Saturday, November 29, 2014

"A Day At the Beach"~Boca Chica Beach, c.1900

A day at the beach with Amelia Medrano Runyon, Lillian Runyon, Amail Runyon (Perkins), William T. Runyon, Mr. and Mrs. A.W. Reed and Albert Reed Jr.
ca. 1900-1920

Robert Runyon Collection photo

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Several Inaccuracies, Misleading Statements in Sunday's "Brownsville Herald" Article: "Park May Be Election Issue"

Brownsville Herald Reporter Ty Johnson
Brownsville Herald reporter Ty Johnson's article Sunday, Park May Be Election Issue, contains several inaccuracies as well as misleading statements. 

Understanding that Ty likely does not write his own headlines or subheadings, please note the subheading:  

"Some fume over sale agreed to in 2013"

Ty: "As dozens spoke out against the sale, which was essentially agreed to in 2013, they also noted the upcoming city elections in May, almost as a warning to the commissioners sitting at the hearing with terms expiring this spring."

MMB: The tone of this subheading implies that some locals are bellyaching over something they should have spoken up about in 2013.  Actually, Lincoln Park was first put on the agenda February 25, 2013 as an "ACTION ITEM" with NO PUBLIC COMMENT ALLOWED.  

Ty:  "A lawsuit over the sale has the potential to stretch discussions about selling the park property to the Uni-versity of Texas System into next year, with some vowing that the May 2 election will be a referendum on the sale even with the beginning of the election filing period still more than two months away."

MMB:  Actually, Ty, the election will be held May 9, not May 2.  According to City Attorney Mark Sossi, the City Commission merely agreed on a resolution to "enter into negotiations" with the University of Texas concerning a transfer of Lincoln Park.  Sossi claims there is no actual sale agreement.

Ty:  "In February 2013, the city agreed to sell land to the University of Texas at Brownsville for expansion as part of a deal to keep the school downtown when it was floating the idea of relocating."  

MMB: The notion that the University of Texas would vacate over $100,000,000 worth of buildings paid for by Brownsville taxpayers is ludicrous. They were NEVER leaving, with or without the 48 acres of Lincoln Park.
Ty: "(In February 2013) No one voted against the deal, though District 2 Commissioner Jessica Tetreau abstained."

MMB:  Totally wrong.  There were two votes to "donate" property to UT in February 2013, one February 5, the other February 25.  Here are the two action items considered February 5, 2013:
"ACTION on Resolution Number 2013-015, authorizing the donation of a 55.43-acre tract of land to the University of Texas System, designating signatories, and dealing with related 

ACTION on Resolution Number 2013-016, authorizing the donation of a 21.5-acre tract of 
land to the University of Texas system, designating signatories, and dealing with related matters."

Ayes: Mayor Martinez, Commissioners Vasquez, Zamora, Gowen, Longoria, and Villarreal.
Nays: None 
Abstained: Commissioner Tetreau

MMB:  Neither  one of these Action Items concerned Lincoln Park.  According to Tony Martinez, UT considered the two tracts above, came back and suggested the 48 acre Lincoln Park be offered instead.

This change necessitated a "clarification" in an Action Item presented February 25, 2013:  

2. Consideration and ACTION on Resolution Number 2013-022, clarifying property to be donated to the University of Texas system if a downtown location is selected for a campus.

MMB:  Assistant Attorney John Chosy presented this item, stating that Lincoln Park would be substituted for the two tracts mentioned February 5, 2013.  Here is the voting for the clarified Agenda Item presented February 25, 2013:  
Ayes: Mayor Martinez, Commissioners Gowen, Longoria, and Villarreal;

Nay: Commissioner Zamora. Commissioner Tetreau and Vasquez were absent.

Ty:  "When it came time to transfer the land, Brownsville spokeswoman Patty Gonzalez marketed a required public hearing ahead of the sale as an opportunity for residents to discuss their plans for a replacement park, which would be located across the expressway and built with the proceeds of the sale."

MMB:  Again, totally incorrect.  The hearing, by law, HAD to be about WHETHER OR NOT sell the park, not about the amenities of the new park.  The City of Brownsville, through their newly hired Public Relations Officer, Patty Gonzalez, DID try to spin the purpose of the meeting as Ty suggests, but, after being called out in the city's blogs, the official public notice reflected the legal purpose of the meeting, not what Patty had told The Herald.

Ty:  "City leaders and supporters insisted the $6.5 million could easily replace amenities at the current park, itself a replacement for the original Lincoln Park, which was closed in 2001 when the Texas Department of Transportation built the expressway, but opponents seized on the proposed location of the new park, which is across East University Boulevard from a water treatment plant."

MMB:  Actually, at the November 4, 2014 City Commission Meeting, City Manager Charlie Cabler said assessment of the cost of utilities and replacement of amenities on the proposed new park site had not been completed, but that the numbers looked "close."  Not very reassuring!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Judge Nelson's Unexplained Ruling May Cripple, But Not Kill Democracy in Brownsville

Judge A.C. Nelson
138th District Court Judge Nelson, who files his campaign finance reports as Arthur C. Nelson, but runs for office as Arturo Cisneros Nelson, today(11/20/2014) denied the restraining order on the sale of Lincoln Park. Nelson gave no rationale for his decision, rendered one day after a hearing on the matter in his court.  

