Tuesday, September 29, 2015

saveRGVfromLNG to Meet at Galeria 409 Thursday, Oct 1 @6:00 PM

CORRECTION:  saveRGVfromLNG Brownsville Team will be meeting THIS THURSDAY Oct 1Oct 1, 6 pm, at the Galeria 409 Art Gallery, 409 E 13th Street, DowntownBrownsville.  The event Facebook Page is at:  https://www.facebook.com/events/173145206354530/

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Friday, September 25, 2015

"Orale, Charlie!" Just Not At the Brownsville/Olmito Sports Park

Chutzpuh, The "C" Is Silent, 
But Charlie Isn't

shameless audacity; impudence.

synonyms: audacitycheek, guts, nerve, boldness, temerity
"it took a lot of chutzpah for her to walk in on Owen's bachelor party"

Charlie Clark, formerly the Green Ghost, who, with his not-so-cleverly named sidekick, Mexi-Can, roamed the back roads of Weslaco and Harlingen fighting crime and diabetes, now fills Brownsville driveways with Nissans, cute efficient Japanese cars we used to call Datsuns. Remember the Datsun Bluebird?  I didn't think so.

But Clark was in a different mindset when he allegedly approached our inexperienced City Commission with a fistful of dollars and the crass notion of renaming the sports park adjacent the Interstate across from Olmito, the Charlie Clark Nissan Sports Park. Actually, it would be a package deal with the road entering the park also renamed, Charlie Clark Nissan Boulevard.

Brownsville Toyota During Construction
Brownsville Herald Photo
There were two problems with the alleged Clark proposition to the city.  Brownsville Toyota had located on the frontage road bordering the sports park.  How would the city's image as hospitable to new business be enhanced by allowing a corporation to sink millions of dollars into an enterprise, only to have an adjacent street and park named for a competitor?

Secondly, the sports park was not in the control of the City Commission.  The Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation had been expending nearly half of their 4B funds for nearly a decade, paying the debt service and maintaining the park. It's not that the BCIC wouldn't appreciate a little financial relief from the City Commission, but, "you have to pay to play."

County Commissioner David Garza: "Public Input Only for Special Meetings"

County Commissioner David Garza
Sometimes a politician will let it slip how he really feels about his constituents, the lowly taxpayers. At Thursday's meeting of the County Commissioner's Court, there was some consideration of changing the meeting times to the afternoon so more of the public could attend.

“Sometimes we have days where we’d like to have more public input,” Pct. 2 Commissioner Alex Dominguez reportedly said according to the Brownsville Herald. “The courtroom is full of county employees.”

Pct. 3 Commissioner David Garza countered that  public input is one of the reasons that special meetings existed.

“We could have special meetings at any time for a special purpose,” Garza said.  

In other words, Garza does not find public input particularly important.  He only wants to hear from the taxpayers on "special" occasions.

Oh, by the way, the commissioners did decide to change the meeting time, but not to the more publicly accessible afternoon. Meetings will still be at 8:45 AM, but on Tuesdays instead of Thursdays.  

Thursday, September 24, 2015

First Employee Salaries, Now the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art Wants Mortgage Payment

New BMFA Director Rene van Haaften
In a classic demonstration of "squeaking wheel gets the grease," the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art had the audacity on March 4, 2014 to approach the City Commission about paying salary for four new hires, costing taxpayers $139,000 the first year with Assistant City Manager Pete Gonzalez making the pitch.

Commissioner Rick Longoria was not amused:  

"The general fund, Pete? You and I go back a long ways and you've always been fiscally conservative. I know I'm going to be outvoted on this, but I just want to be on record as saying that this is going to open a Pandora's box.  Other entities are going to come after us for money."

Not sure about an opening of Pandora's box, but the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art is certainly not bashful about harvesting taxpayer dollars.  Progressively through 2015, BMFA Director Rene van Haaften has been panhandling the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation for $200,000 to make mortgage payments.  It's not like the BCIC hasn't been extraordinarily generous over the years with this particular museum.  Earlier in 2014 they shelved out $35,425 to help out with the King Tut exhibit.

