Wednesday, April 23, 2014

HAS OSCAR GARCIA JR.CORNERED THE TENASKA MARKET?

By Juan Montoya
By sheer coincidence, when we went to put in a request for information at the Brownsville Public Utility Board, we ran into Oscar Garcia Jr. turning in his personal computer that he had been issued as a board member of the utility.
We had heard he had left the board and was no longer the administrator for operations at Su Clinica Familiar, the outfit run by Carlos Marin's physician wife and who has on her staff none other than city commissioner rose Gowen, also a physician. Garcia, of course, if the son of Julieta and Oscar Garcia Sr., she the president of UT Brownsville.
Funny how the offspring of influential people are fixed up in important positions by other political elites.
He was chit chatting the usual small talk with the receptionist as he returned the equipment. How have you been, what's going on, that sort of thing.
While we both waited at the receptionist's counter I asked him if the rumors were true that he had gone to work for Tenaska, the company that is going to build an 800 MW natural-gas power generating plant with PUB which will cost PUB ratepayers some $325 million. In return, PUB is going to acquire 200 MWs of power once it's built.
Garcia was noncommittal and brushed aside the question. There had been talk before about him teaming up with Marin to engage Tenaska in an engineering consultant agreement which had reportedly irked Da Mayor Tony Martinez to no end.
We searched for Oscar Jr. on the Internet and found out that he is now associated with an engineering outfit named Jacobs Engineering w
as seeking engineers and consultants to work on a power plant project in Brownsville, Texas. If our math is right and we put two and two together, then Oscar Jr. has latched on to the company working on the Tenaska power plant project.
Now, we know that some public entities and corporations have a provision where their employees are prohibited from working with the people they do business with for a period of time after they leave the firm or the government. But we don't know whether this also applies to former members of their governing boards. If Oscar Jr. had a hand in steering PUB to Tenaska or voted to approve their "partnership" in the plant and lands a consulting job with them could that constitute a conflict of interest?
Or is it just the way business is done in the Big City?



Tuesday, April 22, 2014

EX PORT CHAIRMAN WANTS ANSWERS FOR RAILROAD SALE

PORT COMMISSIONERS: WHAT'S THE HURRY?

You voted to put the granting of a 30-year franchise of the port's Brownsville Rio Grande Railroad to Colorado-based OmniTrax Inc. on fast track.
This Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. you will vote on the first reading. The second vote is scheduled for May 1 and the final vote is scheduled for May 8, two days before the Port elections. Why so fast?
Last year the railroad's revenues increased by $1,009,138, or 12 percent. In fact, revenues from its switching yard operations went up by $773,683, or 10.8 percent, so you can't say it's losing money.
And you want to sell its capital assets valued at $5,855,000 for $2.5 million, with OmniTrax paying $500,000 now and the other $2 million over the next five years. Why?
In contrast, OmniTrax doesn't have to produce the results of its promised $8.5 million investment, the Industrial Park, or Incubator until five years from now.
More importantly, if it's such a good deal why not let the incoming commissioners decide whether to grant the franchise or not? In fact, lane-duck commissioner Martin Arambula gets to vote and he's off the board two days later. 
The taxpayers of the Brownsville Navigation District suspect you're trying to pull a fast one us and want answers. This community has invested its tax dollars and sweat to make the port successful. The least we deserve from you is a detailed explanation. Slow this down.


Ad paid by Mario Villarreal, Former Chairman, Port of Brownsville

RIVERA HOSTS WEDNESDAY MEET AND GREET AT PORT ISABEL


MEETING SET WEDNESDAY FOR FIRST READING OF PORT RAILROAD 30-YEAR FRANCHISE WITH OMNITRAX

By Juan Montoya
Like a runaway train hurtling down the tracks, the first move to turn over the Brownsville Rio Grande International Railroad to OmniTrax Inc. for the next 30 years will come in a vote of the Port of Brownsville commissioners tomorrow at their 5:30 p.m meeting at the Brownsville Navigation office.
This will be the first of three readings (and votes) needed to approve the long-term commitment to the Colorado-based Broe Group-owned railroad company. Two other meetings are scheduled for May 1 and May 8, with the final reading and vote coming just two days before the May 10 elections for port commissioners.
Port observers say that Martin Arambula, the outgoing commissioner who decided not to run for the board after he failed to make the Democratic Party runoff for the Cameron County Judge's nomination, will be able to vote before his departure. There are five members on the port board. It takes three votes to approve any agreement.
Arambula is said to favor granting OmniTrax the 30-year franchise.
Of the the four other members of the board – John Reed, Tito Lopez, Ralph Cowen and Carlos Masso – Lopez and Cowen are said to be reluctant to enter into the franchise under the existing terms while Reed and Masso are said to be leaning toward approval. With an election in the offing, many are saying that if the franchise is such a good deal for the port, that perhaps the board should wait for the new members to come on board since they will be seated at the beginning of the franchise term.
In fact, some people say that Arambula should abstain from voting since he is scheduled to leave the board May 10.
"The current board is tying the hands of the new commissioners," said a port observer with ties to the commissioners leaning away from voting for the franchise agreement.
Masso faces two opponents, Henry Najera and Joe Wallace Garcia. Arambula's seat is being contested by former county commissioner and candidate for county judge Jon Wood and local restaurateur Steve Guerra.
If by some chance Najera or Wallace Garcia were to win, they would have no say-so on voting on the agreement but would be bound by the decision of the former commissioner in their place. Likewise, if Arambula were to vote for the agreement, his would be the third vote and it wouldn't matter whether either Wood or Guerra prevails.
The 30-year franchise agreement virtually gives OmniTrax control of a profitable working railroad before it is required to plunk down any money on a promised Industrial Park and "small-business incubator." The company wants to lease 1,200 acres from the port and use 227 acres for the incubator.
But none of this will happen until the company finalizes its Master Plan a year after the agreement is signed.
Additionally, OmniTrax promises in the proposed agreement to "contribute and attract franchise consideration of not less than $8.5 million (Franchise Consideration) of direct capital investment in the common elements in the Industrial Park area. (OmniTrax) will provide Franchise Consideration during the period of five years following acceptance of the Master plan."
Until then, the only thing the port can expect from the Colorado-based railroad is:
– $3,693 a month for the (1,200 acres) of real estate
– $10,714 per month rent on the railroad's buildings and locomotive pit for seven years. Upon payment of 7 years rent ($900,000), OmniTrax will own free and clear, all rights and title to real estate listed, not including the land itself. Those are valued on the 2013 Long  and Chilton audit at $987,600.
It also wants to buy the railroad's capital assets (machinery and equipment, tools, etc.) for $2.5 million with $500,000 30 days after the agreement is signed and the rest ($2 million) to be paid over seven years.
The 2013 audit by Long and Chilton lists the BRG's capital assets at $11.1 million, minus $5.3 million accumulated depreciation, for a total capital assets net of $5.85 million.
In fact, the BRG has funneled millions into capital improvements of the rail system.
"The railroad's investment in capital assets as of December 31, 2013 totaled $5,855,055 (net of accumulated depreciation)," the audit states. "The investment in capital assets includes buildings, machinery and equipment, railroad system and leasehold improvements."
It is, in fact, a profitable rail operation that – according to the 2013 audit, compared to FY 2012, – its "railroad operating revenues increased by $1,009,138 or 12.48 percent ( from $7,861 .2 million to $8,807.4 million) and operating expenses increased by $679,390 (from $7.628.1 million to $8.307.5 million) or 8.91 percent over the previous year.
"The railroad's major source of revenue is derived from switching (yards) revenues which increased $773,883 or 10.80 percent from the previous year," the audit states. "The increase in incidental revenue and switching is primarily due to scrap customers moving their traffic by rail again. Revenues have increased $404,151 or 4.47 percent since 2011."
"Scrap commodities were up in 2013 since the railroad was able to regain scrap customers by rail again. As the railroad completed the year, its net position reported a balance of $8.4 million, an increase of 9.40 percent compared to the precious year. Of this, $4.1 million represents unrestricted net position which are available to meet the railroad's current and future needs."
The question facing port commissioners as they get ready to vote for or against the franchise to OmniTrax is: Are they ready to hand over a working and profitable railroad operation at a cut rate price to a private investor on the promise of future economic investment by it in the port in the form of an industrial park?
And since the increase in scrap metal transport and future gas and oil will pump millions into the BRG, will this same cash flow be used by OmniTrax to pay the port from money it already owned?

