Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How's That New Ethics Code Coming Along Tony?

                 Mayor Martinez has made the drafting of a new ethics code for the City of Brownsville a priority in his administration, even mentioning it at the TSC/UTB Mayoral Candidates Forum back in April.  Much to the chagrin of knowledgeable citizens,  City Attorney Mark Sossi was handpicked by Mayor Martinez to initiate the process.  Sossi reported to the commission 7/19/11 concerning the research, thought process and focus so far which amounted essentially to having read the San Antonio and Dallas codes, a 20 minute effort at best.  Later in that meeting Mayor Martinez expressed his desire to be included in the committee to draft the code.  My recollection is that City Manager Charlie Cabler would be included in that committee along with a commissioner or two.
    Brownsvillians saw the irony in some of the players who will help draft this code.  The loquacious, but brutally honest Oso Duval de Bourbon was quoted:  "having Cabler and Sossi on an ethics board is like having the the Corleone family on a crime commission or having Motley Crue on a drug prevention board."  I'm not certain what Oso was referencing but perhaps in Sossi's case it was the hiring of his former law firm to represent Brownsville.  Some bloggers insinuated this was to help pay back some indebtedness he had incurred to his previous employer.  In any event, if this occurred, it was a clear violation of two tenets of the ASPA model code:  1. Not engaging the city in business with a former employer.  2.  Not engaging the city with a entity to which you have incurred indebtedness.   My personal belief is that a public comment noting the above ethics violations by Sossi triggered his recommendation on 8/3/10 that the broadcast of such comments cease.
     Brownsville city government's last ethics code expired in 2006.  Even more surprising is that the City Charter seems to contain no language for the punishment of ethics violations.  So it seems there is some work to do to at least protect on paper the taxpayers from blatant conflicts of interest practiced by city officials. 

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Working Class Heroes Speak at the City Commission Hearing on Taxes

by Jim Barton on Tuesday, August 30, 2011 at 7:50pm
Fernando Reyes calls the city commission's actions illegal.Dagoberto Barrera says "Read my lips. No new taxes."

     Unfortunately for the Tony Martinez-led City Commission, the very nature of a "public" hearing prevents the city from flipping the off switch on public comment.  If you're looking for point/counterpoint the foursome pictured above brought it.  Yes, Dagoberto has a flair for the dramatic.  Yes, Fernando Reyes's gestures sweep into the audience and sometimes menacingly in the direction of public officials.  Yes, Robert Uresti comes into the commission chambers meeting after meeting with sharp little questions no one on the city commission or in the city's finance department has ever thought of.  And, finally, yes, Letty Perez-Garzoria sets a reasoned, professorial tone that makes one melancholy she is not actually on the commission.
     City Finance Director Pete Gonzalez opened the festivities with the nutshell of the city's financial position: His figures are based on a 6.11% rate increase that he describes as not a tax increase.  The 2012 city budget faces a 2.3 million dollar shortfall, even after the fine tooth comb of his department cut 1.3 million.  The actual increase he proposes would add $23.82 to the tax bill of the median-price Brownsville home valued at $80,582.  One primary factor is the 3% COLA increase owed by contract to the police department, an annual revenue loss of $390,000 by freezing the tax evalution for diabled and over 65 homesteads and the loss of 1.8 million subsidy for the transportation system when the city's population exceeds 200,000 which is expected soon.
     Mayor Martinez asks Gonzalez when was the last time taxes were raised as sort of a leading question.  Gonzalez mumbles something about not ever having raised them.
     Dagoberto Barrera opens up the public comment section of the hearing with this forceful missile:  "I thought by electing a non-hard drinking mayor, we would not hear anything about raising taxes, but I was wrong!"  Then Barrera parodies George Senior Bush's empty campaign promise with this order to the commission:  "Read my lips.  No. . .new. . . taxes!!"
      Commissioner Longoria always has to respond to Barrera.  He did not disappoint.  He says that Dagoberto comes after the commission every year.  "Give us a break" he states.  "This is an annual ritual."
     Next up is Fernando Ruiz.  He calls for an audit of the appraisal district, stating that promises to lower evaluations to reflect the sagging economy and actual house values has not taken place.  He describes many of the commission's actions as illegal.  "If I take a leak on Elizabeth Street Chief Garcia will arrest me.  What this commission is doing is just as illegal."
    Robert Uresti, as usual, is full of ideas.  He says ridership on the city's transit lines is stated to be up 1.5 million at $1.00 per ticket.  He wants to know if that's been included in the budget.  He wonders why the city is responsible for increased police presence and trash pickup at the Farmer's Market and not the vendors themselves.  He asks about overtime pay for police officers during Charro Days, suggesting the festival itself foot the bill, not the city.  He suggests converting city vehicles to propane at a substantial savings.
     In her schoolteacherish fashion, Ms. Letty Perez-Garzonia gently chastises Commissioner Longoria for ridiculing the citizen speakers as participants in an "annual ritual."  "It's not a ritual, commissioner, but a concern."  She states that the city has a revenue problem, always going to the taxpayers.  She suggests making Brownsville "business friendly."
    Mayor Tony Martinez concludes the session with:  "Trust me.  Keep the faith."

Justice of the Peace Demands Raise Despite Huge Budget Deficit

     Justice of the Peace Sallie Gonzalez Precinct 5-1 is pressing forward with her demand for a 30% raise of  an additional $12,000 annually despite Cameron County being strapped for money.  Other county officials had similar notions but most including JP Bennie Ochoa eventually thought better of it in the current economic climate.  The county currently has a $3,000,000 shortfall.     

     Judge Carlos Cascos originally pushed for county officials to accept a 10% decrease in pay but that was voted down by the county commissioners who opted for simply no pay increases.  Ms. Gonzalez is pursuing the raise through a grievance process that will be heard by a panel made up of grand jury participants.  Her job currently pays approximately $45,000 a year with an additional $5,400 vehicle allowance.  The job is considered by some citizens to be a part-time position.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Please Put Out Your Hummingbird Feeders Now!

From the Brownsville Herald:

HARLINGEN — Hundreds of thousands of hummingbirds that migrate through drought-stricken Texas could become victims of the parched conditions along that route.