But the request by the BMFA for help with the mortgage, crass as it seems on the surface, had other, more distasteful components.   The figure of $200,000 for back rent was not simply out of thin air, but aimed at the BCIC's discretionary fund, yes, you guessed it, currently at $200,000.  Paying up the BMFA's  house payments would leave the BCIC without a discretionary fund balance, further strapping the "quality of life" entity that already has its funds cut in half by the financing and maintenance of the Brownsville/Olmito Sports Park.

But, there are other distasteful elements of this story.  The BCIC was given the distinct impression that the Meadows Foundation was on board to match the BCIC contribution.  Not so.  Then, a City Commission meeting agenda item entertained the notion of matching the BCIC's $100,000 with their own $100,000. Tabled. 
It seems the BCIC, totally dependent on taxpayer dollars is being saddled with the full $200,000 to catch up the museum.  Oh, wait! Another proposal for the BCIC!  
Buy 50,000 museum tickets for $200,000, allowing BISD students to visit the museum.  The fly in that ointment is that the museum requires each child to be in the company of an adult.  50,000 free tickets for children requires the purchase of 50,000 adult tickets at a minimum of $10.00 per ticket.  Seemingly, there is no end to the art of milking taxpayer dollars to fund this museum.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Who's Paying for A City of Brownsville Delegation to Washington, DC for the Pope's Visit?

We've heard that a delegation from the City of Brownsville is accompanying Mayor Tony Martinez on a trip to Washington, DC to see the pope.  If that trip is being financed by Martinez, a man of some means, so be it.  If City Manager Charlie Cabler, whose salary is roughly fourteen times the average per capita income of  Brownsville residents, went along for the ride and wrote a check for the group's travel, hotel and eats, I'm fine with that.

What would be disgusting, inexcusable and morally wrong would be if a contingent from the city of Brownsville went to see the pope, a trip totally not related to their work with the City of Brownsville, irrelevant to making the lives and the city better for the hardworking taxpayers of the nation's poorest city AND allowed those same taxpayers to foot the bill.

I submitted a Public Information Request to City Secretary Michael L. Lopez asking how this trip was financed and for a list of Tony's entourage. 

BISD Police/Student Incident Raises Questions

BISD Police Chief Oscar Garcia
An incident last month at Pace High School involving a student and a BISD police officer has raised questions. We are sending a Public Information Request to BISD Public Information Officer Drue Brown and will share the response on the blog once it's received.

"Contemplated litigation" has already been ruled not a satisfactory reason for withholding information.

Our concerns are: 

Is Officer Mark Cheramie a probationary employee?
Is there a policy in place for dealing with a BISD law enforcement officer who handles a situation inappropriately?
Does that policy involve suspending an officer with or without pay or transferring said officer to another school? 

TCOLE,  the Texas Commission on Law Enforcment, has certain requirements involving law enforcement entities formulating and adhering to policy in these matters.  Violators can face a heavy fine.

Monday, September 21, 2015

GBIC Board Meeting, 9/21/15: San Diego Developer Makes A Pitch to Promote North Brownsville Industrial Park

John Villarreal, Sam Marasco,  Jason Hilts
The North Brownsville Industrial Park, $4.2 million spent, 73 acres, 11 sites with full utilities, last saw action at its ribbon-cutting four years ago.  It sits idle, unused, unwanted, another GBIC failure reminiscent of Titan Tire.  Knowledgeable truckers, either loading or unloading in Brownsville, frequent it as a free overnight stop, before moving on down the road.

Enter Sam Marasco of LandGrant Development, a lawyer with a lapsed law license, but a ton of real estate experience and tangible results in large scale commercial real estate projects on the border with $400,000,000 capitalization, introduced by BEDC Director Jason Hilts during Agenda item #3 at Monday's GBIC Board Meeting.  

GBIC Board Meeting, 9/21/2015
Marasco, said to already be working on a downtown mall in Brownsville, is intrigued by the industrial park.  He wants assurance from the GBIC, that if he spends time and money attracting vendors, doing a feasibility study, he will be given "exclusivity and confidentiality" until he and the board can agree on a contract to move forward.

