Sunday, April 29, 2012
A Hate Group Planning Intimidation, Disruption for 3 Brownsville Churches May 20, 2012
First United Methodist Church in Brownsville, TX
May 20, 2012 9:30 AM - 9:55 AM
"Westboro Baptist Church will cry against this alter. God hates fags. God hates women preachers. Methodists prop up the dyke and calls her skanky backside a preacher. Shame on you! You are not a Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are a studfarm for jackasses and a whorehouse for queers and you are a Leper Colony and you are a Dog Kennel, but you have nothing to do with God and His Word."
Brownsville Community Fellowship Church in Brownsville, TX
May 20, 2012 10:05 AM - 10:30 AM
"Westboro Baptist Church will stand outside this House of Idols and remind you that God requires that you fear and obey him. If you, he will destroy your nation and send you all to hell. Hell is not running out of room! God is not impressed by world-wide rebellion. God is not interested in your new face of a kinder-gentler god. He said here is my Word, your duty is to fear and obey ME and My Word. Stop lying on God. You can say God loves everyone, but the lie will be confirmed when you drop into hell!"
Livingway Family Church in Brownsville, TX
May 20, 2012 10:30 AM - 11:00 AM
"Westboro Baptist Church will stand outside on a public right of way and warn all that go into this House of Horrors that has sucked you in with their fraud of a name: THERE IS DEATH IN THAT POT, RUN FROM THERE, FLEE THE WRATH THAT FOLLOWS ALL THAT ENTER THEREAT! Break it down: Livingway - WTH?! Christ on that: Bring it home! You fill your pews with divorced and remarried adulterers, and then promise them life! NO, hell comes next for them"
EDITOR'S NOTE: As vile as the words are above, as much as they seem contrary to the principles of Christianity, as much disrespect as they show for our military, gender equality and the rights to individual sexual orientation, our constitution is crafted to protect and encompass even this opportunity of self-expression. Are you paying attention, Commissioner John Villarreal?
"No Woman, No Cry"
Saturday, April 28, 2012
The $21 Million Bridge Project
Several blogs have been commenting about the “$21 Million Bridge to Nowhere” and the “$21 Million Bridge Boondoggle” and so on. Only one person has ever asked me about why we settled the lawsuit with Dannenbaum (DEC). Everyone else has just complained but never bothered to ask. I knew that this would come up some day so I wrote down a list of the reasons why we settled. It is important though that the readers get some background regarding the project. I will also fill in some additional information about things that happened after the settlement and the status of the project today. Other than the list of reasons why we settled, I am working from memory in order to get this information out to you in an expedited manner. This information is from my point of view. In the end, I know that not everyone will agree with my decision. There are some folks that wanted to go after Dannenbaum at all costs regardless of the outcome. There is also an operator of a blog in particular that has never liked me. He is one of those that has never contacted me yet knows everything about everything. I don’t expect he will agree with my point of view.
In 1997 the Port of Brownsville was able to obtain a Presidential Bridge Permit. The purpose of the permit was to build a truck and rail bridge linking the Port of Brownsville to Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The bridge would be located on the east side of Matamoros and Brownsville. The Port owns the land leading to the proposed bridge site on the U.S. side. This means that the Port would own the road leading to the bridge. Overweight trucks would then be able to come in directly to the Port of Brownsville without having to pay for an overweight permit and avoid going through the city. The rail part of the bridge would have allowed the BRG (the Port’s railroad) to transfer train cars directly to Mexico without having to rely on and continue to pay Union Pacific (UP) a transfer fee for each car. This would make the Port of Brownsville more competitive with competing ports (Altamira) as the cost of transporting goods in and out of the port would be cheaper.
It is important to note that all railroad bridges between the U.S. and Mexico are owned by UP. The Port’s bridge project was opposed by UP. In addition, the west rail project was also started on or about the same time. The west rail project is a project to relocate the rail lines inside the city of Brownsville to outside the city. The switching yard was relocated to Olmito from the Fronton and Palm Blvd. areas of the city. The actual west rail bridge project is currently ongoing and appears to be on schedule at least on the U.S. side. This bridge will be turned over to UP once the project is completed.
