Thursday, July 31, 2014

Visiting Judge Murray Renders No Decision in the Frank Morris Resignation Case~Seeks Briefs by August 15 for Late August Hearing

A more casual Judge Menton Murray
Fumbling for words, visiting substitute Judge Menton Murray ended his self-described "minding the store" gig, while other judge's vacationed, by not rendering a decision in the Frank Morris resignation case brought by 102 Precinct Chair Tad Hasse.  Morris was sitting in at Ben Euresti, Jr's 107th District Court for the 9:00 AM hearing July 31.

When Attorney Paul L. Fourt, Jr., representing Morris, raised the issue of jurisdiction, saying "some judges stay the heck out of inter-party matters," Judge Murray quickly agreed that he might be tempted to "send the matter to Austin for the Republicans," but then, there was this matter of the law, the Texas Election Code. At times Murray's judicial temperament conjured up images of 1992 Ross Perot running mate James Stockdale's opening remarks at the vice-presidential debate:  "Who am I?  Why am I here?"

Murry, who goes on vacation himself next week, recommended both sides submit briefs by August 15, but promised to be there for a hearing "by the end of August."  "This is my case now," Murray stated.  

Hasse opened by presenting as an exhibit, an email from Morris sent at 12:36 PM May 14, resigning as party chair.  After dutifully sharing copies of the email with Judge Murray, Attorney Fourt and Morris, Hasse asked Morris:  "Did you send this email?"

Looking it over, Morris answered:  "Yes, I did."

Tad Hasse
Hasse read off a list of several party officials including County Party Secretary Ida Stacy, who received the email, asking Morris if Stacy had received the email. Morris said she had.  The Texas Election Code specifies that the county secretary must receive a copy of the resignation by the county chair, then notify the state party of the vacancy.

Here is a copy of the body of the email:

“I submit my resignation as Cameron County Republican chairman effective immediately. Also I resign from the SREC (State Republican Executive Committee) SD 27 as of this date. 

If I need to resign on June 16th, I will do so. I also resign as the primary administrator for Cameron County this date. 

I will close out all vendors’ account requiring my approval. I no longer am authorized to sign any checks on any of the party banking accounts ... notify the new chairman (he) or she will have 30 days to pick up the materials and files of the county party, which is in accordance with our By-Laws

. . . . . It's been a great ride. I'm free at last."

Frank Morris
The email introduced as evidence by Attorney Fourt was the one written 11 hours AFTER the first Morris resignation email. This time Morris specifically resigned from only the term of office ending June 15, 2014.  

Hasse claimed that Morris was simply trying to "rescind" the resignation made 11 hours earlier, something Hasse contends is not allowed by the Texas Election Code.

Tad Hasse, 2nd from right
Who took this picture?
Also introduced into evidence by Fourt was a grainy, grayscale photo of precinct chairs including Tad Hasse being sworn in by Frank Morris well after his resignation.  It is Fourt's contention that, by allowing Morris to swear him in as precinct chair, Hasse was acknowledging Morris authority and rightful chairmanship.  We've not heard the last about this picture as some are claiming privately, that it was taken by Election Administrator Chris Davis, who also submitted a letter, documenting Morris' election as Republican County Chairman.

Today's hearing in the 107th District Court was sparsely attended with many local Republicans notably absent.  Adela and Patricia Garza, Morgan Graham, James Ross, Alex Torres, Eddie Padron and Sharon Batterson, all mentioned as possible future replacements for Frank Morris, did not make the hearing.

Current elected Republicans, County Judge Carlos Cascos and Judge Oscar X. Garcia were not present.

Election Administrator Chris Davis stepped in a few minutes late, but left abruptly before interaction with Valley Morning Star Staff Reporter Emma Perez-Trevino or bloggers Juan Montoya and Jim Barton.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How Much Did First Transit Steal from the City of Brownsville by Violating the Maintenance Contract?

First Group Headquarters,
Cincinnati, Ohio
First Transit, once known as Ryder Public Transportation Services, Inc. is a U.S. subsidiary acquired in 1999 by a huge international company called FirstGroup.  First Transit generally contracts to manage the whole transportation business for cities and counties in the United States as they do in our city with Brownsville Metro.

