Tuesday, November 21, 2017

FREE WEDDINGS: DAMNED IF YOU DO, DAMNED IF YOU DON'T

By Juan Montoya
When JP 2-3 Mary Esther Sorola announced that she had had it with the squabbling and haggling over weddings on the second floor of the new Cameron County Levee Building  and would perform the weddings for free, a yelp went up from an office next door.

It was the unmistakable sound of JP 2-1 Linda Salazar who has made wedding ceremony an industry since she was elected to office. The yelping got even worse when Sorola posted signs letting people know she would marry them for free.

Salazar, who averages more than 600 ceremonies over the past four years, apparently did not want the upstart JP across the hallway advertising on the first, second and third floors of the building that she would perform them for free.

At $200 or more a pop, that added up to a not inconsiderable $120,000 a year for the ceremonies. Under state law, she is allowed to keep anything she charges for performing the weddings.

The first sign that the inmates at the asylum were not happy was the fact that all Sorola's signs advertising the weddings gratis on the third floor were torn down at the direction of County Clerk Sylvia Garza-Perez. For years, the other two JPs have suspected that someone at that office was steering (or hinting) that Salazar was the cupid of the courthouse.

Then, when Salazar complained to County Administrator David Garcia that Sorola was putting a dent on her racket, the edicts started to come down.

Sorola could no longer post signs on the courthouse advertising the free service. The JPs were also told that no judge can post a sign saying which court they are in. Advertising by any judge, apparently, is also prohibited.

So  now Sorola's staff say that she will charge $140 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in her office. Other judges can use their discretion and charge whatever fee – or no fee at all – for performing the weddings.

WORKERS HAVING A BLAST REPAINTING BESTEIRO CABOOSE

(Ed.'s Note: The caboose getting sandblasted is located at the Linear Park and was dedicated to the memory of the late Raul Besteiro, a former Brownsville Independent School District and director of the Port of Brownsville.

And no, it's just a Brownsville urban myth that the remains of portly port director were sealed in the old caboose. Lately, the sea air and plain wear had taken its toll on the wagon and the city has decided it needs a face lift.

Don Wolfe, of Wolfe Sandblasting and Industrial Painting, said blasting the paint and primer off the old caboose would take all of two days, and then painting the traditional black and red color scheme another two or more.

We found a picture of the caboose sporting the signs of weathering and age. When Wolfe finishes the job, he said it would look like a new wagon.)

MARTINEZ: THE PROVERBIAL PIOUS BULL IN THE CHINA SHOP

By Juan Montoya

Anywhere else, it can safely be said that if an elected officials did what Cit of Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez acted as imperiously without any regard for the public trust, he would have been put out on his ear, or worse, indicted by a grand jury.

Image result for tony martinez, brownsville. taking communionMartinez, who has postured himself before the public when he runs for election (or reelection) as a good, sincere, God-fearing Catholic, has in turn performed acts which would separate him from the blessed congregation.

Consider for example, the latest transgression done by him or by his adherents in city government. We speak of the replacement of a letter by  James Kirshbaum, the engineer for CH2MHILL of Englewood, Co asking the city to approve a for a change order that would increase their fees from $1,650,000 to $2,500,925, a $850,925 increase.

The new additions to the passenger terminal area, Kirshbaum wrote, were added by the city and its local architect, Origo Works, increasing the original size from 65,000 square feet to 85,000 square feet. Also, the Custom and Border Protection asked that the original 14,000 square feet be increased by 9,000 square feet for Federal Inspection Service (FIS) areas to 23,000 square feet.

Those changes, he said, were not in the original engineering specs provided to the company when it submitted its response to the city's Request for Proposals (RFP). As a result, he said, not only the cost of the engineering services, but the changes in the original design will balloon the original construction cost estimate from $27.5 million to $38 million.

In the original letter, the Kirshbaum stated that the changes in engineering/design cost, a five-month delay, and the and overall construction cost were due to changes after the RFP were approved.

"The other item that has caused additional design and management effort is the coordination with our local architect, Origo Works," wrote Kirshbaum, the engineer for CH2MHILL.
"As requested by the mayor, we engaged Origo Works to help incorporate 'local' architectural features and elements into the original design. This effort extended the conceptual design phase of the project by approximately five months, resulting in significant additional efforts by CH2M, Corgan and Origo Works."

Then, when reporters sought out the letter in the city's website, it was discovered that that entire paragraph had been removed and a  second letter which deletes any mention of the mayor or Origo Works inserted in the packet instead. Both letters are dated Sept. 21 and signed by  Kirshbaum Sept, 6.

Is it possible that Kirschbaum wrote two different letters to the same recipient (Airport director Bryant Walker) on the same date, and one (originally in the packet) mentioned the mayor and Origo Works, and another did not (second letter inserted in package)?

Origo Works owner Jaime Huerta, was paid $25,000 under the heading Current Terminal Contract, another $15,000 under Revised Terminal Contract, and another $5 for Terminal 55 Contract for a total of $45,000.

The hiring of Origo Works – who did the architectural work on Da Mayor's Spanky Burgers and El Rincon de la Paz– was done outside the city's procurement process at the behest of Martinez, according to Kirshbaum's original letter. That disappeared in the second letter.

Remember when Martinez took commissioner Jessica Tertreau to task and publicly scolded her for trying to say that she had voted in the affirmative to select Steve Guerra to the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation board? He bristled when he found out that she had filed and affidavit that she had voted "aye" and said that the tapes show she had not voted. When commissioner Longoria, who was sitting next to her tried to support her, he cut him off and did not allow him to speak.

No one was going to change the public record under his watch, he said, and ordered City Secretary Griselda Rosas to ignore the affidavit. This she dutifully did. City commissioner Ben Neece even went as far as handing the affidavit to the chief of police to see whether she could be prosecuted for 'perjury" in trying to submit it. 