The Port initially hired an engineering firm to do all of the necessary work for the bridge project. From my recollection, this engineering firm did some initial work but at some point the then existing board members decided to change the engineering firm to Dannenbaum. Initially, Dannenbaum was contracted to perform the engineering work on the bridge project. This involved a whole bunch of things including obtaining different studies and permits from all of the different federal agencies. It appears all this work was being performed according to schedule. The problems began when Dannenbaum decided that they wanted to try to get the Mexican concession for building the bridge on the Mexican side. I don’t have dates but the prior board members then decided to let Dannenbaum try to get the permit going on the Mexican side of the border. The problem with this was that Dannenbaum had never done a bridge project other than actual engineering work. So, they were not familiar with how to get the bridge approved on the Mexican side of the border. They attempted to get the permits at the Mexican federal level without first getting approvals from the City of Matamoros or the State Governor. Apparently, that was not the proper procedure. Although, they did secure some letter from a federal agency referring to the bridge project it was not an approval of the project. Dannenbaum was hiring subcontractors in Mexico to do this. The board was aware of this and still kept giving Dannenbaum Millions to do this. This was a big problem for the Port in the lawsuit.
In 2004 two new board members were elected. Sometime during 2005 the board started considering a suit against Dannenbaum. However, Dannenbaum had still not completed their engineering work. When they found out that the Port was going to sue them they filed suit first in Harris County (their backyard). They alleged that the Port still owed them money under their contract and that the Port was refusing to pay them. By the time the Port filed suit here in Cameron County it was too late. The case got transferred to Harris County. So the case had to be litigated over there.
The Port was able to secure the services of Susman & Godfrey, a major law firm with offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Houston, and Dallas. This was a firm hand picked by Peter Zavaletta. The firm was a bit reluctant at handling the case because they were used to dealing with lawsuits involving $100’s of millions. To them this was not that attractive of a case. Nonetheless, we secured their services. We still had the services of Charlie Willette of Willette & Guerra, a local reputable law firm and David Oliveira, of Roerig, Oliveira and Fischer, another local reputable law firm as well as our board attorney Dan Rentfro.
Dannenbaum also had secured the services of a major law firm in Houston. I don’t recall their name but it was believed at the time that Dannenbaum had paid the firm a substantial amount of money throughout the lawsuit perhaps in the $2 million range.
The Alleged Secret Meeting with Dannenbaum
When I was elected to the Port in 2006, the lawsuit was already pending in Harris County. Nobody was doing anything. There was an order from the judge on the case to mediate. We were advised by our attorneys to try to set up a mediation. Harry Susman had looked at our case and wanted to drop us. They reviewed hundreds of boxes full of material and they were just not interested any more. In addition, Dannenbaum had produced sworn affidavits from two former board members that stated that they knew exactly where the money was going.
Dannenbaum wanted to meet with the board members. None of the three previous board members wanted to be involved with the suit anymore. Our attorneys set up a meeting with Dannenbaum to hear what they had to say. We met Dannenbaum and his attorneys together with our attorneys. WE WERE NEVER ALONE WITH DANNENBAUM!!! He had his attorneys and we had ours. The meeting didn’t get anywhere. Dannenbaum still believed that they had the Mexican Diplomatic note permitting the bridge. They were ready to continue with the project. We said NO!!!!
We did review a bunch of the boxes of documents at the Offices of Susman & Godfrey to see where we stood on the project. We had to try to determine if we had good engineering work, studies, permits, and the status on the Mexican side if we were going to go to mediation. We believed then and still believe we have a need for a bridge and that it is still a viable plan with one exception. That it only be a truck bridge and not include a rail bridge. With all of that in mind, we went to mediation and settled the case.
The $1 million
We (the board) were informed about the seizure and forfeiture of the $1 million after the fact. We didn’t just sit there twiddling our fingers. We advised our attorney to draft a letter on behalf of the board and to inquire about getting the money back for the Port. We were advised by the District Attorney that the money was found by the special prosecutor on the case in some account they were able to trace and that it had been dormant for a while. Nobody claimed the money and they reached some settlement with Dannenbaum’s attorneys. I am assuming that the money must have been transferred from a Dannenbaum account and that is why they were part of the suit. In addition, we were also informed that the money was forfeited under Chapter 59 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure as contraband. Basically, what that means is that the money is forfeited to the State to be used for law enforcement purposes. The Port Police didn’t have an agreement regarding forfeitures with the DA’s office therefore we would get none of the $1 million. The statute does not provide for a return seized and forfeited property to victims. That is an area of the law that needs revision.
Reasons why we settled:
- DEC had possession of numerous notes and memorandums indicating that both Raul Besteiro and the BND board were fully aware of the payments being made to both DEC and the Mexican Subconsultants.
- DEC produced affidavits from two former board members (Sydney Lassaigne and Julius Collins) stating that they were kept informed by Mr. Besteiro of everything that DEC was doing and that they knowingly approved the payments to DEC (and subcontractors). They would produce a 3rd one if needed (Eddie Rendon).