To help the tiny feathered travelers along the way, conservationists urge backyard birders and anyone who cares about them to set out a feeder or two.

Mark Klym, co-author of "Hummingbirds of Texas," said the drought has reduced the number of flowers that are a source of nectar and nutrition for hummingbirds.

Setting our hummingbird feeders will keep the birds hydrated and nourished, he said.

Klym, who is also the coordinator of the Texas Hummingbird Roundup at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, said more than 18 species of hummingbirds will filter through parts of Texas and particularly through the Rio Grande Valley over the next eight to 10 weeks, the peak of the migrating season.

Norma Friedrich, president of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society, said Valley residents can play an important role in the birds’ survival.

She said maintaining a supply of food and water, during September and October, will help the birds survive the migration.

She said lawns and backyards filled with native plants play a crucial role, too, because they require less water than non-native plants, and are likely to continue blooming even through the drought.

Friedrich said she has seen more hummingbirds visiting her Harlingen home, where she has six feeders hanging from shepherd’s hooks in her yard.

Hummingbird migration season varies by species, but Klym said mid- July is considered the season’s start with some species traveling from as far north as Alaska to as far south as parts of Central America.

He said Rufous hummingbirds travel as far as 3,900 miles, the longest migration of any other species.

In addition to the Rufous, there are four species of hummers that frequent the Valley during their migration: buff-bellied, ruby-throated and black chinned.

Buff-bellied hummers are year-round inhabitants of the Valley and are the most frequently spotted species by birders here, Klym said.

Friedrich encouraged residents to feed the hummingbirds to ensure that the birds can reach their final destinations.

Robert Silva, Drummer for the Cantinas

     Look for his bicycle or his legendary 70's model Ford Station Wagon with the broken windows, the Viet Nam Vet sticker on the back outside any of the cantinas on 14th Street or the Chicago Club downtown.  Like J.J., the Crescent Moon drummer, Robert can drum anything on a moment's notice:  rock n roll, blues, conjunto, tejano, jazz or country.  He can even spiffy up and play for the Winter Texans although that's not his favorite gig.
     Robert left Brownsville in the very early 60's, traveling with the late Freddy Fender, to play New Orleans.  When Freddy got into some drug trouble in Louisiana and was incarcerated,  Robert came back to Brownsville, found a job at a freight line on Fronton Street where he worked for many years.  Now he mainly just drums and goes to church.  He has his girlfriends who he refers to as "hermanas".  Keep them straight Robert.
     Some may remember Robert for his famous "Cucaracha Song" which is really about his girlfriend Belinda.. 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Something I Totally Missed

     The lady on the left in the above picture is Herminia Becerra, perhaps the most notorious and effective politiquera in the city of Brownsville, Cameron County.  The picture was taken at a political rally for Erin H. Garcia, a candidate for Justice of the Peace, District 2-2 and the daughter of County Commissioner Ernie L. Hernandez, Jr. 
     What escaped my notice until now was the wording on the red neckband holding the two plasticized, laminated I.D. cards:  "VOTE ERNIE 2010".  I cropped the original picture and enlarged it just enough to make that readable.  Of course, this should not be a surprise to those who have followed the escapades and statements of Mr. Hernandez.  In 2003 he told the Brownsville Herald:  "There is nothing illegal about paying people to solicit votes."  As for Ms. Becerra, she was one of a select few wearing the official badge of the Erin H. Garcia campaign at the meet and greet.  It should be noted that she also wears the I.D. tag for the "Honorable" Linda Salazar, currently Justice of the Peace, District 2-1. 
     Brownsville voters will have to decide if they want to continue to support candidates who use politiqueras.  It helps to understand how politiqueras operate, how their influence taints an election.  A two-time candidate for city office enlightened me:  "They have friends throughout the city that they have used for many years.  The politiquera performs simple acts of kindness, like bringing some sweet bread or making a social call from time to time.  At election time the "friends" know what's expected and vote as directed.  The politiquera knows roughly how much the votes are worth.  They will not deliver more votes than they get paid for." 
     Local businessman Dino X. Chavez understands the problem, but states:  " Jim, I am 110% against the use of politiqueras to illegally collect votes for a candidate! However, just to play the devil's advocate, what should an honest candidate do to have a chance in a close race when going against a candidate who c...hooses to use politiqueras to harvest votes?
     Should they do like John Villarreal did and just hope for the best? Should they use their funds to hire private investigators to follow the opposition, or the opposition's contracted politiqueras? Should they file a complaint with the Texas Ethics Commission? Should they file a suit alleging wrongdoing?
Candidates have been on the losing end of close races for decades because of the use of politiqueras! All of the above as been tried and been proven futile."

     Mr. Chavez is right.  Dishonesty has frequently been rewarded in our community.  In the 2003 mayoral election during which Ernie Hernandez gave the quote above, there were three candidates.  Henry Gonzalez and Hernandez openly used politiqueras.  Robert Uresti did not, stating his opposition to the practice.  Uresti finished third.  Curiously though, the last runoff city commission election bucked this trend.  If a disproportionate amount of mail-in votes indicate the use of politiqueras, winners John Villarreal and Estela Chavez prevailed despite not using them.
     One thing the election office can do was mentioned by Kimberly Dale:  "What the election office should do is have a signature expert match the signatures of the mail in votes."  This sounds like a great idea, but Election Administrator Roger Ortiz has great difficulty simply counting the votes, let alone matching signatures on mail-ins. 
     Let's state the obvious:  If a candidate uses nefarious means to get elected, will they serve us honestly?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Travel Warning for Matamoros~August 26-8

News from the Consulate
  • Emergency Message for U.S. Citizens (August 26, 2011 - Second Message)
    The U.S. Consulate General has received credible information suggesting the potential for violent confrontations between armed individuals in Matamoros and its outskirts over the weekend, August 26th through 28th. Official Americans have been advised to remain in or near their homes and be alert for violence. 

