Monday, June 30, 2014

El Nuevo Palm Lounge at 8th and Elizabeth St., Edwin Hernandez' Dream

Since the picture at the left, taken through the wrought iron of the front door two weeks ago, renovation on El Nuevo Palm Lounge at 8th and Elizabeth St. has proceeded considerably.

"This is my dream, my life," stated Edwin Hernandez, the new proprietor and lessee.

"We're going to serve the same hamburgers, the same beers as always."  stated Hernandez.

"You'll be able to see through into the kitchen where everything is made just like before."

Hernandez found room for a second
floor to accommodate a band.  The
wrought iron railing is part of the
original decor.
One quick observation is that Hernandez seems to have found a lot of room in the old building, a large second floor stage for bands, and two very large restrooms.

"The owners used a lot of the space for storage.  We emptied nine tons of junk from the building.  I know because I was charged by the ton," laughed Hernandez.

"So far, everything has gone smoothly.  We have our beer and wine license and passed the inspections.  We just await the final inspection and Certificate of Occupancy."

One thing Hernandez is held off on is the outside sign.  He's been searching for a picture of the original sign and wants to use the same design.  He's been asking local historians and consulting old phone books and newspapers for the original look.

Edwin Hernandez

11th Street Properties' Renovation Now Full Blast, Final Uses Remains Undecided

Structural Lumber Before Unloading
How will the City of Brownsville finally decided to use the properties purchaed at 609, 611 and 615 E. 11th?  Signs placed on the windows, but then later removed have vacillated on the plan:  "Central Downtown Mayor's Office, Downtown Brownsville Police Substation, museum, community center, Downtown Revitalization Office."

City Manager Charlie Cabler let it slip a couple weeks ago that "putting a police substation downtown would be up to the police department."  In other words, despite the overeager signage, that concept hadn't been run past Police Chief Rodriguez yet.

Mr. Hurtado, supervising the small crew Monday at the location, indicated they had not been told "what the buildings will be used for, just to get the job done."

The City Commission unanimously approved $141,000 for the remodeling back in March after the city paid $41,000, $42,000 and $42,000 respectively for the three small offices.


Another Misguided Offering from The Historian~From King Tut to Frank Morris, Alex Torres to Elvis

From the editor:  It's hard to turn down a friend asking for a slice of the blogosphere, especially when the alternative is expensive therapy by a mental health professional. 

A close friend, self-styled as "The Historian," finds his or her sleep frequently interrupted by recurring dreams of tragic events in history, then recycles those nightmares over and over in various forms.  

Once again, we lend this forum for a day to "The Historian:" 


Thank you once again for the use of your blog for a day.  Finding a conduit for my bad historical dreams is therapeutic.

As I've told you and others, my brain connects current events with ancient tragedies and I can't turn those dreams off.  Recently, I'm replaying in my head parallels between ancient Egypt and 21st century Brownsville, Cameron County.

3,500 years ago, ancient Egyptians settled the flood plains along the Nile River.  The periodic floods with the Nile's waters spreading unabated into millions of acres, while dangerous, had agricultural benefits.

The waters of the Rio Grande River between the U.S. and Mexico likewise have inadequate control with U.S. levees intentionally kept 6 feet below a level that would prevent the City of Brownsville from floods during a Catagory 4 Hurricane Beulah-type storm.  If the U.S. had the appropriately sized levees, Matamoros only would flood.  A gentleman's agreement between the two countries allows for flooding of both cities should a major hurricane come.

Ancient Egyptians also had difficulty accepting death, especially the loss of a leader.  Special embalming fluids, massive pyramid-shaped tombs packed with personal belongings and servants were constructed to help icons achieve immortality.  The leader was even buried, sitting upright, as if still leading, ruling his people.

Jim, local Republicans are doing the same with resigned party chairman Frank Morris. They refuse to acknowledge that he has "passed on" as a manager of the county's party. 

Frank told them he was resigning as chairman, state delegate, not paying any more office bills and turning in the keys. 

Many of his followers are wailing day and night, refusing to accept the reality of his resignation.   But, chanting "Frank, Frank, Frank" outside the service entrance of the V.I.C.C. will not bring Frank back.

Jim, another nightmare coming during frantic REM's is the morphing of Alex Torres into Elvis Presley or really an Elvis Presley impersonator.(Please, don't intepret this.  Just hear me out!."

Alex Torres
  Jim, my dreams go to the Elvis concerts of the early 70's just before his death.  He would leave the stage, but come back for one encore, then another.  But, the audience was never satisfied.  Finally, an auditorium or tour official would have to go to the microphone to tell the crowd:  "Elvis has left the building!"