- Susman & Godfrey was threatening to withdraw from the case if we didn’t settle. Prior to the BND hiring this firm two other firms had rejected the case. After Susman & Godfrey threatened to withdraw, two other firms were approached about handling the litigation for the BND but they also rejected acceptance of the case.
- DEC’s attorneys, one of the top firms in the state, threatened to have David Oliveira’s firm disqualified. Apparently, when word got out that the BND might sue DEC, they (DEC) went to speak to several firms in Brownsville including Rene Oliveira. Although, Rene did not accept they were claiming that they had discussed substantive issues of the case. Rene and David are partners in the firm.
- If the case proceeded to trial, there was a serious risk that we would not prevail on our claims and that DEC could have convinced a jury that BND breached the contract and award a judgment against the BND in the amount of approximately 3 million dollars ($800,000 unpaid from contract and approx. $2 million in attorney’s fees). This does not include our own attorney’s fees which would be anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million just for the litigation part.
- The settlement allows DEC to complete the engineering work at no further expense to the BND. The amount of engineering work remaining to be done is approximately $2.9 million dollars worth of work. Under these terms they are not the project manager. They will do ABSOLUTELY no further work on the Mexican side and on the US side only engineering work.
- If we had lost the suit, BND would have to pay another engineering firm $6 million to redo the engineering work. Starting from scratch would have also taken significant time to complete the work.
- THAT WOULD MEAN ANOTHER $9 MILLION OUT OF TAXPAYERS POCKETS!!!!! ($2.9 million plus the $6 million). I was not willing to take that risk!
- The settlement agreement gives BND the opportunity to recoup $10 million dollars from the contractor obtaining the Mexican concession.
- Our attorney in Houston, Susman & Godfrey, recommended that we settle this suit. Susman & Godfrey is not just one of the top law firms in the State of Texas but also in the United States with Offices in Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, Houston and Dallas. It is a large firm with over 80 attorneys and This was the law firm that Peter Zavaletta selected to represent us in Houston. Peter spoke very highly of them at the time the board voted to hire them.
- Our attorney in Brownsville, Charles Willette of the Willette and Guerra Law Firm, recommended that we settle the lawsuit. Charles Willette was the attorney selected by Peter Zavaletta to conduct the investigation of the $21 million spent on the port bridge project. Mr. Willette is a seasoned attorney who has represented many local governments and has been involved in numerous cases over his 33 years as an attorney. He was recently featured as one of Texas Super Attorneys.
- Our other attorney in Brownsville, David Oliveira, of the Roerig, Oliveira, & Fisher Law Firm, also recommended that we settle the lawsuit. Mr. Oliveira is well respected and seasoned attorney who has practiced law for almost 20 years. He was also brought in by Peter Zavaletta to represent the BND in this litigation.
- Our BND counsel, Dan Rentfro, Jr., recommended that we settle the lawsuit. Mr. Rentfro has been an attorney for almost 25 years. He has been the BND’s counsel for many years. He has experience in a wide areas of practice including state, local, and municipal law, business & commercial law, as well as other areas.
- VENUE – we were at a disadvantage being that we were fighting this lawsuit in DEC’s backyard (Harris County). The people of Harris County are not familiar with our port nor with our public officials. James Dannenbaum, the owner of Dannenbaum Engineering, is a respected member of that community is well known and very politically involved. He’s been appointed to a state board by Gov. Rick Perry. The judge in our case was also appointed to the bench by Gov. Rick Perry.
- The judge in our lawsuit ordered that both parties go to mediation to try to get the case resolved. Peter went to one mediation. Martin Arambula and myself went to two mediations.
Peter Zavaletta knew that we were trying to settle the case. He stopped going to our meetings and missed nine meetings. Some of the meetings that he did attend he did not stay for the executive session where we would have discussed the ongoing litigation. On one occasion he asked me if we were discussing anything important in exec session and I told him yes that we were meeting with our attorneys regarding the Dannenbaum lawsuit. He declined to stay saying he had to pick up his daughter and practically ran out of the board room. He has refused to sign any documents related to the port for 4 or 5 months. This was his way of denying any knowledge of anything regarding the lawsuit and any settlement and to help his claims that we had dealt with Dannenbaum secretly.
