Monday, March 31, 2014

Bonnie Raitt, Covering Bob Dylan's "Million Miles" on Austin City Limits

Pat Ahumada Speaks Out on Tenaska/P.U.B., La Casa del Nylon Purchase, Mark Sossi, United Brownsville, Carlos Marin, the $21 Million Bridge to Nowhere & Missed Opportunites

From the editor:  Former Mayor Pat Ahumada responded not once, but twice to our article about Public Information Act requests to the City of Brownsville. In typical Ahumada fashion, Pat does not leave us in doubt as to where he stands with respect to the Tenaska/P.U.B. deal, City Attorney Mark Sossi, hired dured his tenure as mayor and the highly questionable purchase of La Casa del Nylon for $2,300,000. (Please recall Ahumada was a real estate appraiser in private life.) 

Later, Ahumada adds additional comments about the United Brownsville scam, Carlos Marin and other "scammers."

Pat Ahumada
Pat AhumadaMarch 31, 2014 at 7:28 PM

BS! They fired Goza for not being at his post during the day, which is no different from Sossi who is never around and does really zilch. The PUB settlement was most assuredly handled by PUB lawyers, the city just raped PUB from the rate payers proceeds. As far as parlimentarian, the rules are made up by Sossi as politically fit for the powers that be. Obviously, he has proven that he cannot even handle a real estate transaction and the purchase was a scam. Nowhere will you find real estate valued or sold at the price of $2.3 million similar to the Nylon Building, because downtown is a depressed market. At a price of $2.3 million, you can buy a new building in a better location with parking. The old Greyhound Terminal, wh ich is a better constructed building on a city block of land with plent of parking sold for $450K, the Chinito Building with 50,000 square feet of leasable space on a city block of land with plenty of parking sold for $650K, the Baja Duty Free building one block from the Nylon sold for $205K, and the El Jardin hotel which the city could have purchased for $750K on a city block with parking and a building that qualified for historical grants to restore would have been a better buy and put to better use. The El Jardin could easily lease commercial retail space on the 1st floor and utilize the rest of the floors for public offices, i.e., city offices or customs, DEA, FBI, Parks and Wildlife, Border Patrol, etc. Restoring the El Jardin would have gone with the downtown revitalization, which is what I wanted to do, but Troiani, Atkinson, and Longoria blocked the purchase, which we had a possible grant to buy it with. Brownsville has a double standard and it is obvious. There are many different ways of scaming and stealing from taxpayers, but they tell you to smell the roses.

Yet, another comment from Mr. Ahumada:

Pat AhumadaMarch 31, 2014 at 7:57 PM

The sophisticated scammers know how to get manure to smell like sweet fragrance. Let's start with the Imagine/United Brownsville, which I exposed to be a for profit organization that benefitted Carlos Marin to the tune of $850,000 with no accountability to anyone and used all the taxpayers resources to put together all of our strategic plans, which they took credit for and have yet to accomplish anything tangible. The continue to benefit through inside deals and pocketing taxpayers monies to operate their dog and pony show that has no substance. Then look at the Port Bridge scam than netted over $21 million to everyone that stuck their hands in the port's cookie jar and no one was held accountable. Then, do not forget how PUB was in dire straits until I exposed the developer's subsidies for infrastructure to the tune of over $91 million dollars, which led to the highest utility rates in the state of Texas for the owners/Brownsville citizens. Then you have the close to 100 acres of the R.E. Smith property that belonged to the city and against my objections the weak commission gave them the land at a price of $700,000, but first the city had to relocate the Levee, which cost the city ironically $700,000 to relocate. Then you have the Jacob Brown scam with parking only that generated over $200,000 in annual revenue that was taken over by the scammers, forcing our city to replace a perfect good building that they depreciated by 70% to purchase it for almost nothing from the city and the cost to accomodate them was over $19 million to replace what we had. Don't forget they almost got the City Plaza Building, they sold us the Cueto Building, then rented back to the university at no cost to them and at a loss to the city, if they built parking they needed. Now, I ask, why should we buy a building, lease it back to them at zero cost and give them credit for building parking they need and is at no benefit to the taxpayers. Amazing! Amazing! Amazing! And, they called me a thief when the bank teller filled out a deposit slip and wrongfully deposited a check into my account that was immediately returned upon discovery. Jesus! I am a saint compared to the scammers you all put into office. LOL!

The Extraordinary Hypocrisy of the City of Brownsville on Downtown Parking

"For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers". .  .  .St. Matthew 23:4

Free Parking for Mayor & City Commissioners
While not a devout Christian like Tony Martinez or others on the City Commission, even as an agnostic, I recognize truth in Jesus words above.  They fit the City of Brownsville like a glove with how they've handled the downtown parking "problem."

