Tuesday, June 30, 2015

PUB SHOWDOWN AT BROWNTOWN CORRAL DUE WEDNESDAY

(The meeting of the Brownsville City Commission originally scheduled for Tuesday was changed to Wednesday. Two members of the PUB are scheduled to be replaced and insiders expect that a dog fight will take place pitting the candidates chosen by Mayor Tony Martinez and the rest of the city commission.)
By Juan Montoya
The terms for two appointed members of the Brownsville Public Utility Board will expire June 30, and the city has rescheduled its weekly meeting for Wednesday.
Insiders say that already a take-n-prisoners, no-holds-barred struggle is underway to decide not only who the two persons will be named to replace the outgoing board members, but also who on the commission will decide who will sit on this important policy-recommending seven-member board.
Will it be Da Mayor Tony Martinez?
Or will it be some sort of new coalition among the city commission that will include top vote-getter Cesar de Leon and another three commission members. The issue is important because it will signal which direction the city is heading. Will it continue the same spend thrift ways that it has been under Martinez and his rubber-stamp city commission? Or will it be a majority that strikes an independent chord from now on?
The two board members who are due for forced retirement are Martinez acolytes Manny Vasquez and Arturo Farias.
Farias, a former banker and consultant, was appointed by commissioner Rose Gowen as was Emmanuel "Manny" Vasquez, a retired Brownsville Independent School District adult education administrator.
Now we understand that Da Mayor is out twisting arms and suggesting sinuously (as is his wont) that he wouldn't mind seeing Gerardo Martinez, a losing candidate against commissioner Cesar de Leon be appointed to the PUB. Martinez already sits on the PUB as an ex-officio member.
That has raised some eyebrows because the younger Martinez was seen as the mayor's plant in the At-Large A commissioners race against de Leon and the other candidates. Candidate Martinez touted his engineering background and his attending TSC as well as his Southmost roots. Many felt that not only did Da Mayor back Martinez The Younger, but also because District 1 (Southmost) commissioner Longoria was backing him as a candidate from the hood.
But others wonder if de Leon will play along and cast his vote for someone who – by his mere entering the race – made him and his supporters spend money, time energy and resources to beat him at the polls.
Will Da Mayor get his way and continue his way unimpeded? Or will he face a determined majority who may want to send him and the city the message that that his method of autocratic governance is on the outs?
Date: Wednesday, July 1.
Place: City Hall (Browntown Corral)
BYOB

POTENTIAL LAUNCH DISASTERS COME WITH THE TERRITORY

By Juan Montoya
Despite the soothing words of SpaceX's Elon Musk to a select group of public officials during a teleconference call today where he explained that the failed launch of a Dragon 9 was just a glitch and that they should not be worried about the planned launches from Boca Chica, doubts remain.
"I'm not sure I understand the science," said a participant. "But what makes me apprehensive is that this could happen at this stage of the game."
"It," means that this is the third time that a launch has resulted in the destruction of launch vehicles in the past year. Two were by other space companies other than SpaceX. 
Musk went out of his way to say that no one was injured and that there had been no damage to property in the Cape Canaveral launch. 
But that still doesn't change the fact that launching rockets anywhere is a dicey business.
Consider, for example, that amounts of liquid oxygen (LOX) and purified kerosene-based rocket propellants (RP) used in a Dragon 9 launch.
During the first stage to lift the rocket off the pad, the amount of LOX used in this craft is 262,350 pounds. The amount of RP is 608,475 pounds.
After the rocket reaches a given elevation, the second stage kicks in. That carries 141,095 pounds of LOX and another 59,524 pounds of RP.
This is the way SpaceX describes the lift-off process.
"Falcon 9’s first stage incorporates nine Merlin engines and aluminum-lithium alloy tanks containing liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellant.
After ignition, a hold-before-release system ensures that all engines are verified for full-thrust performance before the rocket is released for flight.
Then, with thrust greater than five 747s at full power, the Merlin engines launch the rocket to space. Unlike airplanes, a rocket's thrust actually increases with altitude; Falcon 9 generates 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level but gets up to 1.5 million pounds of thrust in the vacuum of space. The first stage engines are gradually throttled near the end of first-stage flight to limit launch vehicle acceleration as the rocket’s mass decreases with the burning of fuel."
This RP fuel is the one that Brownsville Economic Development Council VP Gilbert Salinas called "the stuff you use in your campfire." Not quite, Gil. This ain't your grandma's kerosene we're talking about here. This is a highly refined (and more explosive) propellant. Unless you want to get blown into the Gulf of Mexico, you'd never think of adding this to a campfire.
We noticed that Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda  Jr.– erring on the side of caution – told the Valley Morning Star's Emma Perez-Treviño that “Hopefully we never see that happen here. It’s very unfortunate. Hopefully they do what they need to do."
Well, we thought that they already were. Apparently, this is rocket science.
Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell also stated the obvious.
“Nobody wants to see that. These endeavors are complicated and difficult, so we are sorry to hear about the setback SpaceX had.”
Harlingen has a stake in the matter, as does the county. Both have invested their communities assets to push the SpaceX endeavor forward.
Cameron County has gone as far as designing the new and improved park system to include a launch-viewing component right off the Brownsville Ship Channel and hope to cash in on the crowds attracted by the launches.
Now imagine this:
Let's say that the LNG plants planned for the Port of Brownsville are operating. That crowds fill the Isla Blanca viewing area and that ships lie offshore awaiting the launch so they can be allowed into the port.
Suddenly, something like what happened Sunday occurs here.
Pieces of melting steel and metal drop onto fuel tanks farms and LNG plants on the channel. Other flaming fragments pepper the beach and the viewing stands. Molten steel is littered up and down the beach and onto ships in the Gulf.
Suddenly, the lift-off failure is not as Sepulveda called it "an unfortunate event."
Fortunately, no one was injured in the Sunday explosion occurring 139 seconds into flight after liftoff and Musk said that the loss is not expected to affect the aerospace firm’s planned schedule for the Boca Chica site.
“At this time we see no immediate impact,” SpaceX officials told Emma.
But it is something to consider as we stand on the threshold of entering this brave new world, is it not?