Monday, April 21, 2014

YES, VIRGINIA, FRED RUSTEBERG KEEPS THE HERALD $$$, OWNS IBC, RUNS UNITED BROWNSVILLE, WANTS TO SELL THE PORT RAILROAD, ETC., CHUMS WITH GARCIA AND MARIN

By Juan Montoya
Sometime back after we wrote that very little critical coverage in the Brownsville Herald of the shadow government called United Brownsville and run by the so-called United Brownsville Coordinating Board, if any, we received a comment from a Doubting Thomas accusing us of making IT up.
We had mentioned in the same post that UBCB member and United Brownsville founder IBC President Fred Rusteberg also owned part of the newspaper. We were also called to task on that one by Thomas and he demanded than we show him where we had acquired that information.
Well, we inquired where the statement of ownership, management and circulation reports went after they were published in the local newspaper as required by the U.S. Postal Service and we got nowhere.
It took us a while, but we finally dug up the statement that is required by the Postal Service. Apparently, it is to be published the first day of October every year.
The last one available was the October 2013 statement which still lists Daniel Cavazos as publisher. Cavazos is gone now replaced by Frank Escobedo, who took over February 28 2014. Unlike Cavazos, Esobedo rose through the ranks of the advertising departments and is credited with helping Freedom Newspapers and later, AIM Media, Texas, with its Spanish-language publications.
In the statement of ownership, the newspaper is required to list all its "stockholders of a corporation which itself is a holder of bonds, mortgages or other securities of the public corporation" where the interests of such individuals are equivalent to  percent or more of the stock or securities of the publishing corporation.
Well, there on paragraph 11 is the International Bank of Commerce of which Rusteberg is the president.
Now, Rusterberg also happens to be one of the three members of the so-called Coordinating Board set up by United Brownsville.
The other two are UT-Brownsville President Julieta Garcia and the other is Irv Downing, formerly a banker, before that a planner and now working out of the Office of the President at UTB (Julieta's office).
We've beat on this dead horse before, but it worth mentioning that United Brownsville is the offshoot of something called Imagine Brownsville, a fanciful document for which city taxpayers paid more than $1 million for Carlos Marin and his minions to produce. We call it fanciful because the document has no codification or ordinance-making power and subsequent city commissions can choose to ignore it if they want to.
But based on this foundation of quickie money-making sand, Rusteberg, Garcia and now Mayor Tony Martinez have managed to convince at least eight publicly-funded entities to chip in $25,000 a year to pay their staff and fund their budgets. And even though it is public funds that are involved, no one has elected Rusteberg et al and cannot hold them accountable on how their money is spent.
Marin, as well, who owns Ambiotech, a company that has wormed its way into the city's coffers and is a recipient of numerous multi-million dollar contract, sits on the United Brownsville Board and on the Brownsville Economic Development Council, which vets projects to be funded by the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. Both of these boards share in a quarter-cent share of every dollar collected in sales taxes.
In fiscal year 2013, the GBIC and its sister corporation (the BCIC), have received $4,231,263 each. The two entities receive a quarter penny each from the city sales taxes. The city's general fund keeps the other half.
This fiscal year starting October 2013, each has received $1,828,145 as of the end of February.
And which organization receives constant funding from GBIC? Would  you believe VIDA, a so-called worker training nonprofit which has had a difficult time explaining what they do with the money they get (about $25,000 each month).
Local blogger Jim Barton has been on the VIDA tail for some time now and wrote:
"All of this puts into question expenditures made since 11/14/2013, including hundreds of thousands of dollars to V.I.D.A., a charitable entity with extraordinary claims of taking Brownsville citizens off welfare, placing them in jobs "averaging a salary of $35,000 per year.
"When we asked the Director of V.I.D.A. for evidence of the group's claims, she resigned. On V.I.D.A.'s board of directors, as listed on their website, is a faceless image of Carlos Marin, rumored to be the primary manipulator behind the GBIC's dispersal of several million taxpayer dollars annually for "economic development."
In fact, GBIC so far this year (end of February) has paid more than $100,000 and is scheduled to hand it over $201,000 total before the fiscal year is up (see graphic).
Marin's wife also happens to be the director of Su Clinica Famiiar, which counts among its employees one Rose Gowen, a city commissioner. Julieta's son Oscar Garcia Jr., was its director of operations. Now he is a program manager at Jacob's.
Rusteberg, for his part, is also a member of the Brownsville Rio Grande Railroad and which is now trying to grant a 30-year franchise to a Colorado-based corporate raider that operates under the name of The Broe Group through its railroad OmniTrax.
That group is moving fast to grant the franchise before the port elections May 10. At least three hearings are scheduled to culminate in a May 8 vote by the port commissioners.
So far, the local newspaper has not made a peep about the questionable doings of Rusteberg and his compadres running the shadow government and usurping the democratic process. And we have not had one story about the proposed franchise of the railroad that smacks of self-dealing on their part. Will the port commissioners take the bait and bind the port's railroad to 30 years to a corporation with minimal investment on its part?
With Rusteberg riding herd on the community, we wouldn't hold our breath.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Thursday, April 17, 2014

WHAT THE PORT, OMNITRAX GET FROM "QUICKIE" FRANCHISE

By Juan Montoya
Now that we have acquired a copy of the proposed franchise that the Brownsville Navigation District wants to grant Colorado-based OmniTrax III, we have a good idea of what the port will get and what the company will get in return.

The Company will get:
– A 30-year franchise agreement on leasing 1,200 acres of land for which it will pay $3,693 a month
– Exclusive use of the Brownsville Rio Grande International Railroad's 45 miles of track throughout the Brownsville Navigation District and 5 miles into the city of Brownsville itself. The BRG has six yards and more than 1,000 cars on hand. It boasts of being "armed with an array of services to offer shippers anywhere in the United States. Steel, scrap metal, agricultural and food products and other bulk materials have always been major commodities for the BRG, but chemical shipments have skyrocketed in recent years."
– It will pay only $2.5 million for the port's eight large locomotives, five smaller yard engines, railroad machinery, track hand tools, all the tools and machinery in the railroad's mechanical department, and all the rolling stock that includes 29 vehicles ranging from 21 pickup trucks, an electric hydraulic tire crane vehicle, and at least four heavy duty trailers. However, only $500,000 will be paid within 30 days of the commencement date and $2 million will be paid in seven equal yearly installments of $285,714 each starting one year from the agreement.
– A non-competitive franchise to all the Port's customers (its tenants)
– A promise by the district that it agrees to cooperate with OmniTrax to minimize or eliminate property, ad valorem, value added taxes, and similar taxes potentially or actually assessable to OmniTrax. Any taxes that are assessed, however, shall be the company's responsibility.
– The right to use without separate compensation or payment, the trade names Brownsville and Rio Grande International Railroad and BRG, car marks, trademarks, copyrights, and other intellectual property associated with the railroad.
– The right to use all market information, market analyses, marketing plans, customer information, operating or management policies, procedures and forms within the custody, control, or possession of the BGR Railroad used or developed for use in the operation of the BGR Railroad.
– Customer lists, supplier lists, distributor lists, purchase and sales records, blueprints, specifications, personnel and labor relations records, environmental control records, accounting and financial records, maintenance records, operations and management manuals, computer systems and software documentation, blank forms and plans and designs of products and equipment.
–  The district will pay up to $1 million in out-of-pocket marketing expenses for the Industrial Park development area."
– The district shall grant the company "credit against the franchise consideration (of $8.5 million) " for:
– direct investment in the common elements as shown in the Master Plan which will be formulated within one year of the agreement date
– District will also share costs for tenant/user investment in the common elements as shown on the Master Plan
– District will also share costs in the amounts paid for engineering and related professional consulting services for the common elements as shown on the Master Plan
– District will also share in the costs for development of infrastructure for the Incubator Site (227 ares) not specifically dedicated to an individual tenant or user (e.g., trackage, scale, and other common elements)
– If OmniTrax fails to satisfactorily perform with respect to the Franchise consideration ($8.5 million) the Port may terminate OminTrax's exclusive rights to the percentage of undeveloped and unimproved acreage in the Industrial Park. This shortfall in the consideration below $8.5 million based on a formula. For example, if if by the end of the five years the total paid has been $6.8 million, OmniTrax shall either post a bond to the district in the amount of $1.7 million, district can terminate OmniTrax exclusive rights to 20 percent of the undeveloped land.
– District will apply for state and federal grant funding for common elements of the Industrial Park
– And if the port decides that want to sell the railroad, or part of it, OmniTrax wants the rights of first refusal to buy it from the port.
– As far as the Master Plan, OmniTrax requires sole discretion in planning and implementing it but agrees to submit the proposals to the board of commissioners for approval. It will charge a Common Area Maintenance charge to all its tenants. However, if there are insufficient funds for the cost of maintenance, the excess costs shall be divided between OmniTrax and the district.