For those of you not familiar with the so-called Good Book, the Pharisees, self-righteous religious experts of twenty centuries ago, used to control the common people with a myriad of rules they themselves did not follow.  

Interim City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez
Parks Free Downtown
The City of Brownsville has identified the "problem" for downtown as minimum wage earners "pumping quarters" into parking meters all day.  When interim City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez recites that phrase over and over to make himself believe it's true, it sounds as if drunken gamblers in Vegas are greedily feeding the slots to hit a big payoff.  Actually, these folks are simply trying to earn a living in the "poorest city in the United States" by working in what may be the most neglected downtown.

City Attorney Mark Sossi's Land Rover,
Parked FREE in a metered space
Ramiro and the rest of city administrators, most whose salaries are 4 or 5 times what the employees of downtown businesses make, enjoy FREE parking.  Most do not even bother to use city parking lots, but simply find spaces nearest the City Commission building, placing City of Brownsville I.D. cards on their car's dash or rearview mirror so they can park FREE. Interestingly, Monday, March 31 was a holiday for the city and the normally full lot at 10th and Washington was half empty, yet downtown CITY employees were never mentioned as part of the problem for all the spaces they take up FREE,  only the minimum wage employees of downtown businesses who were PAYING to park. 

Even when the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation meets monthly, hoods cover parking meters on E. 10th so these professionals can park FREE for their daytime meeting.

Several meters at 10th and Elizabeth remain empty 99% of the time, used twice a month so the mayor and city commissioners can park FREE.  Are we sensing a theme here? 

City Commissioner Tetreau-Kalifa
At the 3/18/14 City Commission meeting, Commissioner Jessica Tetreau-Kalifa, just before she voted to double the parking rate downtown, as she promised not to do at the town hall forum, asked Planner Gonzalez:  "What about offering the employees of downtown businesses free parking as was suggested at the town hall forum?"

"Well, it's just $30 per month.  Originally, it was going to be $60.  The $30 is primarily so Traffic can track it. . . . There are some costs, printing the cards and laminating," stated Planner Gonzalez with almost a straight face.

I must admit when I heard those words roll out of Ramiro's mouth I screamed an unchristian "bull shit" at my TV tuned to Channel 12. A laminated card costs maybe 2 or 3 dollars to produce at most. Minimum wage downtown parkers will pay $360 per year for as many years as they work downtown.    Maybe those cards should be laminated in gold.

Near empty top floor of City Plaza during downtown's
busiest day.  This pic did not make Ramiro's power point.
Let's examine the claim by the city that downtown workers may have to walk 3 or 4 blocks but they will be paying "half" of what they used to pay. Ramiro must be using the "new math."  Yes, the downtown workers would pay $60 if they worked 30 days per month.  Even a full-time worker normally works 5 days per week or only 20 days per month.  Yet, many downtown workers are not full-time, but part-time on minimum wage.  Some are called in to work during peak hours, maybe even sent home if things are slow.  They may still be better off "pumping quarters' while keeping their vehicle close.  Ramiro's numbers are off.

Bishop Daniel Flores
Actually, I thought Brownsville's most prominent religious leader might speak out on this parking issue and the potential loss of Lincoln Park by Brownsville least represented.  His favorite book does recommend supporting the little people:
"And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.  ."  .  .St. Matthew 25:40

Bishop Flores did complain heavily that the county's 8-liners were taking money Brownsville's poor used to put into the Church's collection plate, but he's been noticeably silent on these "least of these my brethren" issues.  

Blogger Wightman-Cervantes Receives Attorney General Response on Public Information Request Complaint with the City of Brownsville

Assistant City Attorney Allison Bastain
The Texas Public Information Act is such a useful tool for citizens, especially in Brownsville, with such a non-inclusive mayor as Tony Martinez, who acts without consulting or engaging the electorate, sometimes acting independently of the City Commission.

My experience thus far seeking information from the City of Brownsville via a Public Information Request has been good.  One can't help but notice that the date and time on the email record indicates that City Secretary Estela Von Hatten forwarded the request to the appropriate city department within an hour of receiving it.

Actually, what I thought was my simplest request, was received just 29 minutes short of the "10 working days" time limit imposed by the State of Texas.  I had simply asked what litigation City Attorney Mark Sossi had worked for the city during the previous fiscal year.  

The answer we received from Ms. Bastain is included at the bottom of this article, followed by a letter from the Office of Attorney General.
Bobby Wightman-Cervantes,

Bobby Wightman-Cervantes, the publisher of the BROWNSVILLE VOICE, posted an article, dated 3/30/14, detailing his struggles receiving responses from the city on his Public Information Act requests, also a copy of a followup letter to Assistant City Attorney from the Attorney General, giving the city options in responding to Wightman-Cervantes' request.