First Transit has a management contract with the City of Brownsville worth $225,000 per year to manage Brownsville Metro.  There are only two management employees running Brownsville Metro, Executive Director Norma Zamora and Assistant Director Andrew Munoz.  So, for example, if Zamora gets paid $60,000 per year and Munoz $40,000, for a total of $100,000 per year, First Transit nets $125,000 per year on the management contract.  These are hypotheticals, of course.

Brownsville Metro Executive Director,
 Norma Zamora
So, in terms of making money, First Transit functions similarly to a temp service like Labor Ready. A company or employer calls Labor Ready, asking for someone to dig a ditch, take stenography, load a truck, or a similar job. Labor Ready pays the worker they've recruited, background checked and notified something near minimum wage, but bills the company much more, making a profit on supplying the labor.

This is how First Transit makes its money with the City of Brownsville, by supplying two managers, Zamora and Munoz, but charging the city substantially more than those two earn as salaries in the management contract.  It costs the city about double, but they don't have to deal with hiring, background checking, etc. They just pay First Transit for management services, using taxpayer dollars.

First Transit also has the much more lucrative maintenance contract for Brownsville Metro to the tune of $1,400,000 annually.  A lot of fat(profit) is built into this bloated contract, that includes $786,000 for labor, $300,000 for parts, $102,800 for administrative costs and another $102,000 for a corporate fee. Obviously, administrative fees and corporate fees are simply profit for First Transit. 

Finance Director Lupe Granado
Despite the huge maintenance contract, $1.4 million, renewed without a whimper by the City Commission in January 2014, Brownsville Metro's buses have performed miserably.  The most important parameter of the contract is miles between major breakdowns.  The contract calls for 8,000 miles between major breakdowns.  Brownsville Metro buses have been breaking down at nearly 10 times that rate with only 825 miles between major breakdowns registered in January 2014 when City Finance Director Lupe Granado went before the City Commission to recommend approval of a renewal of the contract.

What this means is that you could line up all 19 of the buses for Brownsville Metro's major routes, instructing the drivers to drive to El Paso, 829 miles away.  None of  Brownsville Metro's buses would complete the trip before breaking down, based on the 825 miles between major breakdowns average.  Pitiful!

To correct some of these maintenance issues, James Campbell was named Supervisor of Mechanics 4/1/2014. Campbell quickly noticed that First Transit's contract with the City of Brownsville called for 8 full-time mechanics, but the First Transit shop was operating with only 6.  Remember the $786,000 "labor costs" specified in the contract.  If you divide $786,000 by 8, it comes to $98,250 per mechanic, likely more than double what First Transit pays its bus mechanics, even after adding 15% for benefits.  All of that extra was pure profit for First Transit, but by shorting the City of Brownsville two mechanics, it was something else-theft.  No one knows or is saying how long the garage operated with 2 mechanics less than paid for by the taxpayers.  First Transit held the contract for at least 4 years.  4 X 2 X $98,250=$786,000.  Interest and penalties could triple that.

City Manager Charlie Cabler
City Manager Charlie Cabler: This is money you could recover for the city.  Assistant City Attorneys John Chosy and Allison Bastian:  This is taxpayer money squandered, that could be recovered, more than covering your salaries for the period.

Actually, since Charlie Cabler, Pete Gonzalez, Ruth Azuna and Lupe Granado know about this theft by First Transit, why would the City of Brownsville have any contracts with a company that stole from Brownsville taxpayers?  

Had a private company discovered this obvious theft, not only would they terminate the contract, criminal charges would likely be pursued against the contracted firm.  Any company officials, found to have knowledge of the theft, but not acting on it, would also be terminated.

Add caption
In the case of this clear theft by First Transit, the city officials mentioned above, with knowledge of this theft, should be terminated immediately.

Does anyone even care about protecting Brownsville taxpayer assets or monies?