What the Port will get:
– OmniTrax agrees to "contribute and attract" not less than $8.5 million of direct capital investment in the common elements of the Industrial Park during the period of five years following the acceptance of a Master Plan to be produced by OmniTrax
– OmniTrax promises to produce the Master Plan one year after the acceptance date of the franchise agreement
– $3,693 a month rent on 1,200 acres of land
– OmniTrax will pay the district $10,714 per month rent on the railroad's buildings and locomotive pit for seven years. Upon payment of 7 years rent ($900,000), OmniTrax will own free and clear, all rights and title to real estate listed, not including the land itself. This includes two steel warehouses, the administration building, back office additions, engineers' lunch rooms, an open warehouse for heavy equipment and diesel track, main office vehicle maintenance warehouse, and a diesel track warehouse built in 2011.
– 1. A fee for each loaded railcar (including an empty car delivered to a district lessee for the purpose of dismantling) originated or terminated on the BRG  yard.
– $20 for each loaded railcar for the first $35,000 cars per year
– $25 for each loaded railcar above$35 cars per year, and
– Beginning on the sixth anniversary of the Commencement Date, OmniTrax shall pay 5 percent of the gross revenues from railroad operations above $10,500,000 per year.
– In no event shall the annual loaded railcar revenue paid by OmniTrax to district under #1 be less than $550,000.
– OminTrax shall not increase the rates in public tariffs issued by the franchisee which are charged to existing BRG customers, or their successors or assigns to an existing facility at the port...without the consent of the Board of Commissioners. Nothing in this section shall restrict the ability of OmniTrax to charge a special rate for additional services provided to a BRG customer, or to enter into future Transportation Service Agreements with existing or new customers."
– The agreement also calls for all BRG employees to be transferred to it and become its employees "subject to the results of drug testing, criminal background checks, and post-employment physical abilities testing."
Upon becoming OmniTrax employees, they will maintain their same level of seniority, level of service, and similar compensation and benefits."
– OmniTrax also is beholden to assume the Junior Lien Bonds Series 2003 issued by BRG for rail improvements. It assumes all payments on those bonds as they become due as of the effective date of the agreement not to exceed $2.228 million excluding late fees.
– The so-called incubator parcel consisting of 227 acres will be exclusively developed, used and operated by OmniTrax and it will develop, construct, market, and operate it at its sole expense. Upon receiving rental income from the first user, it will pay the district $500 per acre per year based on the actual acreage.
– OmniTrax will begin construction of the Incubator Site within 365 days of the commencement date of the agreement. Any portion of the incubator site not developed within five years after the agreement is signed shall be added to the Industrial Park.
OmniTrax and the current port commission are moving fast to close the deal before the new commissioners arrive. They have set special meetings for April 23, May 1 and May 8 to finalize the deal.
That is just two days before the May 10 board elections. After that, it doesn't matter who comes on board because it will have been a done deal.

SOSSI SCAMBLES TO COVER $5,000 A MONTH INEPTITUDE

By Juan Montoya
On the same day that this blog published a post revealing the fact that City of Brownsville and Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation contract attorney Mark Sossi had failed to file a report for the economic development corporation and the organization had forfeited its right to conduct business in the state, Sossi scrambled to cover his ineptitude.
The meeting of the GBIC is scheduled for today, and if the corporation was inactive they could not have conducted business legal. In fact, they have been conducting business since November 14, 2003 when the state forfeited its right to conduct business.
He filed the required periodic report of a non-profit corporation for the GBIC on that day and the next day (April 8), the tax exemption status was returned and the corporation was legally activated to do business.
The simple form (handwritten with Sossi's chicken scratch) probably didn't take more than two minutes to fill out the two pages. Sossi is paid $5,000 a month as a retainer to advice the GBIC officers and perform the corporation's legal tasks.
A copy of the form shows that the way Sossi filled out out would have probably forced a third grade teacher to hand it back with a note to do it over again neatly.
He let things get so bad for simply the failure to pen in a 2-page fill-in-the-blank form. Note the cross-outs. It isn't even typed. And for this, GBIC pays him $5000 a month?
For that money, someone remarked, GBIC should have a pre-law class at the university handle all their stuff. It would pay the tuition for the class, provide experience, produce better product, and actually promote better business than the money they give to VIDA and building empty industrial parks.
The GBIC had been operating since last Nov. 14 without authority from the State of Texas, according to correspondence between it and the Texas Secretary of State.
In a letter dated Nov. 14, 2013, GBIC was notified by the Texas Secretary of State's Reports Unit's Business and Public Filings Division that "the corporation's right to conduct affairs has been forfeited...for failing to file the report. The corporation's right to conduct affairs may be revived by submitting the...report. It should be completed and received by this office on or before March 14, 2014."
And the letter continued warning the GBIC that "failure to file the periodic report when due could ultimately result in the involuntary termination of the domestic corporation or the revocation of the foreign corporation."
Then, on March 21, the same unit notified the GBIC attorney of record (Brian Janis?) that it had reached several findings.
Among these were:
1. That the corporation is required to file the periodic report
2. That the corporation has failed to file the periodic report prescribed by law when the same has become due
3. That the corporation has forfeited its right to conduct affairs in this state for failure to file said report
4. That the corporation was mailed notice of said forfeiture following a period of not less than thirty (30) days of the requirement to file said report and simultaneously therewith was give an additional period of not less than one hundred and twenty (120) days to correct the inadequacy
5. That the corporation has failed prior to this action to correct the neglect, omission or delinquency
"It is therefore ordered, a prescribed by Title 2, Section 22.364 of the Texas Business Organization Code, that the domestic corporation be terminated without judicial ascertainment.
The board of directors of the GBIC include Sandra Langley - President, David Betancourt, Ed Sikes,  Al Villarreal, and city commissioner Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa.
Betancourt is the Cameron County Treasurer.
You remember Sossi. He's the bobblehead of a guy who – when they pulled his string –said the gagging of the public comments on the public channel was legal, went to court and lost trying to justify the taking of benefits such as health insurance, cell phones and other goodies for city commissioners not in the city charter – and lost. Now he allows an entity for which he is handsomely compensated to keep it legal to forfeit its corporate status.
That's not all. Soss, as the GBIC's agent of record (Mark Sossi P.C.) was equally negligent to file the report on his own registered corporation. Secretary of State records indicate that the corporation Mark Sossi, P.C. has been forfeited since 2010 because the attorney also failed to file his corporate report.
How much longer can this circus of ineptitude go on?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