When Elvis died, none of us wanted to believe it. Taking advantage of our selfish desire for Elvis to be immortal, 250,000 Elvis impersonators found work.  Many of them come to Los Fresnos every year for the Elvis Festival.  

Elvis Impersonator
Jim, I see history repeating itself with Alex Torres, a true believer in Frank Morris.  In a very short time Alex has become a Frank impersonator, trying to discipline and rule the local party as only Frank could.  Just as many of the Elvis impersonators have the singer down pat, it's become hard to tell Alex from Frank.


The Historian

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Is Carlos Cascos the Last Line of Defense Against the United Brownsville Scam?

County Judge Carlos Cascos
OK.  An American football analogy:  United Brownsville has easily run through our community's first line of defense, the Mayor and City Commission. Actually, they were escorted through, no, cheered through town with pom poms.  

City Commissioner Debbie Portillo,
Assigned to United Brownsville Coordinating
after Inaugeration
Young commissioners like John Villarreal, Estela Chavez-Vasquez and then Debbie Portillo were flattered to be assigned quickly to the United Brownsville Coordinating Board, joining an equally flattered, but naive school superintendent, BISD board members, the mayor, the city manager, etc.

City Attorney Mark Sossi
Meanwhile, the United Brownsville Coordinating Board, once described by City Attorney Mark Sossi as "informal, with no governmental power," not subject to Public Information Act requirements of actual, city-appointed boards, began to "shadow" the City of Brownsville. Such city projects as the Resaca Restoration Project, curbside recycling and even the quest to receive the All-America City Award,  were on the UB Board meeting agenda, as if under their control.  

At one board meeting, United Brownsville Tri-Chair Fred Rusteberg listened patiently to a giddy Minerva Pena and verbose Martin Arambula suggest improvements to the curbside recycling program.  Rusteberg could not care less about curbside recycling, but no doubt smiled at the message sent that ALL city programs were under the purview, "coordination" and supervision of the United Brownsville Coordinating Board.

Carlos Marin, Ambiotec Engineering,
United Brownsville Coordinating Board
Meanwhile the author of the Imagine Brownsville Comprehensive Plan, sold to the city for $1,000,000, but never implemented, Carlos Marin, was busy calling in a colleague who had worked with him on the Imagine Brownsville plan, Robin McCaffrey of Needham, McCaffrey & Associates, Inc., to develop a plan for Cameron County's industrial corridor along FM 550 to include the Port of Brownsville.  

Robin McCaffrey, Needham,
McCaffrey & Associates, Inc.
McCaffrey did as instructed, creating a 600 page Greater Brownsville Infrastructure & Development Plan, selling it for $454,592.08.  The Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation gave quick approval to the purchase of the study, although the actual cost was not mentioned at the meeting of that board.  It took several weeks of back and forth with former GBIC board member Ruben Gallegos, Jr. to get the actual cost of the study, which we learned was split three ways between the GBIC, Brownsville Public Utilities Board and the Port of Brownsville.  Not surprisingly, the taxpayer purchased plan suggests United Brownsville as the entity to control the industrial corridor's multi-billion dollar development.

Two city boards, the Brownsville Economic Development Council and the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, control the way $4,250,000 in 4A tax dollars is dispersed annually, that money being designated for economic development.  Carlos Marin controls both boards, being a member of the BEDC that vets companies and recommends projects to the check-writing GBIC.  The most recent GBIC Board meeting illustrates the control that puts money in Carlos Marin's pocket now and mega bucks to his to his United Brownsville cronies down the proverbial line.

Oscar Garcia, Jr., Carlos Marin's Personal
Hey Boy, Employee and UB Board Member
Did Marin get a kickback from McCaffrey's $454K "industrial corridor" plan? Dunno.  But, recently emanating  from the BEDC where Marin is a prominent member is a Request for Proposal for a company to "implement" McCaffrey's plan.  The only company responding to the carefully worded RFP is Jacob's Engineering of San Antonio, bidding $750,000 to "implement" McCaffrey's $540,000 plan.  The GBIC opts to fund Phase 1 of the Jacob's Engineering plan at a cost of $180,000.  Sitting just beyond the GBIC Board table is Oscar Garcia, Jr., Carlos Marin's employee at Su Clinica Familiar and the son of outgoing UTB President and United Brownsville Coordinating Board Member Juliet Garcia.  Young Oscar is introduced to the GBIC as Jacob's Engineering "Project Manager" to implement the industrial corridor plan.  The tentacles of United Brownsville, Carlos Marin and Fred Rusteberg are now firmly all over the multi-billion dollar development of the industrial corridor including the Port of Brownsville.