Monday, June 29, 2015

A WIRE SCORPION PICKED UP AT A SEGUNDA DOWNTOWN



RAUL SALAZAR'S APPEAL DENIED BY 13TH CT. OF APPEALS; COURT SENDS MANDATE TO TRIAL COURT TO JAIL HIM

By Juan Montoya
All that 's keeping Raul Salazar from beginning his 10-month jail sentence for his conviction on two counts of abuse of official capacity and one of tampering with a government document in the illegal hiring of his boss Ernie Hernandez's brother-in-law is for the trial court to impose the appeals court's mandate.On December 2013, Salazar was convicted in the 445th District Court and he appealed the 10-month concurrent sentence imposed by visiting judge  Federico Hinojosa.
On February  26, 2015, after first denying him a copy of the trial transcript as an indigent, the court affirmed the judgment of the trial court and ordered that its sentence be imposed. (Click on graphic to enlarge.)
Yet, at a May 14 hearing before Hinojosa, the judge said he had not yet received the appeals court mandate and said he had no jurisdiction until he received it.
Now, with the mandate in possession of the Cameron County District Court, the appeals court ordered that its mandate should be "duly recognized, obeyed and executed."
Since Salazar was tried on the three misdemeanor counts together, the maximum time that Hinojosa could sentence him was to one year. When multiple counts are tried together, the sentencing is always to the benefit of the defendant. Salazar's sentence included time served – an apparent reference to the evening he was processed at the Rucker-Carrizales Corrections Center at Olmito – before he was released under the county's Pre-Trial Release program. That apparently, earned him two months credit on the sentence.
Salazar was the administrative assistant to Hernandez whose bother-in-law through his wife Norma, Roberto Cadriel, was hired illegally as a security guard .
During the trial, testimony from several witnesses indicated that Cadriel – a convicted felon – was not eligible for employment with the county because he could neither read nor write, could not operate a computer, and was unable to pass the Civil Service examination all county employees must pass.
Several witnesses said that a Human Resources female employee was ordered to take the exam for Cadriel after he tried and failed twice with score sin the low 30s. When the woman took the exam for him, he scored an 86.
After he couldn't get the position he sought initially (animal control, that is, dog catcher), witnesses and Cadriel himself testified that a copy of the answers to a written test for security officer were given to him before he took the exam. He scored a 96 and was placed as a non-commissioned security guard at one of the bridges at the Cameron County International Bridge System.
And even though his boss Ernie Hernandez denied any role in his hiring, Cadriel testified on the stand that it was the commissioner who told him to go see Salazar at his commissioner's office to help him apply for a job with the county. Cadriel said Norma – his sister and the commissioner's wife – helped him fill out the county application.
Then, during the trial, numerous state witnesses said Hernandez and Salazar pressured them through conversations and phone calls urging them to "move the application along," and get Cadriel hired.
Cadriel resigned – as did then-HR director Robert Lopez after media inquiries about his hiring began.
Hernandez told the local daily that he knew nothing about Cadriel being hired or resigning until he read it in the online version of the Brownsville Herald.
However, at the start of his assistant's trial, Hernandez – on the advice of his attorney – took the Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination and refused to testify on his behalf. Hernandez said that he was afraid that  some of the testimony he gave to a grand jury (three hours in all) might contradict the testimony he gave during Salazar's trial and he refused to take the stand.
Now, after all his appeals were denied, it is only a matter of time before Salazar takes the fall for his former boss.

MY LAI MASSACRE VETERAN DIES ALONE, FORGOTTEN

By Juan Montoya
Those of us old enough to remember the days of the Vietnam War recall how the war's horrors visited Brownsville.
Not only were the caskets and the wounded warriors coming home, but also the unwanted light of war's atrocities in the form of one of our soldier's involvement in the My Lai Massacre.
Esequiel Torres, a Brownsville soldier who had been drafted and participated in the massacre., died this past week. He was tried for his role in the massacre, charged with murder, and acquitted.
Torres died alone, and will be buried in Mission because no local relatives to accept his remains.
Local attorney Lupe Olvera said Torres had lived a lonely life after he returned from Vietnam. He worked in a used tire shop before he died.
Olvera – a former Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2035 commander – said Torres was a member and was active until the new post was set up and a different group took over the veterans organization.
"He used to be one of my right-hand men at the post," Olvera said. "He and the others who were tried for My Lai were made out to be the scapegoats for what they had been ordered to do."
Owing to the chaotic circumstances of the war and the U.S. Army's decision not to undertake a definitive body count of noncombatants in Vietnam, the number of civilians killed at My Lai on May 16, 1968, cannot be stated with certainty.
Estimates vary from source to source, with 347 and 504 being the most commonly cited figures. The memorial at the site of the massacre lists 504 names, with ages ranging from one to 82.
A later investigation by the U.S. Army arrived at a lower figure of 347 deaths, the official U.S. estimate. The official estimate by the local government remains 504.
During the trials that followed the disclosure of the massacre, the extent and savagery of the attack on unarmed civilians came to light.
Torres was one of the soldiers of Charlie Company, a unit of the American Division's 11th Infantry Brigade,, and arrived in the hamlet of My Lai early that morning.
During the courts martial, some, including platoon leaders, testified that the orders as they understood them were to kill all guerrilla and North Vietnamese combatants and "suspects" (including women and children, as well as all animals), to burn the village, and pollute the wells.
Capt. Ernest Medina, briefed his men – including Torres – on the eve of the 16th. During this meeting he encouraged his men to be especially aggressive on their mission, and he confirmed that no civilians would be present in the village during the ground operation. The morning of March 16, 1968, as the leader of Charlie Company's 3rd Platoon, Medina reported directly to Lieutenant Colonel Frank Barker.
Medina was also quoted as saying, "They're all VC, now go and get them", and was heard to reply to the question 'Who is my enemy?' by saying, 'Anybody that was running from us, hiding from us, or appeared to be the enemy. If a man was running, shoot him, sometimes even if a woman with a rifle was running, shoot her.'"
At Calley's trial one defense witness testified that he remembered Medina instructing to destroy everything in the village that was "walking, crawling or growing".
On the stand, Torres admitted that he previously had tortured and hanged an old man because he found his bandaged leg suspicious.
He and another soldier in his unit were involved in the shooting of a group of ten women and five children in a hut. Later he was ordered by Lt. William Calley to shoot a number of people with a M60 machine gun; he fired a burst before refusing to fire again, after which Calley took his weapon and opened fire himself.
Torres was quoted on the ability of Americans to commit military atrocities saying bitterly:
 "There was only one thing important to come out of the My Lai case— that is the realization that Americans can massacre people just like gooks and there's really no difference between us and them. The My Lai trials were an effort to perpetuate the illusion that there was, but I don't think people believe that any more and I think that's important, that we realize we're just like Bengalis, Pakistanis, North Vietnamese and everyone else — we massacre like everybody."
New York Times reporter Seymour Hersh interviewed Calley and broke the story.
Soon, My Lai was front-page news and an international scandal. In March 1970, an official U.S. Army inquiry board charged 14 officers, including Calley and his company commander Medina, of crimes relating to My Lai. Of that number, only Calley was convicted.
Found guilty of personally killing 22 people, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Upon appeal, his sentence was reduced to 20 years, and eventually to 10. Seen by many as a scapegoat, Calley was paroled in 1974 after serving just one-third of his sentence.
Torres crossed over just last week. He was 67.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

MORE VOTER FRAUD INDICTMENTS AT A COURT NEAR U

By Juan Montoya
At least two independent sources indicate that yet another Texas Attorney General indictment of a well-known politiquera associated with the Hernandez vote-harvesting machine has been issued with some 85 counts of vote rigging alleged.
The woman who is at the heart of the indictment – which is said to have been sealed –  is none other than Margarita Ozuna. Last July Ozuna was one of six politiqueras charged with mail-in voter fraud charges. Ozuna was charged wtih six counts. Those charges stem back to the dating back to the 2012 Democratic Party primary.
She had previously been accused of illegally assisting elderly mail-in voters during the 2010 Democratic primary election for Cameron County Pct. 2 between Ernie Hernandez and Ruben Peña. Hernandez won that election by a slim 49 votes, votes that Peña alleged were among those collected fraudulently by Ozuna and other politiqueras in the employ of Hernandez and directed by wife Norma. 
It is unknown which election the new indictments address.
However, a close friend of Ozuna said Thursday that she had called her asking for her help because she had heard that an indictment against her new imminent.
"Anda bien asustada," said the woman. (She sounded really scared.)
If Ozuna has indeed been named in the indictment, it is probably the work of the ongoing coordinated effort between the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Texas Attorney General's Office and the Cameron County District Attorney's Office.
This makes eight politiqueras who have been arrested and who have toiled collecting mail-in votes for the Hernandezes.
 One, Sonia Solis, was prosecuted in federal court and pleaded guilty. She was given a year probation.
The cases of the first round of the politiqueras charged in state court included:
Tomasa Ramirez Chavez, 84, 13 cases,
Facunda Banda Garcia , 54, one case
Bernice Garcia (daughter), 29, three cases
Sara Virginia Perales, 51, two cases
Vicenta Guajardo Verino, 53, 10 cases
Those cases are making their way through the state courts.
If there is a sealed indictment of Ozuna, some observers say that it is probably a strategy by prosecutors to make her cooperate with their investigation and reveal which politicians paid them and how they targeted the voters. Many of those voters are vulnerable elderly adult day-care clients. In some instances, politiqueras and politiqueros would show up in a van, give the voters marked sample ballots, and then watch as they voted at the curbside.
In other instances, they would sing them up for a mail-in ballot and come to their homes when the envelope arrived to "assist" them with voting.
In at least one case, a voter who could neither read nor write was assisted by the politiqueras, much to the displeasure of her family who was unaware.
 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