Image result for tony martinez, brownsville. casa del ny;lonNow the Rosas has to answer on how the letters got changed since the city record is under her custody and control. Did someone order her to make the change of the public record to hide the mayor's handiwork and reward his friend? People have said that Brownsville is a small city with a lot of people. And people talk.                                                                                            They say that Huerta attended St. Joseph's Academy with the mayor's son and that Martinez was just acting out of family loyalty when he asked CH2MHILL to cut in Huerta on $45,000 of the public's funds.
That isn't much different from what he did on the infamous Casa del Nylon caper when he convinced the commission that if they plunked down the inflated $2.3 million for the hulk of a building, the UT System was ready to take it off their hands to increase their presence downtown. 
Image result for stillman ranch house                                                                Commissioner Ricardo Longoria said that when the commissioners spoke with the UT people, they denied they had any interest in the building which now serves as a warehouse and homeless hangout.  But the damage was done and the public's money went o one of Martinez's buddies.                                                                                                                                           And how about the expenditure he ordered then-city manager Charlie Cabler to use some of the $3,060,000 settlement the city received from American Electric Power Texas Central Co. to pay for moving the Charles Stillman Laureles Ranch House, initially for $25,000 from the King Ranch to the lot next to the Cueto Building, then subsequently to Linear Park for an additional $14,000. 

These expenditures were paid for by funds that came from that account without commission approval.  Martinez, on his own, had been dipping into the $3,060,000 settlement the city received from AEP Texas for personal whims.
(Compare the Stillman love shack with the new and improved Stillman Laureles Ranch House at left. Oh, yeah, it's the same buildings, alright!)

Can we detect a pattern here?                                                                                                          But the goodly mayor has been even more brazen. Remember when he needed parking space so he could sell his old law office to the Rio Grande Texas legal Rural Aid and he bought an adjacent property at a tax auction to make the property marketable? 
He not only considered the sale in executive session, he also voted to sell himself the property in open session and made a tidy profit. Tony Martinez signed the deed over to Tony Martinez, the buyer.


It appears that the money changer has entered the people's temple under the guise of the good lamb.

POLITICAL CAMPAIGN SIGNS VANDALISM GETTING BRAZEN

(Ed.'s Note: The vandals defacing the various political candidates' signs across town are getting even more brazen. Apart from vandalizing signs at some of the most traveled intersections and thoroughfares Brownsville, they have now struck at the signs in some of the best lit places like the one above at Capt. Bob's Restaurant where they painted the horns and whiskers on the JP Mary Esther Sorola sign placed below the marquee.

The intersection of Paredes and Price roads is one of the most heavily traveled here and we wonder when they did their dirty work and no one saw them. It is possible that either Dairy Queen, Capt. Bob's or some of the businesses across the street may have had surveillance cameras on and captured the culprits. In fact, the Brownsville Independent School District's main building is next door. For her part, the candidate said that after the first round of vandalism and the expense associated with removing and repairing the sings, she is just going to let things be and let the police do their work.

The cost to the candidates is considerable. They must pay for the manpower (or is it person power?)  associated with removing and repairing the signs and then erect them on the same places again. At $30 a sign to replace each one, it adds up to real money pretty quick. Why Sorola has been targeted is anyone's guess since so far no one has filed against her. But then again, logic has nothing to do with this, does it?)   

Monday, November 20, 2017

MARTINEZ'S DEAL ON NOT MERGING 3 MPOs DEFENDED

By Desi Martinez, M.A.
Harlingen, Texas

What was not mentioned is that the 3 existing MPO’s would be dissolved and 1 regional MPO would be created with a set of bylaws that would have members (decision-makers) on the board determined by population.

2015 Census figures shows Hidalgo County population at 831,073 and Cameron County has 420,392 population for a total population of 1,251,465. Therefore, the proposal on the table is to have Hidalgo County with 66.4 percent board membership and Cameron County will have 33.4 percent board membership.

Now folks, there presently exists 3 MPO’s. Don’t you think that the Hidalgo County MPO could come up with a better partnership proposal that is fair to all 3 MPO’s?

Brownsville Mayor Martinez is correct. The present partnership proposal by the Hidalgo County MPO is a “no deal” and not a fair and beneficial partnership for the constituents he represents. This is also true for western Cameron County. The other elected officials should be more aware of what the “carrot at the end of the pole, string and hook” means. 

At this time, Mayor Martinez is only protecting the long term and fair participation for future generations in any regional strategy. Mayor Martinez is protecting the Greater Brownsville area, the largest populated city in the region, and the county seat. So don’t knock down the City of Brownsville and Mayor Martinez for being cautious and not over reactive on this issue.

Here’s a suggestion. If there is a counter proposal on the structure and organization of a possible
regional MPO it should be a board of directors with 1 member from each of the 3 existing MPO’s, 2
county judges, and 4 small cities (2 from Hidalgo and 2 from Cameron). The 3 existing MPO’s would
become councils and maintain their existing operations, funds, and project development in their council areas. 

Funding, of course, would conduit through the regional MPO. The regional MPO would have 1 of
the county judges to chair the board and this chairmanship position would rotate between the 2 county judges every 2 years. The regional MPO would appoint a representative to be on the State TxDOT Council that retains 10 percent-plus of the state and federal transportation funds for metropolitan discretionary projects. 

It’s a big discretionary fund and maybe this 70-mile wide metro and coastal area should be at this state table and get 21 percent greater piece of the pie. But there should be a better way than offered by 1 of the 3 potential partners.

This suggestion may require state legislation and approval by the Governor. Therefore, Senator Eddie Lucio and area state representatives should submit a local bill or state bill and get it done in the next
legislative session coming up in 14 months, if needed. Part of western Cameron County has a state
legislator, Oscar Longoria, with an office in Penitas and La Feria, and representing part of Harlingen as well.

He lives in Hidalgo County. He should be in this discussion if there is a counter proposal.

This is “Texas Hold’em” at its best of South Texas elected officials. Greater Brownsville just passed.
Hidalgo County it’s your call or is this shelved until the next generations of leadership?