As I read the letter from the Office of Attorney General, the office retains the right to enforce penalties for non-compliance, but prefers to "work with the parties" to find resolution.

The City of Brownsville is given these options, all of which include contacting an enforcement attorney within the Attorney General's Office within 5 business days to discuss the complaint:

1.  Release the information requested by Mr. Wightman-Cervantes and so indicate on an attached form.

2.  State that city has no information to satisfy the request and so indicate on the attached form.

3.  State the city's belief that the information sought is excluded from disclosure and so indicate on the attached form.  (This will require the Attorney General to rule on the matter.)

Dianne Dillard
What blogger Wightman-Cervantes seems to be seeking are emails between Mayor Tony Martinez and real estate lawyer, Dianne Dillard, evidently involved in real estate acquisition by the City Commission.  

Neither the mayor nor the city commission has consulted or informed the public as to the exact purpose or
intent for at least 11, possibly 12 speculative real estate purchases during 2012-2013.  

Also, there was no disclosure of Diane Dillard's hiring by the city.  

Assistant City Attorney Allison Bastain is between a rock and a hard place.  Likely, her conversation with Mayor Martinez would have been instructive.  Did she advise him to simply release the information requested to Wightman-Cervantes or is she, at this very moment, establishing legally that the Martinez-Dillard communications are confidential, not subject to the Public Information Act?

There are penalties for erring in either direction.

From: Jim Barton [] 
Sent: Thursday, September 12, 2013 3:06 PM
To: public request
Subject: City Attorney Case Load Fiscal 2013
Please share the cases worked by City Attorney Mark Sossi during fiscal 2013 and the amount of payouts by the city, if any, in settling those cases.  
                                                                                                                                                               Jim Barton

City Attorney Mark Sossi
Ms. Bastion's succinct answer to our question about Sossi's workload is that City Attorney Mark Sossi does not actually represent the city in litigation, being far too busy for that as he serves as sort of a shop foreman, a legal overseer for the city's legal department and two secretaries.   Prompting our question was the extraordinary amount of legal fees extended to Attorney Ricardo Navarro in stonewalling arbitration cases involving the Brownsville Fire Fighters and Paramedics(purported to be at least $790,722 since 2010), and the recent revelation that Judge Andrew S. Hanen's wife,  Attorney Diane Dillard was utilized in some undisclosed legal way by the City of Brownsville for fees totaling $32,124.50.   I guess it was naive of me to assume that Sossi under contract with the city for $120,000 plus $60,000 more from taxpayer funds siphoned to the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation and Assistant City Attorneys John Chosy and Allison Bastain, paid $84,872 and $58,704 respectively could actually represent the city in litigation, real estate transactions or labor arbitration.  Why, even Tony Martinez' law partner, Horacio Barrera, had to be called into service to negotiate the purchase of the Casa del Nylon building.  Below is Ms. Bastain's cover letter for the documents sent:

To: 'Jim Barton'

Hi again--
This is in response to your public information request of September 12, 2013, which you subsequently clarified for me a couple of days ago.
In regards to any litigation Mr. Sossi has handled, the city (through insurance) employs outside counsel to handle most litigation matters. Therefore, the payout for any litigation he has handled is zero. Our department is simply not large enough nor sufficiently equipped or funded to practice litigation. This is the case with most cities in Texas—only the larger cities, such as Houston or Dallas, have their own in-house litigation departments. The rest farm theirs out to outside counsel, like we do.
As for the bulk of Mr. Sossi’s work, which involves transactional matters, there is no one document or list that exists containing all of the matters Mark Sossi works on. One item I can provide for you which is responsive to your request are copies of our most recent contract logs--these constitute our inter-office tracking of certain contracts, ordinances, resolutions, and agreements our department evaluates for various city departments. These documents (attached) represent a portion of what Mr. Sossi does as city attorney.
Since there really are not any comprehensive documents which outline what Mr. Sossi does as city attorney, I wanted to at least expand a little and give you an idea of what he does, as I think it is sometimes misunderstood by some in the community.
As I pointed out in my e-mail to you from a couple of days ago, Mr. Sossi oversees and administers the legal department containing three other attorneys besides himself, and also two legal secretaries. Besides evaluating contracts, he represents the city in economic development negotiations and the drafting of any related contracts, agreements, or other documentation--examples from the past year include negotiations related to the Tenaska power plant, economic issues between the city and the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, issues with Cameron County and other entities in the attempt to land SpaceX in our community, and the recent departure of T-Mobile--he was responsible for the recoup of over two million dollars from T-Mobile when they removed their call center from the city of Brownsville.
Also, he of course acts as parliamentarian at commission meetings and also advises the mayor and commission on legal issues and conducts much research and related drafting for them on a regular basis--pretty much weekly.
Also during the past year (as well as in 2009), he took the lead in developing and implementing strategies behind protecting Brownsville from certain proposed state legislation, which would have been adverse to city interests, regarding municipal territory and annexation--in both 2009 and 2013 he represented the city in negotiating with neighboring cities regarding the size of the Brownsville extra-territorial jurisdiction, which resulted in the failure of the legislation and enabling the city to keep all its existing territory and annexation powers. 
These are just examples and are not exhaustive—I haven’t included the day-to-day questions, meetings, and other things inherent in the day-to-day operations of the legal department. As I said, since no comprehensive document or documents exists outlining his workload, I wanted to at least provide you a more thorough response and give you an idea as to his tasks and responsibilities as city attorney.
Hope that helps; have a great day.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