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor. . . . . .Your Anonymous Comments

     My personal enjoyment of blogs like the BROWNSVILLE VOICE,  El Rrun Rrun and the currently dormant Brownsville Literary Review is greatly enhanced by the comments section.  Jerry's new offering Downtown Browntown does not offer the service,  forcing readers to simply curse him under their breath.    My beginner blog, Mean Mister Brownsville, has been greatly hampered not only by the lame writing, but also by the comments being limited to only those with Google accounts or willing to provide their email addy.  Now, the training wheels are off!   I accidentally discovered what I should have known all the time.  The comments section can be adjusted to allow anonymous comments.  I feel as giddy as the future mayor of Brownsville who will have the foresight to introduce and successfully steer the passage of the reinstitution of the broadcast of public comments at City Commission meetings.  "Free at last.  Free at last!  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" 

Presidential Candidate Rick Perry~In His Own Words

     Rick Perry would not be my first choice as a lifeline on "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire?"  My impression of Perry was that of a cartoonish sort, good for a few laughs on a "Saturday Night Live" skit,  a caricature of a Texan running for president.  Friends disagree.  Roman Perez says "Absolutely, Rick Perry will be the next president of the United States."  Adela Garza adds:  "He surrounds himself with smart people and will make a great president."  Siria Garza agrees with many when she states:  "He is just so handsome."
     Providentially, much of this conversation initiated at  Pied Piper Pizza,  spilled over later at the Crescent Moon, then wrapped up in a wee hour phone call from a Republican candidate locator.  All of this Perrytosis in a 24 hour period was more than my curiousity could withstand, so I looked up some quotes.  Quotes only from the man with no more silly commentary by the Mean One:

On secession:

"There's a lot of different scenarios," Perry said. "We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot."

On border security:

"As a result, we continue to deal with violent Mexican drug cartels who work closely with transnational gangs on our side of the border operating with no regard for the law or respect for life.
The bad actors in Mexico are getting worse, an the risks to our citizens continue to rise along the border and in communities across this country where drugs continue to flow. We need 1,000 National Guard troops to support current law enforcement operations on our border until they can provide those 3,000 more border patrol agents. We also need Predator drones flying along the Texas-Mexico border providing real time intel to our state and local operation centers."

On immigration:

"After revelations that a Dallas man had set up a cottage industry procuring Texas driver licenses for illegal aliens hailing from countries around the world, I am an even stronger supporter of the DPS initiative to issue specialized, vertical driver licenses, to identify those who have overstayed their visa.
I also support an end to the notion of sanctuary cities. Local government sends the wrong message when they pick and choose what laws they want their peace officers to enforce.
We should also track the citizenship status of those receiving state-funded services so we can get our hands around the financial impact of Washington's failure to handle the immigration challenge. Some may oppose these efforts, but they are commonsense approaches to protecting our citizens' lives and resources."

On job creation:

"From November 2007 to November 2008, roughly 70% of the jobs created in the US were in Texas. Think about that for a moment. Our state is home to one out of ten Americans, but seven out of ten new American jobs were created here in the Lone Star State."

On gun control:

"The natural question arises, How, then, do the laws get enforced? The Supreme Court made crystal clear in the US v. Printz case, involving the enforcement of temporary provisions of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, that the federal government cannot commandeer state authorities to carry out federal law."
On private schools:
"Now I know most of you present here have already enrolled your children in some of our state's finest private schools. But I want to make private schools more accessible to Republican Christian families that cannot afford to pay high tuition and for those who cannot home school their children. In a city like Houston private school tuition can cost between $10,000 to $25,000 per year per child."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Roger Ortiz~The Problem That Did Not Get Resolved

      How do you explain why shockingly only 4% of registered voters in Brownsville voted in the May 14 run-off election?   There is more than one reason for such a pitiful showing by our city's voters but a substantial part of the blame has to be placed at the feet of our incredibly incompetent elections administrator, Roger Ortiz.  If you recall in the November 2010 race for County Judge, Ortiz simply couldn't get the numbers right.  First Carlos Cascos was the winner, then John Wood, then Cascos again.  Ortiz didn't even have the common sense to match vote totals from one count to the other.  He "lost" votes, then "found" votes.
     When Ortiz' job came up for review.  Cameron County officials Joe Rivera, Gilbert Hinojosa, Carlos Cascos, Frank Morris and Tony Yzaguirre failed us miserably by opting to retain the woefully inadequate administrator.
     Cameron County desperately needs an election adminstrator with common sense, basic math skills, but also someone who will not allow intimidation by partisan leaders.  We  need someone who will take the lead in reducing the influence of paid politiqueras by carefully scrutinizing the signatures of write-in votes.   Citizens deserve fair elections.  Roger Ortiz has proven he cannot deliver them. 

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Taboo Subject for a Neophyte Blogger~God

     A backsliding agnostic like myself has no business talking about the existence of God, especially to a believer.  But that is just the sort of conversation I had with my friend Laura Miniel last Saturday at the Crescent Moon.   Laura can speak to her views about a Supreme Being without her voice cracking with emotion.  I can share my doubts gently without badgering.  After all a self-declared agnostic is already admitting he doesn't know anything for certain.
     Laura and I agreed on elements of apparent design in the human body(design sort of implies a Designer does it not?):  The 23 amino acids needed to sustain a living organism of which the human body has 23, the mulitudinous things that must happen simultaneously at birth for the fetus to survive separated from its mother, reproduction, the human eye,  the recuperative and self-repair capabilities of the human body.  Laura even explained how the DNA molecule itself has a self-correcting feature.
     Of course giving birth or having impregnated someone does not make a person a mother or father.  We expect nurturing, providing for and protecting.  Some would also include training, guiding and warning.  This is where I raised my mild counterpoint.  How could a loving God/Father/Creator stand idly by as 2,500 of his children died in a tsunami wave without at least shouting "Watch out!"  A human father not protecting his children from obvious danger faces criminal charges in many countries.   Of course, if the Creator/Father/God is not omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent as some claim, I understand.  He wasn't there, didn't know about it, couldn't deal with it.
     Laura nodded.  It had been almost an hour since Ben Neece and the guys had finished their set covering "Born on the Bayou" by CCR.  Juan Antonio Garza, Jr. was now hitting the drums with one of his protest songs. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"There is nothing illegal about paying people to help you solicit votes,'' Ernie L. Hernandez, Jr(2003)