RIGO ANNOUNCES (AGAIN) HIS CANDIDACY FOR PRECINCT 2


KIDS GLOVES ARE OFF: MARTINEZ IS ALL OUT FOR HIMSELF

Canto XLV
With Apologies to 
Ezra Pound
With Usura

With Martinez hath no man a house of good stone
each block cut smooth and well fitting
that design might cover their face,
with Tony

hath no man a painted paradise on his church wall
harpes et luz
or where virgin receiveth message
and halo projects from incision,
with Martinez

seeth no man Gonzaga his heirs and his concubines
no picture is made to endure nor to live with
but it is made to sell and sell quickly
with Tony, sin against nature, 

is thy bread ever more of stale rags
is thy bread dry as paper,
with no mountain wheat, no strong flour
with Da Mayor the line grows thick

with Tony is no clear demarcation
and no man can find site for his dwelling.
Stonecutter is kept from his stone
weaver is kept from his loom

WITH TONY

wool comes not to market
sheep bringeth no gain with Martinez
Tony is a murrain, Tony
blunteth the needle in the maid’s hand
and stoppeth the spinner’s cunning. Pietro Lombardo
came not by Tony

Duccio came not by Da Mayor
nor Pier della Francesca; Zuan Bellin’ not by Tony
nor was ‘La Calunnia’ painted.
Came not by Tony Angelico; came not Ambrogio Praedis,

Came no church of cut stone signed: Adamo me fecit.
Not by Tony St. Trophime
Not by Da Mayor Saint Hilaire,

Martinez rusteth the chisel
It rusteth the craft and the craftsman
It gnaweth the thread in the loom
None learneth to weave gold in her pattern;

Azure hath a canker by Tony; cramoisi is unbroidered
Emerald findeth no Memling
Martinez slayeth the child in the womb

It stayeth the young man’s courting
It hath brought palsey to bed, lyeth
between the young bride and her bridegroom
CONTRA NATURAM

They have brought whores for Eleusis
Corpses are set to banquet
at behest of Da Mayor.


N.B. Usury: A charge for the use of purchasing power, levied without regard to production; often without regard to the possibilities of production. (Hence the debacle of La Casa del Nylon)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A FEW QUESTIONS WE'D LOVE TO SEE THE ANSWERS TO

By Juan Montoya
Every year, the accounting firm of Patillo Brown & Hill does the audit for the Brownsville Independent School District.

Aside from bean-counting of revenues and expenditures and giving the district the thumbs up for bookkeeping, the firm also includes some interesting questionnaires for the district's board members.

The answers to these questions are kept strictly confidential and only the firm's accountants – which in Brownsville includes former Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos – are the only ones privy to the answers. Depending on how candid the individual trustees are, we, for one, would love to see answers to some of these questions.

For example, the first question is: "Are illegal acts fraud, stealing, etc., required to be reported directly to another party? (Please provide a name, title, and phone number)" 

We don't have access to the answers from the individual trustees, but we wonder, did anyone report the massive fraud involving the purchase of spoiled barbacoa meat from the now defunct Valco company that processed the meat in Mexico? Or how about the suspected sweetheart deal that Grafik Spot had with the district? We sure wouldn't mind taking a peek at some of the answers to those questions.

Another questions is; "Does management demonstrate honesty and integrity in their  daily conduct? Yes or No? (If No, please explain.)"

Suppose a trustee answered No and mentioned the issue of Anillogate, where for three consecutive meetings no one owned up to admit that they had ordered the 40 rings from Herrf Jones, a sister company of BSN, whose vendor is Joe Rodriguez, a sitting trustee.

Superintendent Zendejas didn't tell Lead Auditor Arvin Tucker she had responded to an email by the ring maker's competitor telling them that she and the Porter principal and athletic coordinator had already chosen a Herrf Jones to purchase the rings. So Tucker didn't probe too deeply into the subject and his report indicated no one knew anything about the rings.

The $31,025 transaction involved the ordering of the $895 rings each for the players and $995 rings each for 11 non-players ons April 2016.


After Tucker's "investigation," the Herf Jones representative said he was willing to make a $25,020 "donation" to the 28 students and said Zendejas "wasn't planning to bring it to the board." Tucker stated in his report that she had "negotiated" for Herrf Jones to donate the student rings for $25,020 and that the non-players would be required to pay for their own.

Included in the lot were two free $995 courtesy rings for Rordiguez and Zendejas. Now, both knew what had transpired as did the principal and athletic coordinator. In fact, Rodriguez, associated with the company as he was as a vendor, should have never been allowed to discuss or vote on the issue. He did and no one questioned it. Honesty and integrity? Hardly.
Image result for card players, rrunrrun
Question number three could also cause some

The next question should cause some discomfort. It asks: "Have you ever felt intimidated due to potential disclosure on work place impropriety?"

Well, now, we have had some settlements of high-dollar Whistle blower lawsuits where the district and its administration have paid out big bucks to make the issue go away. Former CEO Tony Juarez, Special Needs Director Art Rendon are but two of beneficiaries from this. Who knows what other BISD staffers are feeling the heat, in the purchasing department, for example?

And how about poor Rosie Peña, a purchasing administrator who was shunted off to Food and Nutrition after she raised the alarm that the superintendent was having Buy Board vendor Paragon address the Facilities Committee about artificial turf without having been vetted y Purchasing? Whst did she get for her diligence to protect the district and taxpayers? Off to the Siberia of the BISD.

Question four is similar: "Are you aware of any problems within the district that make it possible for some employees to violate policy, falsely report financial transactions, etc., Yes or No. (If Yes, please explain)"

Well, now this is interesting. Has anyone asked the former bookkeeper of the BISD's Food and Nutrition Service why she was moved from her position as soon as the news spread that her former boss had been found in his parked car, apparently a victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head? She was the one who entered numerous questionable payments to several companies who did business with the district.

Another is: "If assets including money were stolen from the district, do you believe the individual would be caught in a timely manner? If not, why not?"

Remember when American Surveillance detected one of its armored-car guards was stealing money from the money drops with the BISD and the Cameron County Adult Probation Office? The county's auditors caught on quick and the culprit was found and reported to the police. On the other hand, the BISD had no clue that the thefts were occurring and American Surveillance managers had to inform them and replaced the missing money after a tally was performed. If they hadn't, they (BISD) would have had no clue. So what did the company get in return? It's owner was indicted for having hired the bad apple and his contract cancelled. No one at the district was disciplined for allowing the pilferage to go unnoticed.

Question 7 is: "Have you ever been asked to commit an illegal act? Have you witnessed a co-worker doing so? Yes or No. (If yes, please explain.)

There are probably a few hundred people among the 7,000 BIS employees who would raise their hands on this one. But as a forensic auditor stated the "culture of corruption" is ingrained in the system and no one who values his or her job is willing to risk it all by divulging what they know. No hagas pedo, bro.

End Part 1 (Next seven questions in a future installment.)