How Lies, Disinformation and the Mayor's Inaccessibility Factored into the Parking Meter Rate Raise~Part IV

From the editor:  The town hall meeting on parking meter rate raises, with its substantial and substantive input from Brownsville taxpayers, was totally ignored by the mayor and city commission. Another agenda item to increase meter rates was included in the 3/18/14 City Commission meeting.  

Interim City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez gave the same power point he'd given at the town hall meeting, not mentioning the overwhelming objection to the increase by downtown business owners.  Again, he made the misrepresentation that downtown Brownsville was "congested" due to employees of downtown businesses "pumping quarters into the meters." This blog has repeatedly shown pictorial evidence, that on the busiest days, two downtown metered streets, Jefferson and St. Charles, remain empty, while two others, Adams and Levee have many open spaces. (Tony Martinez, through his hey boy Ramiro Gonzalez, has been trying to raise parking meter revenue since 2011.  This mayoral administration, foolish in spending, has tried to raise rates and revenue every conceivable way. Unfortunately, no one on the inexperienced city commission has helped much until the recent efforts to block Tony's illegal tapping into the $3,060,000 AEP Texas settlement fund. Likely, Finance Director Pete Gonzalez, nearing retirement, has tried to curb Martinez behind the scenes.)

Another contention by Ramiro Gonzalez is that there is a $20-30,000 shortfall in the parking meter fee program.  Of course,  Harlingen, with free downtown parking fees, has no such shortfall. 

Please notice in the link below, how Traffic Director Robert Esparza tried to explain to Commissioner John Villarreal that there is no such shortage, that parking meter fees pay for the entire operation.  Simply cut and paste the link below into your browser's address box:

Are the Mayor and City Commission in Over Their Heads?

Workmen removing floor tile from the old Lopez Supermarket on Central Blvd. could not confirm if this was yet another soon-to-be satellite campus for 2014 UTB-2015 UT-RGV, East Campus.  

"I think it used to be a meat market," offered one guy, obviously from out of town.

While the University of Texas regents were making decisions about the future of their university system's participation in the education of students in extreme south Texas, Mayor Martinez and the City Commission were out buying buildings in downtown Brownsville in the hope that the regents would find them suitable for their prospective new campus.

Mayor Martinez found one building he was certain would be suitable, La Casa del Nylon at 1305 Adams St., a property that had been on the market for over ten years, owned by his friend, Abraham Galonsky.  Before another bidder could take the property off the market, Martinez dispatched his law partner, Horacio Barrera, to purchase the building for $2,300,000, using a two year old appraisal.  

Homeless Couple Living Under Awning of steadily-
deteriorating La Casa del Nylon building.  Tony Martinez
committed Brownsville taxpayers to a 20 year Certificate
of Obligation to pay for this building.  
Mayor Martinez, evidently as new to the real estate game as the docile City Commission, violated a cardinal rule of real estate, purchasing a property for a prospective buyer without checking with the buyer first.  The mayor was acting like Uzzah of the Old Testament who "steadied" the Ark of the Covenant while on a field trip with King David.  God killed him immediately for his presumptuousness. (I apologize for all these Biblical references lately.  Yes, I'm agnostic, but I read the Bible as a kid and can't get these stories out of my head.)

The old Goodwill Store building, chosen by
UTB over La Casa del Nylon
Unfortunately, the UT regents were not interested and to this day, La Casa del Nylon, purchased well over a year ago with taxpayer dollars, now part of taxpayer assets, sits idle, in decay, one large window on the 11th Street side broken, opening the building to the elements. Yesterday, the homeless couple with all their belongings in clear plastic, were still residing under the building's Adams Street awning.  In private moments, Chancellor Cigarroa and the UT regents must chuckle at Tony Martinez and the City Commission as rank amateurs.