Current Status of the Project
We still have an active permit. It is important that our community get involved and voice the need for this bridge. We have been working closer with the city and county governments as well as the Regional Mobility Authority (RMA) and the Brownsville MPO. We need to continue to emphasize the importance of our project and perhaps a priority over other future bridges such as the proposed Flor de Mayo bridge. We must also continue to reach out to the Governor of Tamaulipas to push for this project.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
Project 100's candidate forums at TSC's Gran Salon are part of a program with a stated goal of gaining 100% voter turnout among the student population. The irony is that only 50% of the candidates for TSC Trustee, Places 6 & 7 showed up Wednesday night for the event.
Tad Hasse, candidate for Place 6, and Robert Uresti, candidate for Place 7, did participate in the event, while their opponents, Reynoldo Garcia for Place 6 and Ramon Champion Hinojosa for Place 7 were no shows. "
"One told us two weeks ago he couldn't make it, while the other confirmed a couple of days ago that he wasn't coming," stated John Wood, Professor of Communications.
"I think both of those guys think they have the election won," offered one observer. Both of the non-attenders have a background in academia, while Hasse and Uresti could be considered atypical candidates.
Hasse, ITT Manager for the Brownsville Municipal Court, regarded in the community as a creative problem solver, visited with us before the forum. "The first thing I did after I announced was to read all of the minutes of trustee meetings for the last 20 years. It gave me an idea of where everyone stands on certain issues and what has come up in the past."
During the forum, Hasse emphasized the need for lower fees. "We don't want students coming out with so much debt that they can't get married or start a family." He also stressed curriculum flexibility. "Universities pushed engineering and law to the point that we ended up with a glut of engineers and lawyers. We need to ask the business community 'What type of skills would allow you to employ a person for the next 10 years?"
Uresti, a retired teacher and now a community activist, is also noted as an idea man. Last fall when the city's financial manager stated that he had cut the city's budget to the barest of bones, Uresti quickly rattled of 5 or 6 cuts that could be made.
"We have enough space at TSC. It's simply not utilized properly." Looking out over the Gran Salon auditorium, Uresti continued: "We could even make several classrooms in this building, both upstairs and down."
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
The mercurial publisher of the Brownsville Voice blog, Bobby Wightman-Cervantes, continues his extraordinary investigation of the ongoing corruption at BISD with his latest blog article BISD Bid Rigging Documents in Hand. Wightman-Cervantes states that he will share the documents with the public on Friday. Here is a link to the blog article: http://brownsvillevoice.blogspot.com/2012/04/bisd-contract-rigging-documents-in-hand.html
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
María - Migrant, Military Veteran, Nurse and
Attorney. Your Public Servant.
María Urbina De Ford grew up in Los Indios, outside of San Benito. As a young child, she traveled to Ohio every year with her family to work in the fields. The youngest daughter of Angel and Aurora Urbina, María was taught about hard work, responsibility, and honesty from her father. From her mother, María learned about the importance of faith in God, family, and service to others.
First the Navy, Then The Army
María joined the U.S. Navy to earn money for college through the military's G.I. Bill. María served nine years and rose to the rank of E-7 or Chief Petty Officer. María went on to earn a degree in nursing from the University of Maryland, then joined the U.S. Army, serving four years as a 1st Lieutenant.
In the military, María learned the importance of duty, honor, courage, integrity, and accountability. These are the ideals María practices in her personal and professional life.
Now Our Assistant District Attorney
After the military, María earned a law degree from Indiana University and has worked for over six years representing the victims of crime as an Assistant District Attorney in Cameron County and in Houston. María's legal experience also includes writing legal opinions for judges on the Indiana Court of Appeals and defending doctors, nurses, and other parties from lawsuits.
Prosecuting The Guilty, Protecting the Innocent
Currently, María is the Chief Prosecutor of the Crime Against Children Unit at the Cameron County District Attorney's office. She also prosecutes major crimes such as murders, child deaths, and sexual assaults of children.
|"I'm running for County & District Attorney to bring effective leadership and a strong sense of justice to Cameron County. As a Veteran, a Nurse and Assistant District Attorney, I am qualified and experienced, and respectfully ask for your vote and support."|
- María Urbina DeFord
B.U.C. also works to ensure effective leadership and voter awareness in the community by holding periodic campaign forums. The individual unions take seriously the recommendation of candidates, respecting the votes by their members of candidates who will best represent their interests. Since the coalition is not an autocracy or dictatorship, it does not attempt to undermine or overrule the preference of a particular union. Democratic principles are always followed.
Spotting his District 34 opponents a 60 day head start with his late announcement for the congressional race, Filemon Vela summoned a base of support rooted in his family's half century legacy of public service. The Longhorn Cattle Company Barbeque of San Benito reached capacity in both it's front and "back 40" with a hundred or so more outside.