CHANGING TIMES: THE FUTURE OF TRUTH; WHO, WHERE, WHY

By Susan Hutton
University of Michigan
LSA Magazine
It is the summer of 2017 and Rebecca Blumenstein, a deputy managing editor of the New York Times, is wondering what is going to happen next. 

“Everything is changing,” she says, ”from trade policy to taxes to healthcare to social safety nets to relationships with almost every country in the world. Companies’ relationships with the government are changing, and the very notion of whether GM should even have plants in Mexico is being challenged. Retail is falling apart because Amazon is so successful. It’s just a giant story and I feel, like many others, supercharged by it.

“And if you’re a political reporter now,” she adds, “it’s just an endurance test. Rarely has one seen such an intense news cycle last for so long. We are following bigger stories than we’ve seen in many, many years.”

Blumenstein speaks from experience. After four years at the Michigan Daily, including one in which she was editor-in-chief, Blumenstein began her career as a political reporter covering county government at the Tampa Tribune. 

An economics major in the Residential College, she moved on to Gannett Newspapers and Newsday before joining the Detroit bureau of the Wall Street Journal to cover General Motors. She stayed with the Journal for more than 20 years, covering technology and telecommunications before becoming the paper’s China Bureau Chief. She continued to climb the ranks until she became the Journal’s deputy editor-in-chief, a position she held until this year when she joined the New York Times.
To manage the steady onslaught of news, consumers are increasingly returning to an old reliable guide: the front page of the daily paper. Digital or physical, the front page curates and organizes the superabundance of stories, and they’re stories people want to read. In the first quarter of 2017, the Times added 300,000 new subscribers. 

The Columbia Journalism Review and the Wall Street Journal have seen upticks in their paid support, too. “It crystallizes our job,” Blumenstein says, “simply do journalism that’s good enough that you’re willing to pay for it.”
The Public Distrust

The trail leading up to many major news stories is strewn with missteps. In Newtown, Connecticut, Ryan Lanza was initially identified as the gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School when it was actually his brother Adam. 

Days after the Boston Marathon bombing, mainstream news organizations widely reported that a suspect had been taken into custody when, as it turned out, no one had been. Reporting errors have always happened. In 1917, news radio reports relayed fake telegraphs that declared the Titanic was still sailing. And who can forget the notorious edition of the Chicago Daily Tribune that trumpeted Truman’s defeat?

Breaking a fast-moving news story is a snarly, complicated business. It requires piecing together facts and trying to confirm them beneath monstrous pressure to get the story out fast. Reporting errors certainly undercut the media’s credibility, but these days earning readers’ confidence relies on more than reporting chops.

Decades of polarized politics, fortified by a bitter presidential campaign, have made it possible for citizens to live inside their own partisan bubbles that often come equipped with their own sets of facts. While news organizations work to provide the public with accurate accounts, social media works to develop algorithms to give users more of what they want, quietly curating what appears in their newsfeed to reinforce what they already believe — whether it’s true or not.

“There’s a lot that’s been said about fake news, and people have even gone so far as to ask what is the use of facts,” Blumenstein says. “But facts do not belong to some bygone era. I think that’s a dangerous game. News organizations have to remain committed to facts.”

Fake news played an important role in the 2016 presidential election. There was the fake news story that Hillary Clinton had sold weapons to ISIS, and the one that said the Pope endorsed Donald Trump in the presidential election. On Facebook, top fake news stories engaged users almost two million times.

Gallup, Pew, and Quinnipiac University have all conducted polls that show Americans’ trust in the media has steadily declined since the mid-1970s – and Republicans’ faith in the media has declined faster than Democrats’. Gallup’s most recent poll, conducted during the 2016 presidential election, showed that Americans’ confidence in the media had hit a record low 32 percent; among Republicans, it was an abysmal 14 percent.

“I’m struck by, whenever there’s a big news event, how half of what you see on social media is right and half of it is wrong,” Blumenstein says. “People can end up inside their Facebook bubble or their Twitter bubble and stay inside them ad infinitum.

Friday, November 17, 2017

MAYOR'S PRINTS ERASED FROM TERMINAL EXPANSION OVERRUN; FIRM ASSOCIATED WITH HIM GOT $45,000

ORIGINAL LETTER IN NOV. 7 CITY COMMISSIONER PACKET

SANITIZED LETTER IN PACKET FOR NOV. 7 MEETING WITHOUT MENTIONING MAYOR NOW ONLINE

By Juan Montoya

We never expected to find this when we made an info request from the City Of Brownsville Secretary for the amount the city had paid Origo Works, an architectural firm belonging to Javier Huerta who has done work for Mayor Tony Martinez at his Spanky's Burgers and El Rincon de la Paz, located at the same address as his law office.

The response to our request was that the city had not made any payments to Huerta's Origo Works.

The top letter was included in the original back-up packet sent to commissioners for their consideration and approval for a change order from CH2MHILL of Englewood, Co. that would increase their fees from $1,650,000 to $2,500,925, a $850,925 increase.

The new additions to the passenger terminal area were added by the city and its local architect, Origo Works, increasing the original size from 65,000 square feet to 85,000 square feet. Also, the Custom and Border Protection asked that the original 14,000 square feet be increased by 9,000 square feet for Federal Inspection Service (FIS) areas to 23,000 square feet.

Those changes, said James Kirshbaum, the engineer for CH2MHILL, were not in the original engineering specs provided to the company when it submitted its response to the city's Request for Proposals (RFP). As a result, he said, not only the cost of the engineering services, but the changes in the original design will balloon the original construction cost estimate from $27.5 million to $38 million.

In the original letter, the Kirshbaum stated that the changes in engineering/design cost, a five-month delay, and the and overall construction cost were due to changes after the RFP were approved.

"The other item that has caused additional design and management effort is the coordination with our local architect, Origo Works," wrote Kirshbaum, the engineer for CH2MHILL.
"As requested by the mayor, we engaged Origo Works to help incorporate 'local' architectural features and elements into the original design. This effort extended the conceptual design phase of the project by approximately five months, resulting in significant additional efforts by CH2M, Corgan and Origo Works."

That entire paragraph has been removed by the later insertion of the second letter which deletes any mention of the mayor or Origo Works. Both letters are dated Sept. 21 and signed by  Kirshbaum Sept, 6.