AMIT LIVINGSTON NOW LUIS SAENZ'S WILLIIE HORTON

By Juan Montoya
Last December Cameron County District Attorney Luis Saenz pulled out all the stops – complete with bells and whistles – to announce that Amit Livingston, who was convicted of murdering his former Hermila Garcia Hernandez, had been captured in India and would be extradited.
Livingston was convicted for the 2005 murder in 2007 and was sentenced to 23 years in prison but was allowed to walk free for 60 days by convicted 404th District Judge Abel Limas to "get his affairs in order."
The release was part of a racketeering scheme involving former (and also convicted ) Cameron County District Attorney Armando Villalobos to split a $500,000 cash bond with a lawyer representing the family and to pay off a civil suit. They then split the cash.
Once he absconded, Livingston became the object of a search by the U.S. Marshal's Service, who put out a dragnet that extended from the united States and across the world, including India.
Livingston failed to show and managed to elude justice for seven years before he was arrested May 6, 2014, in his hometown of Hyderabad, India, by Indian National Police. He was charged with immigration violations and using false identification in India and sentenced to one year in prison.
According to the Economic Times, Additional Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Ajay Garg recommended the extradition Tuesday, saying the offense was “extraditable.”
“I hereby recommend to the Union of India to extradite the fugitive criminal, Amit Muddamalle Livingston, to requesting state i.e. United States of America,” Garg said in a seven-page order.
Now, aside from traveling to Washington, having several press conference complete with slick graphics and an over-sized photo of the fugitive, Saenz has had zilch to do with the search for the fugitive, his capture or the extradition process.
But in 2014 he publicized his trip to Washington. This was followed in December with a press conference to remind Cameron County residents (and voters since he is seeking reelection) that he was vigilant and on the job.
And just last week he had another (with bells and whistles) to announce that all that is needed now is a signature of an Indian judge to get "Andy" back to the States.
"Livingston is the new Willie Horton," said a man standing outside a courtroom in the Cameron County Courthouse Friday. "You watch. Livingston will be back here a month or two before the election and Saenz will have another press conference. His opponents won't have a chance with all that public relations. Luis is a politician."
He said that Saenz's use of the Livingston case reminded him of the use of convicted murdered Willie Horton by Vice President George H.W.Bush against Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis in the 1988 campaign.Bush, the Republican nominee, criticized Dukakis his support for a prison furlough program and it became a major election subject.
During his first term as Governor, he had vetoed a bill that would have stopped furloughs for first-degree murderers. During his second term, that program resulted in the release of convicted murderer Horton who committed a rape and assault in Maryland after being furloughed.
"You watch," he said. "Saenz is going to use Livingston as a Horton in reverse. "If they bring him in before the primary, it's a campaign winner."

COUNTY PAYING THE PRICE FOR APPROVING SUBDIVISION

"The future cheats us from afar..."
From "They Say Hope is Happiness"
By George (Lord) Gordon Byron

By Juan Montoya
Little did Alex Dominguez know when he 23 and was working as a legal clerk at a Los Angeles law office that the seeds of his future headaches were being planted in a rural area in Cameron County just outside Brownsville in its Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction.
 If he had, he would probably have thought twice about coming back to Texas, becoming a teacher, going to law school, or running for commissioner of Precinct 2.
It was back then, 21 years ago, that a plat for a subdivision named Hacienda del Norte was submitted to the Cameron County Engineer's office. Abutting a AO flood zone (basically a depression in the ground and the least desirable place for a subdivision), it was about as borderline a development as one could get. FEMA warns communities across the country that this designation is given to "areas with high flood velocities such as alluvial fans and washes. Communities are encouraged to adopt more restrictive requirements for these areas."
FEMA also makes the purchase of flood insurance in these areas mandatory.
Nonetheless, at the time County Judge Tony Garza put his John Hancock on the dotted line as did engineer Juan Bernal and approved the subdivision which is just south of the intersection of FM 1421 and FM 1732. Carlos Cascos, now Texas Secretary of State, was the commissioner for Pct. 2 at the time.
The fact that one of the developers of Quinta-Anita Inc. who submitted the plat was Ricky Cardenas – son of Renato Cardenas, of Cardenas Development fame (or infamy) with his considerable political influence – might have had something to do with the approval.
Over time, Cascos, John Wood, Ernie Hernandez and now Dominguez had to spend considerable time and county resources assisting those unwary buyers of lots in the subdivision to deal with chronic flooding in their homes. Throw in the fact that a health hazard resulted because of the use of on-site sanitary sewer systems (septic tanks) and the pieces were all there for the ensuing disaster that development was to become.
Not only Garza, but Gilbert Hinojosa as county judge signed off on the subsequent subdivision phases.
Because the development abutted the flood plain, Cardenas had to include retention ponds in his plat. There were four phases to the Hacienda Del Norte subdivision. And while Phase 1 was next to the flood zone, the other three phases (1997, 200, 2002),  were smack in the middle of it.
Interestingly, both retention ponds were outside the flood plain, meaning that water would have to travel upward to reach them. If you look at the plat map above, the blue line indicates the edge of Flood Zone AO and the two blue rectangles are the retention ponds. FM 1421 runs at the top of the map. The FM 1421-FM 1732 intersection is just north of the plat (to the right on the map). (Click on graphic to enlarge).
In the second graphic, the AO zone (dark blue) is clearly visible and covers most of the last three phases of the subdivision.
Cardenas convinced the county that if he connected both retention ponds with a pump that would carry the water from the second retention pond (in Phase II) to the pond in Phase I, the flooding could be managed. What he didn't tell them was that the pumps he installed were inadequate to handle the volume of water and transport it from one pond to the other which just happened to be up a notch in elevation. The plat clearly states that he was required use fill dirt to raise the elevation of the entire subdivision by one inch. That was never done.
Additionally, all the homes to be built there had to be at least one foot to 18 inches atop the inch of fill that was never placed. The deed also restrict dwellings to be made of masonry and prohibits the use of trailer homes under a certain size. Trailer homes that qualify also are required to have skirting on the bottom and no commercial activity is allowed. All those restrictions have been ignored. In fact, there has never been a homeowners' association in existence in the subdivision.
There was a further complication. The receiving pond (in Phase 1) also had a pump to carry the water away from the subdivision. The only hitch there was that there was no drainage district ditch where to dump the water. When the pump worked (which is rarely), it merely spreads the water into nearby farmers' fields or into the nearest irrigation ditch. In other words, the system has become a quagmire. There is nowhere for the flood waters to go.
Local farmers have also become wary of allowing the county to pump water into their fields because of the heavy metals and contaminants that might be included in the septic tank runoff that drains into the ponds.
When the residents (low-income Hispanics who plunked down between $17,000 to $24,000 for a lot) complained to Cardenas, he said that their deed clearly stated that they were responsible for maintaining the pumps and the retention ponds and had agreed to form a homeowners association with power to impose a lien of property owners who did not contribute to their maintenance. In other words, it was their baby now, not his.
Many of the residents had never even seen their deeds, Dominguez found out.
"They didn't even know that they had to form an association," he said, "much less that they had to pay for the maintenance of the pumps or the retention ponds."
Over time, without maintenance and inadequate pumps, the retention pond in Phase I turned into what resembles a wetlands wildlife refuge.(See photos at left. Click on graphics to enlarge).
Clearing it of overgrowth (trees now) and organic material would be an extremely costly and time-consuming endeavor, something beyond the ability of the county, or perhaps even the state, to clear.
"All we need now is for the Parks and Wildlife people to find some rare species there and prevent anyone from clearing it," Dominguez said.
The pond in Phase II (see graphic at right) is merely a lake that covers about five subdivision lots.There is a touch of cruel perversion evident in Cardenas' naming of the streets in the subdivision.
The main thoroughfare (rural grade) is called Laguna Seca (Dry Lake) and there is a Lago Road (Lake) and a Laguna Escondida (Hidden Lake).
It isn't until there is a heavy downpour that the cruel joke played upon the buyers of property there becomes obvious. The hidden lake reappears and the once-dry lake becomes full again. Another road there is called Pelon. (As in "esta pelon.")
It's not an issue that is going to go away soon. Flooding will always be a problem, as will the health hazard of septic tanks overflowing. And with no one to turn to and no legal remedy available to them, the residents will come knocking for help at the door of the precinct 2 commissioner.
"We tell them that we only able to provide them with temporary assistance," said Zeke Silva, his administrative assistant. "There is a critical need to find a permanent solution to this and we are trying to find one."
It's probably a good thing that Dominguez has no hair on his head. He'd probably have pulled it all off by now if he did.

