stretch from Mexico's northern border to Panama. He has already built a section running from the Salina Cruz, a seaport on the Isthmus of  Tehuantepec to Tapachula, Chiapas on the Guatemal-Mexico border.

His brother Andrew Pierce was the new president of the Texas International Railroad which was constructing a line from the Texas-Arkansas border to Laredo. He was also the president of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad which provided connecting lines from north and east.

Griswold wanted the concession of the line that would stretch from El Paso to Guaymas. Griswold was interested in the manufacture of steel and he wanted the concession to supply the lines when Diaz came to power.

Thomas T, Buckley, the president, of Brooklyn, was also in attendance at the Kingsbury meeting. He was a vice president of the Bank of the Republic of New York and served as treasurer of the Cleveland, Youngstown and Pittsburgh Railroad in New York. He was also a director of the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, the Metropolitan Gas Company of New York and the Home Insurance Company. His presence at the meeting is credited for Diaz granting of the concession of an ocean to ocean railroad that included 200,000 acres of land to the New York syndicate in 1879.

In his memoirs, Ford noted that Diaz met with "prominent Americans" and that King promised Diaz his financial support if he would rid South Texas of the troublesome Juan N. Cortina, who had waged a guerrilla war against Stillman, King and other land barons in South Texas since the Americans had arrived in 1848.

"Diaz asked if the Americans would loan him cash," Ford reported years later. "He was told 'you are no doubt fully aware of the trouble that General Cortina is causing on the frontier...If you will give your word that, if successful in the revolution you are about to inaugurate, you will order Cortina to be removed from this frontier, Americans will loan you money.' General Diaz gave his word. He obtained money from American citizens...General Cortina has been under surveillance for nearly twenty years. Can any gentleman dare say President Diaz has not fully redeemed his pledge?"

Hart wrote that Diaz received $40,000 in contributions in February 1876 soon followed by separate grants of $14,000, $20,000, $50,000, $60,000 and $320,000 forwarded to him by King and Sabas Cavazos (Cortina's half brother) through an
intermediary named Alberto Castillo. Diaz kept his part of the deal. He held Cortina in a military prison and under house arrest in Mexico city until his death in 1892. He died in 1894.

Using the Stillman Civil War facility in Puerto Bagdad, Diaz set about to arm his insurrection to invade northern Mexico starting with taking Matamoros. He received at least $500,000 in American contributions to aid his efforts. During the winter and spring of 1876 , arms from New York started to arrive at Bagdad. The merchants of Brownsville provided ordinance that included 500 rifles, 250,000 rounds of ammunition and 2,000,000 recharging cartridges from the Remington Arms Company. After a prolonged siege of the city made possible by continuous arms shipments from the Whitney Arms Company and the Wexel and De Gress Arms Company in New York, Diaz's forces took Matamoros in April.

The continuous fighting on the northern border by Diaz soon exhausted the financial resources of the the Lerdo government which could not procure loans from the Americans. Hart writes that the leading families of the northern Mexico elite defected to Diaz and allowed him room to operate in the region. He lists the BAlli family in Tamaulipas, the Treviños in Nuevo Leon, and the Maderos in Coahuila who mobilized their resources to support Diaz.

Despite this, Diaz was defeated on 20 May 1876 in Icamole, Nuevo León by General Carlos Fuero, loyal to the government of Lerdo and Diaz was forced to leave the region and withdraw to the south of the Republic. Díaz, however, continued his campaign against the lerdistas there.

On October 26, the Congress affirmed the re-election of Lerdo de Tejada, but the president of the Supreme Court of Justice, Jose Maria Iglesias, declared it illegal. In his role as vice-president, Iglesias pursued the interim presidency.

On 16 November 1876, Díaz defeated government forces in the Battle of Tecoac. and Lerdo de Tejada had no choice but to surrender the presidency. As the only  a candidate in the elections called in May 1877. Díaz assumed the presidency.

Had the New York bankers and South Texas land barons not backed Diaz, it is doubtful that Diaz would have been able to install his 30-year dictatorship in Mexico.

A BELATED 61ST BIRTHDAY TO GEORGEOUS GEORGE

By Juan Montoya
Our attention was called to a Facebook entry that says that former Cameron County Investigator and Port of Brownsville Police Chief George Gavito turned 61 on Saturday.
We heard he was in San Antonio that day and that he was making his way back to Brownsville over the weekend.

Gavito is one of those people that make up the cultural fabric of this city. His family is one of local pioneer stock since the early days. With George it's either you like him or not. He has been embroiled in numerous controversies inside law enforcement and outside.

The Gavitos have been in many levels of government and have been associated with the likes of former Cameron County commissioner and judge D.J. Lerma, Aurora de la Garza, D.A. Luis V. Saenz and Texas Rep. Rene Oliveira and Sen. Eddie Lucio. Invariably, gregarious George is often in the spotlight.

Whether it's deserved or not, every year that the 1989 Mark Kilroy satanic murder case comes up during Spring Break, Gavito's name is brought up. During the Alex Perez tenure at the Cameron County Sheriff's Office, Gavito was the face in the news that every media outlet – local, national and international – sought for comment. George was only too glad to put on his best coat, comb his ample mane, and titillate reporters with delicious tidbits of information available nowhere else.

The hit-for-hire case of St. Joseph student Joey Fisher in 1993 followed the Kilroy case and propelled  him into the local spotlight when a grandmother paid a hitman to kill the boyfriend of her granddaughter.


Retired since to a career in business (he also has a restaurant in San Marcos) he has opened up a working-class bar in downtown Brownsville just around the corner from the El Jardin Hotel called El Barril. But he has also kept his hand in local politics and the revitalization of the downtown area.

Most recently, he has been active with his cousin's OP 10.33 activist organization, and gained yet more media attention when he and the St. Joseph Bloodhound football team passed out mosquito repellent in anticipation of the zika outbreak in poor downtown neighborhoods.

 Whether you like him or not, he is a player in our area. We extend out belated happy birthday greeting to him.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

"NY" ART DEFACER PROFILED AS RACIST MISANTHROPE


(Ed.'s Note: At first the criminal homophobic tagger was a mere nuisance. Hiding under cover of darkness like a sneak thief, he defaced the paintings of Latin artists and musicians local artists had donated to adorn the walls of the Capitol Theater in celebration of the Latin Jazz Festival.

Using his tagline "NY" like a skunk pisses to mark his turf, he wrote "slut" on the painting of Selena, and "fag" on the portrait of a Latin musician. The students, undeterred, came back and painted over the slurs. Not much later, he (we assume it's a he because of his homophobic use of the words and his insult to the woman) he returned and used a sharp instrument to mar them again. But there was a sick and hidden side to the twisted mind of this moron as well. He also penned racist insults to local Mexican Americans on the wall of a building on Washington Street calling them "Mexica scum."

It doesn't take a trained FBI profiler to determine that this is coming from some racist coward walking the streets of Brownsville after dark penning his venom on the walls when no one is watching. Obviously, he is not a happy person to be in a town where more than 90 percent of its residents come from an Hispanic cultural background. Why is he here if he thinks we're scum? Someone get this idiot off the streets before he ratchets up his actions to something worse or someone hurts him.)

BORDERLINE IDIOT EDDIE LUCIO JR. BORDER MAN OF THE YEAR

By Juan Montoya
Coming off a fresh round of widespread rejection of his plan to abolish nine school districts and their elected boards in Cameron County to set up a countywide district initially headed by the board of trustees of the Brownsville Independent School District, Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio was lauded by Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick as a beacon of hope for the border.

