Thursday, December 31, 2015

Comedian Bill Cosby Finally Charged with a Crime

Graphic by Diego Lee Rot

City Secretary Michael Lopez Unable to Access GBIC Travel Records

City Secretary Michael L. Lopez
When BEDC President Jason Hilts mentioned at a City Commission workshop how much the economic development group benefited from the mayor tagging along on their global junkets to court business for Brownville, we wondered how much all this travel was costing the taxpayers.  

Hiltz, in the December 8 workshop, stated:  "In South America, a mayor is viewed like a governor or president. The meetings we set up are better attended if the mayor is with us."

This comment got us to wondering if other city commissioners or administrators were going with Hilts and gang on these international trips and what the cost has been to the taxpayers.  We sent an information request to City Secretary Michael L. Lopez, worded as follows:  

May I please have the travel expenses for 2015 charged to the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, the destinations and the names of those traveling to each destination and the total cost of each trip. This would include members of the BEDC, GBIC, the Mayor, City Commission or COB administration, anyone who went on the trip paid for by the GBIC.


Jim Barton
Brownsville Observer

Eight days later we received this response from the City Secretary:

Good afternoon,

The City of Brownsville is not in possession of any records responsive to this request.

Michael L. Lopez, MPA
City Secretary/Local Registrar

In the past, former City Secretary Estela Von Hatten typically referred Public Information Requests to the appropriate city department or board.  

The GBIC's "Contact Us" icon on their website actually redirects to the BEDC.  We utilized that opportunity to resubmit our Public Information Request.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Living Off the Grid, Solar, Tiny Houses, Stealth Camping

A Small Lot in the Rurals, Off the Grid
Perhaps, not yet in Brownsville, but certainly out West, and even in the South in rural Arkansas and Tennessee, retirees, young families and single folk are gravitating away from what they designate to be "debt slavery."

It's not simply as we used to say, "getting away from the rat race." Nowadays, even the old standby "making a living" is under review. Proponents of this alternative lifestyle question spending 30-50 years on a job, working for someone else, when, with some foresight, skill and knowledge you can make provision for yourself and your family while doing whatever it is you really want to do.

The alternatives vary. Near San Francisco, where a crummy two-bedroom home rents for $4,200 per month and a tent is advertised on Craigslist for $899 per month, a young couple has created a small settlement of eleven dwellings built out of steel cargo containers.  They call their rental units "cargotopia."

Tiny House
A variation on the same theme is the tiny house, a domicile ranging from 120-400 square feet, containing smaller versions of the normal amenities, all riding on a work trailer chassis.  In some areas, these can be parked in someone's back yard, but certainly on some federal lands. Washington State and Montana, in particular, are open to applications from would-be settlers.  While tiny houses can hook up to traditional utilities, the so-called grid, many revert to solar panels, rainwater collection, chemical toilets and built-in generators making it possible to live practically anywhere.

More Elaborate Container House
Many have sold there existing homes, shedding the burden of the 30 year mortgage, high property taxes and utilities to go off the grid.  Others try to create an "off the grid" account, by foregoing cable TV and other non-necessities, while saving for their tract of land.  A senior citizen from New York sold his home, buying a forty acres spread in arid west Texas.  Even with only two inches rain this year, he says in a You Tube interview that he still has over 11,000 gallons of water collected.  The retiree has a majestic view, no close neighbors and no real bills.  

Stealth Camper
Dozens of You Tube channels feature the lifestyle of stealth campers, typically men living in a camper van that resembles a contractor's van.  Some are employed in construction or manufacturing, while others simply travel around the country, parking in industrial areas, side streets or parks for free.  The outside appearance of the vehicle and the low profile kept by the resident inside allows it to blend into its surroundings.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Threats, Challenges to the $Millions Controlled by the Greater Brownsville Incentive Corporation

Carlos Marin, Ambiotec, BEDC
In 1992 the City of Brownsville decided to take advantage of a 1989 Texas law allowing the establishment a 4A entity to receive 1/2 cent of the 8-1/4 cent sales tax collected to use for economic development. The Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, the beneficiary of such monies, has, according to their website, spent $49,000,000 from that taxpayer fund, $12,000,000 on "operating expenditures" and $37,000,000 on "project expenditures."