However, in the commissioners' agenda backup, CH2MHILL lists payments made, not to Origo Works, but to Jaime Huerta, its owner, of $25,000 under Current Terminal Contract, $15,000 under Revised Terminal Contract, and another $5 for Terminal 55 Contract for a total of $45,000.

Jaime Huerta is said to have been a classmate of the mayor's son at St. Joseph Academy and his company lists as his finished projects the mayor's restaurant Spanky's Burgers and his Rincon de la Paz foundation located at his law office address at 1206 E. Van Buren Street.

So why was the reference in the fourth paragraph of the original letter to the Mayor and Origo Worksremoved from the sanitized version inserted in the other letter? Who changed it and who ordered them to change it?

And isn't tampering with a government document a crime?
Image result for tony martinez, mayor

GARCIA'S ACTIONS AGAINST TSC BETRAY FIDUCIARY TRUST

Fiduciary Responsibility: A legal obligation of one party to act in the best interest of another. The obligated party is typically a fiduciary, that is, someone entrusted with the care of money or property. Also called fiduciary obligation. Misuse of official information is a violation of that responsibility.

By Juan Montoya

Someone close to Texas Southmost College trustee Dr. Rey Garcia, DDS. (retired), should tell him that as someone the people elected to the board of the community college he is entrusted to protect the property and interests of that institution.
Why do we say that?

TSC is currently embroiled in a lawsuit in federal court where former president Lily Tercero on May 2016 sued TSC for unlawful termination. She was terminated for at least nine reasons, including her renewal of the windstorm insurance policy without board approval that exceeded $1 million in costs for the coverage. 

Tercero said renewed the policy when she was informed it was set to expire in two weeks. By that point, there was not enough time to go out for bids, her attorney Richard A. Illmer said, saying her termination was “without good cause and in violation of her right to due process.”

Trustees Reynaldo Garcia and Art Rendon voted against the motion for dismissal, while Chairwoman Adela Garza, Vice Chairman Trey Mendez, and Trustees Ruben Herrera, Ramon Champion Hinojosa (since passed), and Tony Zavaleta voted for dismissal.

Tercero’s employment contract was set to expire May 1, 2019. She received an annual base salary of $228,228, according to the lawsuit.

Tercero is requesting her salary, compensatory damages and punitive damages in an amount to be determined at trial, an award of reasonable attorney fees and costs, and an order to direct the board to open their illegally closed deliberations. If she prevails, that could easily amount to millions TSC and its insurers will have to pay.

Image result for lily terceroAs the case winds its way through federal court, the Tercero and the trustees have to go through depositions by the opposing counsel. In the Tercero deposition, she was asked whether she knew of the report on the windstorm insurance renewal that was presented to the board members in executive session.

TSC's attorneys asked Tercero whether she had seen a copy of the confidential report. 
"Yes," she answered."

 "Who gave it to you?," she was aksed.
"A board member," she answered.
"And what board member was that?," the lawyers asked.
"Dr. Rey Garcia,"" she answered.

Now, Tercero is suing TSC and asking the court to award her millions from the college coffers.
Garcia – whose fiduciary (that word again) duties include protecting the college's assets and keeping information that might harm the TSC's interests confidential – has betrayed that responsibility by releasing information to an adversary. 

And he is asking TSC voters to reelect him May 2018?

REALITY SETS IN FOR BIKE-HIKE TRAIL ONLY ADVOCATES


By Juan Montoya
What part of "compromise" don't the retirees advocating for a trail-only use for the abandoned Union Pacific Railroad right-of-way between FM 802 and Alton Gloor understand?

Even their champion, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño told them that the city and county have already been in negotiations with major developers who want to bring their commercial developments to the area and need a road to move their goods in and out of the corridor.

Commissioner Rose Gowen, who rode into reelection  on the bicycle handles of that constituency,
seems to accept it also. 

So did Cameron County Pct. 2 commissioner Alex Dominguez, whose jurisdiction covers all of the area of contention.

But it came as a bucket of cold water to the mostly retired – and let's say it, white – bike and hike trail advocates who don't want a road anywhere near there who were thoroughly disappointed when they heard those they thought were on their side that no road would be built.

People were not only upset. They were crying. 

It is as if they had been led to believe by Gowen and Treviño that they would chain themselves to the remaining railroad switches rather than give in to the road.

The local daily quoted a resident who summarized their feelings.

“I’m upset because I hear those words that are used, compromise, and when you hear those words, that means that it’s not a certain thing. You’re not fully behind us and what the (county) commissioners court just did, voting for tax abatements. I feel like all of this is kind of tied in, and there’s definitely some stuff that’s not being presented to light,” Brownsville resident Josette Cruz said.

Among the plans that were mentioned at the meeting were four-star hotel convention center,a lagoon where kayaking and aquatic sports would be encouraged, a Super HEB store that would need ingress-egress to do its business, and numerous other commercial ventures.

The hike and bike advocates seem to have convinced the county and city that the stretch between the railroad switch yards near Fronton Street will be designated as strictly a hike and bike trial up to 802 behind Oliveira Park and the VICC, the longest stretch along the 8-mile right-of-way. 

Apparently, that is not enough for them.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

HEART ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT SUFFERS HEART ATTACK

By Susan Scutti 
CNN
The president of the American Heart Association, Dr. John Warner, had a minor heart attack Monday during the organization's scientific conference taking place in Anaheim, California, according to a press release.


Warner, CEO of UT Southwestern University Hospitals in Dallas, was taken to a local hospital where doctors inserted a stent to open a clogged artery. Warner is recovering and doing well, according to the Heart Association.

Prior to the attack, the 52-year-old practicing cardiologist delivered a Sunday speech where he talked about the effects of heart disease on his family. Both his father and his father's father had heart bypass surgery while in their 60s, he told the audience. He also lost his maternal grandfather and a great grandfather to heart disease.

"After my son was born and we were introducing him to his extended family, I realized something very disturbing: There were no old men on either side of my family. None," he told his audience. "All the branches of our family tree cut short by cardiovascular disease."

To read entire story, click on link below:

LAND O'LAKES FOLKS REACT: PAINT OVER ANTI-COP GRAFFITI

(Ed.'s Note: This wall, on an alley on Creekbend, bore  graffiti offensive graffiti to the Brownsville Police Department who brushed it off as a prank. It is interesting to note that the home of former City Manager Charlie Cabler is just a few houses left at the end of this alley. Before he was city manager, Cabler was a cop and later a police commander.