As we wait to see if citizen Luis Saenz appeals the decision, arguments presented by City Attorney Sossi at the hearing as well as an alerted citizenry in Southmost and throughout Brownsville, could still make city government more responsive to the people. At least several hundred more people than before the October 30 Town Hall Meeting about Lincoln Park know that Tony Martinez and three city commissioners do not listen to the people.

While pro bono Attorney Michael Cowen shared six ways with the court he felt the sale could be legally blocked, he mentioned in the elevator going down from the court's third floor that he'd found yet another, a seventh, in his research.  Will he continue the fight?

City Attorney Mark "It's Legal!" Sossi
City Attorney Mark Sossi, in his arguments before the court, claimed the City Commission had not agreed to sell Lincoln Park, but merely agreed on a resolution to enter into negotiations to sell it.  

Lincoln Park, November 9, 2014
That means the actual sale of the park should come before the commission yet another time.  Will the commissioners protect taxpayer interests by insisting on fair market value? The Ahumada appraisal values the land alone of the park at $11,000,000.  That does not include utilities, paving, two ball fields, two nature trails, an amphitheater, a garden center, basketball courts and barbecue area, all of which increase the actual value of the park to around $20,000,000.  What business do city commissioners have letting the park go for a mere $6.5 million?  Aren't they under oath to protect city assets?

District Attorney Luis V. Saenz
District Attorney Saenz was quoted in today's Brownsville Herald that, if you agree with the sale of Lincoln Park, you should vote for Tony Martinez for Mayor, but if you disagree, you should vote against Tony Martinez.  That's great, except Trey Mendez and Daniel Lenz aren't running.  Our alternatives so far seem to be former Mayor Pat Ahumada,  P.K. Patel's right hand man, William Garza and restaurant owner Bob Sanchez.  Some have tried to convince Ahumada that he could be elected as Commissioner At Large, but he insists on being the quarterback, not a blocking lineman.(It would be great to have an adult counterpoint, like Ahumada, on the commission.)  His 9% popular vote showing in the last mayoral election make being voted in as mayor unlikely.

As suggested by Luis Saenz, how the mayor and commissioners voted on Lincoln Park may become a litmus test to determine which elected city officials listen to the people.  Jessica Tetreau was warmly received at the Valley Interfaith "Accountability" Meeting for her vote against the sale.  Commissioners Ricardo Longoria, Jr. and John Villarreal both voted against the sale November 4 after voting for it February 25.  Of course, Rose Gowen, Deborah Portillo, Estela Chavez-Vasquez and Tony Martinez voted to sell the property.

Nurith Galonsky
The Lincoln Park issue will especially dominate the race for City Commissioner in District 1, Southmost where Ricardo Longoria, Jr. is the incumbent. Roman Perez, who has filed for the position has been a leader in the fight to keep Lincoln Park. Urith Galonsky, the daughter of Abraham Galonsky, has also been rumored to be considering a run for District 1.  Her dad, who has already sold La Casa del Nylon to the city for $2,300,000, triple its value, hopes to sell the city a 30 acre tract he owns next to the proposed location for the new Lincoln Park.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sossi Contradicts University of Texas Regents About Lincoln Park Sale

Southmost family enjoying Lincoln Park(11/9/14)
After the November 4 City Commission meeting, where the commission voted to sell Lincoln Park, 4-3, with Mayor Martinez breaking the tie, the UT Board of Regents met in El Paso November 5 & 6.  

A press release concerning the regent's meeting indicated they viewed their purchase of Lincoln Park as a done deal with an agreed upon price.  Notice the exact wording:  

"The property(Lincoln Park) is critical for the growth of the institution due to its size and proximity to the academic core of the campus; there is no alternative site of equal benefit available. The City of Brownsville has indicated that it plans to use the BARGAIN SALE proceeds to replace the park facilities at locations (note - plural) more convenient to the public.
Bargain Purchase Price: $6.5 million
Appraisal: Appraised by Aquire and Patterson, Inc. (July 23, 2014) market value range from $8,860,000-$9,360,000
Lease back at no cost to the City of Brownsville for a period not to exceed 5 years, so that the City of Brownsville will have time to construct alternate park facilities elsewhere."

City Attorney Mark Sossi, in his arguments before 138th District Judge
City Attorney Mark "It's Legal!" Sossi
Arturo C. Nelson, in a hearing November 19, is essentially telling the UT regents to "hold on."  His words before Judge Nelson, spoken with a straight face, were that the City Commission had merely endorsed a resolution to sell, but that the final price would have to be "negotiated" with the University of Texas based the cost of moving the amenities and fair market value for the property. That revelation may not sit well with the regents who've clearly and gleefully stated they agreed on a $6.5 million "bargain" purchase price.