Las Americas Outlet Mall, San Ysidro, CA
One of Marasco's more successful projects, Las Americas Outlet Mall, sits in San Ysidro, CA, just outside San Diego. Marasco feels he has a "skill set" to make border projects work, but indicates success requires a "stable political scene.

A more problematic project for Marasco was the Mercado Project at Barrio Logan.  Marasco, after obtaining the land for a mere $100,  ran into difficulty, including lawsuits and no work completed on the project after years.  3-400 jobs promised and $307 million in revenue to the city did not materialize.  The City of San Diego, disputing Marasco'sownership of the property entered into agreement with Shea Properties, who eventually produced a multi-use residential and commercial complex winning design awards.

Just before the GBIC went into Executive Session to talk over an agreement with Marasco, Board Member Ed Sikes expressed hesitancy to enter into anything creating "liability" for the board. City Attorney Mark Sossi, who receives $5,000 per month to lawyer for the board, assured Sikes that the modifications he'd made to the contract guaranteed that both the board and Marascos could "walk away from the deal without liability."

Commissioner Debbie Portillo read a prepared statement in support of the GBIC working with Mr. Marasco.  Essentially, she said she'd seen such partnerships work in the past.  Commissioner John Villarreal said he'd attended the ribbon-cutting for the industrial park, but not seen any progress since then.  He praised Marascos skill in working through problems "on another project with the city."

Footnote:  The original Agenda item #3 for the 9/18 meeting concerned Jacobs Engineering and the Small Area Plan.  At the 9/21 meeting, Zeke Silva spoke against the plan and its Phase II price tag during Public Comment.  But, the board had replaced Jacobs Engineering with the San Diego developer, Sam Marasco in the Agenda #3 slot.  Later, when I told a board member that we expected to hear from Oscar Garcia, Jr. during Agenda item #3, the reply was:  "We're so tired of him."    

Sculptured in the South Padre Island Sand

"Strange Sky This Evening" by Diego Lee Rot

"Brain Surgery for Dummies" by Ben Carson

Republican Presidential Candidate Ben Carson

Sunday, September 20, 2015

As Oscar Prepares His Presentation, GBIC Reschedules Meeting, Changes Critical Wording of Agenda Item #3

Carlos Marin of Ambiotec, Co-Author of the $900,000
Imagine Brownsville Comprehensive Plan
Developmental planning and the implementation of that planning has become a veritable, but comical money pit for local taxpayer and ratepayer supported entities. This incredible waste of taxpayer monies may have started in 2009 with the Imagine Brownsville Comprehensive Plan costing the City of Brownsville approximately $900,000 with Pat Ahumada, the mayor at the time, estimating city labor involved in formulating the plan may have doubled the actual cost.  Not a single sidewalk was built or palm tree planted based on the costly plan, copies of which now sit on City of Brownsville shelves, dusty, dated and worthless.

Mean Mister Brownsville with Robin McCaffrey in 2013
In 2013, Robin McCaffrey of Needham, McCaffrey and Associates, Inc., who along with Ambiotec's Carlos Marin, created the Imagine Brownsville plan, sold the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, along with the Port of Brownsville and the Public Utilities Board yet another plan, the Greater Brownsville Infrastructure & Development Plan for $454,592.08.  The actual cost of the plan did not even come up in the GBIC meeting where it was approved.  We only learned the final amount after three weeks pursuing former GBIC board member Ruben Gallegos, Jr.

In yet another attempt to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money, at the June 19, 2014 GBIC Board Meeting, the BEDC's Jason Hilts introduced Agenda Item 8: Discussion an action on the implementation of the small area plan.

Oscar Garcia, Jr., in 2014, After Being Introduced by
Jason Hilts as Jacobs Engineering's Project Engineer
What this turned out to be was a request for another $750,000 plan to "implement" the $454,592 plan purchased a year earlier.  Jacobs Engineering, the winning bidder and, according to Hilts, the only company to respond to the RFQ, Request for Quotation, was kind enough to offer the plan to be financed in three phases.  The GBIC, Port of Brownsville and the Public Utilities Board chose to initially finance Phase I at a cost of $185,000.  Hilts also introduced to the GBIC Board, Oscar Garcia, Jr., a well-known Carlos Marin puppet, as Jacobs Engineering choice as Project Engineer.