Friday, June 26, 2015

HEALTHSMART SUIT A DUD; BISD LUCKY TO GET PEANUTS. BISD ATTORNEY'S BUDDIES SLURP UP THE GRAVY

By Juan Montoya
When the new majority on the Brownsville Independent School District board opted to resurrect the lawsuit the district had dismissed against HealthSmart alleging that the third-party health administrator of the health benefits plan had overcharged, they spoke of recovering $14.5 million.
The claim was made in the waning days of the 2010 election cycle when two board members facing stiff election challenges convinced the majority to file the lawsuit.
Rick Zayas and Ruben Cortez lost nonetheless, and the new board voted to dismiss the lawsuit.,  BISD at first withdrew from the lawsuit on 2010, but a new board majority reinstated it four years later.
The HealthSmart lawsuit was based on the new board majority's contention that the rising costs of its employee health plan was based on overcharges by that company.
Even before they had directed board counsel Baltazar Salazar to go ahead with the lawsuit, he had already referred the case to the McAllen civil law firm of Garcia and Karam.
 A settlement was negotiated by Karam, a firm which was hired by the BISD on a contingency basis March 2014. As such, they staood  to gain a nice chunk of change (more than 45 percent plus expenses) for reaching the settlement.
We heard of a possible settlement last November and made a public inquiry of the district.
When we inquired, we had information from within the legal community that the settlement was for far less than what those proposing the reinstatement of the lawsuit against HealthSmart. The legal community has more holes than a sieve and – if the indications we get are credible – the district ended up with far less than it anticipated, we had a suspicion that contingency lawyers (and referrals) got the lion's share of the booty.
We got his response:
Date: December 9, 2014
"This is the district’s response to Public Information Request #7735 which was received on November 18, 2014.
As per the BISD School Board Attorney, the district does not have documents responsive to this request at this time because the agreement between Health Smart and BISD has not been fully signed and executed. Therefore, the documents are not yet available. This concludes the district’s response."
In reality, the settlement had become final Nov. 14, as later documentation the BISD released would show.
Then, after the delay in the "school board attorney (read Baltazar Salazar)" allowing the information to filter out, we made yet another request for the documentation and asked on March 30 of this year for "the final terms and settlement for the BISD vs. HealthSmart lawsuit including attorneys' fees and the terms of cash payments made to the district."
Well, we finally got the AG decision for BISD to turn over the info on June 16.
That was seven months after the settlement was signed. These are the terms:

1.HealthSmart will pay BISD $2 million in three payments (Not $14.5 million. Not $7 million.
Not even $3.5 million.)
2.The first payment was made within 30 days
after the November 14 signing for $1,200,000.
*3. The second payment for $400,000 will be made one year from the first payment.
*4. The third and final payment for $400,000 will be made a year from the second payment, that is two years from the initial payment.
Why the asterisk*?
The final two payments are predicted in HealthSmart not going into insolvency. That is, if it filed for Chapter 7 within the first year, BISD will have to take its place in line with other creditors.
5. Each party is responsible for paying its own legal costs and expenses.
6. Since the contingency fees in these cases can go as high as 45 percent and the legal costs and expenses can cover the other 5 percent, BISD will probably share the initial $1,200,000 fifty-fifty with the lawyers and get a total of, not $14.5, not $7 million, not $3.5 million, but (drumroll) how about $600,000?
If the lawyers being lawyers want to get their cut from the ephemeral $800,000 to be paid (unless bankruptcy interferes) in the next two years, they will insist on getting another $400,000 up front and leave BISD with a total of (drumroll) $200,000.
Did BISD counsel Salazar get a referral from Karam? That would probably take another six months of prying so never mind.
No wonder they didn't want anyone to know. In fact, keeping the details from the public was part of the settlement. Unless someone went through a formal request for information under the Texas Open Records Act, the parties agreed to the stock answer "the matter has been resolved."
If someone actually persisted and made a formal request, the BISD was to delay and ask for a Texas Attorney General's opinion on whether the terms of the settlement were exempt from disclosure,
In other words, they knew the information was public, but reached an agreement to conspire, manipulate the release of information to the taxpayers of BISD and the public, to delay releasing it to let thing cool off.
Is everyone cool with that?

PUB SHOWDOWN AT BROWNTOWN CORRAL DUE JUNE 30

By Juan Montoya
The terms for two appointed members of the Brownsville Public Utility Board will expire June 30, the same day that the city has its weekly meetings.
Insiders say that already a take-n-prisoners, no-holds-barred struggle is underway to decide not only who the two persons will be named to replace the outgoing board members, but also who on the commission will decide who will sit on this important policy-recommending seven-member board.
Will it be Da Mayor Tony Martinez?
Or will it be some sort of new coalition among the city commission that will include top vote-getter Cesar de Leon and another three commission members. The issue is important because it will signal which direction the city is heading. Will it continue the same spend thrift ways that it has been under Martinez and his rubber-stamp city commission? Or will it be a majority that strikes an independent chord from now on?
The two board members who are due for forced retirement are Martinez acolytes Manny Vasquez and Arturo Farias.
Farias, a former banker and consultant, was appointed by commissioner Rose Gowen as was Emmanuel "Manny" Vasquez, a retired Brownsville Independent School District adult education administrator.
Now we understand that Da Mayor is out twisting arms and suggesting sinuously (as is his wont) that he wouldn't mind seeing Gerardo Martinez, a losing candidate against commissioner Cesar de Leon be appointed to the PUB. Martinez already sits on the PUB asa an ex-officio member.
That has raised some eyebrows because the younger Martinez was seen as the mayor's plant in the
At-Large A commissioners race against de Leon and the other candidates. Candidate Martinez touted his engineering background and his attending TSC as well as his Souhtmost roots. Many felt that not only did Da Mayor back Martinez The Younger, but also because District 1 (Southmost) commissioner Longoria was backing him as a candidate from the hood.
But others wonder if de Leon will play along and cast his vote for someone who – by his mere entering the race – made him and his supporters spend money, time energy and resources to beat him at the polls.
Will Da Mayor get his way and continue his way unimpeded? Or will he face a determined majority who may want to send him and the city the message that that his method of autocratic governance is on the outs?
Date: Tuesday, June 30
Place: City Hall (Browntown Corral)
BYOB  

Thursday, June 25, 2015

BENAVIDES ANNOUNCES FOR THIRD TERM AS PCT. 1 COMMISH

(Ed.'s Note: Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda introduced nine-year Pct. 1 commissioner incumbent Sofia Benavides and State Rep. Eddie Lucio III followed with his endorsement as a large crowd included elected officials and supporters looked on Thursday night. So far, no other candidates have announced for the position. Sepulveda and Lucio praised her record on community involvement, transportation improvements and in improving educational and economic opportunity for Pct. 1 residents.)

