Thursday, May 30, 2013

Belden Trail Dominates Meeting of the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation

Back in June of 2004 the Brownsville Herald declared that completion of an 8.6 mile toll road from the B&M Bridge to the Highway 77 flea market was "almost certain" at a cost of $100 million.  The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority had money burning a hole in their pocket, but cooler heads eventually prevailed through several public meetings and the toll road was ditched in favor of a bike trail.  That was $179,000,000 plus typical overruns not going to the bottom line of Howard, Needles, Tammer and Bergendolf, the Kansas-based engineering firm noted for sports stadiums and freeway clover leafs.  The toll road was a dumb idea from the get-go since the B&M Bridge does not support truck traffic.  So, the toll road either takes car traffic from Mexico beyond Brownsville or simply charges West Brownsville citizens a dollar to go to the flea market or sports park when they can simply drive down Central Blvd. and connect to 77/83 for free,

Tonight's meeting of the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation(BCIC), held on the fourth floor of the City Commission/Post Office building, dealt primarily with the Belden Trail, the new bike trail located where the old rail tracks used to connect Matamoros and Brownsville.  In fact, in the executive director's report, she admitted that 75% of her efforts had been dedicated to the Belden Trail.  Three door-to-door canvasses had been conducted to make certain all the folks living along the trail were on board, but still three families plus O'Reilly Auto Parts raised issues once construction started.  Change orders to satisfy citizen complaints and other issues raised the original contract amount from $786,528,000 to $861,038.50.

B&M Bridge
One agenda item dealt with travel expenses for the executive director to attend a Green Summit in October.  No specific location for this summit was mentioned in the agenda and the BCIC board was nearly inaudible, but I did my research coming in.  The California Green Summit features simulcasting.  Why should a green advocate pollute the atmosphere with millions of jet fuel hydrocarbons to attend a Green Summit conference out of town, when they could enjoy a simulcast at the City Commission building?  I wince when I repeatedly see Peter Goodman sent on the community dime to study film in Los Angeles, Pete Gonzalez to learn to count in Dallas or Doroteo Garcia to study engineering in New Orleans.  Put the fools in the air-conditioning comfort of the City Commission building and let them study, honing their skills on a simulcast.  Bring in an organicly grown salad and several bottles of Jack Daniels, but nip this horrendous travel budget in the bud.  Don't get me started on Tony Martinez and his cronies traveling to Colombia to learn how to ride a bicycle on the public dime or Ralph Cowen and his Port of Brownsville cronies fattening themselves at every exotic port in the world.  All of this travel is ridiculously expensive self-indulgence and does nothing for Brownsville.

One agenda item, that was eventually tabled dealt with a bill from the Whitley Penn accounting firm.  Sports park audit?  Who knows?  The BCIC board speaks inaudibly so as not to be heard beyond the board table.(This lack of projection frustrates someone who taught public speaking for 30 years, but goes with the territory of auditing Brownsville board meetings.  I won't waste my time with another BCIC meeting.  Nena simply reads a book during such proceedings.) Anyway, Whitley Penn submitted a bill far exceeding their bid.  While the executive director felt the company had done the work, they had multiple opportunities to mention they were using more auditor hours then projected.  The BCIC board decided to table the consideration of payment until legal had ascertained their rights in this area.(Assistant City Attorney Allison Bastain was one of the few board member who could be heard.)

In another agenda item the board agreed to pay $19,500 annually for a firm to water 46 trees planted along the Belden Trail.  The firm has done work for the city before and always watered when they said they would water.

George W. Bush for President: The Legacy

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Judge Andrew S. Hanen Issues Strong Order Directed At Corrupt Judges, Lawyers and Their Employees in Cameron County

Judge Andrew S. Hanen
This Court has heard over the last two weeks of trial and throughout pretrial hearings a troublesome and disturbing tale of unethical conduct involving judges, lawyers and laypersons. 
This state of affairs was exacerbated by the fact that it has lasted over a number of years and affected numerous cases. This Court has heard witnesses and seen exhibits which show uncharged illegal acts and violations of: Rule 1.02, Rule 1.04, Rule 1.06, Rule 3.05, Rule 8.03, and Rule 8.04 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, just to name a few.
Some of this evidence was presented to the jury and some of it was not—sometimes by agreement; sometimes over the objection of the parties. In fact, defense counsel requested, and this Court felt duty-bound by law to give, an instruction to the jury to disregard these ethical violations in reaching its verdict.
The United States Attorneys and federal agents involved in the trial of this case are
hereby ordered to provide the appropriate authorities at the State Bar of Texas, Chief Judge Ricardo Hinojosa of the Southern District of Texas and the Chief Judge of the Fifth Circuit or his designee a copy of this order and, if they so request, the evidence of the multiple ethical violations committed by multiple attorneys involved in this case. This includes the evidence not presented at trial and covers all attorneys involved, not just the defendant.
This Court has great admiration for the trial bar and the benefits that trial lawyers (prosecution and defense) provide to society. It is their vigilance, among others, that ensures that the system of justice works and that the rights of all Americans are protected. That being said, nothing can do more harm to society than an individual, (or a group of individuals) armed with a law license (or working for someone armed with a law license) that has no moral compass, no respect for the rules governing ethical conduct and no respect for the truth. Some of the acts or omissions may be considered minor; some may have been inadvertent. Nevertheless, there were some acts that were neither minor nor accidental mistakes, and the individuals that committed
these acts, in this Court’s opinion, should not be allowed to practice law anywhere.
Signed this 29th day of May, 2013. 

Tipster Claims Ruben Pena's Disappearance Involves More Than Armando Villalobos Trial

Ruben Pena
Among the dirty details surfacing in the Armando Villalobos trial were alleged payoffs to prosecutors in the murder case against Pepe Villarreal.  It is alleged that the Villarreal family made payoffs to prosecutors eventually resulting in the murder charge being dismissed in Leonel Alejandro's court.