In his role as "Project Engineer," young Garcia has been busy trying to get the taxpayers to pay for Phase II of the implementation plan of the development and infrastructure plan for an additional $407,000.  It has been tough sledding for Oscar.  After being turned down by the BEDC, the persistent engineer appeared before the City Commission with his hand out for the $407,000.  Still, no cigar!

Fast forward to the GBIC Board Meeting, originally scheduled for September 18, 2015. The agenda hinted at yet another attempt by young Garcia to finance his "engineering."  Agenda item #3 read:  Presentation:  Small Area Plan-Jacobs Engineering.

Certainly, this presentation would be made by Jacobs Engineering's Project Engineer, Oscar Garcia, Jr.  But, just before time for the meeting, this notice appeared on the GBIC website:

Later, an agenda for the rescheduled meeting appeared on the GBIC website with some subtle changes in the agenda.  

This time, Agenda item #3 is not merely a presentation, but:
Discussion & Action to approve a contract with a master developer for a research, engineering & commercial park.

The vague wording of the original 9/18 agenda may have been the reason for the meeting's postponement.  Actually, the person posting the new 9/21 agenda gives that away with their description of the new posting, not as a changed time, but as "GBIC Agenda changed."(Sometimes, when you copy a file, the file's original title will appear.)  So, even though Jacobs Engineering is not mentioned in the revised wording of the agenda item, we can fully expect this to be another attempt to spend $407,000 of taxpayer dollars on Phase II of the plan to implement a plan.

Volunteers Seeking Signatures Against West Rail Road

Volunteer Seeking Signatures of Those
Opposed to West Rail Road
The Cameron County Regional Mobility Authority, finally over their obsession with a toll road from the B & M Bridge to just past the Hwy 77 Flea Market at Olmito, is now pushing for a "Palm Boulevard" type road with bicycle access, to run the 8 miles now occupied by the Union Pacific Railroad lines.  

The previously pushed toll road project was dumb on so many levels, but fueled largely because the CCRMA had money burning a whole in its pocket, in other words, federal funding in place.  County Judge Carlos Cascos told me in 2010: "The toll road WILL be built.  The money has already been allocated."

The project was shelved for common sense reasons:  

1. West Brownsville residents would simply not pay a dollar to go to the flea market when they could get there free of charge just as easily.
2. The B&M Bridge is not suitable for truck or heavy vehicle traffic.

Now, the proposed "boulevard" with bicycle lanes is receiving still opposition from the "Friends of the West Rail Trail."  Two canvassers approached me Saturday, while we were visiting our son in West Brownsville, seeking signatures on a petition to block the proposed road and create an exclusive hike & bike trail on the old Union Pacific Line.

"How many signatures do you have so far?" I asked one of the volunteers.

"Already, we have 2,500, but we hope to get at least 5,000," she responded.

Opponents of the road feel it would bring unnecessary noise and pollution to an older, historic section of the city. Also, they do not trust bike lanes as safe for kids to ride to Skinner, Pullum and Benavides Elementary, Pace High School, IDEA Riverside and TSC-ITECC. They point to the bike lanes on Boca Chica Boulevard and Ruben Torres, that they feel have become merely "right turn lanes" as illustrative of the dangers of that approach.

A "Rally for the West Rail Trail" has been scheduled for Saturday, September 26 @ 6:30 PM at Oliveira Park, 104 El Paso Road.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Surprise! Surprise! State Representative Rene' Oliveira Supports LNG

Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation Meeting Rescheduled for 9'21/15 @ 12:00 PM

Oscar Garcia, Jr. of Jacobs Engineering 
to present "Small Area Plan"

The Hard Work of Doling Out $5,000,000 Annually in Taxpayer Dollars

We've detailed on this blog the diversion of tax dollars into economic development and quality of life projects, the so-called 4A and 4B monies.  Back in 2012 Brownsville's both the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporations received approximately $4,500,000 each.  