Image result for eddie lucio sr., golferPatrick, whose plans for education will leave the border's status as the stepchild of the state, was in McAllen Friday to laud Lucio as Border Texan of the Year.

In being named this year's honoree, he joins the likes of then-Gov. George W. Bush, former Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchinson, U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza, U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa, late U.S. Rep. Eligio “Kika” de la Garza, State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa and many more.

Patrick said that Lucio has the beacon of hope for the border for more than 30 years.
Patrick has not treated the Valley favorably over the years. But Friday he called it “vibrant,” and the backbone of Texas. One of those spineless vertebrae has been Lucio, if we are to believe Patrick.

Lucio fancies himself being a family man, and one of strong faith as can be seen by his grooming of his son, Texas Rep, Eddie Lucio III to fill his spot in the senate upon his retirement.

Speakers praised Lucio for , among other things, his work with veterans, healthcare and public schools. 

 “But Eddie’s a statesman,” Patrick said. “That’s rare. He’s a statesman because he casts his vote to do what, in his heart, he believes is right for his district.”

Oh, how well we remember his yeoman's work to help Dannenbaum Engineering wrest the engineering contract from Brown and Root that resulted in the spectacular heist of $21 million for a Bridge to Nowhere that was never built. Lucio was paid handsomely for his "consulting" on that project, a project whose debt is still being paid for by the residents of the Brownsville Navigation District.

And who can forget the "consulting" he did in Willacy County when he stepped in the make sure the county commissioners there awarded the contract to build a private prison to certain firms which resulted in convictions for bribery of some elected officials. Eventually, the cutting of corners and short shrift they paid to paying sufficient personnel in those private prisons resulted in a prisoner's death and the burning down of some units by prisoners who complained they were not provided with adequate health care. But Eddie got his cut and – when the heat came down – briefly suspended his "consulting."

And he was only too happy to stand by and watch the University of Texas System rape the taxpayers of the Texas Southmost College District and try to gobble it up by demanding that it hand them over the entire assets of the community college totaling more than $200 million – except for the outstanding bond debt – so they would stay in Brownsville. When the college trustees stood up to the UT System and said "no," the UT System regents opted to end the "partnership" which had pumped close to $1 billion to UT in annual $50 million "transfers" from the college in the poorest community in the country.

And his record on women's reproductive rights has endeared him to the Republicans like Patrick. He went along with the GOP senate majority to pass laws that would have deprived poor women in South Texas from exercising their right to determine whether they wanted to keep or end a pregnancy. Lucio doesn't care if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Just as he doesn't care that the United Supreme Court has reaffirmed the right of a woman to control her own body time and time again

Last year, this Mexican Puritan gave Republicans the right to run roughshod in the senate and cast the deciding vote to give them a free hand. Over the cries of Democrats, he cast the deciding vote to allow the GOP-run Texas Senate to break from an almost 70-year tradition intended to encourage compromise among its 31 members.

Instead, it now takes only 19 senators instead of 21 to bring legislation to the floor for debate.
The change — passed on a vote of 20-10 — had the practical effect of allowing Republicans to consider a bill without a single vote from one of the chamber's 11 Democrats.
Patrick had targeted the tradition known as the "two-thirds rule" since he first entered the Legislature in 2007.

Fighting to preserve the rule, Democrats said the change would strike a blow to the democratic process.
“I think it’s a sad day for the Senate, and one that we will look back on with regret,” said state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston.

Yeah, Lucio is a border man, a borderline idiot and hypocrite.

Friday, March 24, 2017

D.A. STUMBLES AGAIN: JURY RETURNS NOT GUILTY VERDICT

Special to El Rrun-Rrun
Marisa Govea Hernandez has been found not guilty of the accidental death of Maria Elizabeth Guzman Tipton.

The police lost a surveillance tape.

They lost the victims' clothes, and the deputies sent out to find whatever the mother of a Cameron County Sheriff's deputy had hit concluded she had hit a skunk.

It wasn't until three days later that the woman's body was found in the brush by the side of the road.

This passes for justice in Cameron County?

It's time someone resigns.

ANILLOGATE: RODRIGUEZ'S FINGERPRINTS ALL OVER IT; DID ZENDEJAS OBSTRUCT PROBE PRETENDING SHE DIDN'T KNOW?

Image result for joe rodriguez, brownsville

By Juan Montoya
Joe Rodriguez retired as Athletic Director of the Brownsville Independent School District in 2009.
But  he told Brownsville Herald sports writer Roy Hess that just three years before, in 2006, he had been contacted by former Dallas Cowboys lineman Tom Rafferty about working for BSN, a large sports supply company based in Dallas.
BSN is part of the Varsity Brands stable, which includes Varsity Spirit, BSN Sports, and Herrf Jones.
"I retired (in 2009) and 15 days later they put me to work. They hired me as a consultant," he told Hess.

Just four years later, on June 25, 2013, BSN announced it was merging with Herrf Jones, "a leading provider of graduation and school spirits products" which include yearbooks, class rings, caps and gowns, diplomas, educational products and cheer leading training camps, competitions and uniforms.
http://www.bsnsports.com/press_releases/merger%20-%2006-25-13.pdf


When he was elected to the BISD board of trustees, Rodriguez filed  a Conflict of Interest affidavit asserting he had "a substantial interest" in BSN that exceeded 10 percent of his income. The document was filed Nov. 11, 2014 with the district. (Click on graphic to enlarge).

As an elected official and a registered vendor with the BISD for BSN/Herrf Jones, Rodriguez was not only required to file that affidavit, but also to abstain from any discussion of vote on any issue pertaining to those companies.

The Texas Local  Government Code §§ 171.001-.010.  states that: "A public official who has such interest is required to file, before a vote or decision on any matter involving the business entity or real property, an affidavit with the city’s official record keeper, stating the nature and extent of the interest. Id. §171.004(b).
In addition, a public official is required to abstain from further participation in the matter."

Yet, during the January 17 meeting where the issue of whether to accept the "donation" of $25,020 in rings from Herrf Jones for the 2015-2016 Porter Early College High School Soccer Championship team, Rodriguez was adamant that the district accept the gift.

In fact, he motion to accept, which trustee Phil Cowen seconded. The motion did not pass because three trustees voted for it (Rodriguez, Cowen and Cesar Lopez) and three against (Minerva Peña, Laura Perez-Reyes, and Dr. Sylvia Atkinson). As a vendor associated with ring maker Herrf Jones, Rodriguez should have abstained from further participation in the matter as required by law.

During the discussion, board general counsel Baltazar Salazar said that if the board accepted the rings after the fact – they were delivered in June 2016 and handed out to 28 student athletes and 11 non students September 1 – it would be in violation of its policies that required that the board approve any donation prior to receiving it. Further, he said that the "donation" negotiated by BISD Superintendent Zendekas had come some two months after the BISD auditors started an investigation into the matter.
"You're putting the cart before the horse," Salazar told the board.

"I don't see anything bad in this," Rodriguez argued in open meeting. "If people want to look at this thing bad...instead of being proud we're making this a situation."
"You're looking gift horse in the mouth," he said, following Salazar's equine analogy.

At that meeting, neither Rodriguez nor Zendejas mentioned that they had each received a $995 ring as a "volume discount" for nothing from Herrf Jones. The studetn's rings cost $895 each/

Rodriguez's involvement goes even deeper. In a subsequent meeting where the issue was discussed, Rodriguez voted against a motion to ask the Texas Education Agency to step into the matter and determine its legality.

As a result of the marathon executive session at the board's March 7 meeting, the same item was included in the consent agenda but was tabled until a specially called meeting (to be held sometime next week).