Attorney Ruben R. Pena was assigned as a special prosecutor in the Pepe Villarreal case and, according to Juan Montoya of the El Rrun Rrun blog was sought for testimony in the Armando Villalobos trial: 

" Last week, before the conclusion of the Villalobos trial, several process servers and government investigators were trying to serve Peña with federal subpoenas to testify during the trial. He was nowhere to be found. The story was that he was out of town on family business, but eyewitnesses say they saw the former county commissioner candidate and San Benito school board member shopping at the Harlingen Dillard's store at the time of the trial."

This morning I received a tip indicating alleged unavailability involves more than the Armando Villalobos case:

"Jim, word is Mr. Pena is hiding out in Mexico.  The F.B.I. is looking for him.  It is related to a lot of things, but one in particular, the San Benito School District.  In 1986 Pena was the Executor for the Rex L. McGarr estate(No. 1986 CPC-24, 352-A).  The estate left over a million dollars, but many of the heirs did not get their share with Pena creating a scheme for personal gain by having the property sold to the SBCISD.  The heirs tried to have the case reopened but a former judge signed off on the wrongdoing.  He never told the court of the final inventory of the estate."

Looking up this case, I found that a rehearing was denied by trial judge Everardo Garcia on 12/7/2000.  The petitioners in the case were from the Dutha family; Herman, Lee Roy, Paul M., Rex and Ruby M., represented by Attorney Heriberto Medrano.

The irony here is that during the 2010 Ruben Pena vs. Ernie Hernandez, Jr. election fraud case, process servers were unable to locate and serve politiqueras Norma Hernandez, Margarita Ozuna and Herminia Becerra(It was later reported that they were holed up in a property on South Padre Island during that trial).

I called Ruben Pena's Brownsville law office this morning.  His secretary said he was unavailable, but not in Mexico.  I left her my number.  I will be more than happy to publish Mr. Pena's version of these matters if my call is returned.

Addendum:  At 5:30 PM today I received a call from Ruben Pena.  He said he was not aware of my story or the one in El Rrun Rrun, but was simply returning my call.  He stated that he had just returned from Houston after having his thyroid removed.  A cancerous lesion had indicated removal.  He had been in Houston since May 21, the day of his pre-operative appointment.  

Pena stated that, although out of town, he was available and was not aware of any calls to his office or residence from process servers or the F.B.I.  He was set to return to Houston for removal of stitches and post-operative biopsy.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

My Regular Monday Walk through Downtown

Washing cars all day with a bucket and a rag demands a certain skill set.  No attention is ever
paid to a sign in Spanish "No Car Washing Allowed!"  The entrepreneur spots a vehicle coming into the lot and motions it over, as if a spot has been reserved, then guides the driver into a perfect park, hoping to create a sense of obligation.  Pricing is on a sliding scale, usually starting at $6.00, but going as low as $4.00 or even $3.00 on a slow day.  Two windshield wipers pointing straight up into the air means the driver hasn't yet paid for the service.

A shopper coming down the alley after hitting several stores.  The pull cart means she is on
foot.  Her cart is full with another bag attached.  Her purse is around her elbow while she holds yet another large bag.  

The two guys working on this paca disappeared into the building when I pulled
out a camera.

This man, recycling cans for subsistence, not some green initiative, at first refused a picture,
but then changed his mind.

This wrought iron shopping cart corral doubles as a bike rack at the downtown H.E.B.  Male cyclists in downtown are never self-conscious about riding a girl's bike.

The H.E.B. got a visit from this emergency vehicle.  Inside the store a young woman from
"across" had fainted.  With the store manager and her significant other hovering over her,
she declined the ride, later walking out under her own power.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Treating the Cancer in Brownsville, Cameron County~Chemo, Radiation or Surgery?

A chemotherapeutic agent that feasts on rapidly dividing cells will hit its mark with cancer cells, but may not distinguish them from hair follicles, bone marrow or cells in the digestive tract.  In other words, the treatment does harm while doing good.  Precisely aimed radiation destroys cancer cells, but side effects may come quickly or down the road.

For the cancer that threatens Brownsville and Cameron County, there may not be an alternative to the surgical removal of what is proven to be cancer.  There is no comprehensive treatment, only a painstaking, slow-moving judicial system.  In other words, one crook at a time, one politiquera at a time.

While cancerous tumors like Armando Villalobos, Jim Solis, Ray Marchan, Abel Limas and Conrado Cantu may have been extricated, the overall sickness in our judicial and political system indicates many more
malignancies.  With good and bad cells so closely linked, entangled in our community, the surgery is tricky.

As a community we may not have a clean bill of health, but it feels good to know that Cantu is not out there selling drugs or protecting the cartels and Marchan, Limas, Villalobos and Solis are stifled somewhat in offering or accepting bribes.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Republished~2011 "Mean Mister Brownsville" Public Disservice Award

From the editor:  The article below from eighteen months ago was written well before the indictment was initially reported by Juan Montoya of the El Rrun Rrun blog, so deals with the climate permitting corruption created by Villalobos' malfeasance, not the criminal acts he was convicted for today.