In 2002 Brownsville decided to split the 4A funds into a 4A and 4B, with a 4B entity getting 1/4 cent from each taxable dollar for "quality of life" projects. Since that time the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation declares $10,300,000 spent on such projects.

Part of the rationale for separating these monies from the general fund was to de-politicize the dispersing of grants or loans for economic development or quality of life projects. The thinking was that elected officials, like the mayor or city commission could be influenced by heavy campaign contributors, friends, cronies, etc., rewarding them through political patronage. Thus, boards like the GBIC and BCIC, controlling millions of tax dollars, would be staffed primarily by qualifed citizens, not elected politicians.

This is no reflection on these particular commissioners, who gave a very good accounting of themselves in a City Commission workshop on economic development, grilling and questioning the methodology of BEDC President Jason Hilts, who presents projects to the GBIC for approval and funding. But, the appointing of a majority of this particular board from the City Commission sets an unfortunate precedent for the future.

Carlos Marin of Ambiotec, who stealthily steers and creates the studies and projects submitted, such as the $454,000 Brownsville Strategic Infrastructure and Land Management Plan, as well as the $750,000 cost of "implementing" the same plan, featuring his own employee, Oscar Garcia, Jr., as "Project Engineer," will not stand idly by while three young commissioners mess up his shit.

City Commissioner Portillo
Already, one of the two new appointees has been seen dining with Marin at Adolio's Restaurant. Carlos Marin knows how to influence, persuade, cajole and intimidate. It's little wonder that other engineering firms, besides Marin's Ambiotec, understand the futility of bidding on the larger, primo contracts in the City of Brownsville and candidates for public office supplicate for Marin's support in their run for public office.

Is Dan Sanchez Breaking the Law? A Reader Makes That Claim

From the editor:  The following was sent via email by a reader who claims that Cameron County Commissioner Dan Sanchez, a candidate for County Judge is in violation of the Texas Election Code:

"Violations. See Dan Sanchez Facebook posts or

his signs in Harlingen.

Every single Sanchez sign violates the law. I have been making political signs for more than 10 years and I know the law so does every other political sign maker. The only reason a sign maker does not follow the law is because he is being told by the candidate or candidate underlings what to print. Look at Chinos signs, Bences, Gus Ruiz signs.
County Commissioner Dan Sanchez
They follow the law but Sanchez cannot follow a simple rule because he believes he is above the law. So everyone else has to follow the law but not Sanchez. No one will report him because they are afraid of his revenge. Ask any county employee who was forced to sign his petition.
Misrepresentation Of Office Title. A candidate may not represent that he or she holds an office that he or she does not hold at the time of the representation. If you are not the incumbent in the office you are seeking, you must make it clear that you are seeking election rather than reelection by using the word "for" to clarify that you don't hold that office. The whole word "for" must be at least one-half the type size as the name of the office and should appear immediately before the name of the office."

It's the whole word not just the letter F. But not even his letter F complies with the law.

(b) A person commits an offense if the person knowingly represents in a campaign communication that a candidate holds a public office that the candidate does not hold at the time the representation is made.
(c) For purposes of this section, a person represents that a candidate holds a public office that the candidate does not hold if:
(1) the candidate does not hold the office that the candidate seeks; and
(2) the political advertising or campaign communication states the public office sought but does not include the word "for" in a type size that is at least one-half the type size used for the name of the office to clarify that the candidate does not hold that office.
(e) An offense under this section is a Class A Misdemeanor.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Should Estela Chavez-Vasquez Be Rewarded with a Judgeship After Voting to Give Away Lincoln Park?

Estela Chavez-Vasquez
A public official caught embezzling $100,000 in taxpayer funds would undoubtedly lose their office, face imprisonment and fines.