Fresh on the embarrassment of trying to "help" the ultrarich UT system, Tony and the Commissioners jumped into something even more deadly for Brownsville ratepayers, a $327,000,000 commitment to buy 1/4 of an 800 MW powerplant, a deal that has the impartial, but highly respected bond service, Fitch, scratching their heads. Fitch estimates that P.U.B.'s current bond rating of A+ will plummet to "negative" because of the foolish deal signed on to by Mayor Martinez and the City Commission.  (Tenaska, a legitimate company will several billions in assets is in the business of selling power plants.  Recently, citizens in Illinois and New Jersey stopped their local politicos from "buying." We have no such luck in Brownsville as our politicos are naive and our citizens don't participate.) As we reported in an earlier Mean Mister Brownsville article:

It's downright scary when a neutral, well-respected entity like Fitch declares a deal unsound, even predicting "rate fatigue," a fancy phrase for the country's most impoverished city not being able to keep up with skyrocketing utility rates. Fitch is also strongly suggesting that Brownsville doesn't need this much power or this much debt. Those are common sense conclusions that Mayor Martinez and the rest of the P.U.B. Board will simply ignore.

How Lies, Disinformation and the Mayor's Inaccessibility Factored into the Parking Meter Rate Raise~Part III

From the editor:  Part III in this series will deal primarily how the mayor's inaccessibility and reluctance to involve the taxpayers results in poor decision-making.  Downtown business owners could not have articulated the ACTUAL downtown situation with respect to parking any more clearly, yet, Mayor Martinez CHOSE not to be present.  Remember, without knowing the date of the forum, he stated he would be "out of town."  Easily, the forum date could have been included in his schedule, but, unlike Democrats John Kennedy or Bill Clinton, Martinez will not be questioned.  Perhaps, his skill set has not developed to the point where he could conduct a free-flowing town hall meeting, but, the reality is that it's his attitude that needs adjusting.  

His ban on the broadcast of Public Comment at City Commission meetings shouts plainly where he stands on the First Amendment.  While the city carefully preserves every utterance from the mayor and city commission for broadcast, the switch is turned off the instant a taxpayers stands up to speak.  The last thing we hear on Channel 12 is the mayor sarcastically and disrespectfully say:  "Well, I guess we'll hear from ol' Robert again!"  I hope Mr. Uresti prefaces his remarks with:  "Thank you, Mr. Mayor, for another disrespectful introduction."

After Interim Planner Ramiro Gonzalez' opening 18 minute power point at the 1/22/14 Town Hall, illustrating how New York, Chicago, San Antonio and Houston handle downtown parking, using excerpts from his parking bible, "The High Cost of Free Parking,"  the meeting was opened to public comment.  

Twenty citizens, most downtown property owners, gave their observations about the current state of downtown, the reasons for congestion on a limited portion of two streets and the impact of raising parking rates.  18 of 20 spoke against the raise, all but one, Dagoberto Barrera, spoke in a reasoned tone, articulately, without raising their voices.  Among the speakers:  Dr. Gustavo Stern, Abraham Galonsky, Daniel Lenz, Reynoldo Garza, Jr., Larry Holtzman, Larry Jokl, Trey Mendez, Dennis Sanchez, Robert Uresti, Jim Barton, Letty Perez-Garzoria, Dagoberto Barrera, George Ramirez, Roberto Zamora, Ernesto Elizondo, Jr., and Jaime Parra, Jr.

Dr. Gustavo Stern
As the speakers explained, downtown congestion was on two streets, Elizabeth and Washington, and only on about four blocks of those two streets. A simple solution, without raising fees, would be for those working downtown to park in one of the city's lots.  Trey Mendez said that providing that parking free of charge would be an incentive to park there and quickly free up the congestion on the two streets.  

Attorney Trey Mendez
Abraham Galonsky and others described the deterioration of downtown business, saying like so many others that this was simply "not the time" to raise parking rates.  Larry Jokl said he had a large building on Elizibeth standing "empty" and two others on Levee.  He said "let us get some tenants first for our downtown building before considering raising rates."

But, these reasoned comments from businessmen actually in the trenches of downtown Brownsville, went unheeded by the mayor and city commission.  The Town Hall meeting was a sham, as the commission was hell-bent on raising parking rates.  

Make no mistake, although Ramiro Gonzalez is the point man is this anti-democratic exercize, this is all down under the direction of Tony Martinez.  This is his show, although he lacks the intestinal fortitude and insight to include or even face Brownsville's citizens.

The City Commission unanimously agreed to double parking rates at the 3/28/14 meeting.  None of the concerns of citizens expressed at the Town Hall meeting were represented during the agenda item's discussion despite 4 commissioners having attended at least a portion of the the Town Hall meeting.  Commissioner Tetreau-Kalifa, who promised at the Town Hall to vote AGAINST the raise, did not do as she promised.

