Monday, July 20, 2015

The Public Information Officer~Release, Block or Spin?

District Attorney's Office PIO, Melissa (Zamora) Landin,
Adorned by Sunflower
Former Texas Attorney General, current Governor Greg Abbott, addresses his fellow Texans in the 2014 Public Information Law Handbook:  

"This notion of openness is the foundation for Texas open government laws, and it was the motivation for the enactment of the Public Information Act (PIA) more than four decades ago. The PIA enshrines Texans’ right to access the information that governmental bodies produce—and outlines the process by which the public can request that information and how governmental bodies should respond."

The dearth of information published in the Brownsville Herald about corruption, ineptitude and cronyism within City of Brownsville and Cameron County government only adds value to the Public Information Act as a vehicle to find out what's going on. With this story we will detail some of the public information options Brownsville citizens have used to gain access to information about city and county government.

For years, City Secretary Estela Von Hatten handled Public Information requests expeditiously, although our final request just before her resignation to ascertain the usage of the $11,296 left over from the $48,986.98 of taxpayer, ratepayer and Tourist Bureau monies spent on Tony Martinez' 2013 State of the City event went unfulfilled.  We suspect our arrogant mayor simply ignored the request.  The Brownsville Herald did report his last comments on that eleven thousand dollar balance:

“It’s going to stay there, for right now,” he said, suggesting it might be used for sustainability efforts, but noting that it ultimately will go where it will make the greatest impact. “We’ll need to prioritize a little bit. It doesn’t go a long way if you spread it out.”

As we've reported on this blog, new City Secretary Michael L. Lopez has been equally gracious so far in responding to public information requests.  An excerpt from our MMB story in May:

"Seeking some answers, my grandson Jack and I approached the clerk window at the City Secretary's office Monday morning to request an "inspection" of Rick Longoria's 2015 Campaign Finance Reports. In short order we were invited inside the cubicle to City Secretary Micheal L. Lopez' office. We were directed to a table adjacent to the secretary's desk displaying the documents. I photographed each sheet, thanked Mr. Lopez and his office for their courtesy and left."

Drue Brown, BISD Public
Information Officer
Drue Brown, BISD's Public Information Officer, has responded to all our requests. Typically, we've received a hard copy answer within ten business days in the form of a letter from BISD Attorney Miguel Salinas.  

One request, for the two reports on three BISD bus fires, was denied, but just days after we forwarded a copy of our challenge to the Attorney General Greg Abbott, we received copies of the report. 
Salinas did not even wait for the AG's opinion.

Below is a copy of our letter to the Texas Attorney General:

Honorable Greg Abbott
Office of the Texas Attorney General
300 W. 15th Street
Austin, TX 78701

Dear General Abbott:

My Public Information Request to the Brownsville Independent School District No. 7630 has been forwarded to your office for a ruling.

My request was to receive copies of two reports regarding the cause or causes of two BISD school bus fires within a single week in October 2013 involving 30 and 29 students respectively. One report was prepared by an independent team hired by theInternational Corporation, Navistar, the manufacturer of the buses involved. The other report was prepared by an independent inspector or inspection team hired by BISD.

Ten business days after my request I received a letter from BISD Staff Attorney Miguel Salinas informing me of that an Attorney General opinion was being sought. Fifteen business days after my request I received a letter citing the Litigation Exception from the Texas Government Code as a suggested basis for not granting my request.

In the DISCUSSION section of the second letter dated June 18, 2014, Staff Attorney Salinas mentions the two October fires and yet another fire, April 10, 2013. Then Salinas states: "First, Litigation had been contemplated since the November 2014 draft report(I assume he meant November 2013) was received and long before the subject request of May 29, 2014. Secondly the information at issue is intricately and specifically linked to the contemplated litigation."

With all due respect, "contemplated litigation" could be used to deny every single Public Information Request. Obviously, no litigation has actually been initiated, not with regard to the two October 2013 school bus fires, not the earlier April 2013 fire. BISD has released no information reassuring parents or taxpayers that correction action has been taken to prevent recurrence.


Jim Barton 

A few days after sending the above letter, we received certified mail from BISD Attorney Miguel Salinas with a cover letter stating that BISD had withdrawn their challenge to our Public Information Request and copies of the two reports.  