Former City Commissioner Estela Chavez-Vasquez, along with the mayor and two other commissioners damaged the city far worse than such a theoretical embezzler. The four agreed to sell a city asset, Lincoln Park, for millions of dollars BELOW its market value. The $6.5 million low ball offer from the ultra-rich University of Texas System is roughly half the lowest current appraisal of the park. With land across the street from the park being offered for $410,000 per acre, the land alone of the 48 acre park may well be worth $20,000,000, not to mention the two ballfields, amphitheater, two nature trails, basketball courts, garden center, barbecue area and parking. Transferring a taxpayer asset for millions less than actual value creates a catastrophic loss for the hardworking taxpayers of Brownsville and is inexcusable.

Now Chavez-Vasquez is asking for support in her campaign for Judge at Cameron County Court at Law #5.  Should the taxpayers knowingly support someone who has not protected their interests in the past?

Commissioner Estela Chavez-Vasquez knew very well she was selling Lincoln Park well below market value. She has a calculator and can figure out how many millions her vote cost the taxpayers. Three years ago she took an oath to protect taxpayer assets. She has clearly violated that oath. She should NEVER hold public office again. She has abused the trust we placed in her.

Actually, Chavez-Vasquez may have been the swing vote on the matter, making her more culpable. She is also aware that the voters are overwhelmingly opposed to the sale as evidenced by their comments at the town hall meeting. That may be the very reason she chose not to attend the town hall meeting. Clearly, she did not represent the taxpayers' interests which simply underscores her unfitness for public office.

Patrick Anderson : "Annova LNG Overtly Lies in Brownsville Herald Ads"

From the editor:  The following article, written by Patrick Anderson of Los Fresnos, was published in the Brownsville Herald recently in the YOUR VOICES section:

Patrick Anderson

On November 8 Annova LNG ran an ad in the Brownsville Herald that stated:  "Don't believe the misinformation spread by opponents of the project, many of them are from out of state."

Many opponents are local. Aside from the thousands of letters sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission from Rio Grande Valley residents, the proof is in the pudding.  

The following municipalities and organizations have opposed the (LNG) projects, also sending letters to the FERC:

Laguna Madre Water District

Surfrider Foundation, South Texas Chapter

Port Isabel City Commission

South Padre Island City Commission

RGV Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

South Padre Island Business Owner's Association

Laguna Vista Town Council

LRGV Sierra Club

Port Isabel Economic Development Corporation

Point Isabel School Board

Long Island Board of Directors

Those that sent letters of concern to the FERC:

Texas Parks and Wildlife

Sea Turtle Inc.

Defenders of Wildlife

Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club

Save RGV from LNG

The concerns of our citizens are valid and stem from researched information.  It is worrisome that Annova LNG would say that some opposition is from out of state, with the goal of invalidating and downplaying concerns rather than addressing them honestly and responsibly.

I oppose LNG facilities due to concerns of public safety, public health, wildlife habitat, pollution, hazards of facilities, national security, economic burden on citizens, use of tax dollars to support companies, tax abatements, pipelines and degradation to local economies.  

The ad is yet another example of a big corporation trying to mislead in the pursuit of money.  It is an ad after all!  It's not that different from the cigarette companies saying their product did not cause cancer or Coca-Cola advertising their Vitaminwater by suggesting it boosts the immune system.  

As with any ad, buyer beware!  Let us remember that billion-dollar fossil fuel companies are in the business of making money, period., They go to great lengths from lobbying our governments, buying officials, down to placing ads like the one that ran in the paper.

Patrick Anderson
Los Fresnos

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

BEDC's Jason Hilts Gets Grilling at Economic Development Workshop

Jason Hilts, the BEDC's Big Bag of Wind
An economic workshop that preceded the December 8 City Commission Meeting recently aired on Brownsville TV, Channel 12.

BEDC President Jason Hilts took the podium to introduce BEDC Executive Vice-President Gilbert Salinas, who delivered a year end review of economic development, hyperbolically overstating the role of the BEDC in so-called job creation.