Rodriguez, meanwhile, has been a busy little vendor for BSN/Herrf Jones up and down the Rio Grande Valley. Emails from school district purchasing agents indicate that he and other Varsity Brands representatives have said they have the BISD, Mercedes ISD, and San Benito participating under the Varsity Brands banner.

On June 6, 2016, Larry Doeppenschmidtt, the director of purchasing with the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD emailed his colleagues in Donna,  San Benito, Mission, Elsa, Laredo, and United ISD, and Brownsville inquiring about the Varsity Brands reps' claims.
"Our district has recently been contacted by BSN Sports (Joe Rodriguez, Chris Ryenolds, :Lupe Najera, and Rodney Maypo) Varstiy Brands/Varsity Spirit/Herrf Jones (ellis Lowe, Regional Director) and Nike (Bradley Clapp, Territory Manager Nike Team) about possibly teaming with these companies under one combined banner of Varsity Brands."
"From my conversations with the referenced companies, Mercedes ISD, San Benito CISD and Brownsville ISD have signed onto this program." (Click on graphic to enlarge.)

When Delia Rodriguez, a purchasing specialist with the BISD, received Doeppenschmidtt's email, she contacted Rosario Peña, an Asst. Administrator with the the BISD' Food and Nutrition Service who had been the purchasing director before, whether such a contract existed.

"I thiought I remember seeing some sort of contract but I am not sude if this is the one. I remmeber addressing it to Mike Salinas (on of the district's attorney) to decide whether the district wanted to get into this type of contract."

When Arvin Tucker, Co-Lead Auditor at the BISD conducted an investigation into why an "inappropriate procurement practice" was used to purchase $31,060 of rings from Herrf Jones,  neither Rodriguez nor BISD Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas told him that either one of them had been involved in their acquisition. Tucker reported that the investigation had been triggered by a tip from a citizen in September and his report was handed to the district Dec. 12, 2016.

This was in spite of the fact that as early as April 21, 2016, Zendejas had emailed Herrf Jones Competitor Josten's, that she, Porter Principal Hector Hernandez and Porter Athletic Coordinator Tom Campos had already picked Herrf Jones to provide the rings. (Click on graphic to enlarge)

"I have spoken to the Principal and Athletic Coordinator regarding the (rings)...We have been in discussion regarding student rings with the company that assisted Rivera...with their championship rings last year."
Zendeja did not mention that the company she was referring was none other than Herrf Jones, the company associated with Rodriguez's BSN Sports under the Varsity Brands "banner."
This communication with Josten's Jim Ramirez was on April 21, only five days after Porter's April 16 win over Georgetown.

Ramirez asked to be included in the bidding for providing the Porter rings and that "please let us guarantee that we will bet (sic) any price out there plus give a letterman jacket and posters to go with the order. Also we will give each player free pictures... included with the rings."
But by then, Zendejas had already made up her mind that she would go with Herrf Jones without the benefits of bidding that might have saved BISD taxpayers money..

There is another item on the postponed agenda that Rodriguez may be ineligible to discuss or vote upon. That item reads:
55. Discussion, consideration and possible action to authorize the Board Attorney to contract a school law attorney to investigate the procurement procedures in the district as they relate to pending issues; i.e. tablets and rings. (Board Member Request – SPA)

Will Rodriguez abstain? 

Thursday, March 23, 2017

SPRING BREAK NEVER THE SAME AFTER KILROY MURDER


By Juan Montoya
It was during Texas Week during Spring Break in March 1989 when University of Texas premed student Mark Kilroy vanished on the streets of Matamoros, Mexico.

He disappeared during an outing to Matamoros on March 14. For weeks, police searched for the missing spring breaker with no success. His parents Jim and Helen Kilroy came to Brownsville hoping against hope that their son would be found safe and well. It would not turn out that way.

On April 11, through the work of Mexican police in coordination with U.S. and Cameron County authorities, the truth slowly came out, painting a horrific picture of psychotic drug runners who practiced a perverted form of a Caribbean Santereia they called Palo Mayombe.

It was revealed that the 21-year-old student was taken by his abductors to the Rancho Santa Elena where he was murdered in a human sacrifice ritual. Forensics indicated that he was killed with a machete blow and then had his brain removed and boiled in a pot. His killers then inserted a wire through his backbone, chopped off his legs, and buried him at the ranch along with 14 other people who had been killed there before him.

The leader of the cult, Adolfo Constanzo, had convinced his followers that human sacrifice granted them immunity from law enforcement for their drug smuggling operations. The killing drew worldwide media attention and an international police manhunt because of the unusual circumstances of the crime.

It also propelled some local figures into the spotlight. Foremost among these was Sheriff Investigator George Gavito, a charismatic (and often controversial) lawman and his fellow investigators Abel Perez and  Ernesto Flores. Although Gavito sometimes accompanied U.S. investigators to the Mexican side during the investigation and the grisly discovery, department employee Rolando Rivas was also a go-between Mexican authorities and U.S. lawmen. (That's Gavito at left standing to the right of Mexican federal judicial commander Juan Bentitez, center, and Oran Neck, of  U.S. Customs, is at right.)

Another local personage who was cast into the spotlight was Dr. Anthony Zavaleta, then an anthropology professor at Texas Southmost College. Gavito and Zavaleta were often the people that the worldwide media sought to gain a perspective on the motives behind the cult.

Another person who gained infamy was Sara Aldrete, a TSC student said to have been the witch of the group, or Narcobruja, who was said to have participated in the ritual killings the group performed in the belief that they would be protected.

"I've investigated over 250 murders," Gavito told a writer who came back to Brownsville 20 years
after the Kilroy murder. "This here is what you call your career case. Something nobody will ever deal with. You cannot be trained. You can't take any courses or classes to prepare for this."

Rivas, who had was given possession of Aldrete's Taurus (in photo) by the sheriff's depatment for 90 days, said that the car was "spooked."
"Things kept going wrong one after another. First the air conditioning started spewing freon, then a tire flew off, and all kinds of things were happening. After a while I just decided that I didn't want anything to do with it. It was spooked."

Zavaleta also remembered those horrific days and retold of his emotions when he visited Santa Elena.

"I never until that moment felt the presence of evil. It was tangible. I hadn't even gotten to the place yet. I'm still 50 yards from it, but there was just a foreboding and sense of evil."
What's more, Zavaleta's son was also on Spring break and in Matamoros the same night Mark disappeared.

"When the news broke that Mark Kilroy's remains had been found and that he been a victim of a horrible murder and human sacrifice it just sent a shudder through my body as a father. Realizing my son was over there on the streets while these people were prowling, looking for a victim."

Helen and Jim Kilroy have dedicated their lives to drug prevention education with The Mark Kilroy Foundation. It's grown into a communitywide effort to help students that includes after school and summer programs.

Constanzo was killed in a shootout in Mexico City where he was hiding. Aldrete was sentenced to 62 and remains incarcerated. She has written a book accusing the Mexican police of sensationalizing the case and of torture an rape while she has been in prison. Cult members Elio, Serafín Jr., Martínez Salinas, and Serna Valdez, received 67 years each. In an interview with the press, Kilroy's parents stated that they were relieved to hear that the cultists were sentenced. 

The charges were multiple homicide (31 years), possession of narcotics (12 years), involvement in organized crime (5 years), police impersonation (2 years), illegal body desecration (2 years), illegal possession of firearms (10 years), and illegal possession of weapons exclusive to the Mexican Armed Forces. (5 years). Elio was sent to a prison in Cuidad Victoria, Tamaulipas. The other two were sent to a federal prison in the State of Mexico.

Only two suspects remained at large, Ovidio and Ponce Torres, and were wanted for Kilroy's murder in Mexico.