Former City of Brownsville Public Information
Officer, Patty Gonzalez
Accidentally, we learned about a change in the way information was dispensed by the City of Brownsville.  We were in the former office of Heritage Officer/Downtown Director/Movie Guru Peter Goodman.  Peter hinted at some prospective developments with the old Stegman Building on East 11th Street.  When I asked a few questions, he picked up the phone and dialed someone in the city, then came back to me in conversation.
"Jim, we have a new policy," Peter stated.  "From now on all information on city projects comes through our new Public Information Officer, Patty Gonzalez.  Here is her number."

That was the first I'd heard about Gonzalez, although I did call her number a couple times after that.  Her actual role as a spinmeister became very obvious before the hearing at Tony Gonzalez Park about the proposed sale of Lincoln Park.  Young Ms. Gonzalez totally twisted the legal necessity of the public hearing from "whether or not to sell Lincoln Park" into "what amenities would you like to see in the new, relocated Lincoln Park?"  Admittedly, that was not her idea.  Yet, it was a total sham, nearly as much so as Commissioner Rick Longoria's narration of a not-so-slick video detailing P.U.B.'s odor control capabilities that would be utilized on the new Lincoln Park adjacent to a sewer treatment plant.  Both efforts stunk to high heaven.  Gonzalez has since moved on. Unfortunately, Rick is still with us.  Lol!

Like his predecessor, Armando Villalobos, District Attorney Luis V. Saenz, felt the need for someone to chronicle his accomplishments and goals, hiring former City Commissioner Melissa (Zamora) Landin.  Press releases, written by Landin, were sent to media sources within and outside Cameron County.  Our request to be included in that list was met by the stiff upper arm of Saenz/Landin.  Here is the response to our request:  

Good morning,

It is the policy of the DA’s Office to not include bloggers on the official media distribution list. However, all press released are available to the public via the DA Web site which are immediately posted upon distribution. I re-designed the DA Web site early last year to make it user-friendly. Prior to January 2013, press releases were not posted and much of the information now available on our Web site was unavailable.

Below is a list of media outlets I e-mail press releases to:
The Brownsville Herald
The Valley Morning Star
The Monitor
San Benito News
La Feria News
Los Fresnos News
Rio Hondo News
Port Isabel Press
The Collegian
The Raymondville Chronicle
Edinburg Review
Houston Chronicle
San Antonio Express News
The Associate Press
El Bravo
Periodico Expreso
Periodico El Manana
KVEO News Center 23
Ch. 4 (CBS)
Ch. 5 (ABC)
Fox (RGV)
My Leader News
My Harlingen News

Rio Grande Guardian

Thank you,

Melissa Zamora
Public Information Officer/Special Projects
Cameron County District Attorney’s Office
District Attorney Luis V. Saenz
(956) 550-1414

What was especially interesting about young Ms. Landin's explanation is that, while she claims that "bloggers" are not included in the official media distribution list, she includes two Harlingen blogs, My Leader News and My Harlingen News, written by Jerry Deal and Tony Chapa respectively.  It's not that the "press releases" written by Ms. Landin would be of any substance, but it's simply nauseating and juvenile that the Saenz office would seek to control the flow of information in that way.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Running for 2016 Since 2012~"The Art of Self-Promotion" by Luis V. Saenz

Reminding us of the Texas colloquialism "all hat, no cattle," District Attorney Luis V. Saenz never did quite "cut off the head of the snake" of Cameron County political corruption as promised by his 2012 Campaign Manager Zeke Silva.

If that snake's head were indeed Ernie Hernandez, Saenz issued wrist slaps softer than a feather duster while Ernie's underling, Raul Salazar, appears headed to jail for his part in illegally getting a job for Ernie's brother-in-law.

Saenz craves publicity, but only the controlled, sanitized species issued through mouthpiece Melissa (Zamora) Landin, praising his accomplishments, stopping just short of a nomination for sainthood.

Bishop Daniel Flores
The PR surrounding Operation Bishop, a blitzkrieg fueled by Bishop Daniel Flores lament that the 8-liners were drying up Catholic collection plates, gave the operation the look and feel of General Eisenhower's tactics at the beach of Normandy.  The actual depth or shallowness of Saenz' commitment to eradicating the sin of gambling is illustrated in the sale of the gambling devices, allowing them to resurface in Starr County to destroy churches one hundred miles away.  Ironically, some of the monies recovered may have been used to pay Landin's unbudgeted cheerleader salary.