Jacob's Engineering's Project Manager Oscar Garcia, who works for Carlos Marin will now decide which types of industries go where at the Port of Brownsville and the industrial corridor.  Of course, young Oscar Garcia doesn't know shit from shellfish in terms of industrial development.  The development is controlled by Carlos Marin and Fred Rusteberg.

Marin, as the most influential BEDC board member influences what proposals get past his vetting board to ask for GBIC approval.  On the agenda last month were the contract of "implementation" of the industrial corridor study and V.I.D.A., an apparently sham organization purporting to help welfare recipients get jobs and an education.  Carlos Marin is on the Board of Directors of V.I.D.A., that gets $300,000 per year from GBIC. Yet another illustration of how Marin controls the BEDC and GBIC  money flow.

So, back to our football analogy.  With United Brownsville well past our first line of "defense," the City Commission and City Manager, now venturing out into the county to control development of the industrial corridor including the Port of Brownsville, will County Judge Carlos Cascos stand in their way?

Fred Rusteberg and Carlos Marin have a certain skill set, but they're not elected officials.  Why should they control, coordinate or implement anything not their own personal or company investment?  Do they become the region's economic development coordinators just because they declare themselves such?  Will Judge Cascos have anything at all to say about this?

Friday, June 27, 2014

Brownsville's City Planning, Not Known for Common Sense or Logic, Wants to Redo 6th Street

Ramiro "One Lane Is Enough" Gonzalez
This planning faux pas can't be chalked up to new Planning Director Michael Warrix, who only joined the force 6/2/14 after his service in Atlanta.

The agenda item to be considered in Public Hearing this Tuesday is the work of Brownsville's goofy, dynamic duo of Ramiro Gonzalez and Roman McAllen.  Ramiro considers the book on his desk, The High Cost of Free Parking to be the Holy Scriptures of downtown planning while Roman McAllen allegedly works on his family's downtown residence on city time and is the city's only actual bicycle tourist.

City Planner II, Roman McAllen
According to an item placed on the agenda for this coming Tuesday's city commission meeting, Ramiro and Roman want 6th street reduced to a one lane artery into the city with the right lane converted into a bike lane. 

Currently, 6th Street is three lanes of traffic off the Interstate into downtown.  One of those lanes becomes a mere left turn lane after it crosses Ringgold, with traffic required by arrow to exit left at Madison Street.

Ramiro and Roman want the right lane morphed into "bicycle only," with the middle lane left as the only "through traffic" lane to accommodate the thousands of annual Charro Days downtowners from Ringgold to Madison.  


6. Public Hearing, and ACTION thereafter, regarding the request to approve the narrowing East 6th Street, from three lanes of traffic to two lanes, expanding the sidewalk adjacent to the Gladys Porter Zoo property, adding landscaping, and providing a bicycle connection from Belden Trail to East Harrison Street.(Ramiro Gonzalez-Planning and Doroteo Garcia-Engineering) [TABLED ON 06/17/2014]

The city's sometimes newspaper, the Brownsville Herald, reported that some citizens questioned the need of losing a lane of traffic to bicycles when a mere 20 yards to the left, inside the grassy strip between E. 6th and E. 7th Street known as Linear Park, exists a seldom used hike and bike trail:  "Commissioner Rose Gowen, who spoke at the meeting, said stakeholders — most notably officials at Gladys Porter Zoo — had questioned the necessity of a bike lane running parallel and nearly adjacent to the Historic Battlefield Hike and Bike Trail."

Below is my rough drawing of the area.  Notice the Old Battlefield Bike Trail between E. 6th and E. 7th Street.  Why in the hell would city planners want to close one lane of 6th Street for a bike lane when, just 50 feet away exists a seldom used, landscaped bike trail.  The answer below.

Here is the explanation given in the Brownsville Herald:

"However, the room was unmoved until Assistant City Manager Ruth Asuna took the floor at about 12:30 p.m. and noted the time.  Asuna, who up until that point had been taking notes from the meeting, explained the situation the city faces concerning funding.  The $150,000 the city was considering to use for sidewalk improvements was federal money that the Texas Department of Transportation would provide for projects only up until August, she explained. TxDOT approved sidewalk enhancements on 6th Street last week, and red tape would make it hard for the city to get another project approved in time to take advantage of the funding."

In simple language, the city is doing something illogical, stupid, asinine, against public interests, for $150,000 in free money?  That says a lot about our brain dead city government.