Sossi used this cutesy approach to imply to Judge Nelson that the lawsuit to block the sale was premature because the City Commission merely resolved to enter into negotiations for a sale.  In other words, bull shit from Sossi.  Had the lawsuit not occurred, the city completes the transaction "as is." Has Sossi opened the door for negotiating a purchase price?

Pat Ahumada
Interestingly, much of the hearing was spent with Sossi and his legal cohort, Attorney William Deane, trying to break down the testimony of former Mayor Pat Ahumada, who performed an appraisal of Lincoln Park.  Sossi and Deane questioned why Ahumada used commercial property along the Interstate as comparables, not property downtown or nearer the park.  

Ahumada stated that he used comparables. "Downtown property is depressed," he observed. "Nothing close to the park was for sale."  He appraised Lincoln Park at a value of $11 million, exclusive of structures, utilities and paving, land only. He described his appraisal as "conservative."

"Have you ever appraised a park?" Deane asked Ahumada.  

"It doesn't matter." answered Ahumada.  "The developer or purchaser will use the land for whatever they can get zoning for, condominiums, single family residences or adding to the university.  An appraisal is based on 'best possible use.'"

Of course, the University of Texas system likely will not retain the property as a park either.

Why would Attorneys Deane and Sossi work so hard to break down Ahumada's appraisal of $11 million if the final purchase price for UT was yet to be negotiated?  Someone is not being honest here.

Judge Nelson recessed the court until a later, unspecified time.  He has several exhibits to study, including portions of the municipal code, a video of the town hall meeting and an Attorney General opinion from 1993.

Attorney Deane, weak in public speaking skills, could barely be heard.  He tried to make the argument that Commissioner Rose Gowen's side job was with UT-Houston, not UT-Brownsville.  Of course, the lawsuit did not state she worked for UT-Brownsville, but merely the UT System.  Judge Nelson seemed to pick up on that, saying:  "Aren't they all part of the UT System?"  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Hearing Concerning Legality of Lincoln Park Sale~November 19 at 9:00 AM

Judge Arturo Cisneros Nelson
Lincoln Park Hearing

138th District Court

Judge Arturo C. Nelson

974 E. Harrison Street

3rd Floor

Nov. 19 @ 9:00 AM

Our City's Insecurity: Paying for Awards, Accepting Second Class Treatment as Citizens

From the editor:  So insecure are we as a city that we paid big bucks for an "All-America City" award, beating out another lackluster settlement, the second place finisher in Texas, the City of Tyler. 

The taxpayers even footed the bill for a delegation of about forty to travel to Colorado to receive the accolade. Consumers are frequently told never to pay for any "prize" or "award," but our city leaders are not that savvy, easily duped. 

City Manager Charlie Cabler,
 after inking the deal with David
McCarthy of Community
Showcase Banners
Remember "Bannergate" of 2012 when Mayor Martinez was approached by David McCarthy of Community Showcase Banners at a mayor's convention to inform the mayor that the city was being recognized as one of "only 15 cities in the country" to be honored with the showcase banners.  Under the mayor's direction, City Manager Charlie Cabler signed off on the program and soon salespeople were approaching business owners carrying a letter from the city, asking the businesses to purchase banners "in support of the mayor."  The gold package went for $4,000.

Our city's insecurity is also reflected in our toleration of being treated as second class citizens. Symbolic of that treatment is the ban of the broadcast of public comments at city commission meetings.  While the words of wisdom of the mayor and commissioners are videotaped and broadcast, the switches are turned off as soon as the taxpayers come to the podium for the so-called Public Comment Period.  
Treatment of the citizens, taxpayers as second class was also in evidence at the recent town hall meeting on Lincoln Park.  The Tony Gonzalez Gymnasium had the feel of a 50's deep south movie theater on October 30 for that public meeting, with anglo men representing UT in the upper right quadrant, along with IBC's Fred Rusteberg, Chamber of Commerce President Maria C. Hall and Pastor Brad Burke. Southmost residents, much like the "coloreds' of yesteryear sat mostly behind and to the left of the movers and shakers.  When one speaker, District Attorney Luis Saenz, asked the privileged to turn and take one look at the disturbed citizenry, only one prima donna turned his neck around.

The chosen ones even had their own exclusive parking area as Mary Helen Flores found out when she tried to park her red and gray motor scooter close to the building.  

We're not saying that the UT regents or their counterparts set up the seating and parking arrangements. Those organizational decisions were made by locals setting up the meeting. But, the setup simply reinforced the concept of UT as hierarchy and the taxpayers as underlings.  The reality is that local taxpayers have overpaid for every bit of educational service from UT including not collecting $10,000,000 in promised rent with the University shielded by the Rene Oliveira loophole.

The University of Texas even allowed their hands to be tied when it came time to dispersing anything from the billions in P.U.F. funds.  A technicality was conveniently enforced to disqualify the TSC/UTB partnership from even a penny of those monies.