2011 "Mean Mister Brownsville" Public Disservice Award Recipient


by Jim Barton on Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 11:04pm

     There is on no one big bad wolf in Brownsville.  Corruption is a cooperative effort.  Abe Limas, Conrado Cantu, Jason Hilts and Jim Solis do not operate in a vacuum.  They need collaborators, enablers, co-conspirators.   Nor is corruption the only hindrance to progress.  Mayor Tony Martinez, nominated for this award, has no whispers of corruption, but simply has no ideas to improve our city.  He believes in Brownsville "as is", occupying a ceremonial position not unlike Queen Elizabeth of England, the consumate ribbon-cutter with no plan for the city.  Tony has no sleepless nights agonizing about Brownsville's multitudinous challenges.  He sleeps well, thank you very much, likely between silk sheets.  Yet, he is not our awardee.
     Much nominated Ernie Hernandez, Jr. is a titillating potential award winner to be sure.  Once elected to office, by fair means or foul, Ernie becomes the city's or county's ultimate vendor.  Do you need printing?  Ernie provides.  Wrecker service?  Ernie provides.  A vending machine with Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay?  Ernie provides.  Ernie does whatever Ernie does because Ernie wants to without respect for the ignorant electorate.  Ernie's ultimate "fuck you" to the community was his orchestration of the employment of his convicted brother-in-law Robert Cadriel.
     Frequently nominated were the "Majority 4" at BISD:  Catalina Presas-Garcia, Enrique Escobedo, Luci Longoria and Christina Saavedra.  Obvious greed and self-service have moved this unsavory foursome to betray our city's children.  But to quote Bob Dylan, "they are only pawns in the game".   Carlos Quintanilla, the convicted R.I.C.O. felon, the con artist lingering, manipulating, orchestrating behind BISD scenes is the real culprit.  Yes, the "4" succumbed, but he was the tempter or temptor, Satan in the garden.  The "4" referred to Carlos as their "brother", but he was really their mentor, leading them unto calabaza.  But, wicked as Carlos is, he is not our award winner.
     Corruption needs a favorable climate.  Just as quarterbacks used to avoid Deion Sanders side of the field, corrupt politicians gingerly step around an enforcer.  Brownsville has none such.  We have a District Attorney merely occupying an office, but not doing his job.  Armando Villalobos has sidestepped every opportunity to prosecute corruption in Brownsville and Cameron County.  Why?  Because he wants higher office and is afraid of angering any segment of the electorate.  He could easily have brought Carlos Quintanilla up on perjury charges.  But he chose not to.  He looked the other way when Ernie Hernandez broke many rules in orchestrating he brother-in-law's hiring.  He stepped aside on Pat Ahumada.  Armando has not done the job he was elected to do, creating, fostering a climate of corruption.  Armando Villalobos is the 2011. Mean Mister Brownsville Public Disservice Award winner.   Congratulations Armando.  Or not. 

UTB Totally Fails to Teach Participation in the Electoral Process

Entire Audience Including Candidate at UTB Forum

If a student has studied public speaking but still cannot stand in front of an audience and articulate his thoughts, he has not been taught.  If a university has programs to teach civic engagement, offers political science, government and history courses, but almost none of their students vote or show any interest in government, the teaching has failed.  

If the 13,000 combined enrollment students of the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College represent the future of participatory democracy in Brownsville, we have no future.  

Students at UTB/TSC give no indication they will be more involved than the 95% of Brownsville registered voters who ignored the most recent city election.  Their professors, administrators and their institutions are failures, inept at what they are paid to do.  151 participated in early voting at the Mary Rose Cardenas Hall polling place.  Project 100% Vote sponsored by the Center for Civic Engagement has been embarrassingly impotent as one commenter noted months ago:  "UTB's Project 100 percent Vote is a joke. The turnout is EXTREMELY dismal for the polling site at the University. They have access to address, e-mails, etc. for all students and staff, and they couldn't even send info to students. I know lots of the blame should be placed on the apathy of students, but if you're going to lead a get-out-the-vote charge, then actually take charge and do it."

Father Armand Matthew
Grumpy Father Armand Matthew, paid handsomely to run the school's Center for Civic Engagement headquartered at the Cueto Building has not moved students to fulfill the center's stated mission:  "Higher education has a responsibility to develop the next generation of active citizens, and campuses must be good residents in their own communities. When a campus achieves both these aims they are what we call a truly engaged campus."

UTB's candidate forums started out in the school's spacious Gran Salon with extremely sparse attendance.  Last year's TSC trustee candidate forum was attended by only half of the trustee candidates.  The two candidates who snubbed the event, Dr Reynaldo Garcia and Ramon Champion Hinojosa were on to something as they were elected despite their disrespecting the event.  

More recently, the City Commissioner Candidate Forum was moved to the much smaller Salon Cassia with perhaps two dozen students in the audience.  Last night's District 3 City Commissioner Forum was attended by the six ladies pictured above, along with candidate Debbie Portillo and the photographer, Gilbert Velazquez, but zero students.  

Debbie Portillo Addresses Tiny Audience
At UTB, No Students
It is obvious no one has communicated to students why they should be involved in the electoral process.  Mean Mister Brownsville offered this comment a year ago:  "Here is a possible message: Do you want Interstate 69 built in the valley, a free standing VA hospital, projects and grants for our port? Other communities have had I-69 for 20 years. Areas with smaller populations and fewer veterans have hospitals and other ports get such government assistance. We get overlooked because we don't vote. State and federal government funding is doled out by politicians who keep their eyes focused on the number of voters in a given area, not the area's population. Our voter turnout is equal to the population of the City of Donna. Until more registered voters in Brownsville and Cameron County ACTUALLY vote, we will continue to be overlooked."

More on the GBIC, Jason Hilts, The Art of Self-Promotion

From the editor:  We are adding a few more personal observations from our attendance at yesterday's GBIC board meeting.  As noted in yesterday's article, the meeting was dominated by the testimony of Jason Hilts, a man who a decade ago faced charges of using a city credit card for extravagant personal items.  Instead of termination, Hilts was promoted to Administrator of the board.  That sort of resilience invites a more careful look at the methodology of salesmanship.

When Administrator Jason Hilts appears before the GBIC board, his mission is two-fold;  tantalize the board with their favorite buzzwords indicating economic growth, increased revenue AND reassure the members that his tireless efforts on the city's behalf justify his six figure income and lavish travel.  Hilts is a salesman and those in sales are always aware of the need to "sell themselves."

One company will provide "300 jobs immediately" but eventually need 600 full-time employees.  Another firm will add "1300 jobs over 8 years."  "100 machinists at $20,00 per hour" has a nice ring in this impoverished community.  While the company's name may be somewhat obscure, we all learn the particulars, however overstated.  Just to illustrate, think SpaceX.  Even young Debbie Portillo is repeating the line "1000 jobs at a minimum of $55,000" although Elon Musk says nothing close to that in official company projections.

Ruben Gallegos took the bait, or was perhaps cleverly setting up his friend Hilts with:  "That's a lot of work, Jason."