Gerardo Danache, a Mexican attorney, said that after Kilroy's murder, Spring Break was no longer a viable economic boon for Matamoros and that it was the beginning of the takeover by the cartels in northern Mexico.
"After that, things went down in Matamoros until we have what is there now," he said. "Mark's death was the beginning of the end."

SAN BENE BEATS BROWNTOWN, ADOPTS CODE OF ETHICS

(Ed.'s Note: Six years ago, when Brownsville Mayor (and attorney) Tony Martinez took office, he promised he would draft and pass a code of ethics for the city. For that lofty purpose, he tapped on city attorney Mark Sossi. In the subsequent years, no code of ethics has been produced yet, but the violations of ethics by these two has been egregious. Meanwhile, over at the Resaca City next door, one lonely crusader without a law degree fought and won the battle with recalcitrant city commissioners and had them pass a code of ethics for city employees and elected officials. The difference? Martinez and Sossi were paying lip service to the citizens while Rodriguez was dead serious.)  


By Joe F. Rodriguez

(UPDATE to previous post titled: “IS SAN BENE FINALLY READY FOR A CODE OF ETHICS?”)
After four years of publishing Opinion Editorials on the “San Benito News” and “El Rrun Rrun” and
writing emails to the San Benito City Commission, the “fruits of my labor” have finally come to fruition.

At the regular City Commission meeting on Tuesday, March 21, 2017, the Commission finally adopted Ordinance #2497: an Ordinance by the City Commission of the City of San Benito, Texas, in compliance with Section 8.01 of the City Charter, prohibiting the use of public office for private gain, providing for hearing of complaints, providing for penalties, and providing for related matters (Conflict of Interest).

I wish to recognize and applaud City Manager, Mr. Manuel de la Rosa, who, after no movement by any member of the City Commission to place proposed Ordinance #2497 on the agenda, exercised his
authority granted by the City Charter and placed the proposed ordinance on the Agenda for an up and
down vote.

If you are a reader from San Benito and have not read my last “Guest Column” on the San Benito News, feel free to read my unedited version at reformsanbenito.blogspot.com

DON'T GAMBLE! GO WITH A WINNER AT HALF MOON TONIGHT


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

ZENDEJAS: "WE HAVE BEEN IN DISCUSSION WITH (A) COMPANY...(ABOUT SOCCER) CHAMPIONSHIP RINGS"


By Juan Montoya
Despite Brownsville Independent School District Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas' professed ignorance about how 40 rings for 28 players and 11 non-players of the Porter Early College High School's 2016 5A Soccer Championship rings were ordered, emails have surfaced indicated she had a personal role in the $31,025 transaction. (Click on graphic above to enlarge)

In fact, the emails indicate that she and and the Porter Principal and Athletic Coordinator had been talking to ringmaker Herrf Jones about acquiring the $895 rings each for the players and $995 rings each for 11 non-players as early as April 2016.

During the January 17, 2017 meeting of the BISD board, she acknowledged that an investigation by Co-Lead Auditor Arvin Tucker did not say who had ordered the rings, and that Tucker only ascertained that the purchase had originated in the Porter Athletic Department.

If a board member had not asked for an investigation and Tucker had not requested that the item to accept a $25,020 "donation" to the 28 students, "the superintendent wasn't planning to bring it to the board."

When Herrf Jones sent [porter the invoice for the $31,065 purchase, principal Hector hernandez sent it to Zendejas. Tucker stated in his report that she had "negotiated" for Herrf Jones to donate the student rings dor $25,020 and that the non-players would be required to pay for their own.

BISD counsel Baltazar Salazar pointed out that even after nearly a year that the rings had been ordered in April and given to the students at the start of the school year in September, the Dec. 16 audit did not say who had ordered the rings.

However, the emails that have surfaced clearly show that Zendejas responded to an email by Herrf Jones' rival Josten's The Class Ring Company whose vendor Jim Ramirez asked to be included in the bidding for providing the Porter rings and that "please let us guarantee that we will bet (sic) andy price out there plus give a letterman jacket and posters to go with the order. Also we will give each player free pictures... included with the rings."(Click on graphic below to enlarge.)

 
 Ramirez said that Josten's had provided the rings for the first Porter High School team to win a state championship (2005-2006). Zendejas responded that "We have been in discussion regarding studetn rings with the company that assisted Rivera early College High School with their championship rings last year.

Rivera, whose Athletic Director is BISD trustee Joe Rodriguez's protege Tom Chavez won the 2014-2015 6A Boys Soccer UIL State soccer tile. Herrf Jones sold the rings to the BISD that year.

Rodriguez was elected to the school board in November 2014 and is a registered vendor for the BISD for BSN Sports, which merged with Herrf Jones under the Varsity Brands umbrella June 25, 2013.

The issue of the purchase that circumvented the BISD procurement process came to light in the January 17 meeting. The issue came up again in the February board meeting but a six-hour executive session that ended at 1 a.m. forced trustees to call fort a special meeting next week.
Another item in the postponed meeting agenda is one that calls for the hiring of an attorney to investigate the purchase of the rings and $1.5 million worth of electronic tablets to be distributed to fifth graders in the BISD.

LUCIO BILL WAS A NON-STARTER AND HE KNEW IT

By Juan Montoya
Elected officials and educators are scratching their heads over the filing (and then withdrawing) of a bill by Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. that would have established a countywide school district under a nine-member board.

Lucio told a local television station that he had withdrawn the bill (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.

But 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 the last few days.

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.D. 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.

Also, instead of a district superintendent to run the show, BISD superintendent Esperanza Zendejas would have control of the countywide system much as do superintendents in California where she was a superintendent before. A salary hike to more than $500,000 would go along with the new responsibilities. In fact, some say she knew it all along.

In all probability, Lucio probably flew the trial balloon to see whether it would fly, if only to please some constituent. When the predictable firestorm erupted after the plan became public knowledge, he backpedaled and blamed his staff for filing it without his knowledge calling it "premature."

"Eddie can now go back and tell whoever he was doing ti for that he had tried but that things didn't work out and collect his fee and remain in their good graces," said the administrator. "It was dead on arrival and he knew it."

COUNTY OPTS TO CHANGE BANKS, LEAVES $300,000 ON TABLE

By Juan Montoya
Despite objections from Cameron County Commissioner David Garza that changing bank depositories would cost county coffers more than $300,000 a year, a majority of the court opted to go with Alonso Cantu's Lone Star National over committee-recommended BVVA-Compass.

The majority made up of County Judge Eddie Treviño and commissioners Sofia Benavides and Alex Dominguez voted to change the county long-standing relationship with BVVA-Compass and deposit approximately $120 million in Lone Star.

Commissioner David Garza spoke out against changing depositories and pointed out that the $76,000 that Lone Star guaranteed the county in interest was almost $300,000 less than the $393,000 BVVA's proposals paid under one scenario and the $453,000 paid in another.

'It's hard for me to leave $300,000 on the table," Garza said. "With $300,000 we could pave three miles of road or improve a park, or buy equipment for our sheriff or constables..."

Three banks submitted responses to the county's Request For Proposals. They were Wells, Fargo, BVVA-Compass and Lone Star. The evaluation committee made up of Auditor Martha Galarza, Treasurer David Betancourt, Tax Office manager Jesse Garcia, Asst. Administrator Xaxier Villarreal, Planning and Management Director Mark Yates, Anthony Lopez and Charles Hoskins.

Their evaluation favored BVVA-Compass  by more than 14 points (see graphic)
Treviño and Dominguez said that the BVVA's proposal had a fixed interest rate that would be disadvantageous to the county with interest rates almost certain to rise. The rising rates would make Lone Star's variable rate proposal almost certain to leave more dollars for the county, they said.