Another subtle hint that the people are less valued was the positioning of the microphone at the town hall meeting, facing the four commissioners and Irv Downing as if petitioning a tribunal.  When City Manager Charlie Cabler responded to my suggestion that the microphone be turned away from the majestive five, facing instead the 400 "public" of the public forum, Commissioner Ricardo Longoria, Jr. intervened:  "Charlie, Jim is not running this public forum.  I'm running this meeting."  Cabler returned the microphone to its original position.

Notably, two other speakers, District Attorney Luis Saenz and former Mayor Pat Ahumada, felt as I did and turned the microphone away from the four commissioners and UT rep Irv Downing toward the 400 citizens concerned about losing their park.

When will Brownsville citizens learn they deserve paved roads, sidewalks, even billing with politicians, the right to have their comments heard along with the mayor and commissioners, the right not to have their parks and assets committed to "deals" without their permission?  When will Brownsville's citizens no longer allow themselves to be treated as second class?

Monday, November 17, 2014

UT's Irv Downing, Mayor Tony Martinez At Odds Over Details of Lincoln Park Deal

UT Operative Irv Downing
It almost seemed as if the University of Texas had zero concern about fallout from unnecessarily taking a popular city park from the country's poorest community, a 90% Hispanic one at that.   Did UT lose its public relations acumen crossing the Nueces River?

Then, we learned that UT reps did indeed meet with some leaders of the "Save Lincoln Park" movement after the town hall meeting October 30.  

Irv Downing, a holdover official from the Juliet Garcia administration, is said to have attempted to smooth some of the ruffled feathers of Valley Interfaith and other like-minded citizens in a meeting held about a week ago.

"Mr. Downing explained that it was never the University's idea to absorb Lincoln Park," mentioned one activist who attended the meeting.  "That was the city's idea."

Of course, the ultra-rich University of Texas, once seeing and hearing the hurt, anguish and frustration expressed by half a hundred Southmost residents in a two and one half hour public meeting, could have simply backed out.  They still can.  

The irony is that Juliet Garcia, in a whirlwind tour of potential properties, took the UT Board of Regents to the East Avenue property where the city wants to relocate Lincoln Park.  The regents found the property unacceptable, likely holding their noses.

But, getting back to HOW Lincoln Park got included in the so-called deal to keep UT "downtown," let's allow Tony Martinez words from the February 25, 2013 City Commission meeting including the Lincoln Park resolution to speak for themselves:  

Mayor Tony Martinez
"The land offered last time (2/5/13 resolution) are two different parcels, the "Fish and Wildlife" you mentioned(22 acre tract next to Lincoln Park) and the 55 acre tract east of the expressway.  The University of Texas came back to us, to me, and said would we consider the 47 acre tract west of the expressway known as Lincoln Park."

So, while UT's Downing evidently told members of a community organization that the idea of transferring Lincoln Park originated with the city, Martinez states it was the University's idea.  

Assistant City Attorney John Chosy presented the action item:  2. Consideration and ACTION on Resolution Number 2013-022, clarifying property to be donated to the University of Texas system if a downtown location is selected for a campus. 
(Mayor Martinez and Commissioner R. Gowen) 

The "clarifying" was necessary because the first resolution, passed February 5,2013, did not include Lincoln Park, but only a "55.43 acre tract of land" and a "21.5 acre tract of land."  Martinez stated the 55 acres were "east of the expressway" and the 21.5 acres were the "Fish and Wildlife" tract.  Now, the University had informed Martinez they wanted neither, but instead, the 47 acre tract known as Lincoln Park.

Based on the wording of the resolution passed 2/5/13, coupled with Martinez' explanation, it appears that including Lincoln Park in the transfer was an idea originating with the University.

Assistant City Attorney John Chosy
John Chosy, before presenting the resolution, stated:  "We have not yet learned if donating land to the University is legal."  He asked that the phrase "if legally possible" be included in the resolution.  Martinez, cutting Chosy off before he could explain his rationale, said he respectfully disagreed and would not support including that language in the resolution.

District 1, Southmost, Turning into World War III As Galonsky's Daughter Considers Race for Commissioner

Nurith Galonsky
Dominating the Tony Martinez mayoral legacy is his dim-witted purchase of La Casa del Nylon for an exorbitant $2,300,000, triple its worth.  Despite the notoriety, former owner of the building, Abraham Galonsky, still smiles thinking about the sale, as does Horacio Barrera, Tony's law partner who hammered the deal out in "negotiations."  

Of course, Abraham has more property he hopes to sell the city, particularly a 30 acre tract adjacent to the smelly lot proposed for the New Lincoln Park, next to a sewage treatment plant.

Galonsky was one of a handful of speakers at the Town Hall Meeting held October 30 to speak out in favor of the sale of Lincoln Park.  As Galonsky left the Tony Gonzalez gymnasium he expressed his disappointment to Roman Perez, a vigorous opponent of the sale of the park, who has filed for City Commissioner, District 1:  "I was going to support you, but now I think I'll support Rick."  

Ricardo Longoria, Jr.
Of course, "Rick" is Ricardo Longoria, Jr., current District 1 City Commissioner. On November 4, Rick may have lost Galonsky's support as he voted "no" on the sale of Lincoln Park to the ultra-rich University of Texas system, after voting "yes" twice, February 5 and February 25. 