From the editor: In the next installment, we will consider another a misrepresentation made at the 3/28/14 City Commission meeting by Ramiro Gonzalez, with an assist from John Villarreal, about a "shortfall" in parking meter 
(to be continued)

Did the UT Regents Lack the Wisdom of Solomon in Opting for a UT-RGV Split Campus?

Two women appear before King Solomon, the monarch of ancient Israel, each woman claiming to be the biological mother of the living, not the dead child.  Solomon offers to settle the dispute by having the child cut in two, prompting the "real" mother to cry out, withdrawing her claim, so that the child may live.

Although Solomon wasn't really going to cut the child into two parts, that's exactly what the University of Texas regents did in splitting the 2015 UT-RGV into twin campuses, East and West, one in Brownsville, the other in Edinburg, after politicos from both ends of the valley argued vociferously for the new campuses to be located in their city.  With the new medical school destined for Edinburg, it appears the regents gave a two-thirds, one-third split, with Brownsville getting the smaller share. 

Here is a link to our November 5, 2013 Mean Mister Brownsville article demonstrating the time constraints of having one class at the West campus and another at the East in a single day, using the Metro Connect system: 

Metro Connect runs from Brownsville to McAllen, with a stop at Harlingen, another at the outlet malls in Mercedes.  UT-RGV students would then need to connect to another bus traveling to the West campus in Edinburg.  Realistically, students will need at least two hours between classes at the two campuses.

All of this becomes more time-consuming if the student also has to take a Brownsville Metro bus to the multi-modal and then back again to their home at night.

UT-RGV West Campus
Can you see the difficulty in holding down a part-time job while navigating such a cumbersome schedule.  What about library time? Metro Connect does have wifi, so that will help with research and online study.  

It seems that students with classes at both campuses will need a car, a dependable one.  Parents who can afford that, might also simply choose to have their children educated elsewhere.

With the recently announced 7% tuition raise for the 2014 edition of UTB, students may be opting for Texas Southmost College, offering the same instruction and instructors the first two years for much less.

Ashland Federal Prison, Kentucky, Where Armando Villalobos is Assigned, Is No Country Club

Ashland, KY Federal Prison
Former District Attorney Armando Villalobos, convicted of racketeering and extortion, now resides in the federal prison in Ashland, Kentucky.  Whether that was a random assignment or designed to get his attention as leverage to encourage revealing more about the corruption in Cameron County, I do not know. 

But, based on a website for family members of federal prisoners assigned to Ashland, it is no country club.

Here are some comments from that site:

From "jellyfoster"

"My husband has just been sent to Ashland. Been there for over 6 weeks, still doesn't have his property and says they stuck him in a cow barn. He says it's by far the worst place he's been yet, even worse than the transfer center in Atlanta... Anyone else have any info on Ashland?? I'm worried sick about this place."


"My husband was setanced to 15 months at FCI Ashland, He has been in for 3 months now, I live just north of Indianapolis, Indiana. It is a 4 1/2 hour trip made once a week. My husband has complained about the roaches in the dining hall, and there are ants marching all over the visiting room when i go see him, but he really doesn't complain that much about it. He says there are far worse places they could have sent him. He has said that the lack of air conditioning can get rough when it gets hot out. He also complains about the guards smoking in front of the inmates since they can't smoke, but he pretty much keeps to himself waiting on the day they let him walk out of that place, only 9 more months to go!!!!"


"My guy is also in Ashland and hates it. Just had a meeting with his case manager last week who refused to even consider his transfer! Even though he's been there 18 months, no problems and his family is in florida, where he was supposed to be sent.

He is also in one of the "barns", and while he doesn't complain much, the bit he does I can tell it's not great."


"My hubby is at Ashland, too. What a pit-hole of filth. His CM also refused to consider transferring him. He has 13 months to go. He started out at Lexington 3 yrs ago, and then got transferred to Ashland last year.
He was telling me how bad it is there...bugs, sex, drugs, and indifferent COs."


"Howdy everyone. I was released to a half-way house from Ashland in November, 07, and can say that it IS a shithole, but there are much worse places to be. There is little violence there, and lots of semi-quality recreation. The commissary was okay for what it was, and the chow was often good enough to be served in a resturant on the street.

Any direct questions, PM me or something. My unit was K-B."


"My best friend has been in Ashland for about 2 weeks now. He said things are going OK and that the people are pretty nice, food is pretty good, etc. He has a lot less time to call than he did in Lexington. Only has 300 minutes per month. The visitation is Thursday through Sunday from 8 am to 3:15 pm. They get 10 points per month. Each weekday visit is 1 point and weekends/holidays are 3 points. I will be driving from Lexington to Ashland twice a month if anyone is interested in carpooling to save gas. If anyone hears any other news about this place, please let me know. I hate not being able to talk to him every day to know what's going on with him."