At that the BVVA-Compass representative rose to explain that their "bank managed" proposal was a variable rate.
"That's not what your proposal said," Treviño responded.

Dominguez later said that while Lone Star's interest rate was tied to the interest paid by U.S. Treasury notes, BVVA-Compass' rates would be up to the bank manager.
In the end, the commissioners directed county staff to negotiate with Lone Star to lower its service fees and increase its annual payments.

"If they cannot agree on favorable terms, we are not bound by the selection and we could return to BVVA," Dominguez said. He said that he thought the evaluation committee gave too much weight to some of the some parameters and less to others. The interest-earning potential, for example, was only given 5 percent of the score.

Treviño said that part of his rationale was that although BVVA-Compass and Wells Fargo have branches in Cameron County, they are not local banks, while Lone Star is a local bank.

Lone Star first came on the scene during the Gilbert Hinojosa administration and owner Alonso Cantu is a Democratic Party heavyweight known for his fundraising for the national party. He is seen as a bosom buddy of the county judge who is now the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. Treviño once shared law offices with Hinojosa.

"Gilbert is back," said a longtime county observer.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

AFTER FIRESTORM LUCIO PULLS COUNTYWIDE SCHOOL DISTRICT BILL; REPLACES IT WITH ONE TO "STUDY" THE ISSUE

By Juan Montoya

After local school districts unleashed a firestorm of protest over his bill to consolidate the eight school districts in Cameron County into one, Texas Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. announced this afternoon that he is pulling the bill and instead is filing one that would authorize a "study" to see whether it was feasible to do it.

Lucio had filed the bill on March 10, but it wasn't until today that knowledge of it was widespread and blazed on the Internet social media. The bill had not been sent to any committees for study. In private phone calls, he is said to have told them that the filing of the bill was "premature" and that it had been an "office screw-up" that it had been filed.

Lucio made the sudden turnaround after word got out on the social media and then on to mainstream media. In a telephone interview with KRGV Channel 5 on the 6 p.m. news, Lucio said he was pulling the bill. The station reported that Cameron County trustees and administrators of the local districts said they were never consulted about the bill.

Senate Bill 2112 contained a section that states:
Sec. 13.183. CONSOLIDATION OF SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND CERTAIN OTHER TERRITORY. Effective July 1, 2018, each school district wholly located in a county subject to this subchapter and any detached territory to which Section 13.182 applies are consolidated into a single countywide school district.

Some Brownsville Independent School District trustees and administrators – speaking on condition of anonymity called the bill a "harebrained idea." 
Senate Bill 02112 also called for a governance provision that called for "the the board of trustees of the consolidating school district wholly located in the county that had the largest enrollment during the 2017-2018 school year serves as the board of trustees of the consolidated district until the next uniform election date, at which time the consolidated school district shall elect a board of trustees.

In Cameron County that board of trustees would be that of the Brownsville Independent School District.

"Can you imagine the BISD board that can hardly manage its own district running the entire county?," asked an incredulous Asst. Area Superintendent when told of the Lucio bill.


Other provisions called for the formation of the board along county commissioners precincts and one at-large commissioner, making it a nine-member board.
It called for "two trustees elected from each county commissioners precinct and one trustee elected from the county at large."

 "Seven BISD trustees can't manage a $500 million budget," said the same administrator. "Can you imagine nine managing a budget made up of all the school districts in the county? What is Lucio thinking?"

Others saw it as an open invitation for the smaller cities and districts in the county to jump on the charter school bandwagon.
"Can you imagine Los Fresnos or San Benito taking orders from Harlingen? Same for Olmito taking orders from Brownsville. They'd rather go independent or charter. This just opens the door to the charter schools. People will leave the district like rats."

Lucio's bill also called for property tax income and assumption of the debt from all the districts to be controlled by the new countywide district.

"Title to all property of the consolidating districts wholly located in the county vests in the consolidated district, and the consolidated district assumes and is liable for the outstanding indebtedness of those consolidating districts."

Apparently based on his thinking that consolidation would increase efficiency, the bill called for a report to be sent to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house of representatives, and presiding officer of each standing legislative committee with primary jurisdiction over public education that "evaluates the operation of the consolidated school district to determine whether an increase in administrative efficiency or any cost savings have resulted from the countywide consolidation of school districts and any applicable detached territory; and makes recommendations for any additional legislative action to enhance the efficiency of the operation of the consolidated district."

If the bill had gone through and received two-thirds of the vote of all the members elected to each house, it would have taken effect immediately. If it did not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, it called for it to take effect September 1, 2017.

Some school administrators said that passage of Lucio's bill would have removed local control from the smaller districts and imposed the will of the nine-member board on the outlying cities and favor the larger populations in Harlingen and Brownsville.

"Can you imagine Santa Maria, Los Fresnos or Santa Rosa electing someone when part of their commissioner's precinct is in Harlingen?," said one. "And Brownsville will elect their reps and displace those of Port Isabel and Olmito."     

SEN. LUCIO'S BILL CALLS FOR SINGLE COUNTYWIDE SCHOOL DISTRICT: BISD BOARD TO GOVERN DURING TRANSITION

Sec. 13.183. CONSOLIDATION OF SCHOOL DISTRICTS AND CERTAIN OTHER TERRITORY. Effective July 1, 2018, each school district wholly located in a county subject to this subchapter and any detached territory to which Section 13.182 applies are consolidated into a single countywide school district.

By Juan Montoya
In what some local school board members are calling a "harebrained idea" Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. has filed a bill calling for the consolidation of all the school districts in Cameron County into one.

Senate Bill 02112 also calls for a governance provision that would allow the board of trustees of the Brownsville Independent School District to serve as the interim governing body during the transition period.
It calls for "the the board of trustees of the consolidating school district wholly located in the county that had the largest enrollment during the 2017-2018 school year serves as the board of trustees of the consolidated district until the next uniform election date, at which time the consolidated school district shall elect a board of trustees.

"Can you imagine the BISD board that can hardly manage its own district running the entire county?," asked an incredulous Asst. Area Superintendent when told of the Lucio bill.

Other provisions call for the formation of the board along county commissioners precincts and one at-large commissioner, making it a nine-member board.
It calls for " two trustees elected from each county commissioners precinct and one trustee elected from the county at large."

 "Seven BISD trustees can't manage a $500 million budget," said the same administrator. "Can you imagine nine managing a budget made up of all the school districts in the county? What is Lucio thinking?"

Others see it as an open invitation for the smaller cities and districts in the county to jump on the charter school bandwagon.
"Can you imagine Los Fresnos or San Benito taking orders from Harlingen? Same for Olmito taking orders from Brownsville. They'd rather go independent or charter. This just opens the door to the charter schools. People will leave the district like rats."

Lucio's bill also calls for property tax income and assumption of the debt from all the districts to be controlled by the new countywide district.

"Title to all property of the consolidating districts wholly located in the county vests in the consolidated district, and the consolidated district assumes and is liable for the
outstanding indebtedness of those consolidating districts."

Apparently based on his thinking that consolidation will increase efficiency, the bill calls for a report to be sent to the governor, lieutenant governor, speaker of the house of representatives, and presiding officer of each standing legislative committee with primary jurisdiction over public education that "evaluates the operation of the consolidated school district to determine whether an increase in administrative efficiency or any cost savings have resulted from the countywide consolidation of school districts and any applicable detached territory; and makes recommendations for any additional legislative action to enhance the efficiency of the operation of the consolidated district."