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"Sadness, Lack of Support" Triggered Resignation According to Morris Countersuit Against Hasse~Election Administrator Chris Davis Weighs In

Beth Cubriel, Executive Director
of Republican Party of Texas
Entered as "Exhibit C" in his countersuit against Charles "Tad" Hasse, longtime Republican County Chair Frank Morris includes a letter to Beth Cubriel, Executive Director of the Republican Party of Texas.  

In the letter, dated May 22, 2014, Morris states:

Frank Morris
"The resignations(county chair and SREC) were my only token recourse I had to express my disappointment, sadness, and feelings of lack of support and confidence in me that I would allow to occur what those allegations charge.

In support of the four malcontents which we have had to live with for the last three or so years including the 2012 county convention, the committee ruled that the charges had merit, I had to demonstrate in some way, my strong disagreement."

Lisa & Simon Mata
The "four malcontents" are not named.  As reported in an earlier story, the four who challenged Frank Morris' credentials are Lisa and Simon Mata, Roman Perez and Adrian Barbosa.

The enormously wealthy, attorney-laden state Republican Party is not representing Morris in his countersuit.  He's hired his own attorney, Paul L. Fourt, Jr. of Brownsville, but seeks in his countersuit to recover $7,500 in attorney fees plus $2,500 in unspecified expenses from Hasse.

A point of contention is whether Morris' resignation was limited to the term that ended June 15, 2014. Morris submits as "Exhibit B" a terse letter from his Republican Party of Cameron County letterhead supporting his contention:

Ida R. Stacy
Republican Party of Cameron County

Dear Ms. Stacy,

Reference my email this date:

IAW Section 171.025 of the Texas Election Code and the By Laws of the Republican Party of Cameron County dated September 13, 2012;  I submit my resignation effective this date as Cameron County Chairman for the term of office ending June 15, 2014.
Frank J. Morris
County Chairman

Conveniently missing from Mr. Morris' exhibits is a much more detailed resignation letter written 11 hours earlier to State Party Chair Steve Munisteri with a CC to Secretary Stacy.  That letter does not limit Morris' resignation to his then current term, but instead speaks of removing his name from the checkbook, vendor accounts and utilities.  That letter suggests the "new chairman" has 30 days to pick up the files and ends with "It's been a good ride."(We published this letter in its entirety in an earlier blog article.)

Also referencing this first resignation letter is Staff Writer Emma Perez-Trevino in her July 25, 2014 Valley Morning Star article about the Morris countersuit.(The Brownsville Herald did not find this story newsworthy.)  Notice the comments below on the writer's Facebook page:

Election Administrator,
Chris Davis
Another exhibit of interest is a letter from Election Administrator Chris Davis, declaring Frank Morris the duly elected Republican County Chair:
This matter will be heard by Judge Ben Euresti, Jr. at the 107th District Court at 974 Harrison St. on July 31 at 9:00 AM.

This is a multi-faceted story with several angles yet unreported.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Bike Cult Controls Brownsville's 4B "Quality of Life" Tax Dollars~Do You Believe?

$7,000 of taxpayer dollars were spent last
year to hang this postcard in the lobby of
the Harlingen Airport.  Perhaps, tourists would
remember the sign and bring their high-end
bicycles on their next trip to Harlingen.
Brownsville's bike cult members know the truth: two-wheeled human-powered transport is the future of our city, the panacea for all our city's problems.  

Bike cult members stare glassy-eyed at unbelievers who can't see the "over 1,000 riders who use the Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail daily into Linear Park."  That statement was included in a traffic enhancement grant application that netted $786,000 to connect the Battlefield Trail through downtown to Fort Brown.  Unbelievers who cross the trail cannot see the thousand riders.  They, we lack faith in the bike god.  We also do not see how the bike god has anointed Brownsville as the Bicycle Capital of the Rio Grande Valley.

Below is an email received 2/13/14 from Rachel Flores, the former Executive Director of the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation. Now, with Rachel taking a new job at SPI, this email reveals a mindset, a mentality most in our city will have difficulty identifying with or sharing.