Saturday, March 29, 2014

How Lies, Disinformation and the Mayor's Inaccessibility Factored into the Parking Meter Rate Raise~Part II

City Manager Charlie Cabler
After the disguised, clever phrasing of the December 10th City Commission agenda item failed to sneak a parking meter raise past the commissioners, Mayor Martinez called for a town hall forum "within two weeks."  Without knowing exactly when the town forum would take place, the mayor said he would be "out of town" and designated City Manager Charlie Cabler to arrange for the town hall meeting.

Walking in to the Market Square Conference Room, I walked over the City Manager Cabler to ask about the requirements for Public Comment.  "Oh, there's a list over there to sign.  It's just like a City Commission meeting," Cabler stated.

Interim City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez
Walking over "there," I saw no such list and realized Cabler was out of the loop.  While Cabler mosied over to his normal "security guard" position along the wall, City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez was near the speaker's stand, comfortable, obviously in charge.  A microphone was set up facing the podium, so speakers would have their back to the audience, but would be facing Ramiro, the moderator.

Planner Ramiro began his 18 minute power point with a very basic lie about downtown Brownsville, describing it as "congested" with prospective downtown shoppers "cruising" downtown streets in desperation, looking for a vacated parking space.  

Empty E. Jefferson Street on Brownsville's busiest
weekday.  E. St. Charles is also empty.  Planner Ramiro
did not show these photos because they show his
representation of Brownsville's downtown "problem" is a lie.
"Research shows," Ramiro repeated again and again, "that cheap parking is the problem."  The "research" Gonzalez referred to was in a book, "The High Cost of Free Parking" that sits on the planner's desk.  Gonzalez referred to New York, Chicago, San Antonio and Houston as examples that Brownsville's 25 cent parking was beyond the times, never comparing cities in the valley, especially Harlingen, where parking is free.  Slides showed two carefully selected downtown streets, Elizabeth and Washington, from E. 10th to International Blvd. with few available spaces, carefully avoiding Jefferson and St. Charles, both fully metered, but empty.  

Actually, what Ramiro never revealed to the town hall forum or the City Commission later is that he had been working since 2011 to increase parking meter rates so as to create a revenue stream for "downtown revitalization."  And what is the first downtown project for these monies? Ramiro admitted to us it would be the purchase of new, credit card accessible parking meters.

Wooptido! Way to "revitalize" downtown Brownsville!

(to be continued)

Friday, March 28, 2014

Does It Bother You That the Boys in Planning Spent $18,702 Last Year on Travel, Hotels, Eats?

The vision is still in my head:  The frail, elderly woman in front of me at the Cameron County Tax Office, surrounded by family. Maybe 4'9", bent over with osteoporosis, she clutched a worn envelope secured with rubber bands.  She had my full attention as she slipped the rubber bands off the envelope, removing three one hundred dollar bills, then a couple twenties, a five and several ones to hand the cashier what I presumed to be her annual property taxes.

Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel & Spa,
Plush Accommodations for Brownsville's
Ten Attendees at Bike Seminar
The image of that old lady was in my head when I learned the City of Brownsville sponsored at least TEN people to the Texas Trails and Active Transportation Conference. Why ten?  Wouldn't it be showing more respect for this old lady's necessary frugality to sent one or two, who could take copious notes, bring back the visual aids and give a power point to the other eight?  Do you really think the "poorest city in the United States can afford to send ten delegates to a bicycle conference at a cost easily exceeding $10,000, but likely nearer to $14,000?

As taxpayers, we may need to really start questioning, not only the actual requested funds for travel, but the ACTUAL need for such travel in the first place.  How much does the city spend on travel annually and why?  Are travel expense requests EVER questioned by our elected City Commissioners?  Who's protecting taxpayer assets and monies in this town?

Interim City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez,
$4,748 for Just Two Seminars,
Including $71.00 per day for meals
The Planning Department alone spent $18,702 on travel, sometimes attending the very same seminar attended the year before.  For example, Interim City Planner Ramiro Gonzalez attended the American Planners Association Conference in Chicago, costing the taxpayers $2,225.50. During the 4-day conference, Ramiro received $71.00 per diem for meals with that reduced to $53.25 for two travel days by airplane for a total meal cost of $390.50.  A brochure for the seminar gave this description:  "Begin with an unrivaled professional development program. Mix in unparalleled networking opportunities. Top it off with unmatched restaurants, jazz clubs and sights.  Don't miss out; join APA in Chicago April 13-17, 2013."