     The quote in the title above is from Ernie L. Hernandez, Jr. in 2003 when asked about the use of politiqueras in his campaign for mayor.  Interestingly, Robert Uresti, also a candidate for mayor at the time was asked the same question:  "Hell no! I think it's wrong to pay somebody money to bring in votes,'' Uresti said.  The lady pictured above with the Erin H. Garcia for J.P. badge is Dona Herminia Becerra, probably Brownsville's most notorious politiquera.  In a 2003 interview with the Brownsville Herald, Ms. Becerra claimed that she and Doa Lochita Hinojosa, another politiquera, were responsible for at least 2000 votes.
     Politiqueras would as soon reveal their methods as a magician would explain his tricks.  It is known that they visit nursing homes, prevailing upon the elderly, infirm ones to vote for their candidates.  They also have many "regulars" in the community who appreciate their "kindnesses" during the year and are most cooperative come election time.  Politiqueras are not as candidate-oriented as they are survival-oriented.  They frequently play one candidate against another to up the ante for their services.
     How can you tell who is using politiqueras?  Without an eyewitness, the best barometer is the number of write-in votes received.  For example in the last run-off election for city commissioner district 4 both candidates, John Villarreal and Tony Zavaleta claimed they did not use politiqueras.  Villarreal won the election, but Zavaleta had nearly ten times the write-in votes, 97-10. 

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Erin Hernandez Garcia's Message~By Popular Demand

"Jim, I want to start by saying that I like and respect you and your lovely wife Nena...and yes we may not always agree on ideas, politics or anything in general...the question remains can we agree to disagree professionaly and move forward? I think we can...i'm going to put the ball in your court. That said...when articles like the one that came out in yesterdays paper come out...don't take it for face value and ask questions if you have them...don't run to a blog and make accusations that you don't know if true or untrue. The fact of the matter is that the article itself is a direct vendetta towards my father. Emma Perez Trevino...doesn't like my father...she never has...and that's fine...but she uses her profession to attack him...and I am putting my foot down because it is not right. She has been contacting us for weeks requesting information and I provided information to her. give someone an inch and they want a mile...she began requesting information that frankly is private company information. Why does she think that she has the right to that kind of information. She asked for everything under the sun short of a blood and urine sample...she is ridiculous...and frankly i'm quite sick of her tyrade. The proper legal action is being considered and and will be taken against her. The fact is that I own this company... Anyone who truly knows our family knows this...yes the company has gone through name changes over the years...I would implore you or Emma Perez Trevino to show me where in the books that is illegal? I submitted a valid bid to the county and won...obviously the county thought that my company was going to provide the best value to them at the time. We have provided excellent service to the county and pay the county a 27% commission on per the contract. You know... I don't only have a contract with the county... I have a contract with UTB and with Hidalgo County as well...why...because I run a professional reputable business that is capable to handle these types of contracts. Now as to your assertion if there is a conflict....Why is there a conflict...I OWN THE COMPANY...I won the bid...BEFORE my dad even won his election in March of 2010...I as you know am running for office but that election is still 7 months away...and if I am fortunate enough to win....I won't take office until later that year....AFTER my contract exprires with the is there a conflict? you think there is...please explain...Jim...don't believe everything you hear...I know who you associate with and frankly most if not all of them are what I would consider enemies.... and that's fine....if you want to believe everything you hear and not step up to the plate and ask your own questions and get the right answers to your concerns...then we can part ways now...again....the ball is in your court...."

Erin H. Garcia

Monday, August 22, 2011

Erin Hernandez Garcia Asks Me To "Step Up to the Plate"

     Ernie L. Hernandez, Jr. is lucky to have such a loyal daughter and son-in-law.  Erin and Doroteo messaged me recently after what they consider to have been a personal attack on their father and father-in-law respectively by Emma Perez-Trevino, a Brownsville Herald writer.  Erin mixed two sports analogies encouraging me to "step up to the plate", while also stating that the "ball was in my court".   Doroteo tactfully explained the Hernandez position about several media revelations over the last few years.  Both messages were gracious, respectful in tone which speaks well of the parenting they both received and are now extending to the next generation.
     I understand defending those you love.  I understand daddies and kids.   After all, I am a daddy.  Children remember what their dads have done for them, not necessarily how their daddies got it done.   The children of political dads hear bad things.  The Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon children did.  Certainly Chelsea has.  When I write or infer unpleasant things, I visualize the kids or offspring affected.  I really do.
     Someone sent me every Brownsville Herald article written about Ernie Hernandez in the last twenty years.  Do we need to chronicle those episodes again?  I don't think I do.  Will it help the daughters of daddies who didn't work for the city but wanted to own a wrecking company, make t-shirts or empty the change nightly from vending machines?  Will it help the daddies who could pass a standardized test to work as a bridge guard who were not related to Ernie Hernandez?  Will it help any daughters of Ruben Pena?  Probably not.
     But calling attention to these indiscretions calls to mind another sports analogy,  the level playing field.  That's what we want to give the future daughters of daddies in Brownsville.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Rick Herrera Considering A Run for Cameron County Sheriff

     Rick Herrera is weighing a campaign for Cameron County Sheriff, a position he ran for unsucessfully in 2008.  Mr. Herrera is 42 with 9 years law enforcement experience, 5 years with the county sherriff's department and 4 years as a detective with the Indian Lake Police Department.
     Mr. Herrera has a number of ideas that he feels would improve the efficiency of the department but will wait until deciding on a campaign to reveal specifics.  He does feel strongly about bringing the prison commissary back under county control.  He has some ideas with respect to vehicle maintenance, the careful use of monies collected from seized items and certifying more officers in tactical weapons training.   Without implying a departmental drug problem, he does favor drug screening as a safeguard.
     Mr. Herrera himself is certified as an advanced police officer, as a negotiator and in tactical weaponry.
     Current Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio has already announced that he will run for re-election.  Sheriff Lucio will be 82 if he completes another term as sheriff.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Balancing City and County Budgets