Hello Mr. Barton,

I forgot to add one small request regarding the information discussed at the meeting. I was hoping you would be so kind as to not mention that we will be asking the State Legislature to name Brownsville the bicycling capital of the valley. As mentioned, we are working with the our representatives to get that designation, and revealing our intentions will decrease the likelihood of us getting it. If its out there it increases the chances that other valley cities will contest it and/or compete with us for it. There is no problem with discussing the marketing campaign, the state designation is the only the thing that could pose a strategic problem for us. In the interest of transparency, I'm happy to keep you updated as the process moves along.


Rose Gowen, High Priestess of
the Bike Cult
Rachel has left her position as director of the BCIC(some say she had difficulty with the controlling, manipulative Rose Gowen.)  The High Priestess of the Bike Cult remains.  

If you recall the uproar at the July 1, 2014 City Commission meeting when the City Commission considered a proposal to reduce heavily traveled city artery E. 6th Street from 3 lanes to 2 to accommodate a bike lane, you may recall City Commissioner Rose Gowen arguing FOR the project based on the potential loss of $150,000 in TxDot money.  When the overlay of E.6th St. is included, the project cost swells to $400,000.  Well, at the last BCIC meeting chaired by Rose Gowen, another project, Belden Connect, was funded for $208,000.  That means a total of $608,000 in local and federal tax dollars spent on the E. 6th Street project.  In Brownsville, Bikes Rule!

Bike Cult members, sometimes called the
"Bike People" at a bike revival in Ft Worth
If you keep up with the binders connected with City Commission meetings, requesting travel expenses all over the country for board and city commission members, you may have noted how many of the seminars are connected with bike trails.  The pic above was taken at a seminar, cleverly named the Texas Trails & Active Transportation Conference.  Rose Gowen is holding her "Trail Boss" award, likely for bringing such a large contingent at taxpayer expense to the conference.  

Members of Brownsville's planning, tourism, bus, parks and health departments also attended the bike seminar at taxpayer expense.  

Gowen, a bike visionary, sees "bicycle tourism" having a major impact on the city's economic future.  At a recent BCIC meeting Gowen explained that bicycle tourists "have an annual income of $190,000, no $200,000 and an average of at least two advanced degrees."  In other words, such bicycle tourists will enrich Brownsville economically, but also intellectually.  All of us need to be on the lookout for Brownsville's first bicycle tourist.

Now, the latest development in Bikemania.  Indeed, the bike god works in mysterious ways.  Do you remember the 3 small offices the city purchased along E. 11th Street for a downtown mayors office, police substation and museum?  Well, now the city has once again changed plans.  Two of the offices will be related to Brownsville's most important form of transportation-the bicycle.  Our city's Planning Department has been heavily involved in this project from the get-go.

Bike Texas' New Office
Bike Texas, formerly the Texas Bike Coalition, will occupy the building at 615 E. 11th. Their mission is described on their website:  "advancing bicycle access, safety, and education. We encourage and promote bicycling, increased safety, and improved conditions. We unite and inspire people and provide a cohesive voice for people who ride bikes in Texas."

BC Workshop, the non-profit recently garnering $208,000 in tax dollars for the Belden Connect Project, connecting the Belden and Battlefield Bike Trails, will occupy the building at 609 E. 11th.

Do you think our city leaders have become obsessed with bicycles, bicycle trails, bicycle meeting rooms, bicycle tourism, bicycle advertising and high-priced travel to bicycle seminars to the neglect of other priorities?  

I do.

BISD Fails to Prioritize Student Safety by Hiring Transportation Directors with Zero Experience Running a Bus System

Superintendent Carl Montoya
Is it really necessary to recount the many transfers, terminations and reassignments made at BISD without regard to past experience, educational background or aptitude?  Such critical administrative placements are frequently made out of spite, retaliation, even punishment.

BISD's proverbial dog house, biblical purgatory or penitentiary death row is the position of Director of Transportation.  High school principals like Brenda Fernandez and Hector Chirinos have been banished there and, more recently, Art Rendon, formerly supervising special needs children, was put in charge of the busing of 40,000 students daily to and from school after winning a lawsuit to get his position back. The assignment was obviously payback by BISD's childish administrators.