OMNITRAX, INC. MAKES PITCH FOR PORT RAIL FRANCHISE; COMMISSOINERS READY TO GIVE COLORADO RAIDERS RUN OF STORE

By Juan Montoya
He might as well have been preaching to the choir, but Rich Montgomery, senior vice president for industrial development for OmniTrax – the company vying for a franchise of the Brownsville Rio Grande International Railroad and 1,200 acres of real estate – told board members his company wants dibs on the business for the next 30 years.
And, in exchange for exclusive rights to the railroad, its right-of-way and access to the land, he said the company is willing to build an industrial park which will include and 227 acres for an small-business incubator which will be operational within a year after the agreement is inked.                   "Our company specializes in growth, creation of jobs, investment and increased income for the district," Montgomery quoted from a PowerPoint presentation. Montgomery, along with three other OmniTrax vice presidents met with the trustees of the BRG railroad at the main IBC bank building on 1600 Ruben Torres Blvd.
Port of Brownsville commissioners got the treatment this evening during their meeting. The port has already planned three special meetings to comply with the readings of the proposed franchise agreement which will include public comment. They hope to sign the franchise with OmniTrax by May 8, two days before the port elections.
A copy of the franchise agreement was provided to this blog and after the first page where the  mantra of "promoting growth of rail and maritime traffic, supported direct and indirect creation of thousands of new jobs, attracted investment in capital, and generated new income for municipalities and partners..." was repeatedly mentioned, they got down to the brass tacks.
OmniTrax promises in the proposed agreement to "contribute and attract franchise consideration of not less than $8.5 million (Franchise Consideration) of direct capital investment in the common elements in the Development area. (OmniTrax) will provide Franchise Consideration during the period of five years following acceptance of the Master plan."                                 
In return, the district shall grant the company "credit against the franchise consideration for: direct investment in the common elements as shown in the Master Plan; tenant/user investment in the common elements as shown on the Master Plan; amounts paid for engineering and related professional consulting services for the common elements as shown on the Master Plan; costs for development of infrastructure for the Incubator Site not specifically dedicated to an individual tenant or user (e.g., trackage, scale, and other common elements); grant funding for common elements, and up to $1 million in out-of-pocket marketing expenses for the Development area."
Other specifics in the franchise agreement state that fees coming to the district will be:
– $3,693 a month for the (1,200 acres) of real estate
– $10,714 per month rent on the railroad's buildings and locomotive pit for seven years. Upon payment of 7 years rent ($900,000), OmniTrax will own free and clear, all rights and title to real estate listed, not including the land itself
– $2.5 million eight large locomotives, five smaller yard engines, railroad machinery, track hand tools, all the tools and machinery in the railroad's mechanical department, and all the rolling stock that includes 29 vehicles ranging from 21 pickup trucks, an electric hydraulic tire crane vehicle, and at least four heavy duty trailers. However, only $500,000 will be paid within 30 days of the commencement date and $2 million will be paid in seven equal installments of $285,714 each starting one year from the agreement.  
And while Montgomery said that OminTrax would place a cap on existing rail rates, the franchise agreement leaves that door open.
It states:
"OmniTrax is solely responsible for promulgating and ensuring that all public rates and tariffs, and franchisee issued rules, and timetables, be fair, reasonable, uniform and in compliance with all applicable AAR circulars and manuals...OminTrax shall not increase the rates in public tariffs issued by the franchisee which are charged to existing BRG customers, or their successors or assigns to an existing facility at the port...without the consent of the Board of Commissioners. Nothing in this section shall restrict the ability of OmniTrax to charge a special rate for additional services provided to a BRG customer, or to enter into future Transportation Service Agreements with existing or new customers."
OmniTrax also promised to pay the district:
1. "A fee for each loaded railcar (including an empty car delivered to a district lessee for the purpose of dismantling) originated or terminated on the BRG  yard.
2. – $20 for each loaded railcar for the first $35,000 cars per year
3. – $25 for each loaded railcar above$35 cars per year, and
4. Beginning on the sixth anniversary of the Commencement Date, OmniTrax shall pay 5 percent of the gross revenues from railroad operations above $10,500,000 per year.
In no event shall the annual loaded railcar revenue paid by OmniTrax to district under #1 be less than $550,000.
OmniTrax also is beholden to assume the Junior Lien Bonds Series 2003 issued by BRG for rail improvements. It assumes all payments on those bonds as they become due as of the effective date of the agreement not to exceed $2.228 million excluding late fees.
And if the port decides that want to sell the rialroad, or part of it, OmniTrax wants the rights of first refusal to buy it from the port.
The agreement also calls for all BRG employees to be transferred to it and become its employees "subject to the results of drug testing, criminal background checks, and post-employment physical abilities testing."
Upon becoming OmniTrax employees, they will maintain their same level of seniority, level of service, and similar compensation and benefits."
Included in the agreement is a promise by the district that it agrees to cooperate with OmniTrax to minimize or eliminate property. ad valorem value added taxes, and similar taxes potentially or actually assessable to OmniTrax. Any taxes that bare assessed, however, shall be the company's responsibility.
OmniTrax also included language in the agreement that will give the allow the BRG railroad the authority to issue bond for rail-related or developmental purposes as long as they don;t interfere with their right to operate under the agreement.
As far as the Master Plan, OmniTrax requires sole discretion in planning and implementing it but agrees to submit the proposals to the board of commissioners for approval. It will charge a Common Area Maintenance charge to all its tenants. However, if there are insufficient funds for the cost of maintenance, the excess costs shall be divided between OmniTrax and the district.
The district is also required to pay OmniTrax for reimbursement of costs associated with the Industrial Park and the agreement states that "upon the sale or lease of any real estate parcel within the Development Area, OmniTrax shall be entitled to reimbursement from the proceeds of the transaction for reasonable transaction- related out-of-pocket expenditures for tenant or user-specific marketing, engineering or other services, and capital improvements..."
The so-called incubator parcel consisting of 227 acres will be exclusively developed, used and operated by OmniTrax and it will develop, construct, market, and operate it at bits sole expense. Upon receiving rental income from the first user, it will pay the district $500 per acre per year based on the actual acreage. OmniTrax will begin construction of the Incubator Site within 365 days of the commencement date of the agreement. Any portion of the incubator site not developed within five years after the agreement is signed shall be added to the Industrial Park.
If it's of any interest to our three readers, before the port and railroad commissioners stopped transferring some of the profits from the railroad to the port, BRG was making in excess of $750,000 in profits after operations year from 2008 to 2010. Now the port is settling for a share of future profits and funding the Industrial Park and the purchase of the railroad for OmniTrax.
We're after the audit of the railroad for 2013 to see what the commissioners want us to give up.

WIGHTMAN FIGHTS PROXY WAR AGAINST YOLANDA BEGUM

There is a saying in Spanish that says "la defensa es permitida," which translates roughly to self defense is permissible. After having watched our friends and community mauled by rogue blogger Robert Wightman – a disbarred attorney from Dallas – we have decided that perhaps our fellow residents may want to know a little more about this actor. Toward that end we have started an informational blog that you can access by simply clicking on the sixth graphic from the top at right [The Wightman Contra-Intelligence Files]. Periodically, we will add more. Happy reading!) 




By Juan Montoya
Having lost on just about every political fray he has entered locally, blogger Robert Wightman – a disbarred attorney who left Dallas on a legal rail – has now launched a jihad against JP 2-2 runoff candidate Yolanda Begum.
Wightman, whose horse in that race, Erin Garcia Hernadez – was ingloriously rejected by the voters in the Democratic Party primary this past March – has now made it his mission in life to destroy the Begums.
Toward that end he has championed the cause of one Josephine Fisher Canales and her son Michael Begum III and has taken to issue bombastic pronouncements about supposed U.S. Department of Justice investigation into alleged bribery by Alex Begum of Cameron County District Attorney Luis Sanez for investigating a complaint against the woman after she had posted derogatory comments about Yolanda Begum during her race for JP.
We are no strangers to the threats and grand pronouncements by Wightman. He has also posted that we form a cabal of conspirators for pay who are aligned in some way or another with Saenz, Alex Dominguez, Zeke Silva, Mary JP 2-3 runoff candidate Esther Garcia, Luis Sorola, and the Begums against all that is good and holy in his wacko parallel universe. Of course, the FBI is on our tracks based on his scurrilous charges. Yeah, sure.
This time His Gay Rotundness has pulled out all the stops and dug up a charge Alex begum received in San Antonio some 18 years ago. The initial charge of deadly conduct was reduced to reckless driving (Begum was caught drag racing on I-410 with another driver and no accident was involved). He paid his fine, complied with the court and later had his record expunged, as many professional people do. He is now an immensely successful attorney enjoying his first taste of fatherhood.
From this, Wightman is now casting aspersions against Yolanda Begum and questioning her qualifications for justice of the peace, womanhood, and motherhood in general . In a classic class-warfare slur, Wightman charges that the Begum's wealth played some role in the court proceedings that allowed Alex Begum to face and resolve the charges and continue his life.
Now Wightman wants the Texas Department of Public Safety to conveniently do his dirty work and move to nullify the expungement.
He is not a respecter of people, values, or things.
Using the book written by Yolanda's grandson as an excuse, he repeats the unprovable charge mouthed by his mother Canales that his grandmother threw him – a severely disabled youth – into the street after his father died. The truth – and he and Josefina know it – is nowhere near that since Michael III was living with his late father's wife and after his father died, Josefina reappeared on the scene after having left with someone else. Why the vitriol and pretense to slur a candidate that had nothing to do with that?
More and more it appears that Wightman is exhibiting poor-men's envy when he exploits a handicapped man's personal story and sentiments to slur the Begums.
This comes from a blogger whose past is clouded with instances of avoiding responsibility for his acts and claiming penury to avoid his bills. He was disbarred for a reason.
We have documented a few his severe delusions in the past. If you have the stomach, click on the icon on the right (sixth from the top) labeled "The Wightman Files: The Evolution of a Criminal Mind." A word of warning: pinch your nose to avoid the stench.
Take for instance, his claim in a lawsuit he filed in 2008 against U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings claiming she had violated his constitutional rights because her department had rejected his application to have his student loans forgiven because he claimed penury and total disability.
Dept. of Education rules stated that if the plaintiff earned more than the poverty level, he was not entitled to have the loans discharged.
"To put this in focus," Wightman wrote, "if a veteran returning from Iraq with a permanent disability earned one penny over the poverty level on the day of his qualifying disability, he would not be entitled to discharge his student loans."
Of course, Wightman is no Iraq veteran. In fact, he served in peacetime and never left the country for one and  half years at most and was given an  honorable discharge because of psychiatric reasons. But that doesn't stop him from covering himself with the disabled veteran's mantle to elicit the sympathy he so badly craves.
He claimed in is petition to file the lawsuit without having to pay the filing fee ( (In Forma Pauperis) that he had "no regular employer for 18 years" even though he was a practicing attorney in Dallas before he was disbarred.
Of course, Wightman is no Iraq veteran. In fact, he served in peacetime and never left the country for one and  half years at most and was given an  honorable discharge because of psychiatric reasons. But that doesn't stop him from covering himself with the disabled veteran's mantle to elicit the sympathy he so badly craves.
A loan analyst with the Dept. of Education said Wightman's earnings disqualified him from having his loans discharged, which triggered the lawsuit. According to Delfin Reyes, Wightman owed the government $40,340 at the time he filed the lawsuit claiming disability and asking to have his loans forgiven even though he earned $17,053 in 2003, which exceeded the poverty guidelines of $12,120.
Nonetheless, Wightman persisted and after more than a year of threats and litigation, the U.S. Dept. of Education threw up its hands and agreed to discharge the $40,000 in student loans.
While in the service, Wightman's last base commander accused him of being a malingerer, that is, feigning illness in order to shirk his duties and avoid pulling his weight. That base commander will never know how much Wightman has finessed his tactics over time.
Now this disbarred attorney is waging a war against a candidate whose son has overcome his youthful indiscretions and runs an immensely  successful practice and employs scores of lawyers, paralegals, investigators and support staff.
Is the green-eyed devil at work here?