     City and county finances are in what my late Uncle Joe would have called a "mell of a hess".  The articulate Ms. Leticia Perez Garzoria challenged the city commission recently:  "We can do better.  We need to get creative."   Ms. Garzonia was likely referring to the 2.9 million deficit announced by Pete Gonzalez,  City Finance Director.  The county is not faring much better with reduced bridge tolls and other factors creating a 3 million dollar shortfall.  Judge Cascos has called for a 10% reduction in salaries across the board among other initiatives.
     Trying to think creatively as Ms. Garzoria suggests caused my mind to wander to the San Benito County Annex Building named prematurely for two undistinguished county clerks, Aurora de la Garza and Joe Rivera.  Not only did the fancy lettering outside cost the county, but the portraits of the two clerks cost $2,500.  Does this seem ass-backwards to anyone else?  Shouldn't clerks have to PAY to have buildings named after them?  Could the naming of buildings, departments, streets and sports parks being put out for bid help alleviate city and county budget deficits?
     Sports stadiums around the country have taken advantage of selling the naming rights for considerable sums:  U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago, Minute Maid Park, Quicken Loans Arena, American Airlines Arena, etc.  Why can't local politicians who wish to be honored by having their names immortalized on our buildings, streets and departments pay for those naming rights?  Certainly our local politicos understand the concept of rewarding the highest bidder.
     Potential naming rights may include, but are not limited to the following:
       Ernie L. Hernandez Human Resources Department
       Robert Lopez Standardized Employment Test
       Pat Ahumada Debate and Town Forum Center
       Mark Sossi Public Comment Interlude Background Music
       Charlie Atkinson Olmito Volleyball Courts
       Ricardo Longoria Fire Station
       Rose Gowen "Biggest Loser" Municipal Golf Course 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Photo Essay on the First Amendment

Tony speaks, but does not listen.

What the taxpayers who pay for the broadcast of the commission meetings see during the public's comment.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Spirituality, Making Chili~It Can Go So Right!

 There is no finer cuisine than Texas chili.  Of course, there are zillions of chili contests, cook-offs, Iron Chef auditions, etc.  I don't need them.  I know what I know.  I taste what I taste.  If you know me, you know that I practice self-deprecation.  I always imply that I'm not the smartest, not the best, not the most qualified.   But. . . . I do know how to cook.  I cook the world's best chili. 
     Chili is a spiritual thing.  A chili kitchen is a synagogue, a chapel, a Kingdom Hall, a mosque, a cathedral.  The apostles are a 1051 onion, fresh garlic cloves, small, shiny jalapenos,  the leanest boneless roast H.E.B. can offer cut up into 1/2 inch cubes, salt, pepper, comino, chili powder, cayenne, corn starch, the large can of Bush Black Beans, water.
     Going for another bowl.

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Friday, August 12, 2011

Is Our City Commission Being Manipulated?

     Melissa Hernandez-Zamora seemed dumbstruck when City Attorney Sossi stood up to give opposition testimony concerning the broadcast of public comment  item she had placed on the agenda.  It was obvious that Commissioner Zamora  had not been advised of the behind-the-scenes manipulation by Mayor Martinez and his eager cohort Sossi.  Sossi, afterall, had the most to lose from public comment broadcast since it was comments about his questionable ethics that triggered the ban in the first place.  As Zamora got her bearings, Martinez waved Sossi the "go ahead".
      Sossi made no attempt in his feeble, highschoolish power point to express a legal opinion.  There was no mention of free speech, the first amendment, the constitution or even the phony liability issues he has pretended previously.  Those might have been worthy legal issues.  Instead he expressed only viewpoints, unscientific at best, but most likely simply wrong.  With a straight face he used a pie chart to illustrate the greater "diversity" of commenters since the ban, not even having the honesty to acknowledge that many of those new participants were speaking out against the anti-democratic ban.  He also railed against grandstanding as he grandstanded.
     Our new commissioners will evidently have to be prepared for tricks.  No coming in flat-footed.  Estela Chavez-Vasquez repeated a Zamora phrase about "announcements" in her brief contribution to the discussion.  She seemed poised to vote "yes" until she noticed which way Tony was blowing the wind and quickly succumbed to "nay".  Tony then made a comment that I'm certain his San Antonio handlers would never have written for him:  "I'd like to continue doing what the last administration did.  It seems to be working pretty well.  I don't want to change it."
     It's been said that the broadcast of public comment is a litmus test for Brownsville's new city administration.  It's not the biggest issue facing the city, but its handling gives notice as to the direction the city is taking.  It does not look good for transparency, inclusiveness and democracy at this point.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Crescent Moon, Brownsville's Venue for New Music

     The Crescent Moon at 722 E. 11th St. continues to be a great venue for local performing artists.  Wednesday night Peter Egly and Los Cuervos performed a rousing blues set.  Several of the songs written by Egly are included in their latest CD.  Following Los Cuervos was the  duo of Chris and Michael Gonzalez who recently moved here from New York.   With Chris playing acoustic guitar the pair performed "Redemption Songs", "Me and Julio" and a superb rendition of "The Highwaymen".  Miguel Colis joined the duo for "A Little Help from My Friends" and later did a solo cover of an Oasis song.
     Juan Antonio Garza, Jr., Adrian Foncerrada, Jr., Adios Pluto and the Lords of D'Nile regularly perform at the Moon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meet New Commissioner Mark Sossi

     No sooner had the motion rolled off the lips of Melissa Hernandez-Zamora calling for the reinstitution of the broadcast of public comment, than City Attorney Mark Sossi stood up, asking to be recognized for a strange opposition power point, complete with graphs and illogical commentary.   Commissioner Zamora looked shocked and turned toward Mayor Martinez who gave a "go ahead" signal to Sossi.  One of Sossi's ludicrous arguments was that during the time that public comment broadcast had been shut down, there was even a greater "diversity" of speakers beyond the normal four or five.    Had not Sossi himself even thought through that argument enough to realize that the greater "diversity" was in large part do to those speaking out FOR the broadcast of public comment?
     The mayor asked for discussion.  Rose Gowen proved that she had not wasted any thoughts on the matter by simply regurgitating Sossi"s "diversity" argument.  Estela Chavez-Vasquez started to say something irrelevant about announcements before Tony took her out of her misery by interruption.  Mayor Martinez now said something that 91% of the electorate who voted to change mayors hoped they would never hear:  "I'd like to continue doing things the way the previous administration did them.  It's been working pretty good so far.  I don't want to change that."
     It's going to be a long four years.