Following the Salinas power point, Hilts fielded a series of revealing, yet probing questions by the three commissioners to the mayor's right, De Leon, Tetreau and Portillo.  All three will soon join the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, traditionally the rubber stamping right arm for all of the BEDC's approved projects.

Commissioner Portillo asked Hilts if there was a "set matrix" for determining how to award abatements to companies wanting to set up businesses in the city.  Hilts admitted there was no established criteria, but that the BEDC  simply reacted to what companies wanted or were being offered by competing cities.

City Commissioner Cesar de Leon
When Hilts cited the lofty platitudes of United Brownsville as guidelines for pursuing business, Commissioner de Leon said:  "We are not United Brownsville.  We are the City Commission.  

De Leon wanted to know how many of the gazillion job creations claimed in Salinas' report were "actual jobs," not just promises or projections, trips and relationships.  "We need to know what the city is getting out of all this money BEDC is spending.

Hilts said:  "I don't have that answer for you today, but will get it to you before the end of the year."

"Much of the new industry, like Spacex, is simply locating here because of geography.  We need to see something tangible," De Leon continued.

Portillo stated that she had learned that Austin's EDC focused on local businesses with "80% of growth" coming from that sector.  She asked Hilts if the BEDC had a program to promote expansion of established local business as opposed to always going for the bigger companies with 5 or 10 year plans.

Hilts stated that the BEDC had tried several years ago to help local businesses to grow, but that the results were not that good.  "Many local companies are reluctant to share three years of financials, tax returns, etc. that we require to establish financial stability," Hilts claimed.

Commissioner Tetreau was concerned about the need for an office to be established and staffed in Colombia, and wanted itemized travel expenses for any city staff or officials accompanying the BEDC on far flung trips to South America and Asia.  Hilts responded that it was Mayor Martinez who usually represented the city.

"In South America, a mayor is viewed like a governor or president.  The meetings we set up are better attended if the mayor is with us," offered Hilts.

Tetreau continued:  "You probably wonder why several commissioners are turning up on the GBIC.  It's because we want transparency.   We want to know where all this money is going."

Sunday, December 20, 2015

How Brownsville's H.E.B. Stores Rip Off Consumers

H.E.B.'s Older Downtown Store
H.E.B. stores, named after Howard E. Butt, who took over in 1919 the company his mother Florence started in 1905, have seemingly been a good Brownsville community partner. Including an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the needy, the company claims a donation of 5% of pretax profits to charity. 

As someone intimately familiar with retail business, profitability, etc., Brownsville's collection of H.E.B. stores appear extremely profitable in an industry noted for slender profit margins. In 2013 the 350 H.E.B. stores in Texas and northern Mexico reported total revenue in excess of $20 billion.  Grocers in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio would kill to operate with only one legitimate competitor, Walmart, as H.E.B. does in Brownsville.

A serious problem for the local consumer, perhaps related to the lack of competition or simply no internal controls or monitoring, is Brownsville's H.E.B.'s time and again failing to make their featured meat items available at the advertised price.  I understand the rationale for this practice as market managers are rated on their gross profit.  Featured ad items, sometimes sold as so-called "loss leaders," eat into that gross. The store's market managers would actually prefer to not sell those items as they may feel their job security or promotion opportunity may be directly related to how much of a profit margin they show.

Allow me to share a few specific examples.  

A couple years ago, the H.E.B. weekly ad contained a full front page advertising Hill Country Beef Fajita packages at a very attractive price.  We stopped at the H.E.B. on Central Boulevard, quickly noticing NONE of this product was on display, despite it being a regularly stocked item.  First consulting a clerk, then the market manager, finally involving the store manager, we learned that no product had been ordered to support the ad.  When we asked for a "rain check," something offered by almost every grocery chain in the U.S., we were told that H.E.B. did not offer "rain checks."  We could simply wait for the "next truck" delivering meat to the store.