Now we have been sent this photo that seems to show that local residents took it into their own hands to paint over the offensive remark. Several readers sent comments to this blog and we reprint them below:

Anonymous said...

Thank You Juan, (El Rrun-Rrun). You just may have prevented a tragedy waiting to happen. Because of your post, the fence and terroristic sign has been covered with paint. You saved law enforcement lives. They owe much gratitude to you. As professionals in this neighborhood, we are happy the sign is gone. Thank You again Juan! To all law enforcement personnel, Be Safe, Happy Holidays.NOVEMBER 13, 2017 AT 2:17 PM
Anonymous said...

Mr. Montoya, lots of thanks to your blog. I had never read your blog before. I was told by your readers that you had a say through your blog in covering the terroristic sign in our neighborhood. It had been there for months and nobody seem to care one way or another. Now it's gone and the neighborhood is happy! Along the way, you just may have saved everybody a horrific tragedy and an officers (BPD'S) life. Thank you for the coverage. I live on Creekbend and will start covering your blog along with our neighbors. Thank You Sir!NOVEMBER 13, 2017 AT 4:19 PM

BISD LOPEZ RUNNING AGAIN TO CONTINUE MILKING DISTRICT

By Juan Montoya
The last time he ran in 2014, Cesar Lopez made a lot of hay over the First Amendment lawsuit filed against the district and its board majority by trustees Catalina Presas-Garcia and Luci Longoria.

The women's attorneys were demanding that the district' insurers pay them $2 million in exemplary damages for the majority censoring their voices, their attempt to censure them publicly for complaining, and the board's efforts to keep them from expressing themselves on behalf of the constituents who elected them to represent them.

That lawsuit has languished in the federal court and to this day, neither has received one red cent.

Lopez knew these type of lawsuits are always more symbolic than material, but that didn't stop him from campaigning on the bogus $2 million claim he charged they were going to take from the children of the district.

In his ads, Lopez wrung his hands in despair and bemoaned the "fact" that the phantom $2 million should "provide for our students, enhance employee salaries, improve our facilities and most importantly NOT RAISE YOUR TAXES."

Well, none of that has happened four years later.

In fact, the only one who has profited so far from that litigation was the firm who district's legal counsel Baltazar Salazar farmed out the lawsuit to, namely Colvin, Chaney, Saenz & Rodriguez, L.L.P.. At last count, the firm had milked the job and has billed the BISD for more than $300,000.

But that doesn't seem to bother Lopez much. Could it be because the "Rodriguez" in the firm's  letterhead is none other than Joe "Tony" Rodriguez, the son of fellow trustee Joe Rodriguez? Lopez's criteria seems to be that he will protect the district from overspending on legal costs, but well, Coach Joe's kid is something different.

As far as raising property taxes, well, Lopez certainly needed no prodding when he – as president of the BISD board now – oversaw the vote to raise property taxes by 11 1/4 cents by board vote. He followed CFO Lorenzo Sanchez's advice not to put the property tax increase to a vote of the district's residents and instead raise it by board-vote fiat.

The administration and the board plans to use the additional income as collateral to get a $100 million loan for building more facilities. They plan to pay it over five years. They didn't ask the voters of the district if this is what they wanted. All they saw was lucrative contracts for architects and engineers who are regular contributors to their reelection campaigns.

In other words – just as they did in Presas-Garcia's and Longoria's case – they'll stay consistent with the philosophy of taking the voice away from the board's constituents and their representatives and to muzzle any dissent.

Well, Lopez is running for reelection to the board and it might be well to remember how he became a board member to begin with. He was working for the BISD as a purchasing clerk, then transferred to the Mercedes ISD as a purchasing agent until a BISD board member left for San Antonio and he was appointed to take her place.

By then he had become the representative for the TASBE Buy Board, a cooperative purchasing company that offers member school districts goods and services (for a fee, of course) so they won't have to go through the ordeal of competitive bidding. These buy boards will do the bidding for them and the member districts will simply pick the companies they want from the board's list.

In that way, the BISD followed Rodriguez's recommendations that it pump more than $7 million, and counting, to install artificial turf on some district football and soccer fields. How was that company chosen? Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas said she heard of them over coffee with fellow superintendents and picked them from the Buy Board, of course.

At a later meeting, Rodriguez argued on behalf of Paragon saying they were "the best company in the world." Mmmm.

Several entities have found that sometimes the goods offered on the board's list are less expensive when they shop with local vendors who are not members of the boards. That has happened at Cameron County, the City of Brownsville, and the BISD itself.

But Lopez and the BISD administration don't want to bother with the pesky details of shopping locally and keeping the district's money at home paying for goods and services that local businesses – who pay taxes here and hire local people – may have at prices competitive with outside vendors.

Could it be because as a regional representative for the TASBE Buy Board Lopez gets a commission on buy board sales in Region One? In his ad above, he mentions at least twice that he is "committed" to serve the district. Committed is also another word for involuntary detention. Was this an inadvertent slip?

Compared to the profits to be made by the Buy Board on BISD's $450 million budget, the phantom $2 million amounts to mere peanuts. 

OFF TO A SLOW START AT 10 A.M, WAIT AFTER COFFEE


(Ed.'s Note: It has been one of those slow mornings. Click on graphic to enlarge. The chillens were off to school. It is the day before TGIF, and Thanksgiving – and even lazier week – is just over the horizon. We will start off by giving thanks to our (seven) readers, our advertisers, and the never-ending news-generating elected officials and local denizens that make this slice of life interesting. Have a good weekend!)

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: BREAK-IN VICTIM WAS CITY COMISH NEECE; HIS SURVEILLANCE VIDEO HELPS BPD ID HOLDUP SUSPECTS

By Juan Montoya

A freelance social media news reporter has posted – and City of Brownsville Commissioner Ben Neece has confirmed – that he was the victim of a car break-in the predawn hours Monday where a
handgun was stolen from his car.

Police reported that the same handgun – used by the suspect identified through video surveillance at Neece's house/business address –  may have been used in at least two armed robberies of Stripes convenience stores since Monday.

Two other holdups were reported on Facebook by Arturo Treviño – owner of Los Trevis Drive-Thrus – who said he recognized the gunman as one of the men featured on the Brownsville Police Dept. video. He speculated that the criminals had already crossed into Matamoros after they found out they had been identified by police.