Entrance to Old Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail
Incidentally, I recently spent four hours at the Filemon Vila Federal Court House at 600 E. Harrison, reporting for potential jury duty.  Two hours were spent in the lobby on the 3rd floor, waiting to be called by lawyers in an illegal gun purchasing case.  For most of those two hours I stared out the window down into the mouth of the Old Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail.  Despite the fact that the City of Brownsville claimed that in a grant application to extend the trail through downtown Brownsville that the trail experienced over "1,000 riders daily," I did not see a single rider.

Cameron County Judge Candidate Joe Rivera's Shocking Campaign Finance Law Violations!

Eight Years of Joe G. Rivera Campaign
Finance Reports(7/06-2/14)

For the better part of eight years, and perhaps much longer, Joe G. Rivera has recorded on his Campaign Finance Reports  a Political Action Committee to receive campaign contributions, "The Friends of Joe Rivera."  

Such a Political Action Committee is not registered with the Cameron County Election Office and therefore does not exist.  Any monies contributed to such an illegal, unauthorized P.A.C. should be returned. 

In his most recent Campaign Finance Report, Joe G. Rivera lists a new P.A.C., "Vote to Elect Joe G. Rivera County Judge." That Political Action Committee is not registered with the Cameron County Election Office and therefore does not exist.  Monies contributed to such an illegal, unauthorized P.A.C. should be returned to the donor. 

Otis Powers, Listed as
Rivera's Campaign
Treasurer, but not
registered with state.
A basic requirement to run for public office is the designating and registering of a campaign treasurer. Until this recent campaign, Joe Rivera listed himself as campaign treasurer, which is legal as long as you register that appointment.  In the current campaign, Rivera lists Otis Powers as his campaign treasurer, but Rivera has not registered that appointment with the Cameron County Election Office as required by law.

Illegal Joe G. Rivera Campaign Sign

Additionally, Rivera's campaign signs, push cards and other campaign materials listing his unregistered P.A.C. are illegal.

Joe Rivera
All of the above is not just sloppy, irresponsible bookkeeping, but illegal, unethical.  In Rivera's case, we can't simply excuse him as new to public office. He's been County Clerk for 36 years.  His noncompliance reflects a certain arrogance as if the rules do not apply to him, just other candidates.  

From the editor:  The original version of this article stated that Joe G. Rivera had not filed his P.A.C. with the Texas Ethics Commission.  My source called to inform me that the requirement is to file with the Cameron County Election Office, not the TEC.

The source claims that as of "a few days ago" no P.A.C. had been filed.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Why Did Finance Director Lupe Granado Present and the City Commission Approve A Maintenance Contract for Brownsville Buses to a Failing Company?

A Cameron County Republican's Feeble Attempt at Humor

Possible Future Cameron County Chair Alex
Torres, Former President Gerald Ford

A friend of mine, who fashions himself as a history buff, sent me this photo, accompanied by the following letter.  While, many will disagree with his comparisons, at least the writer is temporarily off the street:


It's strange sometimes that, not only does history repeat itself, but, within that repetition are smaller incidents that mirror those considered history worthy.

I've been struck by a strange parallel between the events leading up to the resignation of President Richard Nixon in 1974 and the resignation of Cameron County Chair Frank Morris forty years later.

Much of Nixon's difficulty can be traced to 18 minutes of recorded conversation missing from the presidential archives.  

While not mentioned in his resignation letter, Frank Morris' recording and replaying of an extensive conversation with State Republican Chairman Steve Munisteri, did not set well with state party officials.

Back in '74, Gerald Ford assumed the Presidency following Nixon's resignation.  Many cynics suspected a brokered deal when Ford later pardoned Nixon.

Here locally, forty years later, Alex Torres is positioning himself to replace Frank Morris as Cameron County Party Chairman.  Is there a deal in place to pardon Morris?


The Historian

TxDOT Funds $100,000 Efficiency and Marketing Study for Brownsville Metro

Selena Barlow, Transit Marketing 
of Tucson, Arizona
A dynamic marketing and research duo, paid $100,000 by the Texas Department of Transportation, to research the efficiency of Brownsville Metro as well as share marketing ideas, were introduced to the Brownsville Metro Advisory Board Wednesday at the board's regular monthly meeting.

Clifford Chambers, Owner of Mobility
Mountain View, California
Selena Barlow, representing Transit Marketing of Tuczon, Arizona and Clifford Chambers, the owner of Mobility Planners of Mountain View, California, have been riding Brownsville Metro's buses along with a Spanish language translator to get insight into the perceptions of the system's ridership.