This past Wednesday, I stopped at the H.E.B. on Paredes Line Road.  At the top of my grocery list was sliced spiral ham, advertised at $1.47 lb.  Noticing that all the spiral hams were marked either $2.99 or $3.47 lb., I asked a clerk to direct me to the advertised item.  She asked me how many I needed and repriced one at the advertised price, leaving an entire display at twice the advertised price or more.

Last week, again at the Central Boulevard H.E.B., I asked the clerk to direct me to the advertised beef roasts.  He asked how many I needed.  I asked for 4 and told him that my son needed 2.  He brought out exactly 6 roasts, which we loaded into the shopping cart, leaving his counter empty of the featured ad item.  

These are not isolated instances.  I've experienced these situations time and again at Brownsville's H.E.B.  I enjoy shopping at the store, but it's obvious a consumer has to be pro-active to prevent themselves from being defrauded.  

In many large metropolitan areas, retail ads are routinely checked for compliance.  Store managers carefully check to make certain they can back up the ad.  Not so with Brownsville H.E.B.  After all, they have no real competition and little regard for the consumer or honest business practices.

Friday, December 18, 2015

What's In A Name? From "Mean Mister Brownsville" to the "Brownsville Observer"

The Brownsville Observer
The whimsical, self-deprecating name of this blog, Mean Mister Brownsville, is no more.  The new name, the Brownsville Observer, more representative of this blog's actual function, replaces the old title.

The name Mean Mister Brownsville was a silly take on the Beatle song Mean Mister Mustard, a bloke described in the lyrics as sleeping "in a hole in the road" and "saving up to buy some clothes," but most importantly, "such a mean old man."  Yes, self-deprecation.

The old blog name was also a bit dated with the song Mean Mister Mustard recorded in 1968, well before the birth of many in this city.  A joke or a blog name is not funny if you have to explain it.

Since this blog only occasionally actually "breaks" a story, in looking for a more fitting blog name, I avoided such designations as Reporter, Messenger or Tribune.  Being simply an "Observer" allows one to digest, analyze, mull over the reasons, motivations and consequences before writing.  My strength has never been insider knowledge, but the facility to figure things out, eventually.  Most of my articles editorialize.

The byline "The Human Nature Behind the News," just below the blog name, has not changed.  It still represents our goal, mission, purpose.   

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Erasmo Castro Challenges Medina for Cameron County Democratic Chair Position

Erasmo Castro
The Texas Secretary of State website indicates that two candidates have filed for Cameron County Democratic Chair, incumbent Amber Medina and Brownsville Cheezmeh guru Erasmo Castro.

While Medina is widely considered to have been handpicked by State Democratic Chairman and longtime Cameron County politico, Gilberto Hinojosa, Castro made a strong showing in this year's mayoral race, finishing 3rd with 1,211 votes.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Reader Reports Yet Another Arrest of Captain Bob Sanchez

Captain Bob Sanchez
A reader whose past reports have proved reliable sent us this message:  

"Bob Sanchez got arrested again.  Punched father-in-law in the face."

The reader included a link to the Brownsville PD website:

"Earlier this morning, Roberto Alejandro Sanchez turned himself in to the authorities on a pending warrant for Injury to an Elderly. The warrant stemmed from an investigation initiated on December 09, 2015. The victim, a 72 year old male, filed a complaint against Sanchez, alleging he was struck by Sanchez on his face with a closed fist. The incident occurred on the 2600 block of Old Alice during a meeting between Sanchez and the victim’s daughter (Sanchez’s wife). Sanchez began to argue with the victim’s daughter and when the victim told him to leave, Sanchez assaulted the victim. The victim complained of pain to his back and face as a result of the assault. Sanchez was charged with injury to an elderly and is pending arraignment."