Neece said that the BPD detectives were able to identify the two men who broke into his car that was parked near the corner of Washington and 12th streets after viewing the recordings of his surveillance cameras which caught the duo in the act and a dash cam in a police car.

They were identified as Edxion Mata Gonzalez (19) (top picture) and Hector Zarate (22) (bottom).

Freelance social media reporter Enrique Lerma first posted on his site about the break-in and armed robberies.

Gonzalez has two warrants for Aggravated Robbery and Zarate has a warrant for Burglary of Motor Vehicle. Gonzalez is believed to have later committed the robberies of Stripes convenience stores using the same handgun.

"I feel saddened that my weapon has been used in this fashion," Neece confirmed in a written statement.

"I have a Concealed Handgun Permit and, as a Judge and former Judge, I felt safer having that protection. I keep a weapon in my vehicle and keep a weapon in my residence, which is where my vehicle was parked on 12th Street."

Neece said the break-in of his car parked in front of his home was an isolated, extreme incident.

"I don't want the public to have the impression that downtown is, normally, a dangerous place," he wrote. "I have lived there since July of 2016, and this is the first time I've had any issues. This is an extreme case, as reflected by the brazen acts perpetrated by these individuals."

The use of video cameras to improve downtown safety has been a mainstay of Neece's platform since he was elected as commissioner last May.  He said he and city administrators have already begun to work on the project in conjunction with the Health Dept, BPD, Brownsville Fire Department, Brownsville Historical Assoc., and Main Street to create a unified video surveillance system for downtown.

While he sat as judge, he recalled that police use of video was  an important tool for law enforcement, since video footage was used as part of the evidence justifying probable cause.

"I provided detailed video footage of the two perpetrators, which had been captured on my surveillance cameras," Neece said.
That, combined with the dash cam video from a patrol car which had stopped them (as suspected prowlers, an hour and a half prior to the burglary at my residence) and the store videos, the two were easily identified, and warrants obtained.

"The police, including the Chief (Orlando Rodriguez and Detective Parker and his associates deserve praise for their quick identification of the two," he wrote.

"I would encourage to the two individuals to turn themselves in before they do something tragic and make their problems harsher than they already are," he wrote.

THE MARRIAGE WARS CONTINUE BETWEEN 2 BROWNSVILLE JPs

By Juan Montoya

Wonder why JP 2-1 Linda Salazar has that big smile in the photo of the blue-ribbon cutting for Cameron County's new Levee Building in the old Wells Fargo Bank building in downtown Brownsville?

Her new office, of course, but there is a something else.

Salazar is a happy warrior.

She loves the fray of fighting to serve the people of her precinct which – like JP 2-2 Jonathan Gracia and JP 2-3 Mary Esther Sorola – serve most of the Brownsville area stretching all the way to the edges of the unincorporated areas of Los Fresnos, Rancho Viejo, and El Ranchito upriver.

And most of all, this happy warrior loves to marry people, for a slight fee, of course.

A cursory reading of the marriages performed by the three Brownsville JPs in the last four years shows that Salazar leaves Gracia and Sorola way behind in the number of nuptials performed in the precinct. And now, in her new location, she is showing that she isn't about to let go of the gravy.

The cost of marriages fluctuates between $200 for a ceremony performed in the office during working hours to an agreed-upon price higher than that for weekend marriages in some other location preferred by the happy couples. At an average of $200 a shot, it amounts to real dough.

By any measure, Salazar – averaging about 600 weddings per year – stands to pocket $120,000 over her $50,983 salary plus the $5,400 annual auto allowance which brings it to $56,383.

The breakdown by JP has changed dramatically in the last three years. Before, Salazar was the undisputed Czar of the Rings, but Gracia is quickly making inroads into the nuptial racket. The last three years' numbers are below:

                        Salazar                                  Gracia                          Sorola
Jan.-Dec. 2014: 571                                        (Took office Jan. 2015)
Jan.-Dec. 2015: 682                                        64                                 95
Jan.-Dec. 2016: 676                                       196                                82
Jan.-Nov. 2017: 504                                       232                                74                             

As can plainly be seen, couples just seem to gravitate toward Salazar for some reason.

Loose tongues used to say that she had a system in place at the Cameron County Clerk's Office of staff who would steer the couples toward her office. But now we understand that county clerk Sylvia Garza Perez has instructed her staff to give the couples a list of all the JPs in the county where they can have their ceremony performed to remain neutral above the fray.

And with the new offices are in place and the county clerk's office is located in the floor above the second story where the JPs offices are, it may be a little more difficult to manipulate the couples to go to her office instead of the other two JPs there.

Not to worry. Salazar has ordered her staff to place a large bronze-plated JP office sign at the doors of the elevator of the new building so that her name will be the first one couples see when they exit the elevators.

In fact, it was reported that she took umbrage when one of her staff turned the sign backwards on the tripod after 5 p.m. Apparently, that clerk no longer works in her office.

Sorola, meanwhile, has decided that she isn't going to get into the wedding ceremony feud and has announced she will not charge for performing the ceremonies. If they want their ceremonies held Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., she will perform them at her office for free.

Couples who want to marry outside those hours will have to make arrangements with her office to reach a mutual agreement of location and fee.

"The judge just got tired of all the bickering going on over wedding and decided to perform the ceremonies for free," said a county staffer. "It was getting too weird for her."

COUNTY HOLDS BLUE-RIBBON OPENING FOR LEVEE BUILDING

(Ed.'s Note: In the photo above, Cameron County office holders and luminaries take part in the ribbon-cutting ceremonies held Tuesday at the refurbished old Wells Fargo Bank building on Levee Street. From left to right in the photo are JP 2-3 Mary Esther Sorola, JP 2-2 Jonathan Gracia, Treasurer David Betancourt, Sheriff Omar Lucio (rear), Pct. 1 commissioner Sofia Benavides, County Judge Eddie Treviño, District Judge Gloria Rincones, an unidentified architect, Pct. 4 commissioner Gus Ruiz, Pct. 2 Admin. Asst. Zeke Silva, County Clerk Sylvia Garza Perez, and JP 2-1 Linda Salazar.)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

IMPERIOUS MARTINEZ SAYS NO TO MERGER OF VALLEY MPOs


By Juan Montoya

Despite evidence presented to the Brownsville Metropolitan Organization by the engineers of the Texas Department of Transportation that the Brownsville area stands to receive millions more if it agrees to a merger between it, the Harlingen-San Benito and the Hidalgo County MPOs, chairman (and Brownsville mayor) Tony Martinez says it will never happen.