If the bill receives two-thirds of the vote of all the members elected to each house, it will take effect immediately. If it does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, it calls for it to take effect September 1, 2017.

Some school administrators said that passage of Lucio's bill would remove local control from the smaller districts and impose the will of the nine-member board on the outlying cities and favor the larger populations in Harlingen and Brownsville.

"Can you imagine Santa Maria, Los Fresnos or Santa Rosa electing someone when part of their commissioner's precinct is in Harlingen?," said one. "And Brownsville will elect their reps and displace those of Port Isabel and Olmito."
     

FRENCH BANK URGED NOT TO SUPPORT BROWNSVILLE LNG

By Tom Dart
theguardian

Environmental groups have called on a French bank not to help finance a fracked-gas export terminal planned for south Texas.

A report released on Wednesday urges BNP Paribas and its US subsidiary, Bank of the West, to state it will not finance any projects for liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals and to adopt a policy of not backing LNG export schemes. One of the proposals would be built on1,000 acres of land, potentially making it the largest facility of its kind in the country.

“It’s a destructive fossil fuel infrastructure project in the Gulf coast in one of the relatively untouched parts,” said Jason Opeña Disterhoft of the Rainforest Action Network, of the plan known as Texas LNG.

He said there “is some hypocrisy” in BNP’s involvement given that the company touts its green credentials. In the wake of the 2015 Paris agreement to address climate change, the bank said it was committed to responsible investment, such as financing renewable energy rather than coal mining, and minimizing atmospheric pollution as a result of its business activities.

France banned fracking in 2011 for environmental protection reasons. A spokeswoman for BNP’s US operation declined to comment on the report. Texas LNG did not respond to a request for comment.

Rebekah Hinojosa, an activist fighting the terminals, fears that construction would damage sacred Native American historical sites, harm endangered wildlife, tourism and the local shrimping industry and pollute and scar a relatively unscathed part of the coast, as well as threaten safety in the event of a disaster. Though proponents tout potential economic benefits for a deprived area, Hinojosa is concerned that the projects may ultimately cost more jobs than they create.

“That area is the beach of Texas. People come from all over the state and other nearby states to our beach because we are the last unindustrialised piece of coast along the Texas coastline,” she said. “It doesn’t have a refinery or smoke stacks on the horizon.”

Three LNG terminals are proposed for a part of the Rio Grande valley close to the city and port of Brownsville and the spring break destination of South Padre Island, one of Texas’s most popular beach resort areas. They would be only a couple of miles from the town of Port Isabel, which has a population of about 5,000.

The companies are hoping to take advantage of the fracking boom in Texas’s Eagle Ford shale formation, with gas to arrive at the Gulf coast via a new pipeline before being liquified and exported to international markets.

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

C.A.V.A. HEADS TO LEGISLATURE ON VOTE-HARVESTING BILL


By Juan Montoya
For years, Citizens Against Voting Abuse (CAVA) director Mary Helen Flores has seen politiqueros and politiqueras get arrested, booked, and convicted, spend a day in jail at most, and then walk to harvest votes for local candidates again.

"At most, they spend a day in jail after they have subverted the democratic election process, and determined the outcome of elections with their illegal vote harvesting," Flores said. "Then you see them again standing on street corners with candidates holding up signs. It's very frustrating."

That might change when the Texas Legislature considers passing HB 2139 sponsored by Mike Schofield (R-Katy) a former advisor to Governor Perry. His bill, Flores says, will put teeth into the current Texas Election Code by making organized vote harvesting a crime considered similar to a RICO ( Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizationsoffense.

"This bill puts teethe into the Texas Election Code and makes it a felony to participate in organized vote harvesting," Flores said.

The bill would amend Section 276 which addresses organized election fraud by making it a felony crime if, "with the intent to establish, maintain, or participate in a vote harvesting organization, the person commits or conspires to to commit one or more offenses...An offense under this section is one category higher than the most serious offense listed...and if the most serious offense is a Class A misdemeanor, the offense is a state jail felony."

The bill defines a vote-harvesting organization as "three or more persons who collaborate in committing offenses listed in this section of the Elections Code. The participants do not necessarily have to "know each other's identities, the membership may change from time to time, and participants may stand in a candidate-consultant, donor-consultant, consultant-field operative, or other  arm's length relationship with the organization's operations."

The bill states that the conspirators' intent to engage in vote harvesting may be inferred from the acts of the parties.

However, there is an opportunity for redemption. Once convicted, at the punishment phase of the trial, the defendant may raise the issue of whether in voluntary and complete renunciation of the offense...(he or she) withdrew from the vote harvesting organization before the commission of the offense...and made substantial effort to prevent the commission of the offense.

However, they must prove they have changed their ways by a preponderance of the evidence they provide the court.

If passed, the Act takes effect September 1, 2017. Flores said she was contacted by Schofield's office and that she may travel to Austin on either March 27 or April 3.

Monday, March 20, 2017

AT MUNICIPAL COURT, BAEZ GONE AS THE DIRECTOR... AGAIN

By Juan Montoya

Well, he's gone again.
We're speaking of Municipal Court Administrator Roberto Baez, who before had been suspended with pay by the city administration for allegedly participating in a scheme to circumvent the City Charter, pulling municipal court employees out from under the supervision of the court and placing them into a new city department, likely named "Court Services."

Sources say that this time city manager Charlie Cabler – who had placed him temporarily in the Human Resources department until Chief Municipal Judge Ben Neece retired – apparently was miffed when Baez was messing around with the staff's overtime pay.

Before, Baez had, along with City Secretary Michael Lopez, tried to sneak the administrative changes past Neece, waiting until the judge left town on vacation. When Neece learned of the scheme, he threatened the administration with getting a restraining order issued by a court.

But when Neece retired at the end of 2017, Cabler gave Baez his old job back.
This time the alleged offenses attributed to Baez were even too much for Cabler. An interim administrator has been appointed from among the staff.

AND THE COST OF LA CASA DEL NYLON CONTINUES TO SOAR...

Image result for mayor tony martinez
By Juan Montoya
When Mayor Tony Martinez lobbied for the $2.3 million purchase of the Case Del Nylon from his buddy Abraham Galonsky, he sold it as a way to lure the UT System to keep UT-Brownsville downtown.
That turned out to a hoax because when other city commissioners asked then-UTB President Julieta Garcia about Martinez's assertions, she said the UT System wasn't interested in occupying the building.

Now that UT has for all practical purposes and abandoned Brownsville for greener pastures in Edinburg, the building has become a warehouse for materials being used for city projects such as the new fine arts building being constructed and an ad-hoc shelter for the homeless who call downtown home.

On Tuesday's city commission agenda, there is a proposal for commissioners to add another $100,000 to the building's cost with the hiring of an architect to design additional features that the original shell of the structure did not contain. City staff is recommending that architect Roberto Ruiz be hired to design other amenities such as a new roof, an elevator, and fire suppressing system to make the building habitable.

 If approved, the term of the contract is set to expire in 2018 and continue, if necessary to 2021.
There is no estimate of what the new amenities will cost to install, but we have heard that elevators are not cheap and neither are new roofs, fire-suppression systems and electrical generators. The general public view has been that paying $2.3 million for the building was excessive to begin with. With the new additions, people who know construction say that it will cost another $2 million or maybe more to add them on.

And shouldn't the city have required that those amenities have been installed in the building before they bought it for all that money?

Some commissioners are lobbying for a fire-training school to be housed at the spot and we will be asking if that is the purpose of the improvements.

What a deal, hey Tony?

IS THAT R(EBECCA)OSE GOWEN OF SUNNYBROOK FARM?