Back on October 16, 2015, officers responded to the 100 block of Calle Jacaranda in reference to an assault. Officers arrived and made contact with the victim who advised that Sanchez got home and began arguing with the victim. The victim then advised that he also assault another family member. Officers made contact with Sanchez, who was in one of the bedrooms, and placed him under arrest. Sanchez was charged with two counts of Assault “A” FV. Bond was set at $5000.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Pandering Commissioner Dan Sanchez Should Be Rejected for County Judge

Bloated Cameron County Judge Candidate Dan Sanchez
When Dan Sanchez looks in the mirror, he sees a clever, ambitious man implementing a brilliant strategy to gain the county judgeship. While other potential candidates wallow in indecision, Dan has been unabashedly pandering to longtime politicos Aurora de la Garza and Joe Rivera, hoping to use their reciprocated support as a springboard to the judgeship.

When a brouhaha developed, not only over naming a satellite county building after the long tenured, but mediocre clerks, De la Garza and Rivera, but adding a non-approved, but exhorbitant $2,500 portrait of the two to be hung in the building, Sanchez saw an opportunity for heroism, if not sainthood. He offered to personally foot the bill for the portrait of the sleazy duo, sparing the taxpayers of the cost of the non-purchase order bill, but also hopefully ingratiating himself with the subjects of the inappropriate portrait. A Dr. Robert Robles fundraiser spared Sanchez from writing a check to cover the cost of the portrait.

Ever the opportunist, Sanchez racked his brain for another covert way to show his devotion to the two clerks. When it was mentioned that both Rivera and De la Garza had worked longer for the county than Tax Assessor Tony Yzaquirre, yet worked for a smaller salary, Sanchez snuck in an addendum to the commissioners court minutes authorizing a $2,000 raise for both clerks. When Sanchez sneaky actions created an uproar, Dan offered to have the money deleted from his own salary, again illustrating his willingness to spend for support for his county judgeship run.

These two incidents alone prove that Dan Sanchez is NOT the person Cameron County needs as county judge. In a county plagued by reciprocating personal favors, nepotism, job after job handed to the relatives of county officials, the LAST person Cameron County needs as county judge is someone openly pandering for support by putting money into the pockets of county officials.

When the time comes, Cameron County must say "NO" to Dan Sanchez for County Judge.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Belated Christmas Gift the City Commission Could Give to the Taxpayers of Brownsville: Lincoln Park

One of two heavily used ballfields at Lincoln Park
As our youthful City Commission disperses to their individual Christmas parties, family gift exchanges and holiday meals, Brownsville's beleaguered taxpayers may not even notice what is NOT under the tree; the precious, versatile, widely used Lincoln Park.

The prevailing impression that Lincoln Park is now safe starts with the misleading, cleverly worded agenda item presented April 21, 2015:

"Consideration and ACTION on a resolution to authorize City staff to continue discussions with the University of Texas Board of Regents regarding the planned location of the UT-RGV campus within the City of Brownsville focusing on alternatives to the Lincoln Park site."

This blog attempted to explain at the time how this agenda item did nothing to prevent the eventual sale or transfer of Lincoln Park to the ultra-rich University of Texas system:

"The condensed resolution above and its more lengthy sister in the binder is merely a ruse, an apparent attempt to temporarily pacify opponents to including Lincoln Park in any package to placate UT. While it suggests looking for alternatives, it does not demand it. City officials can simply return to the commission with: "We tried, but cannot find an acceptable alternative to Lincoln Park."

Attorney Michael Cowen evidently fears as much as a portion his comment states: 

'But this fight may not be over. The resolution passed last night may just be a way to provide political cover until after the election, and those who want to give away the park may still try to get their way.'"

The real, thinly disguised purpose of the April 21, 2015 meeting was to replace the earlier resolution, which included the illegal participation of Commissioner Rose Gowen, whose employment with UT is a clear conflict of interest.  With Gowen's abstention on the April 15 resolution, a vehicle to eventually deliver Lincoln Park to UT, uncluttered by a conflict of interest, is now in place.