LINCOLN STREET, A JOB WELL DONE BY CITY, CONTRACTORS

By Juan Montoya
For a long time, many local residents avoided driving the stretch of Lincoln Street between McDavitt and 14th Street.
The road was pocked with craters that resembled a war scene in post-war Berlin. City crews used to come in and do the old job-security patchwork using five-gallon plastic containers with pitch, asphalt and shovels to cover the biggest potholes. Even after a slight rain, the holes would appear again and the asphalt would wash away, literally money down the drain. It is a recurring event on many street around the city.
Cracked windshields, damaged tires, banged up mufflers were the result. So many people avoided driving that stretch out of self defense.
Why did this particular street get paved? Aside from the Guadalupe Church being there, it is also true as some of our readers are pointing out, that the Guadalupe Catholic Middle School is at the end of the block and that Mayor Tony Martinez has championed that institution during his term in office. Perhaps it was Tony's political squeaking that got the brought out the grease.
Anyway, imagine our surprise when – after many weeks, of course – Lincoln Street was actually paved from the caliche base up and remade.
The street is driveable again and the improvements are noticeable. It's not often the city does something commendable. But for the residents there and the motorists who traverse it, it is a pleasant surprise to be able to drive down the thoroughfare without enduring a bone-jarring teeth-rattling experience. To the city crew and contractors, a job well done, whatever the hidden motive.
Now you can prove it wasn't just political influence that fixed this road and go on to the next one.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

PORT RAILROAD FRANCHISE TO BROE GROUP ON FAST TRACK

By Juan Montoya
Don't look now, but the plan by the current trustees of the Brownsville Navigation District and the Brownsville Rio Grande International Railroad to grant a  franchise of the railroad to the Colorado-based Broe Group through its OmniTrax corporation has been put on the fast track.
On Wednesday, April 9, the port commissioners authorized CEO Eddie Campirano to publish a notice of the possible granting of the franchise to OmniTrax for the railroad and development of other port properties.
And tomorrow – exactly a week later – OmniTrax will make a presentation on its proposal to the members of the BRG board of directors.
The meeting will be held at noon Wednesday at the main offices of the IBC Bank on Ruben Torres Blvd.
Railroad CEO Norma Torres at first denied that the Broe Group had approached the board with any proposal, but a few days later, she recalled that its representatives had indeed addressed the board with a presentation of the company.
However, she said that the information given them was just a general introduction to their firm.
And when we approached Port administrator Debbie Duke, she said that the BND board had not known about the Broe Group or had been approached at all.
Now, less than a month before the port board elections, the move is on by the current board to quickly approve the franchise with OmniTrax.
And the port's meeting agenda for Wednesday at 6 p.m., the company will also bring its dog-and-pony show to tell those board members about its plans for the railroad and the development of an industrial park.
And to demonstrate just how fast these boys are moving to get their hands on the railroad before new commissioners arrive is the item (#6) on the agenda setting special meetings for April 23, May 1 and May 8 to finalize the deal.
That is just two days before the May 10 board elections. After that, it doesn't matter who comes on board because it will have been a done deal.
Interestingly, Item #7 deals with amending the notice of election-day polling places to include the Cameron County Courthouse, a site that – along with Cameron Park – was not included in the list handed to candidates when they filed to run for office. We understand that it was at the insistence of Pct. 1 commissioner Sofia Benavides  a John Wood supporter – that the amended list of polling places was changed.
For the first time in recent history, it will not be the Cameron County Elections Office running the election. We also understand that administrator Chris Davis did not plan to have a polling place at the office, but is now having to comply with the new change. Will the company that is running the election pay for Davis' staff to run the polling place, or will the county pick up the tab?
It is instructive to note that one of the BRG board members is none other than IBC President Fred Rusteberg. The current members are like a list of the usual suspects: Dr. Martin Garcia is the chairman, Grady Deaton is vice-chair, BND commissioner John Reed is a trustee, and building contractor Terry Ray is also a trustee.
Rusteberg is also one of three co-chairs of United Brownsville's so-called Coordinating Committee, a non-elected body that is not accountable to anyone, but which has managed to funnel public monies from at least eight publicly-funded entities to fund its non-profit and its staff and carry out its principals' plan for economic development in the area.
This has all the earmarks of a back-room deal pushed along by people who are seeing a bonanza for themselves dealing withe a publicly-owned asset. We have requested a copy of the proposed franchise agreement from the port an what commitments the Port has given The Broe Group and in return for what.
These people are not here for their health. We can picture railroad rates escalating as they try to squeeze every last drop of profits.
With any luck, we will receive a response from Ms. Duke before the port commits itself to turn over the railroad to this group. After all, the public deserves to know just what it is being asked to give this outside group and what we will get in return.

THE STATE'S "PROBLEMS" IN THE AMIT LIVINGSTON CASE

(Ed.'s Note: We owe ace reporter Emma Perez-Treviño a debt of gratitude for her coverage of the judiciary scandal in Cameron County. However, even with her voluminous and acerbic coverage, there was so much material there that it was not humanly possible even for Emma to publish everything. We have begun a series  based on court transcripts highlighting little-known details of the trial of former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos. Villalobos is currently serving a 13-year sentence for his convictions on seven counts of racketeering and extortion. This segment deals with the testimony of Chuck Mattingly, formerly Chief First Assistant under the former DA. In it, he is questioned about the "problems" in the ballistic, and DNA evidence in the case against Amit Livingston.)
The Actors:

MATTINGLY (Witness)
AUSA Gregory J.SUROVIC (the government)
AUSA Michael J. WYNNE (the government)
Norton A. COLVIN (Defense)
COURT: Federal Judge Andrew Hanen