"Breakdowns and maintenance issues have been number one so far," stated Barlow, an observation not surprising to those who've followed First Transit's dismal performance with respect to major breakdowns. While First Transit's $1,400,000 maintenance contract just renewed with the City of Brownsville in January calls for 8,000 miles between major breakdowns, the city's buses have been averaging nearly ten times that many, one major breakdown every 825 miles.

The researchers' work includes transit planning, market research and passenger surveys.

Board member Viola Currier suggested the research team interview, not only those who ride, but those who don't.  "Find out what it would take for them to use the system," stated Ms. Currier.

The researchers had one question for board members:  "What is the role of public transit in this community?"

Daniel Lenz, Chairman of the
Brownsville Metro Advisory Board
Brownsville Metro Board Chairman Daniel Lenz did not hesitate:

"Public transit is vital to this community. So many in our community do not have cars and 
cannot afford a taxi. They depend on the system to get them where they need to go.  Public transit also drives the economy as it gets customers to the stores.  That sort of offsets the expense of running the system."

Brownsville Metro Director Norma Zamora promised to invite City Finance Director Lupe Granado to the next board meeting to discuss the contract the city negotiated with First Transit.  James Campbell, hired in April to supervise the mechanical crew will also be invited, according to Zamora.

Andrew Munoz, Brownsville Metro Assistant Director, announced a groundbreaking ceremony to be held Monday at 10 AM for the new downtown parking garage.  The Spawglass Corporation has completed the necessary demolition work for the project according to Munoz.

United Brownsville Operatives Move to Control Regional, Multinational Development

From the editor:  At the March 4, 2014 City Commission meeting a resolution was passed yielding control of the development of the industrial corridor including the Port of Brownsville to the United Brownsville Coordinating Board. Ironically, it was City Attorney Mark Sossi, who a couple of years earlier described United Brownsville as a casual, volunteer group not subject to the Public Information Act, who, that particular Tuesday evening strode to the City Commission podium to introduce with a straight face the resolution:

Consideration and ACTION on Resolution Number 2014-034, in support of the creation of a Bioned(sic) Coordinating Board to be made up by Equal Representation from United Brownsville, Imagina Matamoros, and the City of Harlingen in order to promote and plan the development of the Bi-Ned Zone. (Commissioners D. Portillo/R. Gowen)

Fred Rusteberg, IBC Bank President,
United Brownsville Tri-Chair
The main players in the United Brownsville Coordinating Board, IBC Bank President Fred Rusteberg and Ambiotec Engineering CEO Carlos Marin have been methodically setting up control of the multibillion dollar future development of Cameron County.  Oh, BISD Trustee Minerva Pena's naive questions are tolerated at UB Board Meetings.  City Manager Charlie Cabler guards the door like an off-duty policeman doing security work and Pete Gonzalez submits whatever financial report he wishes, but the deals are not made at that now public forum.

Carlos Marin, Ambiotec Engineering,
United Brownsville Coordinating Board
Tomorrow at UTB's Gran Salon another public relations event similar to the 2013 Bined Conference:

View this email in your browser
Please Join us for a free presentation titled

"Matamoros: A framework for Innovation"

Thursday, June 26, 2014, 5 p.m.
at the Grand Salon, UTB Campus 



United Brownsville and several government and private entities throughout the Rio Grande Valley and our Mexican sister cities of Matamoros and Reynosa are working together to analyze industry-specific manufacturing concentrations within the cross-border region to identify further opportunities for economic integration between Matamoros, Brownsville and surrounding communities.

This effort can translate into higher paying, higher skill jobs for local residents on both sides of the border.

Currently the maquiladora industry in Matamoros is comprised of over 117 manufacturing firms that directly and indirectly employ over.. (to continue reading click here)
Copyright © 2014 United Brownsville, All rights reserved. 
Thank you for helping improve our community. 

Monday, June 23, 2014

UPDATE: Pictorial Progress Report on Stillman Ranch House Restoration

Public Information Request Concerning G.B.I.C.'s Request for Quotation, the Awarding of "Implementation" Contract to Jacob's Engineering

8:32 AM
Dear Ms. Von Hatten,

Recently the GBIC put out a Request for Quotation, RFQ, asking for a firm to "implement" the $540,000 "Greater Brownsville Infrastructure and Development Plan."

A contract was awarded by GBIC to Jacob's Engineering of San Antoio for $185,000 to do "Phase I" of that implementation.

May I please get a copy of that Request for Quotation?


Jim Barton


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