OK, that was the for the national American Planners Association Conference, but what about the Texas APA Conference.  That was held October 1-4, 2013 in Galveston, Texas. Ramiro went to that conference, too, at a taxpayer cost of $1,187.90, but he also took four other Brownsville young men with him at a cost to the taxpayers of $1,087.90 each: Noe Puga, Troy Whittemore, Adolfo Pereira and Craig Grove.  I'm sure the young men had a good time in Galveston and actually learned some things about planning, but why did the "poorest city in the United States" need to send FIVE young men to this conference at a cost of $5,539.50?

Planner II Roman McAllen
Did I mention that we also sent Ramiro to Boston for $2,523.50, Dallas for $829.50, and Seattle for $2,379.50?  Oh, I just noticed that Planner II, Roman McAllen, accompanied Ramiro for the Chicago trip at a cost of $2,225.50.

Section 5 of the City of Brownsville Travel Request Form asks "Anticipated benefit to the City for allowing this trip and how will information be disseminated? (Interestingly, Ramiro Gonzalez never fills in this section.)  "Disseminated" means dispersed, spread, circulated, passed on.  So, we ask the question. How is the information from these conferences, seminars and educational sessions passed on?  Will the Brownsville 10, who are still at the Texas Trails and Active Transportation Conference, hold a public forum when they get back?  What did Roman and Ramiro learn in Chicago that will help Brownsville?  What wisdom did Ramiro glean from Seattle, Boston, Dallas, Galveston?  
Craig Grove, Ramiro Gonzalez

What is Brownsville getting for the tens of thousands spent annually for city employees' and board member's travel, hotel accommodations and meals?  

What if we send six young guys to Galveston, allotting each 50.5 cents per mile and they all hop into Ramiro's Mercedes Benz, riding together?  Do they each owe the city a $319.00 refund?  What if Ramiro and Roman don't actually spend $71 per day on meals, instead taking advantage of the buffet table at the seminar? Shouldn't the City of Brownsville get a refund?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Two Brownsville Women Given Prestigious Awards this Week Despite Local Doubters

To paraphrase Jesus' words at St. Matthew, Chapter 6, Verse 4:  
"A prophetess is not without honor except in her home town."

Christ did not elaborate on what he meant by similar words.  Did He mean that it would be difficult for a community to recognize the greatness of someone they had seen in diapers, skin their knee or throw a fit at the grocery store?  

Or, did He did he mean that a shameless self-promoter, not above crushing the "little people" on their ascendancy to the top, might fool outsiders, but would be held accountable by knowledgeable locals?

The latter explanation seems to fit two Brownsville women singled out for global and statewide honors this week.

Juliet Garcia
Outgoing UTB President Juliet Garcia was included by CNN in a list of 50 world leaders that included Pope Francis, Warren Buffet, the Dalai Lama and New York Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter.  

In honoring Garcia, CNN stated:
“Garcia has utterly reengineered educational opportunities for Hispanics in South Texas, forging, in 1991, the innovative partnership between a community college and the UT system, and helping create UT-Rio Grande Valley, opening in 2015.

Informed locals view Garcia as a traitor, with her "educational opportunities for Hispanics" leading to a 17% graduation rate while intentionally exceeding a local bond issue by spending $40,000,000 over what Brownsville's impoverished voters approved, then trying to gift all of the taxpayer purchased buildings to the University of Texas, one of the richest university systems in the world.

City Commissioner Rose Gowen
The other female honoree is City Commissioner Dr. Rose Gowen, who was given the Great Texas Trail Boss Award by the Texas Trails and Active Transportation Conference for "her leadership efforts in making Brownsville a Bikeable/Walkable City." Gowen's award likely stems from getting the City of Brownsville to cough up sponsorship for TEN seminar enrollees at $350 a pop.  

Gowen may be seen by outsiders as a non-practicing physician eager for her community to embrace wellness, exercise and nutrition, but to many locals she is seen as a bully elitist, intent on imposing her personal views on the community, as in attempting to ban the sale of hot dogs at a sports park.

Her portrayal of Brownsville as a cycling community is a lie, pumped up by $50 or 60 thousand  per event for CycloBia from the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation.(Gowen is BCIC Board chairperson.)  It's all a mere photo-op, amateurishly staged.

The "1,000 riders per day" on the Battlefield Hike & and Bike Trail the City of Brownsville mentioned in seeking a grant for a connecting bike trail through downtown is a lie as any citizen looking both ways before crossing a bike trail knows.

But, perhaps the most damning indictment of Rose Gowen is her eagerness to transfer Lincoln Park, a precious heritage given to District 1, Southmost, to UTB and then use the 30 pieces of silver offered for it to enhance a bike trail.  

As angry as local citizens are at both Garcia and Gowen, the Messiah would likely say:  "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."

Planner Gonzalez Lectures Texas Trails Seminar Audience on Weight Loss Benefits of Cycling

Tools and Schools~UTB Moves North to Price Road Strip Mall

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