COLVIN: Now, that – those grooves on this bullet, those are like fingerprints, aren't they?
MATTINGLY: Yes, sir.
COLVIN: There are no two sets of rifling marks that are the saem in the world.
MATTINGLY: None that have been discovered scientifically, no, sir.
COLVIN: So when you have a fired bullet and you have the gun that fired the bullet, you can fire a new bullet out of that gun, and they're going to match.
MATTINGLY: They should, yes, sir.
COLVIN: Every time.
MATTINGLY: Yes, sir.
COLVIN: Unless the bullet is damaged in the – in the travel or impact that you can;t really get a good reading, correct?
MATTINGLY: That is correct, depending on the condition of the bullet retrieved.
COLVIN: And comparing it to the one you fire. Usually fire a bullet into a tank of water and they compare it to the one that was removed at the crime scene.
COLVIN: All right. Now, it's fair to say that the science of comparing the indentations on the primer, which is what we're talking about in Livingston –
MATTINGLY: Correct
COLVIN: – is not as precise, Now, that is an accurate statement, isn't it?
MATTINGLY: It's a statement that can be argued, yes.
COLVIN: In fact – you hired – well, did you take over the case from a – Rebecca Rubane?
MATTINGLY: When Ms. Rubane left the office, I then became lead trial counsel, correct.
COLVIN: I understood that you felt the case were not prepared and you removed her from the case or at least took over. Is that not true?
MATTINGLY: I did step in. We were working the case up as well as could be expected, yes, sir.
COLVIN: Okay. You know, that's fine.
--------------------------------
COLVIN: Now, you hired an expert, a ballistic – would this be a ballistics expert. Because it's not really a ballistics issue, is it?
MATTINGLY: It's a tool markings issue.
COLVIN: Right.
MATTINGLY: It's a subcategory of ballistics testing, correct.
COLVIN: And you hired an expert. And what the expert was to evaluate the markings on this primer and tyry to match it.
(WYNNE objects to compound question)
COLVIN: Did you hire an expert?
MATTINGLY: Mr. Colvin, we used an expert. The expert that we used is an employee of the Departmetn of Public Safety for the State of Texas. He's not a – an expert that you go out and hire in the field, but he is available to us for testimony, correct.
COLVIN: You used an expert.
MATTINGLY: Yes, sir.
COLVIN: And do you recall that his first report was that – and, well, let me back up. Strike that. What were you trying to have him look at was the dud round found in Livingston's – was it – where was it found?
MATTINGLY: His residence, his apartment, I believe.
COLVIN: And were you trying to compare the identification markings in the dud round, right?
MATTINGLY: Correct.
COLVIN: And you were trying to compare the indentation markings in a brass cartridge that was found on South Padre Island, right?
MATTINGLY: Yes. We were comparing the misfired cartridge to the casing recovered at the crime scene, correct.
COLVIN: To see if they were a match?
MATTINGLY: Yes, sir.
COLVIN: Now, when was that brass found on South Padre Island? When they found the victim?
MATTINGLY: I'm sorry. I don't recall the actual date when it was discovered.
COLVIN: How many– do you know how many days later they managed to find the brass?
MATTINGLY: I know they went with metal detectors, and I just couldn't give you the date, sir. I'm sorry.
COLVIN: Okay. And do you remember that your expert's first report on the – the state's expert's first report on this was that the match was inconclusive? Do you remember that?
MATTINGLY: I don't recall that, no, sir.
COLVIN: Okay. Now, the defense hired an expert in the Livingston case too, right?
MATTINGLY: That is correct, yes, sir.
COLVIN: And do you remember what their results were?
MATTINGLY: They disagreed with the results of our expert.
COLVIN: Well, not with the first results. They both said it was inconclusive first, right?
MATTINGLY: I don't recall what the first report from our expert said.
COLVIN: Really?
MATTINGLY: No.
COLVIN: Because you had a pretty good memory on Saturday.
MATTINGLY: And my memory is that the dimple mark, the dimple imprint and the primers were exact matches.
COLVIN: To the second test of your expert.
MATTINGLY: That is what our expert was going to testify to.
COLVIN: That's exactly right. The seconbd time, they matched. So – so there's that evidence and two different experts saying two different things, correct?
MATTINGLY: That is correct.
COLVIN: And your expert was going to have to deal with the fact that the first report was inconclusive. His first report was inconclusive.
   --------------------------------
COLVIN: Now the second definitive thing that the state had going for them was the receipt on the aftermarket barrel, correct?
MATTINGLY: That is correct.
COLVIN: Do you know how many aftermarket barrels there are in then United States?
MATTINGLY: I do not, but it's in the millions, I'm sure.
COLVIN: It's in the millions. Do you know how many there are in Texas alone?
MATTINGLY: No sir, I do not.
COLVIN: Now, the truth is that's not a whole lot of good if you don't have the gun, right?
MATTINGLY: If you're going to do a ballistics test, I would agree with you, yes.
COLVIN: Okay. And you didn't have the gun.
MATTINGLY: No, we did not.
COLVIN: And since the barrel was in the gun, that's a bit of a problem for the state.
MATTINGLY: To do a ballistics test, yes.
COLVIN: Okay, All right. Let's – then there was the cell tower triangulation. How would  you defend that? If you were the defense lawyer for Livingston, how would you defend a cell tower triangulation?
MATTINGLY: Because a person seem to be located within a particular part of the county at a certain time, that has no bearing whatsoever on whether or not he committed the crime. He could have been there for a myriad of reasons.
COLVIN: exactly, exactly. Mt. Mattingly, could you have defended it on the basis that you can only get so tight a location on the triangulation evidence you had, right?
MATTINGLY: Even with the best technology, you can only get a certain location, correct.
COLVIN: And you could place him – could you have place him for sure on the Island?
MATTINGLY: I don't remember where we exactly had him placed. I do know he was within Cameron County, and it was on the Island, but it was close to the Island.
COLVIN:  It was somewhere near the Island.
MATTINGLY: Correct.
COLVIN: And I though I heard some testimony about someone hearing waves from the beach. Was there any evidence of – was there a recording or anything with waves from the beach, was there?
MATTINGLY: I don;t recall that, sir, and I don;t remember that.
COLVIN: So – and then the Sarita checkpoint, the only issue about that was that the cell tower triangulation, you could place him near the Sarita checkpoint at the time he – it was possible for him to have driven from the Island to that point by that time. I didn't – I didn't say that very well, but is that – am I accurate basically?
MATTINGLY: Are you saying that he could have driven to the Sarita checkpoint from the Island?
COLVIN: Yes, sir.
MATTINGLY: That's what you're saying?
COLVIN: Yes, sir.
MATTINGLY: Yes, the evidence shows that.
-------------------------------

COLVIN: Now, I don't want to waste a lot of time on this, but the jeans where there was semen, evidence on the jean, that's a potential problem, correct, for the state?
MATTINGLY: As a defense attorney, I would argue that she may have been with somebody within the same time period that she could have done the same thing.
COLVIN: Could be a third suspect.
MATTINGLY: That is correct.
COLVIN: For all we know, it could have been a third, fourth and fifth suspect.
MATTINGLY: That is correct.
COLVIN: And the photographs of her on her computer and what they were used for, that's a problem for the state.
MATTINGLY: I would disagree with that question or that statement that you're asking me. The photographs to me placed the victim in an embarrassing light, and I thought it could have been embarrassing for the family. However, in my opinion I believe that you would settle a murder case for a very low number of years simply because of the photographs. You have to prepare the victim's family.
COLVIN: Understood, understood. But it's an issue.
MATTINGLY: Yes, sir.
COLVIN: It's definitely an issue.
MATTINGLY: – it's an issue. If you and I are talking about it, it's an issue, yes.
COLVIN: It's definitely an issue.

(In our next post Mattingly tries to explain how DA's office reacted to Judge Abel Limas granting Livingston a 60-day period to get his affairs in order after being sentenced to n23 years in the state penitentiary.)
 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

RAMIREZ AND THE CONNECTORS WAIL AT THE HALF MOON


































By Juan Montoya
It was the wailing of the saxophone and the lament of the blues guitar that filled the night in downtown Browntown last night at George Ramirez and Ben Neece's Half Moon Saloon.
Premont-based Ramirez alternated with his instruments and the original Connectors – Albert Besteiro Jr. on lead, Freddie Longoria on Bass and Joey Tamayo on drums (out of the photo) – rounded off the quartet.
Those of us who grew up with the Brownsville boys and those who grew acquainted with Ramirez in Austin, were delighted to see them perform live here in what is fast becoming the premier venue for live jazz, rock and roll and reggae music, and even classical guitar (on Wednesdays nights) in town.
We remember going to see them perform at the tiny Amber Lounge that was in a motel where the Central Library is now located. That was many half and full moons ago, we must add.
Ramirez and the Connectors belted out the group's trademark classics such as "Rice and Beans" and "La Migra" among others. Their album "Rice and Beans" is available in local clubs such as Cobbleheads where they perform regularly. 

PORT, TSC CHANGE RULES OF THE GAME AT LAST MOMENT


By Juan Montoya
A funny thing happened on the way to an election.
As we have learned, the elections this year to fill the positions and the Brownsville Navigation District and the Texas Southmost College May 10 will overlap with the runoff elections for Cameron County.
It's bad enough that the runoff elections for the various county positions (county judge, commissioners, justice of the peace) will be held May 27, nearly three months after the March 4 primary, but the TSC and Port races will be held in the interim, on May 10.
If that wasn't confusing enough for the average voter who by now may be experienced election fatigue, early voting in the Port and TSC races will begin April 28 through May 6 and end on election day May 10, a Saturday.
Then, just nine days days later, on May 19, early voting begins for the county races and ends the 27th, to be followed by the election May 27, a Tuesday.
But there's more.
This year the Port and TSC will not use the Cameron County Elections Office to hold their districts' elections. Instead, they will hire an outside firm (from Hawaii, we hear) to conduct them.
When candidates went to register to run at the Port, elections officer Debbie Duke gave them a list of election day and early voting day polling places. (Click on graphic to enlarge)
As we know, former county commissioner John Wood is facing off political newcomer Estevan "Steve" Guerra for Position 2, to replace Martin Arambula who left the position to run unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party nomination for county judge.
And on the other race, Carlos Masso, the incumbent, is facing Henry Najera and Joe Wallace Garcia for Position 4.
Now, if you will notice the list of early voting polling places on the bottom of the page, you will notice that the Cameron County Elections Office is not listed among them. Neither is Cameron Park, we might add. Granted that the main elections office has traditionally been an early voting place when the county ran the elections, but since the county is not conducting the election, the company that will run it did not include that site.
It didn't take long for someone (we hear it was Pct. 1 commissioner Sofia Benavides) to demand that the main county elections office be included among the early voting places. That, in turn, led to hurried phone calls and protests with TSC and the Port to include the site.
Now, what the county has to do with these distinctly separate and independent districts and the way they want to conduct an election has yet to be explained.
Nonetheless, apparently the squeaky wheel got the grease and the Port and TSC candidates were called and told that the rules had changed and that the main county elections office had become an early voting site as a result of the calls from the commissioners court,
That, in turn, led supporters of Wood's opponent Guerra to protest that the move had been done to favor the former county commissioner who stood to gain more votes from county workers because of his term in office as their boss and his name identification that was enhanced as a result of his run for county judge against Carlos Cascos four years ago.
Their opponents, in turn, say that they are only adhering to tradition and history which had the main office serve as an early voting place.
On the other hand, the county – which had historically used their main elections office when they ran the elections – will not be running this one, so history went out the window. We don't know if the additional polling place will require a vote from either or both boards at TSC and the Port, but it would seem that a change of that nature would. If they are going to do it, they better do it soon.
Guerra's supporters are crying foul over the move that they say will favor Wood. They say all they want is a level playing field without last minute changes in the rules. And they hint at a dark conspiracy between Wood's former colleagues and their allies at the Port and TSC-UTB. Wood's wife Virginia, they say, works at UTB. And Eddie Campirano, they add, – a former TSC trustee – is now the Port Director and CEO.
"This is the first time I run for office and all I want is a fair shake without any last-minute tricks," said Guerra at a recent campaign function for TSC trustee Ed Rivera. Why not open Cameron Park or better yet, the polling place near my house to make it fair?"
  