Entrance of Sports Park Behind Brownsville Toyota
For the last several years the BCIC has not had full discretion with its monies with almost half already committed to debt service and annual maintenance of the Brownsville/Olmito Sports Park.  That was one of the issues likely acted on yesterday at the BCIC, but we were not able to stay for that agenda item to be discussed.

$79,786 was also requested by various organizations, typically as promotional or advertising money for some event.  Beerfest, for example, got $5,000 to advertise their annual event, as did Charro Days.  Does it surprise you that two obviously successful events, one decades old, rely on tax dollars for their initial advertising boost?  They apply because they can and it's so-called "free money," that is, taxpayer money, from the poorest city in the United States.

Even the City Manager's office gets in on the freebies with a $5,000 request for "My Brother's Keeper Community."  The Brownsville Wellness Coalition gets their $5,000 for a "Share the Love 5K" and Costumes of Americas gets $5,000 to advertise at the Harlingen Airport, etc.

All of the requests on the slide above were approved except one, bcworkshops, although three items had to be tabled until the next dispersement cycle.  

City of Brownsville Grant Writers
The City of Brownsville's Grants Coordinator and two grant writers gave a presentation/request for $75,960 over 4 years, $30,150 the first year to purchase a subscription with a grant finding software company, eCivis. Until now, the city's grant writers had used the software Grant Writer, also paid for by the BCIC.   30 "managers" within the city may use the new system, along with 20 "non-profits."


Thursday, September 17, 2015

Is the Taxpayer Well Drying Up for BC Workshops?

Omar Hakeem, BC Workshops Director
BC(building community)Workshops was riding high in October 2014. They had just signed a sweetheart lease with the City of Brownsville for office space at 609 E. 11th St.  They would "pay" $9,600 annually, but notice the love from the city:

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.

So, the city charges $800 per month or $9,600 per year for a lease that includes utilities, internet, maintenance and taxes, then reimburses bcWorkshops $9,600.

That sounds like FREE!

bcWorkshops became the Brownsville's darling because they worked on cycling related projects.  They were given $208,000 by the BCIC to connect the Belden and Battlefield Bike Trails.  In Brownsville, the bicycle and its roadways became as sacred as the cow in India.  bcWorkshops had learned to suck the orifices found beneath the adult cow.  At one BCIC meeting in 2014 bcWorkshops had at least 10 requests for funding, including an event featuring kayak races with kites in tow on a resaca.  They were throwing everything at the BCIC's 4B udder.

Fast forward to the 9/17/15 BCIC meeting. bcWorkshops is asking for $5,000 to fund a project called Activing Vacancy Arts Incubator. Board member C. Frank Wood alertly notices that the request includes $1,500 for "design" to be performed by bcWorkshops. In other words, bcWorkshops wants to use tax dollars to pay themselves, a "no no." Board member Elizabeth Hollmann also observes that the United Way request includes $1,800 to be paid to bcWorkshops for design. Another board member recalls a certain kite and kayak fiasco. bcWorkshops request is pulled.

bcWorkshops Request is Number 8

BCIC: When Is An Open Meeting Not Really Open?

BCIC Director Rebeca Castillo
Yes, we were spoiled by previous BCIC Director Rachel Flores.  She would issue us an info packet with numbered tabs guiding us to resources behind each agenda item.  Board member Jude Benavides would always make certain we could hear the interchange between commission members, critical to understand what's going on.

The Texas Open Meetings Act guidelines insure that the government business is discussed in the "open," not behind closed doors.  Provisions for access by the disabled, rules about audiovisual participation, phone connections, etc. insure access to the decision-making process.

Today was our first visit to the BCIC under its new Director, Rebeca Castillo.  Yes, the meeting was open, in the sense that we were not barred at the door.   But, it was almost impossible to fathom or even hear what was being discussed.  We had no information packet, only the agenda we'd downloaded from the BCIC website. The board sat around circle of tables, facing each other, projecting speech barely audible to other board members, not sufficient for anyone in the audience.  Yes, frustration and nearly a waste of 2-1/2 hours.