The University of Texas Board of Regents did not comport themselves with dignity or intelligence, taking a huge public relations hit for the carnivorous nature of their greediness in extracting one more precious tract of land from the most impoverished community in the U.S. in exchange for a continuing the eastern portion of a satellite campus in Brownsville.  Here is this blog's description of their actions from the April 21 story:

"UT may be rich, with a good football team most years, but they get a solid "F" in public relations. While the UT Regents backslapped themselves silly at their El Paso board meeting that followed the town hall meeting on Lincoln Park, giddily reminding themselves of the bargain steal they got from a Hispanic community in extreme south Texas, literally the poorest in the U.S., they came off as dumbass goobers. If UT cannot live without the 49 acres of Lincoln Park, let them write the check for a better park in Brownsville's Southmost barrio, not gloat over stealing it from a naive City Commission fronted by a groveling Mayor Martinez. En otros palabras, show some class!"

The belated Christmas gift some city commissioner could give to the taxpayers would be to sponsor an agenda item in early 2016 to take Lincoln Park unequivocally "off the table" for conveyance or sale to UT.  If you need a model, use the John Villarreal/Rick Longoria reconsideration of the new logo if you must.  Actually Rick and John could demonstrate that their reversal on Lincoln Park was genuine and sincere, not simply a political response to outraged voters, by co-sponsoring such an agenda item.

More realistically, Commissioner Cesar de Leon could his demonstrate that his reference to heeding his father's advice to "listen to the people" was not just political rhetoric, but a modus operandi for his public service.  Commissioner Tetreau may want to be included in the effort even after her first attempt to take Lincoln Park off the table was stymied, stifled and squelched by mealy-mouthed City Attorney Mark Sossi.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Flood Control Issues Detailed by Interim Director of Aviation Sesha Vorrey at Airport Advisory Board Meeting

Airport Advisory Board Meeting, December 8, 2015

Interim Director of Aviation Sesha S. Vorrey included in his Director's Report at the Airport Advisory Board Meeting details about the effects on the airport of the record-breaking rain of October 30, 2015.

The National Weather Service reported that 6.55 inches of rain fell that day at the South Padre Island/Brownsville International Airport, nearly matching the 6.68 inches that fell during Hurricane Dolly.  As much as five feet of water flooded Brownsville's infamous Four Corners, with areas in Southmost having depths of over three feet.

Flooding at the airport was not as dramatic, but did interfere with some flights October 30 and 31.  Mr. Vorrey showed slides of accumulations of 4" at the jet bridge, 7" at Gates 3 and 4, 6" at the main entrance and the HPA.

"Didn't we spend millions of dollars less than five years ago to totally upgrade our drainage?" asked board member Chris Hughston.  "We were told at the time we would be set for a 100 year storm."

Vorrey explained that the improvements all worked, the detention ponds, along with the pumps and generators.  What could not be contained was the water flooding in from the surrounding city, particularly Boca Chica Blvd.
Board President Manuel Alcocer Presenting Award
to John Chosy

On a more positive note, Vorrey detailed several projects looming in the future, including a runway extension.

Recently retired Assistant City Attorney John Chosy was presented with a service award for his seven years on the Airport Advisory Board.

Congratulations to Texas Southmost College on Accreditation!

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Borderland Beat: Mexico's Prisoners Face Extortion for Basic Needs, Survival

Written by Elijah Stevens

 Prisoners in Mexico are paying enormous fees for essential needs and physical security, a news report says, highlighting the role of prisons in fueling illegal markets, corruption, and organized crime.

Mexican prisoners are paying between $150 and $300 per month for basic services to survive throughout their sentences, according to the BBC. In order to receive essential human needs, including drinking water and bathing, as well as protection, prisoners across Mexico pay fees to prison guards, officials and other prisoners.

In order to have a place to sleep and a blanket, for example, prisoners pay around $6. Prisoners also have to pay for every change of their sanctioned uniforms -- around $1.20 for each set. And in some prisons,
inmates pay around $20 per day just to be counted on the official attendance list.

Communication with the outside world is also costly and difficult, as there are fees for phone cards as well as having a cellular phone, which can cost between $90 and $121. Additionally, families have to pay for visits, including individual fees for every door they pass through.