"COACH" JOE ROD STILL STROKING ON DEAD HORSE

"I had a friend was a big baseball player
back in high school ...
...I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
but all he kept talking about was...
Glory days well they'll pass you by...
Glory Days, by Bruce Springsteen
 
"Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades ..."
Old American saying
 
By Juan Montoya 
Well, I guess his momma never told Joe Rodriguez that he was liable to go blind if he kept stroking the same old thing.
The "same old thing" is nothing more than a couple of "almost" events in his life that somehow entitled him to (count them) four Hall of Fame inclusions in small-time venues plus a lifetime subsidy of public funds courtesy of the ever-grateful taxpayers of the Brownsville Independent School District.
The latest homage paid to dear old Coach Joe was in the front page of the sports section of the Brownsville Herald where a humble Rodriguez rhapsodized over the accomplishments of his former players in baseball.
The man with the "Big Heart" went on to describe how he guided the likes of Tony Barbosa, Charlie Vaughn and Arnie Alvarez to an almost-state title way back in 1965 – that's 50 years ago – when he coached the Eagles baseball team.
And, of course, we've all heard of the almost-winning season of the 1969 Golden Easgles. But there is no mention of this in Roy Hess' story since the Rio Grande Valley Hall of Fame award is for Rodriguez's baseball coaching exploits.
Let's face it.
Many of Rodriguez's colleagues on the BISD board are afraid to sit too close to him just in case some medicala emergency occurs and they have to administer some kind of medical assistance.
Something that wasn't even mentioned in Hess' article was the fact that when Rodriguez last left the board he was indignant that somehow the adminsitration had included him by mistake in a personnel item and he sued. The board gave the old coach $90,000 to soothe his ruffled feathers.
And currently, Rodriguez is involved in a $1 million lawsuit over (again) his ruffled feathers when he and his protege Tom Chavez were named in a forensic audit which recommended that Rodriguez be removed as a vendor from the BISD and Chavez removed as AD or terminated outright because of what the suditors said was favoritism toward the old coach that cost the district $100,000s more for athletic equipment than his competitors.
He, of course, sued.
In fact, he has a propensity to run toward the courthouse everytime someone mentions the word "audit" in his direction. He fought mightily to keep two BISD audits of his labor practices and scholarship fundraising organization away from the public.
He "almost" won that, too. 
Since the teams under Coach Joe never got a state title, he likes to hang out around winners. When the Rivera soccer team earned their state championship, he delayed other BISD matters so he could be there to shake their hand and be in the photo op. In fact, some BISD sources say that he is going to be the recipient of a championship ring the soccer players earned as well.
Julieta Garcia – before the University of Texas System exiled her to the sham Institute of the Americas – won just about every award and recognition available to a carbon-based unit. About the only thing she hasn't won is canonization by the Pope. But don't count her out. She, like Coach Joe, will think of some other exploit to publicize in the local lapdog press to remind us of their Glory Days.

A BIRD EYES ITS REFLECTION IN RESACA AS THE SUN RISES


(Ed.'s Note: It's often out-of-town visitors who see things we take for granted. This morning we were talking to a visitor from out of state when he stopped us as we walked along a resaca and commented on the beauty of the scene. As we turned and snapped a shot with our handy camera, we thought it was just the average bird on a tree limb watching the sunrise. Later, we looked at it closer and saw that the bird was reflected off the water as the sun peeked through the treetop son the far shore. A large thunder cloud was also reflected on the surface of the resaca as were the palm trees and buildings in the distance. In retrospect, this is one of those everyday scenes here that makes visitors to our area return for a second look. We are just so used to it we hardly notice.)

THE WORLD'S LUCKIEST MAN LOOKS OVER HIS FLIPPED TRUCK

 
 
(Ed.s Note: See the guy taking the picture of the overturned SUV? He has got to be the world's luckiest man since he was the driver of the vehicle after it was struck by a small compact and flipped over at about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday near the intersection of  Boca Chica Boulevard. Amazingly, no one was seriously hurt as a result of the horrific-looking accident. We were in the neighborhood and came upon the accident and stopped to snap this photo. When the man ambled over we asked him if anybody had been hurt and he said they hadn't. When we expressed surprise and asked him about the driver of the overturned vehicle he replied that it had been him. Well, he's got another eight lives left, it seems.) 

BENAVIDES ANNOUNCES FOR RELECTION AT 5:30 P.M. TODAY

By Juan Montoya
Cameron County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides will announce she is seeking reelection for a third term on the steps of the Cameron County Oscar Dancy Building, 1100 E. Madison Street,  at  5:30 p.m. today.
Benavides, who took over the unexpired term of her late husband commissioner Pete Benavides, has been reelected twice since her appointment to Pct. 1.
Pct. 1 covers an economic and socially diverse area encompassing the area from the Gateway Bridge eastward to Southmost, Boca Chica Beach and South Padre Island.
Benanvides says that ever since she joined her late husband, she has shared his vision of improving the quality of life and economic opportunity for all the residents in the county. She said her work on recreational projects like Isla Blanca Park improvements, boat ramps like the Jaime Zapata Park and social service centers are examples of her commitment to his legacy and their joint vision.
Some example she cited were:

*UTRGV: Working with our partners in education, local municipalities, our colleagues in Hidalgo County, and the University of Texas System Board of Regents, we moved forward with plan to create a new world-class university in South Texas. The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley – UTRGV – will generate hundreds of high-paying jobs and attract researchers and scientists. It will also provide world-class educational opportunities to our local students.

*Space X: I am proud to say that I was personally involved in bringing Space X to Pct. 1. Not only will it bring an estimated 300 jobs and create $85 million in capital investment in South Texas, But it will also make us the center of the commercial space industry with jobs and economic opportunity for our people and educational opportunities for our children.

*Second Causeway to South Padre Island: After the collapse of the Queen Isabella Causeway in 2001, a second access to the island has been in the plans. We are nearing that goal now. Not only will it provide a hurricane evacuation for the island, but it will also increase economic opportunities for the residents of Pct. 1 and the rest of Texas.

* Port of Brownsville: Construction of just one of five proposed LNG projects would support an average of 675 on-site jobs over a four-year period, which translates to approximately $324 million in direct labor income for Texans, according to an Ernst and Young economic analysis completed in February 2015. Once operational, the facility would employ about 165 workers at an average salary of about $70,000 a year.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

HAS ANYBODY QUESTIONED MARKER TO SLAVE-OWNING DAVIS?