Some Call It Recycling, Some Call It Scrapping, Sometimes It's Just Pawning


     We live in a town where politicians have routinely flushed millions down their favorite rat holes while a subculture doesn't throw away a damn thing!  Each day in Brownsville trash cans are gently overturned with the contents carefully separated into plastics, aluminum or the accidentally discarded coin.   Unpadlocked dumpsters beckon the divers who differentiate between Chinese and U.S. cardboard, thrill at the sight of the broken shopping cart or misplaced plastic milk crate.  None of this is even remotely connected with a commissioner's or mayor's green initiative, but all of it is survival based.
     Not long ago, I watched a man and woman pushing a worn shopping cart along 14th street.  Another shopping cart was turned upside down on top of the cart being pushed.  Other discarded metal pieces filled the basket of the cart.  All of this was headed to the scrap yard to be sold for a tiny fraction of H.E.B's replacement cost for one cart.   The scrap yards do ask questions, but only the legally required ones.  They have the incentive of buying cheap and selling higher so their survival is in play here too.  Shopping carts, manhole covers, air conditioning copper are the lifeblood of a system that starts near a trash can or dumpster and likely ends in a manufacturing country like China.
     Much of Brownsville's downtown retail is devoted to selling recycled goods.  Thousands of tons of used garments come trucked or trained in, baled into 100 lb. "pacas", sold retail in "ropas de segunda" or "ropa usadas".   Much of this comes from the excessive tonnage of items donated to the Goodwill, Salvation Army etc. that never makes it to an actual shelf.  Much of this is actually sold by the pound to valley companies.  These do a small retail business, depreciating the price per pound each day.  Some "usadas" put the garments in a huge "monton" for final sale at a reduced rate.  Finally, they can be sold to be ripped into rags.  Much of the tonnage, though, is simply categorized and shipped all over the world.  Visualize an eighty year old man in Chile wearing a "New Kids On The Block" cap or a construction worker in Brazil wearing a girl's high school volleyball shirt.  These men are oblivious to the writing on their garments.
     Other small stores in our downtown sell small appliances like coffee makers, juicers, ice crushers, radiant heaters, etc.  You will notice that all of the boxes have been carefully retaped.  These are return items from department stores up north and you buy at your own risk.  These stores may also have items they have bought on auction at pallet sales.  These come from store closings, abandoned storage units or even items that have been found to be unsafe.  It all finds its way here.
     I don't know whether Austin or Brownsville was the first to ban plastic bags, but I doubt any city can touch us on the thoroughness of our recycling.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ernie Knows Exactly Why He Should Be Standing in the Corner

     Mrs. Crutchfield, my fifth grade teacher, was no-nonsense.  When classmate Jimmy(no, not me) walked into the room smacking gum, she reacted decisively.  "Do you have gum for all of us, Jimmy?"  "No ma'am", Jimmy responded.  "Then I suggest you take the gum out of your mouth and place it on your nose.  Maybe this will help you remember that gum chewing is not allowed in my classroom."  Jimmy readily complied, but actually seemed sort of proud of the wad on the end of his nose as laughter ensued.  So Crutchfield tacked on another sentence to run concurrently.  "And go stand in the corner."  The episode continued into the next day with Jimmy walking into class with gum on the end of his nose.  "What do you think you're doing Jimmy?"  Mrs. Crutchfield bellowed.  "I caught myself chewing gum again," Jimmy answered.
      Apparently, Ernie L. Hernandez, County Commissioner District #2 has been caught AGAIN with a serious ethics violation or three.  It appears that Ernie greatly facilitated the employment of his extremely questionable brother-in-law, Robert Cadriel, as a bridge guard at the Los Tomates Bridge in Brownsville.  Human Resources director Robert Lopez, who quit his job the same day Cadriel quit his may also be involved.  It appears that someone may have taken the required test for Cadriel.  I emailed District Attorney Amando Villalobos hinting that there might be a role for him here.  He emailed back indicating he was waiting on Judge Cascos to finish his investigation before acting.
     Unlike Jimmy, Ernie has never acknowledged doing anything inappropriate in his decades of representing our city and county governments.  No one in law enforcement or our judicial system has ever so much as made him stand in the corner.  Why should he feel in the least bit threatened now?  All he has to do is say:  "I know nothing about this!" and Judge Cascos and District Attorney Villalobos will nod in agreement.  Or will they?

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Little Supermarket That Could