Saenz Peers at his Milk Cow, Amit Li
Former fugitive Amit Livingston must feel like a prized Guernsey, as frequently as Saenz has milked the story of his on/off extradition.  Until recently, only two or three Google alerts have detailed any developments in the Livingston case over several years, none mentioning a Saenz involvement in the extradition process.  As reported by El Rrun Rruns' Juan Montoya, DA Saenz flew to Houston to board Amit Livingston's plane, opportunistically maximizing the PR.  Saenz was there to "steady the Ark of the Covenant," should the prisoner transfer between the marshalls and the Cameron County Sheriff's department wobble or falter.  At the subsequent Saenz press conference following the transfer, the district attorney, flanked by huge information cards, detailing the time line of developments, took credit for the process.

Melissa (Zamora) Landin
There is no need for Luis Saenz to announce his candidacy for 2016.  He's been running 24/7 since 2012, using the trappings of his office and a loquacious Public Information Officer squeezed into the budget.

More Satire from "Papers and Trash" Blog

"All You Young Black Men, Pull Up Your Pants!"
Helping Out in Brownsville

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dr. Lily F. Tercero, President of Texas Southmost College: After the Honeymoon

Dr. Lily F. Tercero, a bean counter or Chief Financial Officer for Alamo Community College in San Antonio, was hired in 2012 as President of Texas Southmost College.

The cautious, but extended grace period given Tercero came largely because she was not Juliet Garcia, whose cost overruns and grandiosity at the helm of what was the University of Texas at Brownsville will oppress Brownsville taxpayers and their offspring until 2034.

Tercero, as leader of the stand alone community college, TSC, has been a dud.  Few fault her work ethic, but see her as a workaholic without vision.

Tercero's connection and allegiance to Dr. Leonardo de la Garza, formerly of Dynamic Campus, is unethical and likely illegal.  Old crony Leonardo has racked up over $200,000 in consulting fees from TSC, while helping steer over $10,000,000 of business to his old firm, Dynamic Campus.  The resulting E-book technology has not been well received by students, being not only expensive, but reminiscent of the English used in maintenance manuals for Japanese motorcycles.

Complaints of a "brain drain," with skilled faculty departing TSC have been attributed to micromanagement by a so-called "slave driver."  Sour grapes?  Possibly.  Only those actually in the trenches can assess the current morale, but there are whispers of discontent and Tercero sets the tone.

Tercero's current contract extends through 2016 with an annual salary of $210,000.   

Saturday, July 4, 2015

In the Spirit of Charles Stillman, We Present IBC's Fred Rusteberg, Brownsville Opportunist

In the pole position for the race to develop the FM 550 industrial corridor and to reap short-term profits by scattering polluting liquefied natural gas plants from the the Port of Brownsville to the city limits of Port Isabel is IBC's congenial president, Fred Rusteberg.

While my eleven year old checks read International Bank of Commerce, Rusteberg's IBC is not actually an international bank.  It does not even have any branches in Mexico, let alone any other country.  It is essentially a Texas outfit with two small branches in Oklahoma. This reality may have spurred the bank's name change to International Bancshares Corporation.  The corporation's website refers to "generations" of depositors in Mexico and "relationships with prominent correspondent banks in Mexico." Read into that what you will.

If IBC is the financial engine for Rusteberg's ambition, United Brownsville, a behind-the-scenes, unelected, but actually Brownsville's real City Commission, once declared as "informal," by City Attorney Mark Sossi, not bound by requirements of the Public Information Act, is the control mechanism used by Rusteberg and his cronies, Carlos Marin and Juliet Garcia, to organize and profit from industrial development in the region.

Rusteberg, Marin and Garcia couldn't ask for a more pliant, cooperative and subservient City Commission.  At a City Commission meeting March 4, 2014, the commission yielded control of the industrial corridor to Imagina Matamoros (a copycat of United Brownsville), the damn City of Harlingen and, of course, United Brownsville in a 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)"


Self-Portrait by Josie del Castillo