Rumblings are now being heard that indicate Abraham may have yet another option.  We've heard that his daughter, Nurith, who garnered an appointment to the P.U.B. Board in 2013, is considering a run for City Commissioner, District 1.

Certainly, Tony Martinez is salivating at the prospect of a Gowen, Chavez-Vasquez, Portillo and Galonsky quartet, giving him a clear majority on every issue coming before the City Commission.  Sometimes, when we think things are bad, we realize they could be worse.  

Sunday, November 16, 2014

"Remember Lincoln Park!" Is the Battle Cry As Five Brownsville Churches Hold "Accountability" Session

Lupita Moreno of Holy Family gave
a rousing speech about Lincoln Park
Valley Interfaith, a community organization rooted in the church, wants to work with public officials to improve life in Brownsville and Cameron County.

400 delegates from five Brownsville churches attended an "accountabilty" session at Christ the King Church on Southmost Road Sunday afternoon, November 16.

"We have been quiet too long," stated Brother Jason Rossignol, OMI, from St. Eugene de Mazenod Church on Austin Road.  
"And look at where that has left us.  Our kids walk home from school on unpaved streets or in the mud.  Crime is taking over the neighborhoods at nighttime in the colonias because no one can see what's going on.  And the city voted to sell Lincoln Park.  That is not what we want for our families. . . . We want to see a different city."
Tina Tetecatl:  "Are North
Brownsville kids different from
South Brownsville kids?"

Various speakers detailed problems that need attention, asking city officials attending for a simple "yes" or "no" answer, not a longwinded excuse.  Tina Tetecatl wants to walk to school on a sidewalk on McKenzie Road.  

Other speakers addressed lighting in the colonias, repaving streets, a stop light at Minnesota Avenue and Austin Road, neighborhood and park security and other issues.

"We're saying we're here, we know how to organize our neighborhoods, and you need to listen to what the people that elected you are saying.  We want the people elected to public office to be accountable to the people of the community," said Maribel Quiroz of the Holy Family Church.

Orlando Rodriguez, Alex Dominguez, Sofia
Benavides, Jessica Tetreau
The four officials pictured on the left were called to the microphone to respond to specific needs in the area they serve.  As stated above, they were asked to say "yes" or "no" as to whether they would respond to the requests submitted.

In a spirited "Call to Action," Lupita Moreno asked: "How many votes did Tony Martinez get last time? 3,000?  We need 4,000 this time to make our positions known. We need to 'Remember Lincoln Park!'"  

She said that already 1,000 had signed petitions calling for city government to be accountable on Lincoln Park and other issues.

The public officials attending:
County Commissioner Sofia Benavides
County Commissioner Alex Dominguez
City Commissioner Jessica Tetreau
Police Chief Orlando Rodriguez

Gowen Defends the Method but Not the Madness of Giving Away Lincoln Park!

Gowen, at the Town Hall
Meeting, but not listening
to the people.
In an article by the Brownsville Herald's Ty Johnson 11/18/14, a quote from the office of City Secretary Estela Von Hatten was cited:  “Commissioner Gowen ... does not believe that the University of Texas System, Board of Regents (or any University of Texas related entity) is, by definition, a “business entity” as that term is defined by Texas Local Government Code 171.001(2).
Town Hall Meeting at Tony Gonzalez
Gymnasium to Discuss Lincoln Park 

Gowen may very well be correct that her employment in a UT medical clinic does not disqualify her from voting on an issue involving UT, namely the gifting of Lincoln Park to the university system.  Of course, there are six other legal arguments in the lawsuit to be presented November 19 in Arturo Cisneros Nelson's 138th District Court to block the sale.  

There are also other moral, pragmatic and public service issues that need respectful attention despite the vote to sell, gift or convey the park.  These issues won't be heard by the 138th District Court, but we can reiterate them here.  In a way, our City Commission is on trial in the court of public opinion.

A question I've heard more than once since the 10/30/14 Town Hall meeting and the 11/4/14 vote to sell:  "What is the purpose of such a meeting if the city commissioners do not listen to the overwhelming will of the people?"  Of course, three of those who later voted to approve the sale did not bother to attend the town hall meeting.  Those three CHOSE not to listen to the people!  The one voting to sell who did attend, was there in body, not in spirit.
Gowen, Villarreal, Tetreau, Downing, Longoria

It was interesting to observe the gestures and body language of Commissioner Rose Gowen, who feigned disinterest, portrayed disgust, derision and disapproval as half a hundred citizens, most from Southmost, came forward to express their opposition to selling and moving Lincoln Park.  Experts in the field of kinesics or body language would have had a field day interpreting Gowen's body language.  At least twice her emotions got the best of her as she was heard to mutter "fucking dumbass" after District Attorney Luis Saenz' speech and "what a slob!" as Attorney Michael Cowen approached the microphone.  None of this boorish behavior surprises those who know or work with Gowen.(Enter "Gowen emails" in the search feature of this blog to read a series of articles in July 2014 sharing dispectful language used by Gowen to respond to citizen inquiries.)