By Juan Montoya
With the nationwide furor over removing the confederate imagery from public places, it may surprise many Brownsville residents to know that smack in the middle of downtown Brownsville – Washington Park to be specific – sits a monument to Jefferson Davis, the president f the Confederate States of America.
The plaque on the monument states it was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy. 
Davis, who has some ties to Brownsville when he landed at Point Isabel and joined up and  served under Zachary Taylor as a colonel of a volunteer regiment from Mississippi, was a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was also Taylor's son-in-law.
His regiment became known as the Mississippi Rifles and fought in the siege of Monterrey and Buena Vista.
From 1853 to 1857 he served as the U.S. Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. He was later a Democratic senator from Mississippi.
His biographer wrote that he was an operator of a large cotton plantation in Mississippi with over 100 slaves, and was well known for his support of slavery during his time in the Senate.
Although opposed to secession, while back in the Senate, he continued to defend the rights of southern slave states. Davis remained in the Senate until January 1861, resigning when Mississippi left the Union.
In conjunction with the formation of the Confederacy, Davis was named president of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861. On May 10, 1865, he was captured by Union forces near Irwinville, Georgia, and charged with treason.
Davis was imprisoned at Fort Monroe in Virginia from May 22, 1865, to May 13, 1867, before being released on bail paid partly by abolitionist Horace Greely.
Other U.S. military men who came during the U.S.-Mexico war also ended up serving in the confederacy.
Although opposed to secession, while back in the Senate, he continued to defend the rights of southern slave states. Davis remained in the Senate until January 1861, resigning when Mississippi left the Union.
In conjunction with the formation of the Confederacy, Davis was named president of the Confederate States of America on February 18, 1861. On May 10, 1865, he was captured by Union forces near Irwinville, Georgia, and charged with treason. Davis was imprisoned at Fort Monroe in Virginia from May 22, 1865, to May 13, 1867, before being released on bail paid partly by abolitionist Horace Greely.
Davis was not the only future CSA officer who served here with Taylor before the Civil War.
Within the army that Taylor commanded were no less than 37 future generals who would participate on both sides in the in the Civil War, not to mention two future presidents, U.S. Grant and Taylor. A third future president – Franklin Pierce – was an officer in the forces of Winfield Scott when he invaded Mexico through Veracruz, as was Robert E. Lee, the future military leader of the Confederate States of America.
Robert E. Lee, who participated in the fighting in Mexico was not at Palo Alto, but was part of a force that left with Winfield Scott to invade Veracruz. He would later serve here in the Civil War chasing Juan Cortina. But 23 future Union generals were, as were another 14 generals who would eventually join the Confederacy.
During the siege of Ft. Brown, nine future CSA generals were also there.
Many critics of displaying the confederacy imagery would probably not agree that a monument exist at Washington Park, noting that Davis was an advocate of slavery and served as president of the rebels.
Because of the Union blockade of southern ports, men like Charles Stillman, Mifflin Kenedy and Richard King were able to build empires smuggling confederate cotton through Puerto Bagdad under the Mexican flag made possible by the original Francisco Yturria.
An Palmito Hill was also the scene of the last battle of the Civil War fought a month after the surrender of the CAA under Lee to Ulysses Grant.
With the controversy surrounding the Confederate flag and its imagery, is having a monument dedicated to the president of the rebellion defending slavery appropriate in Brownsville?

IS BCIC TRYING TO UNLOAD SPORTS PARK ON COUNTY? IS ZAG TOYOTA SPORTS CENTER COMING TO A B'TOWN NEAR YOU?

By Juan Montoya
Reports have begun to filter in indicating that there is a move afoot by the members of the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation (BCIC) to transfer the Brownsville Sports Park to Cameron County.
Sources say that talks have already started with Cameron County Judge Pete Sepulveda and members of the BCIC board to do just that. The carrot at the end of the stick? While the county would take over the park and its maintenance, the BCIC would continue to service the $30 million-plus debt it took to build the facility.
Critics of the park say that the BCIC overextended itself when it undertook its construction. City officials back then said that the construction of the park was originally tagged at between $8 to $12 million. However, added costs and snafus cause the price to climb past $21 million and is now around $30.
Former city commissioner Charlie Atkinson – who some blame for the costs overruns on his watch – uses to say that visitors there could not appreciate the price tag because the bulk of the money had gone to install utility and drainage infrastructure which was not visible above the ground.
But with Atkinson gone and new BCIC members like La Chisquiada commissioner Rose Gowen with her pedal-pushing bike agenda on board, the BCIC would like to div est itself of the white elephant that is eating its budget with its debt service.
"She needs more money for bike trails, not to maintain the sports park," said a city hall source. "There is very little left after spending it on the park."
The BCIC is so hard up for reveneues for the park, critics say, that they charge Little League teams a fee to practice on its fields. In a related matter, the board in its Monday meeting voted not to send Requests For Quotes for its legal counsel and continue to receive free legal advice from the city through city attorney Mark Sossi.
Staff members said that the reason that the BCIC board considered that item on the agenda was because they had planned for at least two years to go at it alone and hire their own legal adviser. Cash poor, they probably decided it was "cheaper to keep her."
How Cameron County – also strapped for cash – will be able to maintain the park with its limited parks budget is also questionable.
"Everyone id cash-poor," said a former city commissioner. "The city is broke, the county is struggling and the BISD is barely making ends meet. About the only entity that is solvent is the Port of Brownsville. They really don't even need to levy property taxes, but they still do."
Sometime back former city commissioner Ernesto de Leon approached the city and Chris Zamora, the dealer principal with the Zamora Automotive Group which is building the Toyota dealership on property at the entrance to the park. He said that he had suggested a contract with them for the naming rights.
Naming rights are a financial transaction and form of advertising whereby a corporation or other entity purchases the right to name a facility or event, typically for a defined period of time. For properties like a multi-purpose arena, performing arts venue or an athletic field, the term ranges from three to 20 years.
The distinctive characteristic for this type of naming rights is that the buyer gets a marketing property to promote products and services, promote customer retention and  or increase market share.
The Chicago Cubs, for example, play on "Wrigley Field," named after the chewing-gum magnate. " In 1953, the St. Louis Cardinals named their new stadium "Busch Stadium" after one of the company's founders.
And, unlike the current practices of Mayor Tony Martinez and the city commission to give away city assets without receiving something immediate, the city would actually be getting something tangible in return in the foreseeable future.
"I don't understand what it is about Brownsville politicans that they seem hell-bent to give away the public's property and assets to people and organizations who already have enough money," said a city critic. "Martinez and the city can't seem to give the city's real estate and millions away to private energy company Tenaska, the megaweatlhy UT System, billionaire Elon Musk, and to his buddies downtown. The same applies to former UTB president Julieta Garcia who actually wanted to give away all of Texas Southmost College's assets to the UT System. Why don't they give away their own money and not the public's?"
De Leon said he had floated the idea with city officials and with ZAG lead principals as well.
"I personally spoke with Mr. Zamora and told him it probably wouldn't help his dealership if some aggressive competitor like, say, Charlie Clark Nissan, moved in before he did and got the sports park naming rights," de leon said. "I gave him (Brownsville City Manager Charlie) Cabler's number and he said he would call him."
The sports park has been a drain on the BCIC and city parks because of its maintenance costs and debt service. If a deal is struck with a private investor, that might just provide the breathing space that would allow the BCIC to return to its original mission to improve the quality of life in Brownsville, de Leon said.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

COMMISSIONERS' QUERIES OF PUB RATES A MITE LATE

By Juan Montoya
During the last meeting where financial advisers Hinojosa and Estrada were enticing the city commissioners with a refinancing scheme of their outstanding bond debt, several commissioners expressed concern about the rates at the city's utility.
If ever the American idiom of "closing the barn door after the horse has bolted" applied to a city meeting, this was the one.
New commissioner Cesar De Leon told the commission that everywhere he went he was facing questions about the high (and rising) utility rates charged by the city Public Utility Board.
And commissioner John Villarreal also complained that the PUB's impact rates were hurting small developers who had to pay between $3,000 to $4,000 for each unit in a multi-dwelling or apartment complex.
De Leon said that while it was fine to speak to the subject dispassionately during city meetings, the commissioners had to go out in the community and face the indignation of their constituents over the rising rates.
Either de Leon didn't know it, or perhaps he did and is trying to find a way out, but planned increases of PUB electric and water rates are programmed to keep rising and never coming down because the payment of the $325 million in bonds to pay for the Tenaska power plant is pegged to the increases.

Some critics contend that with at least two 500-plus megawatt power plants under construction in the valley, the Tenaska plant will be redundant by the time it comes on line and the company cannot sell the 600 other MWs aside from the 200 that belong to the city. Don't hold your breath. Too many people are going to get rich off this scheme. The ratepayers will, of course foot the bill.
Hinojosa and Estrada could have told the commissioners this. In fact, they could have told them that even the millions collected from utility reconnections for those who can;t pay their bills on time are figured into the utility's assets.
What the city could do, is stop taking the annual $7 million cash transfers from the PUB and use it to lessen the rate fatigue of city residents. Or perhaps they could stop having PUB provide more than $4 million annually in utility services to the city for free.
They might even consider stopping taking the occasional double dip (as they did in 2010 and 2011). Nah!

