     Where Palm Blvd. runs into Boca Chica Blvd. now stands Taco Palenque.  Before that stood a Lopez Supermarket which before that was Glen's Supermarket.  Glen Herman,  who had once been the manager of Brownsville's first H.E.B. had run his own store since 1940.  Mr. Herman was a stoic, almost stereotypical shopkeeper.  Entering the store in a business suit with a white shirt and bowtie, he would proceed to his perched office, a raised platform giving him a view of the entire floor.  His dark course hair was combed straight back, his businessman's smile accompanied a businessman's handshake.
     His fidgety, wiry son Elwyn seemingly had a different DNA with their almost daily squabbles being part of the fun.  Elwyn's money making schemes were just a bit out of Mr. Herman's comfort zone on occasion.  Elwyn would jump headfirst into a project singing a rapidfire version of the song "Ricochet Romance" while Mr. Herman would simply shake his head.
     Marna Herman, Elwyn's wife and I started cashiering at about the same time.  Marna was a very conservative midwestern gal, stricty obedient to Mr. Herman and tolerant of her husband.  She explained the store's unique rules to me:  Boxes in the box bin were sold for ten cents, not given away.  Cold beer was ten cents higher than warm beer.  Checks from unknown people had to be approved by Mr. Herman.
     Brownsville's grocery competition was more intense in those days.  Fed Mart on Central Blvd. where H.E.B. is now was cheaper than anyone else.  Minimax had great breads.  El Centro had its followers, as did Villa Verde. King Mart was there for people from across.   Pace Grocery on Central was our sister store.  If we ran out of something, Mr. Herman would send us to his buddy Jimmy Pace to borrow a case until our next delivery came in.  And, of course, there were the two H.E.B.'s, one downtown and the one on Boca Chica.
     All of our ordering and stocking was done by Santos, known only by his last name.  He was from Matamoros as was Tony, the meat man.  Santos ordered from a book, keeping the store absolutely full and perfectly faced at all times.   Like Tony, he spoke no English.  Meat man Tony was a big flirt, always in Mr. Herman's dog house.
     Drunken shrimpers were more than welcome to cash their huge checks, especially if they bought groceries.  The gypsy girls who came in were the thought to be the daughters of Madam Palm.  They were not as welcome.  Much of the store's business came from the streets behind the store;  Carthage, Villanova, Marquette and Stanford, but also from Palm Blvd. and, of course, Rio Viejo.  Mr. Herman himself lived in Rio Viejo and  knew what those customers wanted.  He would personally help choose their meats, wrapping them in white butcher paper, marking the price with a black grease pen.
     It's odd how the memory works.  When asked my cell number, I have to think for a minute.  But I remember that we sold Biltmore Luncheon Loaf at Glen's 3 cans for $1.00,  Hoffman House beer at .79 a six pack, lard for .10 per pound and cigarettes for .35 a pack and Elwyn had his penny gum machines and ten cent riding horses always ready, freshly painted.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

V.I.C.C.'s Stepchild, The Valley Inn Motel on Central Blvd.


     Every hotel or full service motel has its own distinct personality at night.  The tone can be set by the night desk clerk as he or she mixes it up on a nightly basis with the regulars and the passers through.  The Valley Inn Motel on Central Blvd. owned by the Valley Inn & Country Club was in full decay mode by the mid-sixties when Paul Sanders and I worked the front desk.  The regulars knew what we weren't and the first-timers would soon be underwhelmed.  My most frequent role as bellman was to move guests from one hot room to another.  Entering the replacement room,  I would quickly turn down the thermostat.  Noise would be made as if cooling would soon occur.  Eventually, guests would stop complaining and simply go to sleep.
     Our regulars included Mr. Fried Chicken.  An auditor thought that to be an odd name on the registry until it was explained.  Twice a week he would come in with a different lady.  At about 2 a.m. he would order two fried chicken dinners which I would have to pick up at Higgies, the only all night restaurant in Brownsville at the time.
     Paul Sanders, the night desk clerk, was an Oregon State grad, the son of a Lutheran minister.  He liked to talk philosophy and considered himself a citizen of the world.   Paul had travelled extensively thoughout Mexico, had tired of a relationship with a profesora at the Universidad Nacional de Mexico and had taken the poorest paying, but most interesting job he found at the border.  He collected $1.10 an hour for booking guests, checking up, answering the switchboard, pacifiying complainers and pontificating all night his world view.  I claimed .80 per hour plus non-existent tips for putting two sofa cushions together in the manager's office and sleeping till morning.  I would keep one ear open to the lobby conversation in case it interested me enough to join in.  Of course, I was always on call.  Typically, I would be repeating the room number to myself as I headed down the long hall, finally realiizing what my mission was after many steps.  In the morning I would have to take over the switchboard as Paul would be seriously trying to balance the night's books.  The switchboard connected all of the motel rooms and all of the country club phones.  I would have to find a long distance operator for any long distance calls.  For room to room, it was a simply matter of  plugging a flexible cord into that room's slot.  A mechanical timer reminded us to issue wake up calls if we remembered to set the timer.
     Although the Valley Inn was run down, the Travel Lodge across the street was more so.  Plus we had the connection with the country club.  Dean Martin was supposed to own one of the units at the country club.  His pending arrival was the occasional rumor that never materialized.  My big celebrity guest was country singer Rusty Draper.  I had to move him and his wife from a hot motel room to a suite at the country club.  The large number of bags I loaded created visions of a five dollar tip in my head.  Draper used his thumb to flip me a quarter from across the room.  "Get yourself a beer kid."
     Santiago Name, the classical guitarist with the fake last name pronounced "na.may" usually serenaded a girl in the parking lot after the club closed.  Paul always gave the nonpaying guest a room not yet tidied up by the maids.  Santiago also played at Michael's Pizza next to the Gibson store further down Central. 
     Pierre, the shrimper from Morgantown, LA would entertain us with stories.  He was a 5'3" Cajun man of steel.  He kept a wash cloth and an 8 penny nail in his pocket to demonstrate to anyone who would watch  how he could drive a nail into a board with his palm.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