One of the bigger issues, legal and pragmatic, is the University of Texas proving an actual need for the 48 acres of Lincoln Park.  They admit they have no current need, no proven need in 5 years or 10 years. The buildings UT currently occupies are underutilized.  Notice this comment from a UTB student:  "Ah, you hardly get what's really going on here. I've studied at UTB. Half of those rooms are empty. I walk past empty rooms every day on my way to class. Even before the old UTB/TSC faculty was laid off."

While the University of Texas system keeps referring to the eastern satellite campus of UT-RGV having 20,000 students, notice a portion of a comment place on Commissioner Deborah Portillo's Facebook page by TSC Trustee Trey Mendez:  "Further, the apparent rationale of the "gift" was for the expansion of the UT-RGV Campus in Brownsville. The popular explanation for the expansion argument is that the campus is set to hit 20,000 students by the year 2030. As of now, however, I have seen no concrete projections to show how anyone arrived at this number, making it nothing more than a fancy slogan. In fact, it is a similar slogan that was used in the late 90s, stating the campus would hit 20,000 students by 2010. 

At its peak, with dual enrollment and TSC students, the UTB campus never reached 20,000, the highest being about 14,000. According to the US News and World Report, the UTB campus currently has an enrollment of 7,547 students. Now, it faces various realistic barriers that will affect its growth. First and foremost is that the Brownsville university will have admission standards consistent with a UT System school. Unfortunately, many students graduating from local high schools are not college ready and will not meet these standards. Second, Texas Southmost College has continued the dual enrollment program with BISD, has lowered tuitions by about 35 % and has open admissions, making it a real asset for the students of Brownsville and its surrounding areas. Third, UT System officials have not actually stated what the role of the Brownsville campus will be and what programs it will house. Last, and certainly not least, is word out of College Station that A&M is planning some type of Campus in Weslaco. Even though I bleed UT orange, I can recognize that an A&M campus in the Valley will cut into the UTRGV market share."

Did you notice the current enrollment of the new school? 7,547
Here's another comment made my Mendez to Portillo, detailing the large holdings already acquired by the UT system on the Brownsville campus:
"With all due respect, I'm not aware of anything that our "sister cities" have given the UT System. You say that UTB doesn't "own that many buildings" in Brownsville, but they actually do.

They own everything between Ringgold (where the student union is) and University Blvd (where all the new buildings are, including the new library). This amounts to a huge part of the campus and hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of square feet worth of buildings. 

This infrastructure and improvements is easily worth over $100M, a lot of which was paid for by this community. They also own an undeveloped 70 or so acres on the "duckhead" (on the other side of the expressway by the soccer fields) which they had reserved for future expansion in their previous master plan. 

At this point, they cant justify the growth they claim they will have, nor have they provided any concrete data to support it. They now have admissions standards consistent with a UT System school. They also dont have BISD's dual enrollment students anymore, because TSC has taken that program over. Further, TSC has lower tuitions and open admissions. There's also a forthcoming A&M campus in the mid valley, and a growing Our Lady of the Lake branch. All this will cut into their market share. I bleed orange, but I have to also be a realist. The city needs both a community college and a university. Done right, both should thrive. Your heart is in the right place, but I respectfully disagree with this decision. 

One last thing: they wouldn't leave hundreds of millions worth of land and buildings because one of the poorest cities in the US asks them to pay fair market value for land where one of the cities best parks is currently housed."

Interestingly, when the City of Brownsville and UT officials set up the town hall meeting, they placed signage on the back walls outlining projected growth for UT-Brownsville, a now defunct entity.  When a student commenter called them out on this, the UT rep sheepishly admitted the posters were obsolete and misleading.  "We have no idea about the future needs of UT-RGV," he admitted.

For those interested in seeing how this whole matter develops, be reminded of the hearing at 9:00 AM, November 19 in the 138th District Court presided by Judge Arturo Cisneros Nelson.

Estela Chavez-Vasquez Gives Away the People's Park!

Brownsville/Matamoros Bridge 1936 Photograph~Sent by Reader

Brownsville/Matamoros Bridge, 1936
Erasmo de la Pena, Customs Official

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why Tony Martinez Does Not View Hispanic Voters As Equals

Mayor Tony Martinez
While flooding the city with a sea of blue "Believe in Brownsville" campaign signs, Attorney Tony Martinez did not himself believe in any Brownsville operative to run his campaign for mayor in 2011.  He reached out to James Aldrete, the founder of M.A.P., Inc. or Message, Audience, Presentation, an Austin advertising agency specializing in "communicating with Hispanics and African-Americans."  The ad agency chosen by Martinez evidently feels that the education level, tradition and lack of information of Hispanics necessitates that they be treated and approached differently from other Americans.   Does it seem odd, that Martinez, himself an Hispanic from Harlingen, would choose such a firm to run his campaign for mayor?