Hilts responded:  "Yes, it's a lot of hard work."  What Hilts had been describing and Gallegos lauded was the process of finding 75 appropriate acres for the Finnish foundry.  "We had a perfect site until we found that the electrical service would not be P.U.B."  When someone whispered "Magic Valley," Hilts nodded.  Another site, near the port, thought also to be "perfect" was found to historically have been a landfill, not the proper ground to take the weight and constant pounding of a foundry.  The picture is painted that Hilts is carefully protecting all our interests, maneuvering things so that a $200,000,000 company becomes part of the Brownsville tax base and spends its megawatt energy dollars with P.U.B.  Yes, Hilts is selling Hilts.

On a much smaller scale, a lady representing a non-profit, VIDA, presented herself for public comment.  While thanking the GBIC board for funding, she took the opportunity to update the results achieved by such generosity.  She stated that 45 individuals had been "serviced" by her entity, all in the "difficult" 21 to 50 year old age range.  While 50 had been suggested as a benchmark to justify funding, she felt certain that number would be achieved by the end of the year.  Not to be illogically cynical, who knows what these numbers really mean, but it is all part of the necessary justification of tax dollars. It contributes to the common "feel good."

In both examples, tangible results are unnecessary.  All that counts is that, as Donna Summer once said in song, both recipients "work hard for the money."

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Eavesdropping On the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation

ITEC Center
Sitting alongside the wall of what is actually the BEDC Board Room, it seemed as if we were unbelievers at a prayer meeting, not a conclave of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation.  There is an element of prayer, praise and testimony to such meetings, not necessarily from an impure motive, as all desperately want to believe even the self-generated hype that our city is on the road to economic viability, but the strewn carcasses of Titan Tire and other failed projects haunt the sacred grounds of the ITEC Center.    Spending tax dollars to lure businesses to the Texas tip is an inexact science.

City Finance Director Pete Gonzalez opened the meeting with prayer, bowing his head to mumble inaudibly the GBIC Financial Report.  Without a copy of the report like board members,  an observer could barely make out the five cities of the RGV with higher per capita sales tax revenue than Brownsville; Mercedes, Weslaco, Edinburg, Harlingen and, of course, "always kicks our ass" McAllen.  Brother Gonzalez meekly pointed out the one category where Brownsville was No. 1; population.

Board member Sandra Langley mentioned the obvious business growth of Harlingen, new medical facilities in Edinburg and the outlet malls she said benefited Weslaco.  Gonzalez quickly corrected her, stating that the outlet malls were in Mercedes.(Brownsville and McAllen are likely out of the running for outlet malls.  Clothing retailers like Dillards and Old Navy don't like their outlet units in close proximity to their first run stores.)

Although Ruben Gallegos gave some neat quotes about SpaceX("The buzz in the public schools about SpaceX is amazing!" and "I need a Launch Brownsville t-shirt is double X petite.") and David Betancourt had a question, Jason Hilts handled much of the agenda, including the "Administrator's Report regarding area economic growth.

Jason Hilts
Hilts first addressed the departure of AeroMexico, the airlines that had been providing service between Brownsville and Monterrey at the Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport(Is it now international?).  A delegation including Mayor Tony Martinez and Airport Director Larry Brown went to Mexico City to visit with AeroMexico officials, who cited declining ridership and more Brownsvillians driving to Monterrey because of increased government security along the carretera.  Customers had indicated that the the two hour pre-flight requirement for international flights, coupled with the location of the Monterrey Airport at San Pedro, an hour from the city, meant that customers could almost drive from Brownsville to Monterrey as quickly as they could fly and then taxi into the city.(Direct flights from Monterrey to Laredo are still ongoing.)

T-Mobile was another GBIC subsidized company that departed Brownsville.  Hilts mentioned that a firm he called Gladiator(Again, I did not have access to the glossy printouts board members were reading.) would need 300 employees "immediately" and 600 eventually.  Hilts was giddy that 19 more attended the recent public meeting on SpaceX than attended the original scoping meeting and that Elon Musk himself tweeted him "twice" during the event.  He casually mentioned $500,000 for Stargate and 9.3 million to run cable and electric.(Editor's note:  MMB is on record as not opposing SpaceX, only its proposed location.  The mystique of space travel may blind us to the fact that this proposal is only for a commercial launch site, like several others in the country.  50 years from now we will regret tainting 8 miles of pristine beach area at Boca Chica for a noisy commercial venture.)

Hilts next wooed the board with the possibility, no, near certainty of a Finnish company locating a metal foundry on 75 acres, providing 1300 jobs within 8 years.  The Euros have business with Monterrey, but desire a more secure, but close American location.  They need machinists, but, even more importantly to the newly proposed Tenaska, 35-39 annual megawatts of power.  They instantly become P.U.B.'s best customer if they locate as planned in 2014.  Adding icing to the cake, a raw steel company from India now wants to come, to do what Hilts initially described as "forgery," drawing a laugh from City Attorney Mark Sossi.  Well, ok, metal forging.

The loquacious Hilts next turned his attention to the Port of Brownsville's ship channel where he said a dredging to a depth of 50 feet and width of 300 feet was needed at a cost of $290,000,000.  Closer examination found that by forgetting the width, but simply dredging to 52 feet would slice $100,000,000 from that cost.  They were looking for funding for that 13 mile project, Hilts stated.

Possibly, the most intriguing words on the agenda were included in an Executive Session that was called off:  "the acquisition of land for economic development projects and the development of the FM 511 Corridor, related plans for downtown, and airport pursuant to Texas Government Code 551.087.

What was that about?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Brownsville Ugly Roof Award Winner, Downtown Beer Garden, No Brad Pitt Sighting

Ugly Roof Award Winner, the backside of the finely detailed building at 12th and Adams
This is the view from the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception parking lot, adjacent to
the gift shop.  This addition to the original building resembles an old lean-to shed.

Behind the Half Moon Cantina. . . . a beer garden?

Behind the Half Moon Cantina

Downtown Entrepreneur

No access to inside Market Square. . . . . . Is Brad Pitt inside?