Are these types of assignments in the best interests of the children, protecting their safety getting to and from school?  Not in any part of the real world.  Of course, BISD is not run with logic or common sense, but like a reality show to see who's last on the island.  Even the forensic audit of 2011 warned this is not the way to run a transportation department safely:

"It is highly recommended that strong administrative action with the possibility of termination be taken against Jose Hector Chirinos (and that BISD) hire professional business people with experience in running a transportation department.."

Hector Chirinos
This is not to single out Chirinos, who just happened to be mentioned in the quote.  In my opinion he saw his transfer from being a high school principal to transportation director as a demotion and gave the district a giant "F U" by chummying up to vendors and ordering hundreds of thousands of dollars of unneeded shit, tires, parts, etc. and letting drivers rack up as much overtime as they wanted. Salesmen around the country understand what happened when they see a mountain of the unnecessary at a school or government agency where the man with the authority to issue a purchase order becomes your best friend.  While Chirinos may have handled the assignment poorly, it was an irresponsible assignment by BISD that set the department up for failure.

Brenda Fernandez, another high school principal reassigned to transportation seems to have made lemonade out of lemons.  Like Chirinos, she knew nothing about running a bus system when made Director of Transportation, but she was a very quick study.  The first thing Fernandez did was get her CDL, so that she could legally drive a bus, not just tell people how to drive one.  What she did with the job, though, does not justify BISD's administrative placement.  After her department was named best in Texas, Fernandez went on to manage bus systems in Corpus Christi, San Antonio and now is Regional Vice President for MV Transportation Florida operations.

BISD has not made its Department of Transportation a priority by hiring a director with actual, real world experience in running a bus system, maintaining a fleet of buses.  Until they do, it can't be said they are putting the children first.

Friday, July 25, 2014

It Just Gets "Curiouser and Curiouser" As Frank Morris Submits Two Resignations May 14, Claims Hasse Lawsuit "Without Merit"

Frank Morris
County Judge Carlos Cascos must wince with every Emma Perez-Trevino article in the Valley Morning Star about the rumblings within the Cameron County Republican Party.  Cascos is facing a tough November race against firmly entrenched Democratic politico Joe Rivera, placed in the race by State Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, specifically to defeat Cascos, and needs a unified party behind him.

But, the local party has not been unified.  Frank Morris, the longtime Republican County Chair, troubled by challenges to his credentials and alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, tendered his resignation to State Party Chairman Steve Munisteri on May 14.  Subsequently, Cameron County Republican Party Secretary Ida Stacy appointed James Ross to serve as Interim County Chair.

Despite the appointment of an interim chair, Morris reasserted chairmanship of the local party by presiding over a County Republican Party meeting held July 17.  

Tad Hasse
Precinct 102 Chair Tad Hasse filed a lawsuit against Morris that same day, July 17, asking for a Declaratory Judgment that Morris had resigned as county chair, that the resignation had been accepted. Hasse's suit included a copy of Morris' resignation letter of May 14:
“I submit my resignation as Cameron County Republican chairman effective immediately. Also I resign from the SREC (State Republican Executive Committee) SD 27 as of this date. If I need to resign on June 16th, I will do so. I also resign as the primary administrator for Cameron County this date. I will close out all vendors’ account requiring my approval. I no longer am authorized to sign any checks on any of the party banking accounts ... notify the new chairman (he) or she will have 30 days to pick up the materials and files of the county party, which is in accordance with our By-Laws. . . . . It's been a great ride. I'm free at last."

In an article published in the Valley Morning Star July 25, Staff Writer Emma Perez-Trevino reports that Frank Morris has countersued Hasse, stating that Hasse's lawsuit is "groundless, in bad faith, brought for the purpose of harassment." Morris seeks a dismissal of the Hasse lawsuit, plus $7,500 in attorney fees, $2,500 for expenses.