My First Job Working for George Out of A '47 Dodge

 A light drizzle doesn't stop a Seattle kid from riding his bicycle, dribbling the basketball around puddles or running through the woods, pretending to be Chingachgook, the Indian guide in The Last of the Mohicans. You adapt. Moist air becomes the norm. It makes you appreciate the warm Chinook winds that blow off the Pacific and moderate the climate at such a northern latitude. You get up early. You chop fragrant cedar into kindling for the fire. You drink coffee.
I can't remember when i started drinking coffee. It will stunt your growth I was told and that seemed true, but I didn't care. Men drank coffee and at thirteen I was a man.
     I worked for a janitorial service.   My boss, George Pringle, ran his business out of a '47 Dodge with fluid drive.(Fluid drive is actually a standard shift but you can take your foot off the clutch with the car in gear, still idling).  The back seat was taken out and the buffer and mop buckets, mops, waxes, etc filled the cavity all the way to the trunk.  George would be considered bi-polar today.  Back then he was called manic-depressive, occasionally undergoing electroshock therapy.  In his down moods he would play boogie woogie on the piano for hours.  In his manic moods he would cure cancer or invent something.  He was always looking for "the answer".
     One of our cleaning accounts was Shaw Brothers Drugs in Renton.  It had narrow aisles and long glass cases that went to nearly to the floor. My boss didn't trust himself running the scrubber, so that job fell to me.   George had fabricated a floor cleaning machine using a 1/3 horse washing machine motor bolted onto a metal plate.  It was geared down with a pully wheel that attached directly to the round floor brush.  The buffer still ran too fast, a bit off center, so it was a bear to control.  I got the knack of it,  being especially careful not to get the long yellow power cord entangled.
     When I wouldn't hear from George for a while I would always find him at the magazine rack usually reading fictionally gory "True Detective" style stories.  He was three times my age, but I was the adult of the team and had to remind him of the work at hand.  George always looked for a labor saving gimmick or an easy way of doing a hard job.  Usually, that made jobs actually harder.  One late night we were futilely trying to strip years of yellow wax buildup from a tavern floor when a drunk walked in through the front door we had neglected to lock.  He told us we were doing it all wrong.  "If you boys get a few cans of lye, this old wax will strip off like butter, " he told us.
     George immediately sped off to an all-night Safeway to buy the toxic chemical.  We emptied several cans into our mop bucket, slopped the solution on thickly, then stood back to watch the magic unfold.  To our horror, floor tiles began to separate from the floor, floating in the chemical solution.  We panicked!  We quickly mopped up.  I gathered up our equipment and threw it into the Dodge.  George endorsed the tavern owner's check on the back, gently laying it on the cash register.  He noticed one of his business cards and pocketed it.  We hoped the owner would never remember the two idiots who ruined his floor.
     My last job with George was the night of the JFK assassination.  We cleaned a radio station.  I was fascinated with the Reuter's teletype machine typewritten sheets folding one way and then the next underneath the machine.  I could read condolences coming in from all over the world.
     I almost forgot to mention the name of the company:  ABC Maintenance.  ABC stood for "Always Be Clean" according to George, but in private he told me he picked the name to be first in the phonebook.  Oh yes, he also told me when pressed I should say we used universal solvent as our cleaning agent.  Most chemists recognize that as a euphemism for water.

Thinking of Tad's Cheese Shop, I Fell Into A Dream


      Someday Tad Hasse will have his cheese shop in a revitalized downtown Brownsville right next to La Movida Nueva.  Tad will not run the shop though.  The shop will be under the direction of the loquacious and charming Joseph Walter Hasse, yes the guy in lederhausen, although Joseph would curse me now at that suggestion.  Daughter Becky will not acknowledge the existence of the shop, but will consider her dad a retired city mogul.
    Cheese will be the star, but not without a support team of soft German pretzels, beers from all over the world, corn beef, pastrami, Spanish chorizo, prosciutto, bratwurst,  Danish ham, salami and all the major and minor breads.  Actually, the soft pretzels are visible from the street on a rotating rack inside a glass case with salt crystals glistening.  The options of port wine or garlic cheese, pickle chunks, hot mustard, red cabbage roll off the cheese associate's tongue.
     China, Korea, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Mexico, Canada, Germany and of course Holland have beers that beg for you to release them from Tad's cold beer dungeon.  Joseph will gladly mix and match them in a takeout six-pack if you prefer.
     Most customers prefer to take their customized pretzel, fried pickle spears, onion soup or German potato salad along with their world beer to one of the small tables with a view to the historic Market Square.  It's all bicycle and foot traffic now around the building housing the Brownsville Historical Association and the Market Square Research Center.  Retired professor Tony Zavaleta sometimes rides the West Loop Bike Trail to downtown for a cold one at Tad's.  Maybe it's the beer selection or maybe the remastered Led Zeppelin or the proximity to the longstanding herberia on the ground floor of the Fernandez y Hermano Building, but Tony is one of large group of regulars who trade barbs and anecdotes with Joseph and staff.

Bobby WC's Unflattering, But Humorous Comments

  Bobby WC describes himself as "weak" after gallbladder removal in his near daily blog BROWNSVILLE VOICE.  Bobby does muster up enough strength in his first postoperative posting to describe me in this way:
"Jim Barton is not stupid - he is just a very bad person who suffers from delusions of grandeur.  Obviously it is not for me to make a formal diagnosis.  To the best of my knowledge no such diagnosis has ever been made."
     The above wouldn't be on my tombstone if I wanted one, which I don't.  Nena and I long ago agreed on cremation.  No funeral.  No burial.  Our ashes will be scattered at Boca Chica without fanfare.   But back to Bobby's unflattering assessment:   "Not stupid"  is not really an endorsement.  Basic intelligence is simply inherited with no real credit to the receiver of such.  To say someone is "not stupid" can imply bad motives, as if to say that the evil they perform is not done out of ignorance, but willful, malicious.  Bobby says so much in the next sentence when he describes me as "a very bad person."   The word bad as here used implies moral bankruptcy, corruption.   This is not a charge against which I can defend myself.  Simply saying that I'm not a "bad person" as Bobby suggests proves nothing.  My actual life is the only answer to such a dastardly charge, but that answer will only come after my remains are floating along the surf of my beloved beach.
     To further illustrate my deficiencies, Bobby makes an issue of my use of the nonword "irregardless".  I've been aware of this faux pas for some time but lapse back into it occasionally when not concentrating.  Then he jumps to a quote in one of my articles from a downtown property owner referencing the stringent requirements for downtown buildings.  Bobby uses this quote to portray me as anti-sprinker, anti-safety.
     Actually, BROWNSVILLE VOICE is interesting reading, covering a variety of topics.  Bobby recently offered a recipe for a pork roast marinated in a bottle of LA Choy Stir Fry Orange & Ginger that you might enjoy.  He is also a Harry Potter fan, giving a nice critique of the latest offering.   He frequently pontificates about his god that he refers to as Joshua, a sort of Anglicized transliteration of the Hebrew characters for Yeshua.  The spelling, pronunciation and the actual name of a god can be very important to the individual worshipper and I find Bobby's commentary on Joshua most interesting.
     Please continue your fine work Bobby.  I have your site bookmarked.  Loading...


    Self-Portrait by Josie del Castillo