Saturday, May 18, 2013

First Higher Education, Now Mass Transit May Go Regional if Texas HB 2423 Passes

State Representative
Armando Martinez, Weslaco
"Think Regionally!" has become a common battle cry of South Texas politicians, the rationale being that the 100 mile wide delta from Brownsville to Rio Grande City has more clout en masse than any individual city in the region.

Merging the University of Texas Pan American with the University of Texas at Brownsville was partly fueled by that thinking, but also the dangling carrot of a new medical school.    While the politicians of the valley may feel empowered by acting sort of in unison,  campus buildings eventually have to be located somewhere as well as control.

It now appears, for example, that the administrative offices for the new medical school, that is the control, will be in Hidalgo County.

What about the actual physical location of the new medical school?  The Valley Morning Star quotes J.J. Garza, administrative assistant to State Representative Rene Oliveira, as saying:

“Education programs for medical students will take full advantage of existing facilities at UT—Pan American, UT Brownsville and the RAHC (Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen).”  Taken at face value, this sounds as if medicine will be taught in two places in buildings already constructed, at least for years one and two of med school.  Garza's statement about the next two years of medical training is even more vague.  According to the Morning Star, "Third and fourth year programs will be conducted throughout the region, Garza said."

Some have noticed that in all the discussions of operating regionally, the City of Brownsville is not receiving prominent mention.  This is an old fear, put more succinctly by former Mayor Pat Ahumada:  "McAllen is eating our lunch!"  

While decisions are being hashed out concerning the location of higher education facilities in the area, there is now a push to regionalize mass transit, putting it also under some sort of regional control.  State Representative Armando Martinez of Weslaco has sponsored HB 2423, described as "relating to the creation of regional transit authorities; granting the power of eminent domain; providing authority to issue bonds."

Concern about this bill was expressed by Norma Zamora, Brownsville Metro Director, at last Wednesday's public meeting of the Brownsville Metro Transit Advisory Committee.  For Brownsville Metro, it would involve relinquishing some control in deference to regional direction.  Some scary parts of the bill include the power of eminent domain, authority to issue bonds, etc.  

A quick perusal of the 14 page bill text finds at least a couple areas of interest:

(c)  An authority may hold, use, sell, lease, dispose of, and
  acquire, by any means, property and licenses, patents, rights, and
  other interests necessary, convenient, or useful to the exercise of
  any power under this chapter.

Also, this on an the authority being a "taxing entity":

(1)  "Taxing entity" means a rapid transit authority, a
  regional transit authority, including a subregional transportation
  authority, or a municipal mass transit department created under
  Chapter 451, 452, [or] 453, or 463, Transportation Code, or a
  coordinated county transportation authority created under Chapter
  460, Transportation Code, that has adopted a sales and use tax under
  the law authorizing the creation of the entity.

As written, the bill, if passed by 2/3 majority, seems to take immediate affect:

SECTION 5.  This Act takes effect immediately if it receives
  a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as
  provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution.  If this
  Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this
  Act takes effect September 1, 2013.

Should Brownsville Metro be worried?

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Look Back in Time~The House At 10th and E. St. Charles

We published this picture a few days ago of the dilapidated residential structure just across from City Plaza in downtown Brownsville.  I feel a profound sadness seeing once proud structures fall down for lack of simple maintenance.  After posting the picture of the house located at 10th and E. St. Charles, an anonymous commenter sent us a picture of the home, evidently built in 1912, when it was still in excellent condition. 

 Here is the same house many years ago.  Notice the wrap-around porches, pillars and the little girl playing on the front porch:

Brownsville Metro Assistant Director Clarifies Delay on Completion of Downtown Parking Garage

From the editor:  The article below was originally included as an addendum to the previous article, but it contains enough added information to stand on its own as a followup.

Andrew Munoz, Assistant Director of Brownsville Metro called this morning to discuss my concerns about the delay in completing the downtown parking garage.  Mr. Munoz was absent due to illness from last night's meeting of the Transit Advisory Board held at 5:30 PM on the second floor of the multi-modal facility.  On the agenda for last night's meeting, listed as point # 2 was:  "Update on Multimodal Project-Parking Garage(Andrew Munoz).  Due to Mr. Munoz' absence, that item was tabled.

Multi-modal Bus Station
Viewed from Parking Garage Location
Mr. Munoz mentioned in our phone conversation that the figures in my original story were basically correct, except that the vehicle spaces would actually number 190, according to the architectural plan. 

The garage is limited to 3-1/2 stories(actually 4 levels with the top level being uncovered)by Heritage Foundation requirements that it not overwhelm local architecture.  The height would be approximately level with the multi-modal exclusive of the dome.  Funding also plays a role in the number of levels.  Mr. Munoz estimated another level would add $800,000 to the overall cost.

Munoz explained that the city's purchase of speculative real estate did not affect the garage project's funding as those come through the Brownsville Economic Development Council, which initially approved the original $4,100,000.  Now, Munoz states, the original agreement is in the process of being reworked to reflect the actual current cost to complete the project, $5,100,000.  The paperwork for that adjustment was initiated 45 days ago, a time frame Munoz described as "short" in these situations. 

Project Sign with Original Completion Date
Another factor in the delay has been the routing of electrical power for the building.  Initial plans, Munoz stated, called for underground electrical cables, but that was found to be cost prohibitive.  Current plans are being considered with P.U.B. for more traditional overhead power service.  

As to the $390,000 needed for American Disabilities Act compliance with respect to the surrounding sidewalks and the garage itself, Munoz confirmed that the change order will be funded separately under a New Freedom grant.  The parking garage will be linked with the bike trail, with a bike rack out front not taking away from garage space for motor vehicles.  

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Downtown Parking Garage Project Put on Hold While Martinez Spends the Money on Older Downtown Properties

What an idea!  Let's spend the night in downtown Brownsville.  The Bora Bora Night Club is open, along with that live music venue, the Half Moon.  A dozen or so new clubs dot the south side of Adams Street.  Downtown Brownsville is on the verge of revitalization.  What those venues need to succeed is safe downtown parking, something the city promised would be in place by the fall of 2013.