Vela's voice seemed to break a bit as he talked about his father's work ethic and devotion to the community. Vela may not be a natural politician or public speaker, but his appeal to his family's heritage in public service did seem to touch some in the audience as they visibly fought back tears. While very few specifics were given, Vela spoke of "giving this region a voice in Washington" and "shaking things up".
Sunday, April 22, 2012
Please notice in John's statement above that he recognized this woman, Mary Helen Flores, as someone who supported his opponent, Tony Zavaleta, in the last election. His interaction with her was fueled by political spite, not the appropriate demeanor for a public official to direct toward a constituent. John would likely not have even noticed the small table with a stack of handouts, stationed among other vendors, had he not noticed her, Mary Helen Flores, someone he instantly recognized as a supporter of his commissioner race opponent.
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Commissioner John Villarreal visited Linear Park today and made a fool of himself. If John were a political official in Iran, Pakistan, Liberia or Saudi Arabia, his actions would have been appropriate, but our country's set of laws have to align with a carefully written Constitution. That is what John disrespected today~our country's Constitution which protects an individual's right to free speech~popular or not.
I'll probably write more in depth about this incident, especially after I get more information, but it's very revealing to go back and read the rant John Villarreal wrote on his FB page after the incident, so I will post it here:
"Just got back from Earth Day at Linear Park. I was pleased to see such a great turnout. Kids running around, live music, and great food. On another note, I was very much disturbed to see a booth set up for political purposes. This is a public event in a public park paid by you, the citizens, not candidates running for office. This so-called advocacy group is the same one that made me sign an agreement stating I would not hire politiqueras. I did not need an agreement but I accepted since the "purpose" was aligned with my values in running a fair campaign. This same advocacy group decided to endorse my opponent and guess what? In the end, my opponent obtained 97 mail-in votes while I only had 10. You tell me who used politiqueras. Please beware of these groups as they are clearly hired by candidates to bad mouth their opponents. Also, please let this group, and and other for that matter, know that you want your tax payer dollars spent on public events and not to provide them with a venue to distribute their junk. Thanks- John Villarreal"
Notice that John recognized this woman, Mary Helen Flores, as someone who supported his opponent, Tony Zavaleta, in the last election. His interaction with her was based on political spite, not the appropriate relationship between a city official and a city resident. The irony is that last May 29 Nena and I stood all day in Washington Park, holding signs, handing out push cards and talking to people about John. What if Tony Zavaleta had won the election and a year later had spotted Nena and I talking about voter abuse or even diabetes awareness and became enraged? What I want people to see is that John's motivation was wrong. He was the onepoliticizing this situation. Otherwise, why even mention the last election? He did because that was what set him off.
Do you want to live in a country where public officials deal with you based on who you voted for or supported in the last election? What if you went before a judge who made it obvious in his handling your case that he viewed you as somone who had supported his opponent? That's why the way John handled this situation is fundamentally wrong regardless of who is technically right in the matter.
Please notice also that Villarreal referred to the materials the lady was passing out a "junk". That shows that he was more concerned with who the person was than what she was doing. He would not refer to his campaign materials from last year or the barbacoa he sells as "junk". He simply lost his composure, allowing his personal feelings to override the dignity he should display as an elected official.
John also misrepresents what this woman was actually doing with these words:
"I was very much disturbed to see a booth set up for political purposes. This is a public event in a public park paid by you, the citizens, not candidates running for office"
John was incorrect here. According to Ms. Flores, the fliers mentioned no candidate, just facts about the election code relative to voter abuse. Again, it's John who's fixated on candidates, politics.
John continues: "Please beware of these groups as they are clearly hired by candidates to bad mouth their opponents."
John is making an assumption and asks us to accept his assumption as fact. Who are "these groups"? Again, John is the one clearly politicizing the incident.
Friday, April 20, 2012
Perhaps as a direct result of the Planning and Purchasing Department's apparent ineptitude, we hear whispers about dramatic changes in city government. City Planning Manager Ben Medina may have had his duties severely curtailed. The Community Development Block Grant program may be in the hands of the city's grant coordinator, Lucy Garza. The demotion in terms of responsibilities if not salary may also relate to a rumored missing or unreported $3,000,000. However this shakes out, things at COB will not be the same. It is said that the Planning and Zoning departments will now be actually split up.
Is Mayor Tony Martinez providing the impetus for these changes? Of course, other changes may come less surgically. Finance Director Pete Gonzalez is said to be in his last year working for the City of Brownsville. City Manager Charlie Cabler may fit that same description.