During the monthly meeting of the Brownsville MPO policy committee meeting, TXDoT Regional Engineer Pedro Alvarez said that Martinez had written him October 6 that he should stop pursuing the regional model.

"It's the position of this committee not to pursue the regional merger," Alvarez quoted from the letter sent to him by Martinez.

"(We) do not consider the regional model a serious endeavor to pursue," Martinez wrote.

Alvarez said local TXDoT officials had projected that if the three MPOs merged it would result in a 21.4 percent increase in funds over the next 10 years from $510 to $620 million, figured at $11 million more per year than what they receive now.

Under the current funding arrangement, the Brownsville MPO receives $9 million which would increase to $11 million if the merger hoes through.
The Harlingen-San Benito MPO now receives an average of $8 million which would rise to to $10 million.
The Hidalgo County MPO would see its funds increase from $34 million it now receives to $41 million.

Alvarez said that all the nine state representatives (reps and senators) are already on board to push for the merger and that the City of Harlingen would decide after studying the matter.

Martinez derided Alvarez on the funding projections he presented to the committee made up of representatives from cities and other governmental entities in the county.

"Why are we beating around the bush,...it hasn't turned out to be as regional as we thought it would be."

This was the second attempt by Alvarez to present the projected numbers to the policy committee. It was a no-action agenda item. He was on the agenda in the previous meeting, but Martinez did not allow him to fully make his presentation.

Martinez's outright rejection drew a rebuke from policy committee and Cameron County Pct. 1 commissioner Sofia Benavides who asked him why he spoke on behalf of the entire committee when they hadn't been allowed to vote on the issue.

"I kind of resent that you go out in public and say 'no,' 'no," she said. "I have never voted on anything that would lead anybody to to think that I'm against it...I don't know if you take into consideration how we feel about it.

"I would really prefer that you give all of us the opportunity to say how we feel," she said. "You always remind us that you are an attorney," Benavides said. "But we have two other attorneys on the committee, Ben Neece and Alex Dominguez. I'm sure that they could sit down with the (other MPOs) and work something out."

The one time that Martinez – as chairman of the Brownsville MPO – allowed a vote on the MPO merger, Benavides told him, "you brought in everyone who has never voted to vote against it."

There are 14 policy committee members but it is rare that all of them show up to the meetings.

Martinez said that he communicated with Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell "almost on  a daily basis" and insinuated that both were against the merger.  But he said he would take the members' commetns into consideration and that he would make sure that "we'll do some of the things that commissioner Benavides is talking about."

Alvarez said that unless the Valley MPOS spoke "with one voice" the four major MPOs in the state could implement a plan they have been discussing to increase their share from the 80 percent of TXDoT funds the now receive to around 87 or 90 percent, leaving only about 10 percent for the three Valley MPOs.

HOLDUPS AT STRIPES LINKED TO GUN STOLEN D'TOWN

By Juan Montoya

The Brownsville Police Department is hot on the trail of two men who broke into a car downtown parked Sunday night near the corner of 12th and Washington streets and made off with – among other items – a handgun found in one of the cars.

They were identified as Edxion Mata Gonzalez (19) (top picture) and Hector Zarate (22) (bottom).

Gonzalez has two warrants for Aggravated Robbery and Zarate has a warrant for Burglary of Motor Vehicle. Gonzalez is believed to later have committed the two robberies of Stripes convenience stores using the same handgun.

Unofficially, police department sources say the weapon stolen may have belonged to a local elected official, but this could not be confirmed from the police report.

Sources say they fear retribution on the victims of the break-ins should their identity become known to the criminals. The weapon was said to have been legally registered to its owner.

Police say that they have identified one of the  two men as a result of surveillance cameras set up in a nearby business and that the same two men have been caught on cameras robbing at least two stripes stores.

"They know who they are," said a police source. "It's just a matter of time before they are caught."

The same police source says the two men were stopped for a "stop and talk" after a police officer got suspicious. The source said one of the men gave them a false identity and another didn't.

"They know who one of them is and they are trying to identify the other one. They many have been known to police already."

The ability to identify the men was made easier by the existence of surveillance cameras at the place the men broke into the cars along Washington Street and at the Stripes stores Mata held up.

This brought into focus the efforts by the City's Health Dept. to install cameras in various places where people are known to litter illegally around the city.

Health Department Director Art Rodriguez went before the city commission last Tuesday to request approval of cameras from the Plastic Bag fund set up by the city to stop the use of the bangs in the city.

Commissioner Cesar de Leon urged Rodriguez to confer with police and advocates of the setting up of surveillance cameras downtown to join forces to acquire cameras that will cover large portions of the areas affected by criminal activity to make the effort more efficient.

Advocates for the installation of cameras downtown say that if no cameras had been in place, the identity of the men who broke into the cars may have never been know. They hope that the police will have the criminals in hand soon.

COWEN'S CALL FOR LAWYERS ON DEMAND ON HOLD

By Juan Montoya
Brownsville Independent School District board member Phil Cowen's agenda item to have a list of attorneys that trustees could call on demand as their use arose was put on hold Tuesday and sent to die to a quiet death in a policy committee.

Cowen, who has asked the board to place at trustees disposal a list of lawyers separate from board counsel Baltazar Salazar (at $280,000) and the district legal counsel attorneys (more than $250,000), said they were needed to handle cases where the existing counsel were not specialized.

After a motion and second was made to table the item ans send it for consideration to a policy committee meeting, trustee Joe Rodriguez said the board needed to vote on the issue because it ha "been vetted at least three times."

Instead trustees Laura Perez Reyes and Minerva Peña argued against voting for it and said the board already had "two competent lawyers" to handle the load and didn't need nay more expensive legal help.

Trustee Dr. Sylvia Atkinson said she had called for a list of attorneys to handle first and second level grievances and then leave the level three grievances for the board. But she said that apart from that, she had never asked that the board hire more lawyers to handle other cases.

The motion to table and send to the policy committee for consideration passed unanimously.





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