Let's face it. Making city budgets balance is a lot easier if you can tap the PUB for $10 million each year instead of living within your means.
And as far as Villarreal's question about the PUB impact rate, well, that battle has been fought over and over and over.
For decades, the rate payers (again!) have been saddled with paying the difference between impact rates recommended by costly (and mandated) feasibility studies only to have some city commissioners buckle under large developers and lower it below the recommendations.
The most memorable was the trench warfare between former Mayor Pat Ahumada and city commissioner Ernie Hernandez. In a nutshell, almost $1 million was spent on at least two or three studies and the impact fees were raised, lowered, and then raised again. The current impact fee form connection to the PUB were a compromise: lower than the studied recommended and higher than the developers wanted. The rate payers picked up the difference (again!).
The commissioners approved the Hinojosa Estrada/PUB plan of refinancing bonds issued in 2007 and 2012 at a netter interest rate for the city. The principal owed by PUB ratepayers remains the same, the debt is simply lowered in the outstanding debt, and Messrs. Estrada and Hinoojosa make a nice percentage of change in the bargain.
All this is predicated on bond ratings, the utility rates remaining high (and rising), and the impact fees staying right where they are.
Lower utility rates? Forgetaboutit!

Monday, June 22, 2015

ANOTHER CARDENAS CREATION GIVES COUNTY HEADACHE

By Juan Montoya
In a classic case of a misnomer, the low-income residents of a subdivision called Laguna Seca in Cameron County Precinct 2 have been pumping weeks after after the recent storms when the development turns it into a very wet lake.
Officially, the subdivision is recorded with the county as the Hacienda Del Norte Subdivision.
In fact, the subdivision floods just about every time there's a heavy downpour.
And the developer, who has installed a permanent tractor with a pump for that very purpose, has now washed his hands of the whole messy affair leaving the residents to fend off on their own.
Commissioner Alex Dominguez, who never imagined he'd be involved doing the work of a drainage district, now has his hands full answering the complaints of the irate property owners who bought their lots from Quinta-Anita Inc.. The president of Quinta-Anita is Rick Cardenas. According to the records on file, the original owners of Quinta-Anita were Cardenas and the late Raul Tijerina.
"Some of them didn't even know they had deeds," Dominguez said. "The county is really not responsible for pumping water from their lots. But we are trying to help them out as much as we can."
The problems begin soon after the subdivision was filed with the county
 City ordinance require that:
"The closest corner of the proposed
subdivision shall be at a distance of more than 500 feet, as measured along the proposed sewer line, from a public gravity sanitary sewer system, and the proposed subdivision shall contain no more than one parcel for each 50-foot length of such distance beyond 500 feet including any fractions of such 50-foot lengths."
The subdivision is in the City of Brownsville's Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction and there is no public sanitary sewer service available. Accordingly, on-site sanitary systems (septic tanks) are used by the residents. Half of the subdivision is located in Flood Zone A O:
Zone AO is defined as an area inundated by 1 percent annual chance flooding (usually sheet flow on sloping
terrain), for which average depths have been determined; flood depths range from 1 to 3 feet. According to FEMA guidelines, "Some Zone AO have been designated in areas with high flood velocities such as alluvial fans and washes. Communities are encouraged to adopt more restrictive requirements for these areas."
When the subdivision plat was submitted to the county in the early 1990s, it included a large lot to be used as a retention pond (see top graphic at bottom center of the subdivision). The deeds sold to residents state that they were to form a home owners' association with lien-assessing authority to maintain the pond. Some residents have told Dominguez and his assistants that they didn't even know the covenant existed. With lots selling between $17,000 to $24,000, it is doubtful that many would even understand what the covenant was.
"Some didn't even know that that meant," he said. "They didn't know they were supposed to maintain the pond."
When the flooding began way back when, the county asked Cardenas about maintenance of the pump he had provided for the pond and on April 1996, he wrote the county engineer "Please be advised that a homeowners association (is responsible) for the maintenance of s service pump to be used in the detention pond located in Section II of the (subdivision)."
Since the site is more than two miles into the city's ETJ, subdivision rules passed at the time did not require Cardenas to provide sidewalks, curb and gutter or city-grade streets. Residents soon faced the daunting task of getting rid of flood waters that often rose to house level.
That pump, however, proved to be too little to remove the standing water that literally created a lake. The problem was compounded with the health hazard created when on-site sewer systems (septic tanks) overflowed.
Dominguez and the county crews spent the better part of three days with the Gator (pump) 24 hours. For five days they used two 2,000 gallon tanker trucks from Pct. 2 Public Works.
Former Cameron County Pct. 2 commissioner John Wood remembers the subdivision well. He said that the flooding has been chronic and that the pump at the subdivision often broke down and couldn't handle the volume of water that flooded it periodically.
"The developer basically washed his hands of the problem and didn't want anything to do with it," he said.
To add to the problem, the landowners adjacent to the subdivision at first allowed the residents to pump the water into their fields, but with the potential contamination from the septic and other detritus, they were no longer willing to continue the practice.
Since the subdivision is located outside of any drainage district, the water has to be carried in pipes and through bar ditches to the nearest irrigation ditch.
With hurricane season under way, it the problems associated with flooding and health hazards from overflowing septic tanks is not going to go away. The way the city is growing, it may not be long before annexation and may require a huge outlay to bring it up to city specifications.
And with Cardenas basically saying it is the residents' baby, and with no easy solution in sight, it is unlikely that Dominguez, the current tenant at the Pct. 2 helm, has heard the last of it.

DE TAL PALO, TAL ASTILLA...FELIZ DIA DE LOS PADRES


Saturday, June 20, 2015

DISTRICT JUDGES DID NOT GET RAISES; THEIR STAFFS DID

By Juan Montoya

We would like to think that our local daily and its reporters strive to be accurate and correct in the reporting of their stories on local government.

But we must admit that we were slightly perplexed when we read in Friday's Brownsville Holler that the county commissioners voted to "raise district court salaries."

In that story, it seems like the commissioners gave the judges – who earn $140,000 and a $15,000 county supplement already – a 10 percent raise.

That, of course, is not what happened.

The judges were there to ask for a 10 percent raise for their staff.

"Thursday's increase calls for increases for judges and their staffs," the story reads.

Well, not quite.

On August, 2013, the district judges (and county-courts-at-law judges by edict) got their legislatively mandated raises by a 3-0-1 vote of the Cameron County Commissioner's court.

Commissioners Sofia Benavides (Pct. 1), Ernie Hernandez (Pct. 2) and David Garza (Pct. 3) voted to approve the raises that will see the judge's salary increase to $140,000 with the county supplement rising and additional $3,000 to $15,000.

By state law, the three county-courts-at-law judges also saw their salaries increase to within $1,000 of the district judges' salary of $140,000, or $139,000.

It was the first time since 2005 that the district and county-court-at-law judges have received a raise.

It was just yesterday that we ran into a county mid-level employee who was angry that the judges had gotten such a hefty raise.

"How about the little guys?," he asked. "All we got last time was a $1,000 one-time stipend that amounts to about $20 a week, less after taxes. The commissioners better be looking for ways to get us at least a 5 percent raise. They gave us $1,000 and the appraisals on our houses went through the roof and ate that up. "

At least two commissioners – Pct. 2 Alex Dominguez and Pct. 3 David Garza – voted against the measure saying that the requests should have come in during the budget process.