     

Saturday, April 12, 2014

PORT UNVEILS SECRET RAILROAD NEGOTIATIONS WITH BROE

By Juan Montoya
More than two months after denying that the Brownsville Rio Grande International Railroad and the Brownsville Navigation District were involved in negotiations with the Colorado-based Broe Group to handle the operations, the port commissioners have approved the deal and more.
In an agenda item passed last Wednesday during a special meeting, the commissioners agreed to allow Port CEO and Director Eddie Campirano to advertise for a possible franchise with that very group.
Port administrator Debbie Duke and BRG director Norma Torres both initially denied that the BRG commissioners or the BND board were in any negotiations with OmniTrax, the Patrick Broe-owned railroad.
The port commissioners authorized Campirano to advertise in the Brownsville Herald to give the public notice of the pending agreement to grant the Broe Group a franchise to not only opertae the railroad but also to establish a industrial park there.
The Broe Group operates a diverse multibillion-dollar portfolio that spans the length of the U.S. and Canada and ranges from office buildings to oil and gas wells to a shipping port on Hudson Bay. The Broe Group's involvement in rail began in 1986 when it purchased a portfolio of real estate assets from the bankrupt estate of a large industrial company, including a railroad in Northern Colorado that became Great Western Railway. Many more railroad acquisitions followed, and The Broe Group now owns one of the largest privately held railroad companies in North America, called OmniTRAX.
OmniTrax runs the largest privately held short-line railroad system in North America, with 17 rail lines and 2,000 miles of track.
If the board approves the franchise, Broe's OmniTrax Inc. would take over the BRG's 45 miles throughout the Brownsville Navigation District and 5 miles into the city of Brownsville itself. The railroad was established as a separate entity from the Port of Brownsville in 1984 and claims to provide the port and its customers with affordable, direct access to two Class 1 railroads — Union-Pacific and Burlington Northern — and an intermediate connection via U.P. to Kansas City Southern De Mexico routes across the Rio Grande.
The BRG has six yards and more than 1,000 cars on hand. It boasts of being "armed with an array of services to offer shippers anywhere in the United States. Steel, scrap metal, agricultural and food products and other bulk materials have always been major commodities for the BRG, but chemical shipments have skyrocketed in recent years."
The BRG board consists of five trustees who were initially appointed by the commissioners of the BND 1984. Vacancies on the Board since then have been filled by appointment by the board of trustees of the railroad, in short, a self-appointed board.
The current members are like a list of the usual suspects: Dr. Martin Garcia is the chairman, Grady Deaton is vice-chair, IBC President Fred W. Rusteberg is a trustee, BND commissioner John Reed is a trustee, and building contractor Terry Ray is also a trustee.
The BRG is a short line railroad, organized for the purpose of providing exclusive common carrier rail transportation to all facilities located within the Brownsville Navigation District of Cameron County, Texas.
It operates on behalf of the Brownsville Navigation District, but under separate management and control from the District. All traffic is being interchanged with the Union Pacific Railroad Company (“UP”) at its Olmito yard.
Interchange with Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company (“BNSF”) is accomplished via a haulage agreement between UP and BNSF where UP hauls BNSF traffic from Houston to Brownsville and interchanged with the Railroad. Interchange with the Mexican Railroad carrier “KCSM” is done via an intermediate switch with UP at the Brownsville and International Matamoros Bridge.The board of trustees establishes policies, rules and rates and approves all contractual obligations of the railroad.According to most media reports, Broe demands that all his deals be conducted under the utmost secrecy and some of our sources indicate that one of his conditions is that that the negotiations for the potential purchase of the BRG be kept under wraps until it is a done deal. In fact, some news stories indicate that he requires a written agreement to that effect when he's trying to negotiate a deal.By all accounts, and by the actions of its administrators, this is exactly what happened in this case.The local yokels better beware and realize they're dealing with a ruthless corporate raider. News reports on his corporate style indicate that he is a mercihless negotiator who will squeeze every last dollar he can from his opponent.Denver Post business story says that: : "Despite the company's closely held ownership and Broe's penchant for privacy, he is a well-known figure in Colorado. His 37 years of operating a Denver-based business have placed him on the buying or selling end of dozens of transactions, making him an iconic figure in the commercial real estate sector.
"He's a registered Republican, a confidant of former Gov. Bill Owens, an Owens appointee to Colorado State University's governing board in 2003, and has served on the Wyoming Business Council, an economic development group."
Don Elliman, director of the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, said Broe was "a complex guy who rubs some people the wrong way, but he has an enormous amount of accomplishments.
"On balance, I like dealing with him," Elliman said. "Would I do a deal with him? Absolutely I would. But I'd have my hand on my wallet and I'd have a damn good lawyer with me."
Ultimately, it will be up to the commissioners of the Port of Brownsville to approve the granting of the franchise of the railroad to Broe. If they do, the handing control of the entire railroad complex would be left up to Broe, who would decide how it is operated, and even to set its rates.And is it fair for these board commissioners pending the May 10 election, which could change the composition of the board, to commit their successors to the franchise with Broe?   Do you think this Colorado bunch will do it out of the goodness of their heart?

BRICK BY BRICK, MARKET SQUARE REVITALIZATION UNDERWAY

By Juan Montoya
We came upon this cement truck unloading its cargo in the building bought out by the city on the western fringe of Market Square.
The city workers were courteous enough to allow us to take a peek inside the building that once housed the Los Pescadores Bar, a popular hangout for downtown drinkers. By chance we knew the owners of the business before. But we never knew that outside the back door, in the rear, there is a quaint little patio with a palm tree, a lemon tree and even a tree of pahuas, a relative of the avocado tree.
The city – through its BetterBlock program – has begun to work on the inside of the building, fortifying the foundations and floors with cement, as is shown in this picture.
The plan, if we are to believe the map in the Better Block document, is to place a police substation there and to establish a music school of youth on the corner of Washington and 11th Street (see map, click to enlarge).
The buildings in the picture are located at the lower left hand side of the plan pictured on the site plan. About the only other business left on the half block is Los Reyes Restaurant that is owned by the proprietors of the land. All others were tenants that had to move out, including the popular G&A Restaurant and Rene's watch repair shop next to where the police substation is planned.
Most of the plans will depend on the acquisition of funds to revitalize the area so it will be of necessity a slow development. Until then, don't expect great changes coming to downtown soon. But as the saying goes, the longest journey begins with one small step.

BISD CONTINUES FUTILE COVER-UP FOR COUNSEL SALAZAR

By Juan Montoya
Ever since current Brownsville Independent School District counsel Baltazar Salazar filled out his application for employment with the district in December 2011, that document has been in the public domain.
When the trustee who met to choose law firms to represent the board, they were given copies of the application and a compilation of the firms' strengths and weakness. It is noteworthy to state at the outset that Salazar's firm was nowhere near the top of the strongest candidates. In fact, its list of shortcomings placed it somewhere near the bottom of the eight finalists.
Salazar was hired by the current majority including the late Enrique Ecobedo, Otis Powers, Jose Chirinos, and Minerva Peña. Catalina Presas-Garcia and Lucy Longoria voted against his hiring.
Since then, many things have happened, including a lawsuit filed by Presas-Garcia and Longoria against the four board members, Superintendent Carl Montoya, and Salazar. They claim that by trying to censure (censor?) them and keeping them from voicing their opinion on a number of subjects, the board members and the administrators violated their First Amendment rights.
Among other things, they claim that the board majority knew that Salazar had kep the fact that he had been charged with three felony theft by check charges and that he had been trying to expunge his record. A local trial court granted the expungement, only to have the 13th Court of Appeals overturn its decision when it found that the convictions had not been "set aside" as Salazar contended, but that he had served probation for at least one of those convictions.
He was hired in April 2013. The court of appeals rendered its decision in August of the same year. So even as he stood before the board members and made his pitch for the job, Salazar knew all along that the Texas Department of Public Safety had objected to the trial court's expungement of his criminal record. He also knew that he had lied on his application.
After the ladies filed the lawsuit, we made a public information request to get another copy of Salazar's BISD employment application. Since it had been on record since 2011 and available to the public ever since, we didn't figure it was such a big deal. In fact, there are extant copies of floating around the city and in some BISD administrators' files.
That's why it was a somewhat unpleasant surprise to learn that instead of handing it over as we requested, the BISD is taking the unusual (and futile) step of objecting to its release based on the fact that Presas-Garcia and Longoria list that application as proof that Salazar lied on his application that he had been convicted of a crime of moral turpitude, in this case, of theft.
BISD policies clearly state that no one convicted of a crime of such a nature will be hired by the district.
"The original complaint filed by the plaintiffs includes allegations against Mr. Baltazar Salazar with respect to his application for employment with the District and information that may or may not have been revealed on his employment application," the district wrote the Texas Attorney General in its objection to releasing the document.
Current staff attorney Leandra Costilla Ortiz says that as a result of the pending litigation, the district is within its right to withhold the information requested.
We are going through our files to look for a copy of Salazar's original application. We know we have his and the other firms', but if you are like us it will not be a pleasant task to rifle though boxes of fiels to look for that particular document. But we'll find it.
What is in that application that is making the BISD circle its wagons? Did (as we suspect) Salazar lie on it? And if he did, how can he continue to hold that position at $20,000 a month ($240,000 a year)?