Brownsville's boards vary on this aspect of openness.  Daniel Lenz, former Chairman of the Brownsville Metro Advisory Board, always made certain we had documents that would otherwise be available through the Public Information Act.  Manuel Alcero of the Airport Advisory Board cordially welcomes guests and opens the meeting up to their questions.  Mark Lund of the Metropolitan Planning Organization does similarly.  That type of openness allows you to get accurate information, the complete story.  

Tequila Group Complains At BCIC of Logo/Marketing Plan Snub

Gabby Gonzalez of Tequila Group
Ms. Gabby Gonzalez, representing the Tequila Group, an advertising, graphics firm doing business in Brownsville, spoke during Public Comment at a meeting Thursday afternoon of the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation held in the Human Resources room on the fourth floor of the City Commission/Post Office building.   Ms. Gonzalez expressed disappointment that her firm was not given an opportunity to bid on the $140,000 contract for a new city marketing plan and logo.

Speaking to Ms. Gonzalez after her public comment, I explained that it may not have mattered because the City of Brownsville did not award the contract to the highest scoring firm anyway, but instead chose Hahn Communications, a firm represented by the cousin of State Representative Rene' Oliveira, one Ron Oliveira.

Our last visit to the BCIC had been in January of this year, when Commissioner Rose Gowen illegally chaired the meeting despite the expiration of her four year term effective 12/31/14. Interestingly, the motivation for Gowen's illegal participation was to push for the BCIC to contribute $225,000 toward renovation of the historic San Fernando Building in exchange for 8 years free rent.  That did not happen.  The San Fernando Building was purchased by the City of Brownsville in 2012 for $315,000 and has sat idle, off the tax rolls ever since.  In fact, 12 of 13 properties, purchased by the city for 3,500,000 remain idle, decaying, off the tax rolls. One small brick building at 7th and Ringgold is used as an unneeded, secondary tourist office.  Almost no tourists stop there as there is to Interstate advertising announcing its existence.

At the 9/17/15 BCIC meeting, new Executive Director Rebeca Castillo introduced Agenda Item #10:  Consideration and Action to Approve the Relocation of BCIC offices.

This proposal was for $86,983 to lease office space just off Price Road.  Approximately $46,000 would be spent annually to satisfy the lease with an initial expenditure of $41,000 for "furniture and equipment."  It strikes us as odd and wasteful that the city and its entities continue to rent properties while at the same time buying properties and leaving them empty.  But, of course, all this is funded by some one else's money, that of the taxpayers of the poorest city in the United States.

Republicans Elect New Cameron County Chair As Frank Morris Resigns

Morgan Graham, New Cameron County
Republican Chair
RANCHO VIEJO, TX- We've received reports that Morgan Graham has been elected Cameron County Republican Chair in a near unanimous vote in Rancho Viejo, Texas. Mrs. Graham replaces longtime county chair Frank Morris, who has resigned.

Mrs. Graham, active in Republican affairs for several years, serves also as Vice President of Cameron County Republican Women, Executive Vice President at Rio Grande Valley Young Republicans and the Republican State Platform Committee.  

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Annova LNG, Despite Setback at PI, Presses Forward with Misleading Mail-Out

Front Side of Annova LNG Mail-Out
Annova LNG ran into a taxpayer-initiated roadblock Tuesday evening when the Point Isabel School Board rejected the multi-billion dollar corporation's request to NOT pay 99% of school taxes over 10 years. Based on Annova's own property value estimates, that request totaled $195,000,000.  That's a lot of desks, school buses and teacher salary.

Back Side of Annova LNG Mail-Out
Notice the "Yes" Has Already Been Checked
Those of us not acquainted with the huge short-term profiteering potential of LNG might assume that the loss of such a large tax break would cause the company to look elsewhere to locate.  Not so. Annova is pressing forward with a postage paid mail-out to secure signatures in support of the project to be forwarded to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Notice the claim on the card that Annova LNG will protect the environment and "could bring hundreds of good-paying jobs" to the community.  There is no mention that their application promises only 10 jobs at $36,000 per year with no guarantee those jobs would be filled by locals.