But, while skilled craftsman, electricians, plumbers and A-C techs have been converting downtown ropa segundas into night clubs, the Tony Martinez-controlled city commission has been dragging its feet.  No ground has yet been broken on the 4-story parking garage, to be located across the street from the new multi-modal bus facility.  While the project is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2013, the project is at least 18 months away without the first shovel even breaking ground.

With the mayoral and city commission lethargy, the original funding of $4,100,000 suffered escalating concrete and steel prices that drove the completion cost to $5,300,000.  While the downtown parking garage project, so crucial to the survival of downtown Brownsville was put on the back burner, Tony Martinez was all giddy, buying up third-tier downtown buildings to placate soulmate Juliet Garcia's vision of a downtown university.  Tony committed Brownsville taxpayers to $3,500,000 in future taxes plus interest via a Certificate of Obligation to consummate his unrequited love affair with UTB.  The University of Texas system is one of the world's richest by any measure despite what their fundraising appeal literature implies. The Permanent University Fund or P.U.F., which includes the oil and mineral rights generated on over 2,000,000 acres of Texas land came in at 8.8 billion in 2008 and is now certainly higher, yet that is only 8% of UT's total funding.  They have no need of, nor would their students be caught dead in Brownsville's old ropa segunda buildings, bars, armory or warehouse.  Tony was offering day old bread to a clientele weaned on gourmet.

Brownsville's Despot
Take the money Tony wasted on speculative real estate, use it on real city priorities and the downtown parking garage gets done.  Adding the concrete and steel surcharges and the new estimate for complete hits $5,300,000.  Contractors went back to the drawing board and removed $200,000 worth of the decorative to bring the cost back down to $5,100,000.  Now if you add $390,000 change order the city says is necessary to bring the sidewalks around the garage into American Disabilities Act compliance, the total comes to $5,500,000.  Taking the city at their word, a New Freedom Act grant covers the $390,000, so we're back at $5,100,000, just a million over the original funding. If Tony wasn't so busy trying to please his cronies and believed in Brownsville, the downtown parking garage would be completed.

Addendum:  Andrew Munoz, Assistant Director of Brownsville Metro called this morning to discuss my concerns about the delay in completing the downtown parking garage.  Mr. Munoz was absent due to illness from last night's meeting of the Transit Advisory Board held at 5:30 PM on the second floor of the multi-modal facility.  On the agenda for last night's meeting, listed as point # 2 was:  "Update on Multimodal Project-Parking Garage(Andrew Munoz).  Due to Mr. Munoz' absence, that item was tabled.

Mr. Munoz mentioned in our phone conversation that the figures in my original story were basically correct, except that the vehicle spaces would actually number 190, according to the architectural plan.  The garage is limited to 3-1/2 stories(actually 4 levels with an the top level being uncovered)by Heritage Foundation requirements that it not overwhelm local architecture.  The height would be approximately level with the multi-modal exclusive of the dome.  Funding also plays a role in the number of levels.  Mr. Munoz estimated another level would add $800,000 to the overall cost.

Munoz explained that the city's purchase of speculative real estate did not affect the garage project's funding as those come through the Brownsville Economic Development Council, which initially approved the original $4,100,000.  Now, Munoz states, the original agreement is in the process of being reworked to reflect the actual current cost to complete the project, $5,100,000.  The paperwork for that adjustment was initiated 45 days ago, a time frame Munoz described as "short" in these situations. 

Another factor in the delay has been the routing of electrical power for the building.  Initial plans, Munoz stated, called for underground electrical cables, but that was found to be cost prohibitive.  Current plans are being considered with P.U.B. for more traditional overhead power service.  

As to the $390,000 needed for American Disabilities Act compliance with respect to the surrounding sidewalks and the garage itself, Munoz confirmed that's will be funded separately under a New Freedom grant.  The parking garage will be linked with the bike trail, with a bike rack out front not taking away from garage space for motor vehicles.  

Statement of Facts from the Sworn Texas Ethics Commission Complaint Against Deborah Portillo

Tony's Control of City Commission Still Precarious Despite Victories

It was supposed to be so easy.  The photoshopped physique on the left would be made into a cardboard cutout, then placed in a city commissioner seat.  A tiny wire would run under the table to just above the mayor's chair with simple "yes" and "no" buttons.  Tony would have the final linchpin of city commission control in place to be able to fulfill the desires of his United Brownsville cronies.  After all, dependable rubber stamps Rose Gowen and John Villarreal won re-election and Estela Chavez-Vasquez would continue to play ball if she hoped for support for her run for district judge in 2015.  As much as Mayor Tony enjoys breaking ties, Portillo would give him a ready-made majority.

Tony was not even momentarily worried when Martin Sarkis, like Portillo, a candidate for District 3 City Commissioner, went to the Brownsville Police Department with alleged Election Law violations by the young Portillo.  Tony knew that newly appointed Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez would not risk getting fired by the Tony Martinez city commission over some political shenanigans, albeit third degree felonies.  No doubt Orlando had seen how the game is played by watching his predecessor, Carlos Garcia,  handing the Ernie Hernandez/Robert Cadriel hot potato back to the county commissioners after sitting on it for 30 days.

But, with a Brownsville citizen, taking the same complaints against Portillo to the TEC, things got a bit more serious.  The Texas Ethics Commission does not report to Mayor Martinez.  Perhaps, the biggest problem with Debbie's campaign finance report is the listing of corporations as contributors.  Did her Campaign Treasurer, IBC Bank Vice President, Bertha Garza, really sign off on listing the Holiday Inn Express as a contributor, along with three other corporations?(The Hampton Inn & Suites, Jewelry Corner and Gran Justo, LLC)  What about the fact that Debbie, in making a personal contribution to her own campaign, gives as her personal address a location in District 2?  Unless Debbie is lying about her address in her report, she does not qualify to run for City Commissioner, District 3.