Friday, April 11, 2014

WHY GUS REYNA FACED PUBLIC ON CHEATING SCANDAL

By Juan Montoya
Before the torch and pitchfork crowd start calling for the resignation of Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio over the termination of wight new-hire deputies caught cheating on the Civil Service exam and point to his noticeable absence during the press conference, consider this.
The sheriff, in fact, is in a much-deserved vacation in Europe with his wife at the invitation of Mike Leinart, his Chief Jail Administrator, and his wife.
The trip, by the way, was planned long before this scandal broke.
In fact, during a campaign pachanga for Judge Artturo McDonald and County Clerk Joe Rivera at the historical El Ranchito bar on Abrego Road at El Ranchito before the March Democratic primary, Leinart was telling a few of us about the trip they were taking.
According to the calaboose honcho – originally from ethnic-rich Detroit, Michigan, he had invited Lucio ad his wife on the trip across Europe. It was a trip, he said, that had been planned for months and that both couples were looking forward to.
We have received emails taking Lucio to task for not taking the heat personally, but these comments – in light of his planned vacation – seem a bit hysterical and a mite unfair.
After all, the responsibility for making sure the testing is on the up and up is that of the Human Resources Department, not the sheriff's.
Coming on the heels of the Roberto Cadriel illegal hiring and the shenanigans that got Pct. 2 commissioner Ernie Hernandez's administrative assistant Raul Salazar a 10-month jail sentence, the department has taken a black eye. In that case, prosecutors proved that a staffer at the department had been ordered to take the test for Cadriel after he failed miserably on the two previous tries. Then, after the dog-catcher job had been given to someone else, Cadriel was provided with a copy of the answers to take the test as a noncommissioned security guard with the county's international bridge system
We should note that all this took place under the watch of former HR acting director Robert Lopez, who quit soon after Cadriel's resigned. The current director Arnold Flores took over January 2013, and so far, the investigation into the deputies' cheating is said to go back a few months, perhaps years.
To blame the sheriff while he's out of the country seem a bit scurrilous and patently unfair to us, his age notwithstanding.

THE VILLALOBOS CHRONICLES: THE CASE OF THE MISSING LOG


(Ed.'s Note: We owe ace reporter Emma Perez-Treviño a debt of gratitude for her coverage of the judiciary scandal in Cameron County. However, even with her voluminous and acerbic coverage, there was so much material there that it was not humanly possible even for Emma to publish everything. We are beginning a series today based on court transcripts highlighting little-known details of the trial of former Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos. Villalobos is currently serving a 13-year sentence for his convictions on seven counts of racketeering and extortion. The first segment deals with the testimony of Rene Gonzalez, formerly Chief First Assistant under the former DA.)
The Actors:

GONZALEZ (Witness)
AUSA Gregory J.SUROVIC (the government)
Norton A. COLVIN (Defense)
COURT: Federal Judge Andrew Hanen

(Here Surovic is cross examining Gonzalez on a computer file that went inexplicably missing from the office computer and a printed version was later found by Gonzalez in response to government subpoenas.)

SUROVIC: Mr. Gonzalez, let's go back to the Government Exhibit 321. I'll just flash it on the screen here. These are those handwritten notes of Mr. Villalobos?
GONZALEZ: Yes, sir.
SUROVIC: Based on the memorandum that were sent to him by Corina Galvan (Villalobos secretary). Who knew about these notes being generated?
GONZALEZ: I don't think there was widespread knowledge of it in the office. It was certainly Mrs. Galvan., Mr. Villalobos. I became aware of it. I became aware of the – the compilation of the notes at the time I was served with a grand jury subpoena, but I –
SUROVIC: How did you become aware of these two logs?
GONZALEZ: When I was served with the grand jury subpoena, I immediately began searching for all the files that were requested by the U.S. Attorney, and I spoke with Mrs. Galvan. One of the items that was requested was – I believe in the initial subpoena was concerning a calendar or appointment book. And I wne to Mrs. Galvan to obtain Mr. Villalobos' calendar or appointment book, and that's when Mrs. Galvan made me aware of this, this log.
------------------------------------  
  SUROVIC: Did you talk to Mr. Villalobos about providing this as evidence to the government in response to the subpoena?
GONZALEZ: Yes, sir, I did briefly.
SUROVIC: When you first approached him about it, what was his reaction?
GONZALEZ: His reaction was that this was not a calendar or appointment book, and it should not be tendered to the government in response to the subpoena.
SUROVIC: Even though it's a regular binder with dates and times of appointments, he did not consider it an appointment book.
GONZALEZ: That's what he informed me, yes, sir.
SUROVIC: And he did not want you to turn it over.
GONZALEZ: Correct.
    ------------------------------------  
SUROVIC: Okay. Did you become are of this particular – this was the log that was kept by Ms. Galvan, right, on her computer?
GONZALEZ: Yes.
SUROVIC: When did you become aware of this log?
GONZALEZ: Again, it was sometimes during the subpoena process, and I can't give you an exact date. Sometime in May or June of last year.
SUROVIC: And you were trying to find the calendars and appointment books? Is that context you were talking about?
GONZALEZ: Correct. I believe – if my recollection is correct, I believe this  actually this traffic log, I was made aware of the existence of it in response to the government's amended subpoena which changed the description a little bit, and that's when I became aware of this one.
                                                     ------------------------------------ 
SUROVIC: Was Mr. Villalobos surprised to discover this log?
GONZALEZ: My understanding is that he was not aware of the existence of it, yes.
SUROVIC: And what was his reaction when it was first pointed out to him that this log existed?
COLVIN: Your Honor, I'm objecting to that. There's no predicate for that. No foundation for that at all.
                                                     ------------------------------------
SUROVIC: Was it immediately turned over to the government?
GONZALEZ: It was turned over in response to the government's amended subpoena, yes, sir. It – well – within a matter of a day or so.
SUROVIC: I believe you testified earlier that it had been printed off, and then the document had been lost on the computer.
GONZALEZ: Yes, sir. That is correct.
                                                     ------------------------------------
SUROVIC (after COLVIN objection): Mr. Gonzalez, were you the person that was responsible for complying with the government's subpoenas?
GONZALEZ: Yes, sir, I was.
SUROVIC: And were you the custodian for the District Attorney's Office?
GONZALEZ: Yes, sir.
SUROVIC: Were you, therefore, responsible for providing all documents that were responsive to the government's subpoena?
GONZALEZ: Yes, sir, I was.
SUROVIC: Would you, in fact, consider Government Exhibit 322 to be a – an appointment log?
GONZALEZ: I – at the time the subpoena was served upon me, there was – I was not sure. There was some debate. And in response to the FBI's questioning, they explained to me exactly what they were looking for.
And so I was – when I became aware of the existence of the subpoena, I knew exactly what they were looking for, and I asked Mr. Gripka to amend the subpoena because I felt that the subpoena did not exactly ask for this document; did not describe this document.
(Colvin objects to questions about Villalobos' reaction to the handing over of the log to the FBI. Judge Andrew Hanen overrules.)
GONZALEZ: Mr. Villalobos informed me that it did not meet the – it was not responsive to the subpoena; an therefore, they should not be turned over.
                                                 ------------------------------------
SUROVIC: Did that – when he told you they weren't responsive, how did you feel about that?
GONZALEZ: I felt like I was put in a difficult situation because I thought perhaps – I knew  what they were asking for in my conversation with Agent Gripka and Agent Flint, and I knew that this – that they were looking for these logs, and so I was put kind of between a rock and a a hard place.
SUROVIC: Were you aware of both of these logs but hesitated to turn them over to the government after your conversation with Mr. Villalobos.
GONZALEZ: I know I was aware of the handwritten log, the one with Mr. Villalobos' handwritten notes. I became aware of the other file traffic log a little later on, sir." 

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