ANOTHER TAMAULIPAS EX-GUV IN U.S. GOVERNMENT SIGHTS

Federal prosecutors in Texas have charged another a former governor of Tamaulipas with money laundering, the second leader of the violent border state to face allegations that he used bribes from drug traffickers to buy property in the U.S.
Eugenio Hernández Flores, 55, who was governor of Tamaulipas from 2005 to 2010, is named in an indictment unsealed Friday. He is charged with his brother-in-law Oscar Gomez Guerra, 43, with conspiracy to engage in a money-shifting scheme aimed at hiding bribes paid by cartel figures who sought to operate freely in Tamaulipas.
The indictment, handed up in secret last month, charges both with conspiring to launder money, which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, and operating an unlicensed money transmitting business, which carries a maximum prison sentence of five years.
Arrest warrants have been issued for both suspects, who are fugitives.
In an interview with Mexican media personality Joaquín López Dóriga, Hernández said he’s “a little surprised and confused by the accusation.”
“This is all comes from a great confusion by the American authorities,” he said. “I hope to have the opportunity to clear this up, to sit face to face with the United States prosecutors.”
The indictment seeks the forfeiture of three properties in McAllen and one in Austin with a total value of nearly $5 million.
The indictment also seeks a judgment of $30 million against Hernández and his brother-in-law.
The Express-News first reported last year that Hernandez was under the microscopeafter his name turned up in money laundering investigations that have stretched from Central to South Texas. In particular, he was singled out by prosecutors in the case of Mexican businessman Guillermo Flores Cordero, who lived part time in San Antonio until his arrest in mid 2013.
Flores pleaded guilty in December 2013 to running a money transmitting business without a license and has been cooperating as part of his plea deal, records show.

For rest of the story, click on link: http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Former-Mexican-border-governor-indicted-6337757.php

For the press release by the U.S. Attorney's Office, click on: http://www.justice.gov/usao-sdtx/pr/former-tamaulipas-governor-indicted-money-laundering-scheme-brother-law

LIKE MAMA, LIKE SON: BUZZWORDS, HYPERBOLE HALLMARK OF GARCIA THE LESSER'S PITCHES FOR PUBLIC CASH

By Juan Montoya
For the better part of 20 years (since 1991) UTB President Julieta Garcia was able to convince the residents in the Texas Southmost College District that in subsidizing the UT System they were supporting a "community university," an "innovative educational concept," and "partnering" as "stakeholders" for an unique educational concept in the Americas.
By use of buzzwords, hyperbole, and verbal smoke and mirrors, she was able to make TSC boards "transfer" millions – some estimate more than $1 billion over 20 years – to the megawealthy UT System and garner a hefty $300,000-plus salary in poverty-wracked South Texas.
The results, alas, left much to be desired. We had the highest tuition and fees of all community colleges in the state, some of the lowest freshman retention rates, and a dismal 17 percent graduation rate after six years of study.
The fruit, it is said, does not fall far from the tree.
Her son Oscar Jr, has flowered into a facsimile of his mother. We won't go into the way that the powers that be (the Calos Marins, the Fred Rustebergs, the Tony Martinezes, etc.) have placed him under their wing and thrust him in positions where he obviously lacks the skills to perform. He is, after all, Julieta's son.
Just recently, Oscar Jr.'s plan to get $407,000 for Phase II of a Small Areas Plan from the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation (GBIC) was tabled by the full board of the Brownsville Economic Development Council citing a lack of the need, a lack of urgency, and the sheer folly of throwing nearly $500,000 of good money after bad into a second study to study a study.
This was not the first time that Oscar Jr, had gone to the GBIC well.
In February, as Project manager for Jacobs Management, he had convinced the Port of Brownsville, the Public Utilities Board and the GBIC to hand over $185,000 for Phase 1 of the so-called Small Area Plan recommended by the $454,000 Brownsville Strategic Infrastructure and Land Management Plan drafted by Robin McCaffrey of Needham, McCaffrey and Associates, the same firm that worked on the City of Kyle Comprehensive Master Plan, under the name of Mesa.
McCaffrey was hired when Mayor Mike/Miguel Gonzalez was still in office in Kyle. Gonzalez is now the executive director of United Brownsville.
Garcia Jr. was the chairman of the Brownsville Public Utility Board when he signed off on the McCaffrey plan.
That plan identified 32 small-area sites and called for the development of commercial corridors and recommended that the development of the plan be split into three phases at a total cost of $750,000.
Garcia Jr. saw his opportunities and took them and, like a Tammany Hall operative, jumped ship at the PUB and latched on to Jacobs to milk the cow.
His proposal to the port, the PUB, and the GBIC for Phase I landed him $185,000 voted on by GBIC chairman David Betancourt, city commissioner Jessica Tetreau, and Al Villarreal.
We looked long and hand for the work product that Oscar Jr. had developed and no one could find it for a few days. When we finally got it, we understood why it had taken so long.
At first blush, the 90-page report seeks to dazzle the reader. But as you become jaded to Brownsville being "poised," "positioned," etc., to maximize its potential, to allow it to expand economic growth, to etc., etc., etc.,
You know the mantra.
At its core is an embellishment of the McCaffrey plan, with small parts of it polished up, repackaged, wrapped in tinsel, and thrust at the reader as new. In fact, it is nothing more than la misma gata, pero revolcada.
That is just the first 50 pages.
As you leaf through it several projects listed in the McCaffrey study keep reappearing in the text. They are: The deepening of the Port's channel (Port-centric), the extension of the Brownville airport runway, the Coming of Spacex (of course), the Brownville Industrial Corridor, the Tenaska plant (power corridors), the coming of UTRGV, the East Loop, FM 550, and, of course, the commercial clusters. There is the perfunctory bone thrown to Marin's Bi-Ned scheme to make the "metroplex" of Matamoros, Brownsville the hub of secondary manufacturing to service the maquiladoras in Matamoros.
They are adorned with individual flow charts showing how it will all come together and take us into economic nirvana if you just follow the plan.
The last 40 pages consist of (we're not joking) of the index cards that were used to "prioritize" these projects. Why the index cards were included we can only hazard to guess.
He probably figured that 50 pages for $185,000 may have seemed to scant a work product for the funding "stakeholders." An additional padding of 40 pages of photocopied note index cards with hand-drawn arrows and notes. We include some for your enjoyment.

Garcia Jr. frankly tells his funding "stakeholders" that his team was unable to set up a conference call with port officials during all the time the study was being done. However, he was able to use the material from the "Interactive Planning Session" where the index cards were used (Interactive Planning Session Analysis Cards, sorry) to determine the port's future plans to take its rightful place in the International Itermodal Transportation System.
That planning session was attended by representatives of the "stakeholders," namely three members of PUB, one from the Port of Brownsville, one from the BEDC, one from the City of Brownsville, one from United Brownsville (stakeholder?), and four (including Oscar Jr.) from Jacobs.
Among the main recommendations is that the "stakeholders" get on with it and fund Phase II (through Oscar Jr., of course).
As an afterthought, since finding funding for these "clusters" was part of the deal, Jacobs suggestions are for the establishment of special (taxing) districts, the implementation of fees, and the reaping of the growth in ad valorem taxes as the expected expansion comes to be. Coupled with "private-pubic" partnerships, it should be a cinch.
At the end of all of this is the recommendation that (Aw you were looking!) Jacobs be hired for another study of the study of the study to further study the McCaffrey study.
Well, the Port and the PUB "stakeholders" respectfully declined to participate to fund the new and improved $407,000 Phase II study proposed by Oscar Jr. and he was set to present it to the GBIC, even after the full BEDC board gave it a thumbs down. We understand that Oscar Jr, is leaning on GBIC chairman (and county judge wannabe) David Betancourt to place it on the GBIC agenda anyway at their next meeting.
They would do well to remember that before this Phase I debacle, in 2007, Garcia Jr. also talked the GBIC into giving him $180,000 for something called Gentnet Inc,. which was supposed to "address computer ownership and Internet access through community labs and K-20 system as well as cooperative telecommunications infrastructure projects to recruit commercial investments."
That – according to Gilbert Salinas of the BEDC, was supposed to "create at least 20 jobs, pay a minimum of $9 per hour per employee, and create primary jobs which are those that infuse new dollars into a local economy."
Where are they? We know for sure that at least one job – Oscar Jr.'s – was all that was created and that it benefited his private economy.   
Will David give in as he did last time? Will Tetreau, Villarreal, Sikes and the rest?
If they don't Juliet might get mad.

rita