The Election Code calls for a fine to be imposed if the allegations are proved to be correct:  Double the amount of the improper contribution is designated to be paid to opponents in the race and triple to the State. This thing could get pretty expensive, not to mention that if the TEC upholds the complaint, the candidate is disqualified.

Downtown Brownsville, District 4, Pictures

Downtown Art
District 4 Fixer Upper For Sale
Don't Tell Tony

District 4 Emptiness

Downtown Apartments

Monday, May 13, 2013

Duardo Paz-Martinez Named Blogger of the Year, Mean Mister Brownsville Dead Last, But the Sun Still Rose

"Miracles keep happening
The sun rose in the east today
I sat up and sighed for the millionth time
As the dawn was phasing a night away
The blues can last for just so long
And from the depth
There will arise another song
And I'll sit here in the sea and the sun
Waiting for that other song to come
That other song to come"

From "Miracles" by Joan Baez

In an analytical, but fair-minded critique of those inhabiting the blogosphere over Brownsville, Duardo Paz-Martinez, a blogger from somewhere near Austin, rates the performances of local bloggers "covering" the recent May 11 City Commissioner Election.(A month from now one final runoff will finish the process.)

Duardo Paz-Martinez
2013 Blogger of the Year
Local blogger Bobby Wightman-Cervantes of the BROWNSVILLE VOICE is credited by Paz-Martinez(not known to be related to Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez) as being dangerously close to objectivity, but lacking journalistic training.  Bobby is invited back for DP-M blogger tryouts next year.

Veteran bloggers Juan Montoya of  El Rrun Rrun and Jerry Mchale of the Brownsville Blues were credited with having the right stuff, but chastised for being low performers.  Both were credited with the facility to turn
Brownsville's Blogging Also-Rans
it around whenever so motivated.

The most unflattering associations by DP-M were saved for my Mean Mister Brownsville blog, linking my function to circus master, con artist P.T. Barnum, for whom a "sucker is born every minute," the freakishly afroed boxing promoter, Don King, who would talk up an epic battle between two cucarachas for a buck and Col. Tom Parker, who forced Elvis to toil in all those B movies.

Duardo added these sharp words of counsel:

"After Saturday's crushing defeats at the polls, it's all he has left. Barton would be wise to re-visit his opinion of Brownsville, to take his brain to quiet study, to come away with a true analysis of what he has before him. The city commission is not the enemy. Something tells me Jimmy would endorse Letty, Roberto and Martin for the U.S. Senate." 

That's total silliness, Duardo.  I was not defeated Saturday because I wasn't a candidate.  You won't understand this because you don't live here, but Brownsville lost on Saturday, because the pattern of the mayor using tax dollars to placate his cronies will continue undeterred by a questioning voice or two on the city commission.  As for backing this set of candidates on a national stage, that's ludicrous.  This blog has tried to carefully explain my view on that several times, but evidently not clearly enough.  This is my latest effort on April 27:

"That is why local bloggers have spoken out for three flawed, but independent candidates for city commission: Roberto Uresti, Letty Perez-Garzoria and Martin Sarkis. All three have eccentricities, flaws and accents, but none are running for president of the United States. They are running for a unpaid job to provide basic services for the residents of Brownsville and to protect the city's financial, structural and topographical assets."

Governor Rick Perry
Perhaps, I didn't speak clearly enough.   The skill set for a city commissioner of Brownsville, Texas is different than the necessary skill set for President of the United States or even Senator.  Governor Rick Perry suffered on the national stage, well in over his head.  Seeing to it that a district's brush is cleared, drains cleaned, pot holes filled and empty lots mowed does not require a Barack Obama skill set.  The city commission is not about the grandiose, but the mundane, the basic.

The disadvantage in blogging from 500 miles away about Brownsville is the difficulty in actually knowing the candidates personally.  On paper Rose Gowen may outclass Roberto Uresti, but Uresti is different, without an opportunist bone in his body.  He already embarrassingly outworks the entire city commission in terms of identifying, satisfying basic citizen needs.  Had he been elected, he would have worked night and day to run down the individual needs of taxpayers and his phone would have been ringing off the proverbial hook.  Gowen has four years of "service," seldom making a peep unless it was a health-related or green issue.  She stands aloof, superior, indifferent.  Yes, Brownsville lost.

Retired nurse Letty Perez-Garzoria would fail Austin's chic test.  Garzoria is earnest, straightforward and unlike incumbent John Villarreal, outspoken.  While Letty was speaking out at city commission meetings, John Villarreal was being groomed to roll over for Mayor Tony by receiving a United Brownsville directorship.  Some say that behind closed doors, Mayor Martin totally disrespected John, calling him a "boy," and ignoring his attempts to participate.  While John should have fought back, he wimped away.  With the Villarreal victory, Brownsville lost again!

Kim Jong-un
Using Duardo's specious reasoning, by supporting incumbents Villarreal and Gowen and Tony Martinez' plant Debbie Portillo, the bloggers suddenly become "winners."  Extending that thinking, those who supported George Wallace for governor of Alabama were winners, just as were North Koreans who chant affection for Kim Jong-un.

We can only support or not support candidates who file for the job.  Like Rick Pitino, who briefly coached the Boston Celtics in the late 90's used to say to his team and the media:

"Larry Bird ain't walkin' through that door, folks."

Politically speaking, we could speak similarly:

"Julian Castro ain't walkin' through that door, folks."

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Brownsville As Smalltown, USA~Roberto Uresti, Letty Perez-Garzoria, Others Comment on the Election

Driving through late afternoon traffic along Boca Chica Blvd., stopping at light after light, Brownsville has the feel of just what it is, a city of 200,000 souls.  An internet reference source is more generous, 441,000 for Brownsville-Harlingen and environs, just ahead of Corpus Christi.  These numbers do not translate to political clout, national attention, grants, federal funding, projects or even Interstate 69.  When national politicians disperse those goodies, Brownsville is viewed for what it is politically, a city where 3,583 vote in a  city election.  Brownsville has the political pull of Smalltown, USA because of the weak participation of its citizens.  While the Motor Voter Act has swelled registered voters in Cameron County to 173,000, that's just an "Oh yeah, sure!" from people getting their driver's license, not actual election interest.