By Juan Montoya
We can only guess that the reelection campaign sign approved by the City of Brownsville At-Large "B" incumbent Commissioner Dr. Rose Gowen is playing up what she believes are the signature accomplishments of her four-year stint at city hall.

There are farmer's market and bicycle trail themes all over the signs that have started appearing in town. And while there is a certain endearing Shirley Temple-like aspects to the signs, it also speaks to the fact that so far Gowen's tenure has been one full of all image and little substance.

Periodically, she will appear at city commissioner meetings wearing cyclist garb and informing city channel viewers of the upcoming Cyclobia event where the main drags in the city are closed and similarly-clad cyclists pedal around the deserted streets much to the disgust of business owners.

"I pay taxes," said a bar owner on Adams Street. "Then they pick a weekend to shut us down when we count on those days to do our business. I have to pay my workers and how am I going to do that when they stop traffic from reaching our business?"

We've said it before and we'll say it again. The two incumbents who are seeking reelection – Gowen and District 4 incumbent John Villarreal – have a lot to answer for. During their terms, they have allowed Hizzoner Da Mayor Tony Martinez unfettered power to plunder the city coffers and pass on the costs to the city's residents.

A superficial listing of these issues hanging around Gowen's and Villarreal's neck like albatrosses are their votes on the purchase of the Casa del Nylon for $2.3 million, the proposed basement-rate sale to the UT System and move of Lincoln Park to a site across from the sewage treatment plant, the 36 percent hike in utility rates to pay the city's $325 million share of the Tenaska $500 million gas-powered electric plant, and the hiring of and continued support of ethics-challenged city attorney Mark Sossi as a full-time employee.

That's just a start. We're sure their opponents (Erasmo Castro and Ben Neece) have a basket full of issues they will air in upcoming debates or media appeals. With any luck, Castro will send La Chisquida Gowen pedaling back to the farm and Neece will finally dispatch Villarreal to his tortilla machine at La Milpa.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

IT'S TEAM SAENZ'S LALI BETANCOURT VS. SYLVIA GARZA-PEREZ

By Juan Montoya
You can take it to the bank.
Lali Betancourt, sister of county court-at-law Laura and the county treasurer David Betancourt is Team Saenz's candidate to challenge Cameron County Clerk Sylvia Garza Perez.

"It's a done deal," said a source close to the group. "She has already designed her signs and logo and it's just a matter to time before she announces."

Betancourt has been a student services coordinator with the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District's Gateway Academy since 2007 and also calls herself a "social studies investigator" of the circumstances, conditions and welfare of minor children. She faces the incumbent who took office in 2014 and whose term ends in 2018.

Garza-Perez knows a little about the hurly-burly world of Democratic party politics. In the 2014 primary she beat out four other candidates and then went on to the runoff and beat Arnold Flores, the former Cameron County  Human Resources director. With no Republican on the ballot for the general election that November, she breezed in for the win.

In the picture above, Betancourt is sitting on the far left side as the group discusses strategy for the coming primary election in 2018. At far right is Mario Saenz, brother of Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz, sitting to his right wearing his signature red tie.

Why would Team Saenz get involved in the county clerk's race? Local observers remember that Garza-Perez threw her support behind the incumbent's challenger Carlos Masso in 2016. Saenz barely eked out a win over Masso by 792 votes of more than 26,200 cast. They credit Saenz's win over Masso to his office's pushing for a grand jury to indict Cameron County Tax Assessor-Collector Tony Yzaguirre on corruption charges a few months before the election. 

Nonetheless, Cameron County residents kept Yzaguirre in office by voting him in while he was awaiting trial with more than 49,194 votes over the 15,973 cast in favor of two write-in candidates.  A jury in Nueces County acquitted Yzaguirre of 23 charges, a huge discredit on Saenz's record.

Some county officials predicted that Yzaguirre would be convicted and were already planning to appoint David Betancourt to fill Yzaguirre's position. However, since Yzaguirre had won, Garza_Perez – following the directives of the commissioners court – swore him in and had him sign his office holder's bond, stymieing the effort to replace him.

What role will Masso and Yzaguirre have on Team Saenz's push to elect Betancourt in 2018? We predict it will be more than anyone thinks.

THE DAY CHON GAVE UP WHITEWING DOVE HUNTING

By Juan Montoya

For years, when Chon and his buddies were children, they were a scourge to birds and small critters in the northside rural areas of Brownsville, on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Ranging over what were then wide wooded areas armed with slingshots and the occasional BB gun, they would often return with small birds. However, the puny carcasses left over after their bright plumage was removed discouraged them from carrying the dead animals home after a while.

On the whole, they would just enjoy the thrill of the hunt. Actually, killing something –  anything – was just a plus.

This was before urbanization gobbled up the best hunting areas north of the city, and malls and theaters now stand where places were thick with chaparral and cactus. In those days, the cacophony of the wild chachalacas could be heard every morning and evening as they called out in the underbrush. The favorite places of these birds were the old riverbeds where the Rio Grande used to flow before dams upriver restricted it to the narrow channel that now exists. The locals called some of those riverbeds that still have water resacas, and they provide a pleasant change of view for residents and visitors alike, even though the local water utility company fills up these lakes instead of the river as before.

There was a stand of pecan trees in some woods near Chon’s house. Every day just after dawn, the chachalacas could be heard making their familiar cries as they welcomed the day. They would wander through the underbrush seeking out the piquin pepper plants and other small fruit in the thorny chaparral. To actually see one of these birds, let alone kill one, was a rare occurrence. No one in Chon’s circle had actually got one. But, Bennie (Benjamin), the group’s recognized sharpshooter with a slingshot, had missed one by mere inches before it disappeared into the brush.

“I think I might have nicked it,” Bennie would later say, his shot getting closer to the bird every time he retold the story as the hunters grouped under the shade of a verdant pecan tree during one of their outings.
“It was as big as a chicken.”

For the most part, however, the friends would bag sparrows and blackbirds and the occasional ground squirrel and rabbit that had the misfortune of coming within range of their weapons. They had heeded a neighbor’s warning that mockingbirds were off limits because the “pajareo,” or game warden, could impose a fine on them, or even worse, fine their parents.

“Those are the gray ones that sing real loud,” Bennie had told them. “The chicos. They don’t have much meat under their feathers anyway. “
Chon’s mother and his older sister would often chide him for killing the small animals, asking what pleasure he got from killing the small animals.

“What are you going to do with them after you kill them?,” his sister Maria would ask. “You guys are just killing those little things for nothing.”
Still, the boys would not allow such minor criticism – much less from girls – from deterring them in their daily pursuit. Each mid-morning they would gather at the corner of the alley in their barrio and start out toward the wooded areas.

Chon and his friends usually carried slingshots they made themselves. It was an art passed down from older brothers. The weapon consisted of a branch from a mesquite tree in the shape of a Y one could hold comfortably from the long single end in the left hand. The mesquite was preferred over the huisache because it was sturdy and wouldn’t splinter when it dried. The boys would attach two inner tube strips of rubber to each short fork of the Y with rubber bands they wound tightly toattach them.

A piece of oblong leather with slits on each end would serve as the receptacle for the missile – either rocks, marbles, and in some cases, ball bearings – which would be fired when it was between the Y and released.
Chon had earned his mother’s wrath when, constructing his new and improved slingshot, he was unable to find a suitable piece of leather. Rummaging through the closets in his house he found a pair of his mother’s shoes and cut the flap over which the laces were tied.

“Who cut my shoes?,” she had demanded when he returned from one of those hunting trips. With the telltale slingshot in his hands, he unable to cover up his deed.
“I thought you didn’t use them anymore,” he protested.