As M.A.P.'s website explains:  "The biggest challenge in communicating with Hispanics is not one of language only, but one of tone and approach. We have to recognize that those we most need to turnout are more apolitical and at an economic level that can often make politics and voting seem like a luxury."
James Aldrete, Founder of M.A.P.

The website continues, discussing what it refers to as the "New Latinos": "Spanish in Texas is for the most part an oral tradition, among a community that has low education levels. While Spanish print has made a comeback, it is important to keep it at a grade level that ensures the widest comprehension.

Aldrete discusses dealing with Hispanics, mentioning an "empowerment and educational component. No one likes to be embarrassed, and considering the low level of information most Hispanics have on political processes, basic information on how to participate is critical in overcoming issues of insecurity, fear and doubt."

If you find the remarks from the website racist and condescending, insulting to Hispanics, understand this was the publicly stated point of view of the advertising agency running Tony Martinez' first run for mayor.  Not only did Martinez not object to the apparently racist views expressed on the website, but Tony, evidently pleased with the approach and performance of Austin's M.A.P., gave the same agency $23,342.58 to organize his "State of the City" event in August 2013.

Martinez may also have shown that he felt Hispanic voters were incapable of processing information by giving them none during his initial campaign for mayor.

Tony's first 2011 campaign event was a meet and greet between his two businesses on Palm Blvd.  All of the political players in Brownsville seemed to be there.  A Tony Martinez sticker on your lapel got you a chicken plate and a Bud Light.  The most frequent sentiment expressed at the event?  "Tony is so rich he won't need any of our money!"  Of course, the reality is that the rich can't ever get enough money from the poor.

A female radio personality tried to summon everyone around a stage and join in "spontaneous" calls for Tony Martinez.  The DJ wanted the audience to shout out slogans for Tony.  No one cooperated.  Then, one of the young male campaign operatives took the microphone, but with only slightly better success.  He introduced Tony Martinez, his wife and family.  Tony spoke for a few minutes, saying only that he'd been a lawyer for forty years and believed in Brownsville. He closed with:  "If you enjoyed this, our next meet and greet will serve carne guisada!"  It was as if all the voters care about is being fed!

A couple weeks later we ventured out to an electric company on Alton Gloor.  Yes, carne guisada was served as promised.  We were given about a few minutes of the candidate's time.  I remember writing nothing on my note pad as he said essentially nothing except that he'd been a lawyer for 40 years and believed in Brownsville.  No information at all was given about his plans for the city as mayor.

At the April 19, 2011 UTB/TSC Mayor Candidate Forum Tony Martinez made his lone campaign promise.  He said the writing of a new city ethics code would be the "top priority" of his administration, should he be elected.  3-1/2 years later, the city is still waiting for that new ethics code and to be treated respectfully by the mayor, as equals. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Not Looking Good for Brownsville~Tony Sends Invitations for Re-election Fundraiser

From the editor:  Just received this note from a reader:

Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "Did Tony Martinez Get His Money's Worth?":

Evidently he got his money's worth; he's running for reelection. Just received an invitation to kickoff fund raiser in today's mail; unfortunately it was not accompanied with a large vasilene,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Deborah Portillo's Actions Contradict the Lofty Words of Her Website

Commissioner Deborah Portillo
A friend called this afternoon. He shared some of his insight about our city commissioners in general, Deborah Portillo in particular.

"Jim, forget Gowen and Tony for just a minute. We know what they're about and nothing will change them. But, I think our young commissioners just don't understand how they are perceived by the community," stated my friend.

"Can you access Deborah Portillo's Facebook page?" he asked. "Read what she entered on her status a few minutes ago."

I found the page and immediately got his point.

"That's horrible!" I said.  "How hypocritical!"

Young Deb was encouraging her Facebook audience to access a website,, doing so by November 15.  Well, here's the full statement from Portillo:
"I am so excited to see one of my projects come to fruition! Please, if you have not already, go to by November 15 and give us your feedback. We want this rebranding to be as inclusive as possible and a true representation of our wonderful community and all we have to offer. Comments/suggestions about our city website, logo, and everything else you feel needs improvement, would be greatly appreciated. Please take the time to complete this survey because without your insight, we won't be able to provide our constituents with the level of service they expect and deserve!" 

Let's see, Debbie.  Where do I start?  These are nice platitudes you've expressed, but your performance as City Commissioner is the EXACT OPPOSITE of the pretty words.

Debbie, we just had the most important town hall meeting Brownsville has had in years.  You did not have enough respect for the 300 citizens who came to even show your face.  You likely have ZERO knowledge of how they feel about the sale of Lincoln Park far below its actual value to the mega-rich University of Texas system.  Just to clue you in, they're 100% against it, but you CHOSE to not listen to their voices, let alone understand their reasons.

A thousand websites will not undue your public image as an unresponsive, unavailable, inexperienced commissioner.  All the Carlos Marin or Tony Martinez financial support you may expect will not erase that public perception.

Inclusion? That's laughable!  You want our feedback? Since when?  Our comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated?  Yeah, right.

Debbie.  You read a nice statement at a commission meeting a few weeks ago.  Whether or not those were your words, it took courage to even read them.  