There is still the matter of the $25,000,000 tax abatement request put before the Cameron County Commissioners Court.  A large contingent of taxpayers opposed to the tax abatement attended last Thursday's County Commissioner meeting with twenty signing up for Public Comment.  The group, primarily South Padre Island and Port Isabel residents were severely disappointed in the icy reception afforded them by interim County Judge Pete Sepulveda who rudely manipulated the agenda to make them wait an additional two hours before commenting.  

"He's just making you cool your heals," I responded, when asked what was going on.  The tax abatement request was tabled for more "study."  Lack of knowledge, however, did not prevent temporary County Judge Sepulveda from writing a support letter for Annova LNG.  

Diego Lee Rot Presents City of Brownsville New Logo Pro Bono

A Better Logo by Angela Ruiz

Video: Commissioners Tetreau, De Leon Try To Stem the Tide of Logogate

"I Have An MBA. I Know Marketing. This Is Good." Commissioner John Villarreal

Commissioner John Villarreal
Logogate, as one local quipster referred to the City Commission/Hahn Communications fiasco, took an odd turn Tuesday night when timid City Commissioner John Villarreal actually spoke at a city commission meeting.

"I have an MBA.  I know marketing.  This is good," testified Commissioner John Villarreal during consideration of Agenda Item #10, a Public Hearing for "Possible Action" on approval of a new logo for the City of Brownsville.

Snake Oil Salesman Ron Oliveira
What John was referring to as "good" was the new city logo created by Hahn Communications for $90,000. Former Harlingen news anchor Ron Oliveira had just spent 30 minutes vociferously selling the logo, implying that for the money the city not only gets a new, "modern" logo, but his services as town cheerleader.  Yes, folks, snake oil and magic elixir is still being sold, marketed.

Marketing involves research.  What do customers want?  What do they need?  Hahn Communications was on the right track when they conducted an online survey with Brownsville citizens asking for input on the proposed new city logo.  But, then, they proceeded to ignore their own research as if it was irrelevant.  They had created a new logo, albeit a mediocre one, not well received and they were going ahead with it come Hell or high water.

Here is the complete online survey about the new logo included in the City Commissioner's information packet for the 9/15/15 City Commission meeting:

First, the numbers:  "I love it"       15.36%  (104)
                                "I like it"          5.91%  (40)
                                "I'm not sure"   6.50%  (44)
                                "I don't like it" 72.23% (489)

Now, the online comments:

"It reflects Brownsville's new position."

" 'By the sea' is a slogan that attracts tourists.  Due to the violence, "on the border' repels tourists.  What about a slogan that reflects the city's past, present and future?"

"I'm concerned it is too much like ignite energy corp, which is currently being sued as being a pyramid scheme.  I don't want the city involved in law suits."

"It does not mention the JEWELS the city has to offer.  We are focusing on one item only."

"90K for that from an out of town company?  My child came up with something better for the price of chicken nuggets."

"This does not represent our community or city in any way."

"It depicts nothing of what Brownsville is.  And in all truth looks simple and plain."

"It is way overpriced and generic."

"The design is not coherent.  It is ugly and weak."

"Too busy.  Colors are awful."

"Not unique.  Pretty average."

"Just look at it."

"Use the $90,000 to fix our drainage, potholes and beautify our city.  Let the people of Brownsville, Tx vote if our logo should be changed.  Mr. Hahn is not even from here.  He is from Austin, Tx and he wants change for our city that is ridiculous.  The only thing he wants from our city is the money.  Please don't change our logo and use the money wisely.  Thanks! 'By the border by the sea should stay!' "

"Our present logo is great!"

City Commissioner Debbie Portillo Voted FOR
the new $90,000 City of Brownsville Logo 
Why do market research if you ignore the results?  80% of those responding to the online survey said they didn't like or weren't sure of the new logo. Typically, that should mean "back to the drawing board."

Please know that all of the commissioners received the results of this survey the Friday BEFORE voting on the item at the City Commission meeting.  What does that say about their actual desire to represent the people?