In his countersuit, Morris, does not include as evidence his retirement letter noted above, but, instead, uses a second resignation letter sent to Secretary Stacy some eleven hours after the initial letter.  In this second letter Morris "resigns" as county chair only for the term ending June 15, 2014.  Was Morris having second thoughts about his resignation and trying to spin it as only applicable to the current term?  Remember, he did say he was taking his name off the checkbook, "closing out vendor accounts requiring his approval" . . . .and giving the "new chairman 30 days to pick up the materials and files."  All of those actions would seem foolish for someone intending on resuming office four weeks later.

Election Administrator Chris Davis
I've yet to receive my copy of the 35 page lawsuit by Morris, but I've been told that some evidence has been submitted on behalf of Morris by Election Administrator Chris Davis.  

Carlos Elizondo for BISD Trustee Event at Cobbleheads, July 24, 2014

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Full Four Page Report by Dynamic Technical Consultants, Inc. on the Cause or Causes of the School Bus Fires~Never Before Released to the Public by BISD

How Can We Provide Safety for BISD Student Bus Riders? Part IV~ Lenz Looks At the Pictures

Daniel Lenz
"One thing to look for in a bus fire investigation report, especially one involving multiple fires is a common denominator,"  stated bus expert Daniel Lenz, after reading the four page written portion of Dynamic Technical Consultants, Inc. submitted to BISD November 4, 2013.  

Finding a common thread is made difficult by the incomplete nature of the DTC report.  

"I have no intention of being critical of the report," starts Lenz, "but it leaves out basic information that could link the fires."  

"For example, the report gives the bus numbers for all three buses, #528, #545 and #447, but the VIN numbers for only two of the buses.  Bus #545 is described as "manufactured in 2007 with a 6.4L diesel turbo charged V8 engine."

"Bus #447 is described as a "2002 International chassis with a Blue Bird bus body, equipped with a 7.3 turbo charged V8 diesel.  Bus #528, involved in the dramatic October 4, 2013 fire, does not list a VIN number, model year or make, simply described as being powered by "a turbo-charged diesel located at the front of the vehicle.  So, we have no idea, from the report, if Bus #528 shared the same manufacturer or engine as either of the other two buses involved in fires.  

DTC describes the cause of the October 4, 2013 bus fire on Bus #528 as "officially undetermined."

The fire on Bus #545, that caught fire April 10, 2013 is blamed on "portions of the wiring harness that had become displaced from the bulkhead and were in close proximity to the exhaust system."  The report also states that "portions of the thermal barrier were not installed in a proper manner to protect the air conditioning hoses and adjacent components."  Then, the report claims that an "exhaust clamp adjacent to the turbo-charger was noted to have been improperly tightened." 

Exhaust clamp adjacent to turbo-charger,
 Bus # 545
"Jim, the black and white pictures are not very good.  Clear photos in color are needed for an inspection.  As far as a breakdown in the thermal barrier around AC components, it would not be fire-inducing.   The AC might not work as well." 

"Actually, Jim, the exhaust clamp in the foreground of the picture on the left appears tight.  Notice the two sort of round objects with a threaded bolt running through them are touching.  They can't get tighter than that.  Now, one of the flanges on either side of the turbo could be defective, but the exhaust clamp looks tight and, notice the nut on the bolt appears to not have been turned."

DTC included 15 full page black and white pictures in their 19 page report. None of the pics are very clear or conclusive.  Some of the pics are of the entire bus after the fire or of a "typical" engine compartment.

"As we've stated before, without a careful examination of maintenance records, interviews with drivers and mechanics, a report like this is very incomplete.  It would be very difficult to come up with comprehensive maintenance or procedural recommendations based on so little information."

2014-DCL-0427 Charles J. Hasse VS Frank J. Morris, 107th District Court, Judge Ben Euresti, Jr., July 31 @ 9:00 AM

From the editor:  While Hasse's suit was filed in the 445th Court, it will be heard in Ben Euresti Jr's 107 District Court, July 31 at 9:00 AM.

Hasse will be acting as his own attorney, but it is not known if Morris will be represented by heavyweight Republican counsel.

Hasse filed the suit against private citizen Frank Morris, not County Republican Chair Morris.


Self-Portrait by Josie del Castillo