That weak excuse was to no avail. When his father came home from work, he took his medicine, three smacks with the belt and no supper. In retrospect, he had gotten off easy. It seemed his mother had but one pair of dress shoes, and he had taken the leather strip from one of the shoes.

Still, the challenge of the hunt lured the boys daily to the fields and brush of the wooded areas and resacas. Besides the chachalacas, one of the top trophies the boys would only dream of bagging was a white-wing dove. These high-flying birds, distinctive to every hunter by the white feathers on their wings and tails, were usually out of the range of the slingshots and BB guns. Only Bennie had actually gotten one, and he had a feather attached to the bottom of his slingshot on a leather thong to prove it.

One hot summer day, Chon found himself alone on a hunt. The others were all watching a soccer game on Bennie’s television set. Mexico was playing in the World Cup, and since most of them were recent immigrants from Mexico, they were passionate about the game.
Chon did not understand the game and preferred to watch the Dallas Cowboys, but the football season was still months away.

As he scoured the thick brush along an irrigation ditch, he noticed a raccoon hole that appeared freshly dug beside an old tree trunk . He crept toward the tree trunk and his heart fluttered because as he looked up at the branches, he detected the telltale feathers of a white-wing dove in the branches of a thorny granjeno bush next to it.
He froze.
Slipping his best rock into the tongue of his slingshot, he lifted his head slowly so as not to startle the bird. The dove didn’t move, adding to Chon’s excitement.

He shifted his weight slowly and crouched into a hunch. Everything was perfect as he pulled back on the stretched bands of rubber. He saw the bird’s eye flit nervously from side to side as he readied to fire his slingshot.
The dull thud of the rock against the bird told him he had scored a hit. Small down feathers flew in the breeze and its wings spread limply as the bird dropped through the brush, dead.
He had killed a white wing dove!

Chon scrambled toward the bird, plucking its limp body from between the branches of the thorny ebony where it had fallen. He held his limp prize and was ready to run to show it to his friends when a small sound caught his ear. It seemed to come from the tree where the white wing had been. He walked over to see.

There, to his dismay and plummeting heart, was a small nest of dried grass and twigs. Two small chicks, their feathers not fully formed stubs of cartilage and down, were in the nest. They looked naked and fragile without their plumage. Also, for some reason, they seemed cold and shivered in the torrid sun.
He had killed a mother bird as she was feeding its young.

No wonder the dove had not flown away. She was too concerned about her babies to fly away, disregarding the danger to her own safety.
Feeling sick, Chon threw down the dead bird and his prized slingshot and walked away from hunting forever.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

OF GRANDMAS, GRANDKIDS, KITTY CATS AND JAGUARS

By Juan Montoya
When his kids were young, Andres, living with his ex and in-laws in Central Michigan, would surround them with learning aids.
Whether it was hand-made blocks of wood representing ones and tens to help them learn numbers and the decimal system, alphabet cards, or children books, the kids were exposed to learning. Since they lived in a Native American community there were few role models for them to follow.

Nonetheless, his children learned to read and spell at an early age, even before they attended the schools on the reservation. Whenever he was in town or passed by a garage sale, he would buy children's books and take them to their home. Sometimes he could not find something that was aimed at their age group but he bought them anyway so they would have them available as they grew up.

One weekend, Andres took the kids and his father and mother-in-law to a Mexican restaurant in Lansing. It was in the early 1980s and Mexican food was not as readily available across the United States as it is today. They had lunch, a margarita, and then got in their car and headed home in the Michigan countryside about an hour away.

As they passed an empty parking lot, the kids' grandmother turned to the older girl – Melissa, aged about 5 or 6 – and said:

"Melissa, look, a kitty cat."
"Where, grandma?," the child asked.
"Over there," said her grandmother pointing to the parking lot.
The child turned and looked and said:
"No, grandma, that's not a kitty cat. That's a jaguar."

Her grandmother and grandfather have since passed away, and Melissa is now the director of education of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe in Central Michigan.

A READER SHARES A NICE PHOTO OF RESACA, WATER FOWL

(Ed.'s Note: We often get sent photos by our seven readers which show the unique character of our city. In this case, one of our readers caught a gem of a photo which he graciously shared with us through our email. It catches ducks in flight against a background of the Town Resaca by the Old City Cemetery. The large whit birds in the water in the distance seem to be a species of pelicans, we think. Thanks for sharing.)

EYE-OPENING PROFILE OF BROWNSVILLE'S "FOUNDER"

(All through elementary, high school, and even in college, local students and residents have been told that Charles Stillman was the "founder" of Brownsville. In reality, Stillman was a ruthless businessman who exploited the conditions after the war to grab – often times illegally – title to communal lands owned by the town of Matamoros and by land-grant families on the north side of the river.  The following is a fastidiously documented nutshell account of how he became the richest man in Texas with the help of the Texas Rangers, the U.S. Army and his own private militia. We've looked for this book at the city libraries without success. We wonder why.)

From John Mason Hart's
"Empire and Revolution,"
University of California Press
2002
Pp. 22-23

Charles Stillman came to prominence in Southern Texas during the Mexican-American War, when he landed a contract to take supplies up the Rio Grande to the Gulf of Mexico and deliver them to the army of General Zachary Taylor that resulted in the capture of Monterrey. Stillman's dealings in 1848., at the end of the war, reflected a ruthless character that American entrepreneurs exhibited all too often in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

After the war the Americans controlled the north banks of the Rio Grande. Before the war, however, the city government of Matamoros had exercised its power of eminent domain by denouncing farm land on the north side of the river in order to enlarge on the communal properties needed by its citizens. The denunciation procedure was commonplace for growing cities and towns, and the land was annexed despite the protests of the original owners of the land in question, the Cavazos family of Texas, members of the Matamoros elite who supported the Americans during the war.

Following the American victory Stillman purchased the ejido, or village farmlands, of Matamoros from Sabas Cavazos. Spanish and Mexican law held community properties as inalienable, and the purchase was legally invalid, but the land was on the north side of the Rio Grande and therefore subject to the judgment of Texas courts. Those decisions went against the Mexicans.

Stillman created the Brownsville Town Company and began selling lots for as much as $1,500 each. He quickly attracted some 2,000 settlers. Stilman and Simon Belden, his associate, sold the bulk of the properties and then quickly sold the remainder of the site to E. Basse and Robert H. Hord for a handsome profit of $35,000. In doing so Stillman escaped complex and expensive battles in the Texas courts over who legally owned Brownsville.

Basse and Hord moved rapidly to gain the support of the Texas state government for their Brownsville claim. In 1850 the state legislature incorporated the City of Brownsville and recorded its opinion of any Mexican claims to the property regardless of nay Mexican claims to the property, regardless of law.

"All the right, title, and interest of the state of Texas in and to all the land included within said tract, that was owned by the town of Matamros on the 19th day of December, 1836, shall be and is hereby relinquished to the corporation of Brownsville, and their successors in office, in trust for the use and benefit of said city provided this act shall not impair private rights.

Stillman also bought vast properties on the north side of the river for himself and his associates Richard King and Mifflin Kenedy. Each man got title to hundreds of thousands of acres of hotly disputed land. Portions of these purchases became the famous Kendy and King ranches. Stillman, King and Kenedy fought to validate their ranch land acquisitions. from the 1850s to the mid 1870s their controversial claims to these properties were backed up by the Texas Rangers, the U.S. Army and their own private armies. For years their militias fought the Mexicans who confiscated cattle and burned ranches in retaliation for their displacement. The titles were still in dispute in Texas courtrooms at the end of the twentieth Century.

rita