Historical Document from Reader: 1902 Tax Bill of Samuel W. Brooks, Photo

"Attached is a copy of the original 1902 state and county tax bill of Samuel W Brooks. The document comes from the Lillian Leandro collection...Lillian was the great-great granddaughter of Mr. Brooks.
Brooks served as Brownsville's city engineer and was a well known architect. Many of his papers are under the care of Rene and Lucy Torres. Lucy is the great-great-great granddaughter of Samuel Brooks."

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Point Isabel School Board Votes "No! on Tax Breaks for Annova LNG

This just reported by Save RGV from LNG:

First news: Point Isabel ISD vote unanimously to withdraw Annova LNG's application for the Chapter 313 tax breaks! These tax breaks would have cost at least $195 million over 10 years. Thank you for your letters and for showing up!!! If you sent an email, please send a follow-up thank you to board members. Congratulations to us all!

Hahn Communications Own Online Survey Shows the Vast Majority of Brownsville Citizens Did Not Like the New Logo

Ron Oliveira, spokesperson for Hahn Communications, awarded a contract with the City of Brownsville to create a new logo or brand for the city, submitted, as part of his company's efforts; an online survey showing that most Brownsville residents responding disliked his company's new logo.

Notice, in the document copied below, that, while 20% said they either "loved" or "liked" the new logo, almost 80% said they "disliked" it or weren't "sure" about it.

Once again, the Mayor and City Commission ignore the taxpayers, but, instead press on with their own agenda.

Interestingly, when Oliveira rattled off the names of "stakeholders" consulted and interviewed by his company, they were primarily from United Brownsville, the unelected, shadowy board that keeps pretending it runs the city; Carlos Marin, Fred Rusteberg, Oscar Garcia, Jr., Juliet Garcia. . . .

Please notice some very specific objections below to the new logo by those participating in the online survey.

Former Harlingen News Anchor "Sells" City Commission Not Just A Logo, But A "Plan"

Ron Oliveira of Hahn Communications
In his eagerness to push a new City of Brownsville logo through the City Commission 9/15/15, Mayor Martinez illegally cast his vote in favor of the new logo designed by Hahn Communications.  The mayor may need to read the City Charter that allows him to vote only to break a tie.  In this case, with Commissioners Gowen, Portillo and Villarreal voting "aye", the vote was 3-2 in favor.  Martinez announced it as 4-2, counting his own personal preference as a vote.

In the minutes before the "Possible Action," former Harlingen news anchor, Ron Oliveira, in his best Ted Baxter of WKRP voice, oversold the volume of work going into the new city brand. Oliveira first sold himself, his Hispanic heritage and ties to the community.

"Do you want me to read the entire 30 page report?" Oliveira asked rhetorically.  "I didn't think so.  We'd be here till midnight." He proceeded to thumb through the document, excitedly calling attention to various themes.

Oliveira even showed slides and poster board examples of three other logos considered by Hahn, further emphasizing the volume of work that went into the new logo.  As Oliveira moved toward individual commissioners, he strayed too far from the microphone, losing the TV audience at home.  

To gain insight into the history, goals and perceptions of the city, Oliveira mentioned "extensive" interviews conducted with "stakeholders," mentioning Carlos Marin of Ambiotec, Fred Rusteberg of IBC Bank, Oscar Garcia Jr. of Jacobs Engineering and Mayor Tony Martinez.

Commissioner Rose Gowen, also on the
Oversight Committee
An "Oversight Board," including Bean Ayala, former Chamber of Commerce President Maria Hall, Commissioner Debbie Portillo and Commissioner Rose Gowen picked the new logo.(When Portillo complained that she was on the committee, but did not get a chance to vote on the new logo, Assistant City Manager Pete Gonzalez spoke up:  "You only attended one meeting.  The others were there for the entire process.")

Commissioner Jessica Tetreau, while appreciating the hard work done by Hahn Communications, was not happy with the new logo, preferring something more closely tied to Brownsville's history and tropical climate.  Commissioner Cesar de Leon also voted against the new logo.

New logo approved by the City Commission
Outgoing logo

Addendum:  While Hahn Communications was not the highest scorer in firms bidding for the logo/brand contract, the City of Brownsville was likely influenced by the fact that Ron Oliveira is the cousin of State Representative Rene Oliveira.


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