But, you're not a commissioner of the people.  Not yet.  The citizens of Brownsville clearly spoke at the town hall meeting, but you were not listening. The four of you voting against the obvious wishes of the people betrayed them.  

"Self Awareness is having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Self Awareness allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in the moment." (Quote from Pathways to Happiness website)

A Reader Wants Rose Gowen Prosecuted for Undisclosed Conflict of Interest

From the editor:  Early this afternoon, I received an addition to my FB Timeline from Gmz Rosanna, as she is known on Facebook.  Her sentiments echo what I've been hearing from others:  They are hoping for a prosecution on the apparent undisclosed conflict of interest by Commissioner Rose Gowen.  

The impression is left, both by Mayor Tony Martinez and Commissioner Gowen, that all the bases were covered with City Attorney Mark Sossi before the agenda item was presented at the 11/4/14 City Commission meeting.(An interesting side point is that, while earlier agenda items on the proposed sale of Lincoln Park were presented by Sossi, this one was left for City Manager Charlie Cabler.  We understand he was not too pleased with being tossed the hot potato.)  Gowen is said to have given Sossi an earful after her apparent conflict of interest in being employed by the University of Texas was published on the blogs.

Mayor Tony Martinez
Notice Martinez own comments:

"We definitely would not have taken any action unless we conferred with legal(Sossi).  I'm confident that everything we did was within the realm of the law."

Below is the timetable comment from Gmz Rosanna:

Commissioner Gowen
Venting thoughts only. Is Rose Gowen Brownsville's version of Harlingen's Kori Marra?

Below is a tidbit of a VMS article. Reading the article, I see a similarity in the state conflict of interest law: Gowen failed to file an affidavit. Whereas: Marra did not vote, Gowen did. 

Question: Will charges now be brought against Gowen? . Again these are my thoughts only-
VMS-BROWNSVILLE — Two Class A misdemeanor charges have been filed against Harlingen City Commissioner Kori Marra alleging conflict of interest/failure to file an affidavit.
The charges stem from a Sept. 1, 2010, City Commission meeting in which commissioners considered extending a special assessment for downtown businesses. Marra’s real estate office is located within the downtown taxing district.
No vote was taken at that meeting, but under state conflict of interest law, officials are not permitted to discuss an item in which they have an interest. Officials are required to file an affidavit if they have an interest in an item before the governing body, under state conflict of interest law.

Central Police Substation to Be Located Downtown, bcWorkshops Allowed to Work Out Their Rent

A police substation will be located in the trio of cubicles along E. 11th Street according to Downtown Redevelopment Officer Ramiro Gonzalez.   Gonzalez anticipates the new substation to be operational "by the first of the year."

"Commander (Henry) Etheridge was not sure the building would be suitable when he saw it before remodel, but, after seeing what we've done with it, he feels it fits their needs," stated Gonzalez.

Gonzalez feels the police presence "on the street" will give patrons of downtown a feeling of security.  

"In time the officers will recognize all of those who normally frequent downtown.  Someone new will be obvious."

The police substation will occupy the space at the north end of the trio of small spaces.  The middle room will be open for use by city boards and other meeting groups by reservation.

The southernmost building of the trio is occupied by bcWorkshops,
a non-profit that recently requested $208,000 from the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation to connect the landscaping of the Battlefield and Belden Hike & Bike Trails.

Omar Hakeem, bcWorkshops Director
When we stopped recently at 609 E. 11th to check the remodeling work inside, we were met at the door by Omar Hakeem, bcWorkshops Director who said gruffly:  "What do you want?"

Hakeem physically blocked the doorway, preventing us from taking a closer look at the completed remodeling.  

"You need to check your facts before writing stories that are inaccurate," young Omar stated.  

When I mentioned that I'm always open to correcting factual errors, Hakeem mentioned what was bothering him:  "You make it seem like we're doing nothing for our rent here.  We provide real services."

What seemingly angered Mr. Hakeem was our 10/29/14 article, where we shared the copy of the lease agreement between the City of Brownsville and bcWorkshops, where the non-profit agreed to pay $800 per month or $9,600 per year to lease the space at 609 E. 11th.  The city agreed to take care of utilities, taxes and maintenance.  

Another part of the agreement that we shared in that article showed that the City of Brownsville would, in turn, pay bcWorkshops $9,600 per year for the services mentioned below.  If this is incorrect, Omar Hakeem is welcome to email me:

COMPENSATION: The City of Brownsville agrees to pay bcWORKSHOP $9,600 annually for planning, architectural services and community capacity building including gallery exhibits, curated panel or speaker series and coordination of pubic use of the common meeting space. Any services or benefit over and beyond the $9,600 will be treated as pro bono services to the COB. Payments will be made quarterly to bcWORKSHOP in equal portions. The annual work plan shall be determined prior to the beginning of the COB fiscal year and agreed upon by the COB Planning and Zoning Director and bcWORKSHOP. Any new work arising during the year will be agreed to by the COB and bcWORKSHOP prior to the beginning of any project.


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