Roberto Uresti
Last night at Wing Barn with a smattering of his supporters, the always ebullient Roberto Uresti, after greeting us with a big hug, was forthright about the voter turnout:

"Jim, Brownsville just didn't vote.  When I called some close, longtime friends this afternoon, they said 'Oh, I forgot.'  Families were going to the park, the mall, but not the polling places.  What I fear now is that some of these land deals, involving the mayor and the university, that have been waiting on the election, will now get done without citizen approval."   

Later, at Cobbleheads, with Letty Perez-Garzoria and her group, a firefighter who had worked tirelessly in her campaign, was candid about his disappointment in the low voter turnout:

"If you had told me we would lose with maybe twice these numbers, I could have lived with it.  We thought we were getting out the vote, but we weren't.  This is so disappointing.  We have to rethink how to motivate people to participate.  If it takes going to schools, community centers and carefully explaining how low voter turnout hurts a city, that's what we must do."

La Voz
Another union official said he spent election day delivering copies of La Voz, a newspaper-like printout, detailing the moves made by the mayor with cooperation of the city commissioners to gradually shift control of the city to United Brownsville, a sham entity created by behind-the-scene puppetmasters.

"By noon I had delivered 1,000 copies of La Voz to Brownsville homes.  One of my friends came up to me with the early voting numbers, saying 'It's over," telling me to stop.  I told him I was going to keep going and delivered 400 more that afternoon.  This is information, not in the Brownsville Herald, that people need to read."

Across the table at the Garzoria event, a senior citizen gave this comment:

"UTB has a student population of over 13,000, that could actually control Brownsville elections if they voted.  Mary Rose Cardenas Hall had what, 151 total early votes.  That is pathetic.  Between The Center for Civic Engagement and Project 100% Vote, something isn't working.  I only saw about 25 students at the most at the UTB Candidate Forum.  UTB has email notification, but I understand that wasn't even used to notify students of the forum."

Letty Perez-Garzoria, after graciously naming the individuals helping her in her campaign, commented on the results of their efforts:

"We made a dent, especially considering this was a grass-roots effort.  We got their attention and they should now realize they(the mayor and city commission) are being watched.  This was a very different type of campaign and I'm proud of how we conducted it.  We actually listened to people.  That's what government should be about."

Chris Davis
Chris Davis, the newly-appointed Election Commissioner, was given an A+ grade by one local blogger, citing his promptness with the results.  Included in the job description for Election Commissioner, on the county's own site, however, is "community outreach" to generate voter participation.  That may be even more challenging for Davis, but it is an opportunity to do way more for the community than deliver an accurate, timely count of the meager numbers of a largely non-participatory electorate.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Brownsville Loses Round One As Tony's Puppets Prevail~Martinez Needs Only to Add Portillo to Achieve Majority

King Tony Celebrates Low Turnout
The hardworking taxpayers of  Brownsville took a severe hit as two proven lackeys of Tony Martinez, incumbents Rose Gowen and John Villarreal were re-elected as city commissioners, largely by default as over 95% of Brownsville's registered voters declined to participate in the democratic process.  Those who waited until Saturday, May 11 to vote, were confronted with a confusing assortment of 20 polling places with many voters having changed precincts without their knowledge.

With the exception of a single Monday at one polling place, early voting hours had ended at an arbitrary 5:30 PM, instead of the normal 7:00 or 8:00 PM.  "That was totally Tony's doing," explained one union official.  "We asked Chris Davis about the restrictive hours.  He claimed that it was Mayor Martinez' decision.  Of course, Martinez knew the working class did not support the direction he was taking the city, so he likely tried to make it more difficult for them to vote."  The anti-democratic Martinez feels Brownsville residents are too stupid to vote in local elections or have their comments included in the broadcast of city commission meetings.

With a built-in majority on the city commission, Mayor Tony Martinez has been given a free hand to squander $3,500,000 of taxpayer dollars on speculative real estate downtown.  He unethically used his law partner, Horacio L. Barrera, to negotiate the purchase of Casa del Nylon, an older retail building downtown, from his friend Abraham Galonsky for a highly inflated $2,300,000.  Who knows how money changed hands in that deal?

The two automatic votes Martinez secured with the re-election of the loyal Gowen and the pliant Villarreal, added to the Tony-financed Commissioner Estela Chavez-Vasquez, guarantee the continuation of similar shady deals by the mayor.  We are told several are already in place, pending city commission acquiescence.  Tony's personal fortune from representing clients alleging medical malpractice in the 80's may be largely depleted.  The unpaid mayor position, played just right, opens up the opportunity for monetary gain by accommodating and placating a shadowy group of rich con artists who pull Brownsville's strings behind a scam entity, United Brownsville.  So, put succinctly, Tony needs money and personal enrichment is only an automatic city commission vote away.

But two puppets aren't enough to get the job done.  Tony needs three votes to push his agenda through.  Enter 28 year old party girl Debbie Portillo, a young lady who has never held an actual job, never voted in a city commission race.  She did "work" in her parents jewelry store and was given a created position in United Brownsville as the Special Assistant to the Executive Director of United Brownsville.  She received $3,000 a month in that position for essentially doing her nails. (There are no actual duties in United Brownsville, a sham entity.)

Martin Sarkis
Next consider that this party girl, who has never even worked in a campaign or a job, never voted in a city election, somehow acquires a $30,000 war chest to run for city commissioner.  Of course, in Brownsville, political puppets are in high demand and worth their weight in gold.

Portillo will face off against Brownsville businessman, Martin Sarkis, 49, in the runoff.  Sarkis is Brownsville's only remaining hope to block Martinez' continued squandering of taxpayer assets and suppression of
democratic values in the city.


Grandson Jack in Market Square Walking with grandson Jack downtown is a challenge.  He frolicks, skips, cuts in front of you, runs ahead,...