The profits from such fees are allegedly passed upwards to high-level officials, reported the BBC, although government officials deny this level of corruption.

InSight Crime AnalysisThe high living expenses for inmates in Mexico reveal the poor conditions and systemic corruption that plagues prisons across Latin America.

The fees demanded for basic necessities and security have created complex and profitable prison economies that involve both officials and criminals alike. These payments, for instance, implicate officials throughout the prison system in illegal markets and extortion.

Concerns about corruption within Mexico’s prison system has grown recently following the arrest of Celina Oseguera Parra, the former head of federal prisons, and subsequent allegations connecting top officials to the incredible escape of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman from a maximum security prison earlier this year.

These fees also propel the activities of criminal organizations within and beyond the prison walls. According to a recent report from Mexico’s National Commission on Human Rights (pdf), approximately 70 percent of Mexico’s prisons are “self-governed” by gangs and cartels, an illicit system repeated across the region. The authority and profits gained through prison fees strengthen criminal organizations’ structures within the prisons and fuel their forces in the outside world.

As the BBC notes, the burden of prison fees often falls on the families of inmates. Such families, often already in socially and economically precarious positions, may be pushed further into poverty and possibly even organized crime by this system of prison extortions and predatory criminal activity.
Report done by InSightCrime Monday, November 30, 2015Monday, 30 November 2015

Borderland Beat Reporter dd Posted at 9:57 PM 23 comments:

Brownsville Herald Criticized for Permitting Factual Errors in LNG Advertising

Brownsville Herald Editor Ryan Henry
McAllen resident Scott Nicol claims that the Brownsville Herald has been less than diligent in fact checking advertising copy purchased by Annova LNG.  

In a letter to the editor, published in the YOUR VOICES section December 3, 2015, Nicol presents several factual errors in the advertisement that slipped past Brownsville Herald editor Ryan Henry.  Henry, pictured at the left, honed his craft at the Coastal Current, a weekly newspaper published every Friday to serve South Padre Island.

For those of us familiar with the workings of government in Brownsville and Cameron County, including political corruption, voter fraud, nepotism, squandering of taxpayer assets and monies, selective prosecution, etc., the Brownsville Herald's shortcomings go much deeper than misleading ads.

The concept and responsibility of a so-called free press is totally lost on the Brownsville Herald, an entity that has remained gutless and silent on nearly every major story of political corruption in our city for more than two decades.

Below is a reprint of Mr. Nicol's letter to the editor.(At least the Brownsville Herald printed this.)


Scott Nicol
The Brownsville Herald recently ran an advertisement from Annova LNG that trotted out a number of claims that by now everyone knows are false.  Annova stated that it would generate hundreds of millions in taxes, ignoring the fact that it is lobbying for multi-million dollar property tax breaks.

It claims that its export operations will be done "while protecting the environment," even though its industrial facility will, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department, "sever" the wildlife corridor used by the endangered ocelot.  The plant also will spew toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases.  

But the real whopper that those of us who have been actively opposing LNG in South Texas took personal offense to was this:
"Don't believe the misinformation being spread by opponents of the project, many of them from out of state."  Annova has been spreading misinformation about its economic and environmental impact for months and now it is adding to the pile of falsehoods by pretending that many of us are from out of state.  I live in the RGV and every last person I know who is active on this issue does as well.

I would challenge Annova to name just one person from out of state who is an active member of the opposition to this project.

I understand that research might be hard to do from Chicago, where Annova's parent company Excelon is headquartered, but before it makes such statements and pays to run them in the Brownsville Herald it should make some effort to see if there is any truth to them.  Likewise, the Brownsville Herald owes it to its readers to fact-check anything that appears in its newspaper.  If a snake oil salesman attempted to buy ad space for bogus cancer cure I would hope the Herald would refuse to print it.  For the same token Annova should not be allowed to buy credibility for lies that could easily be fact checked.

Scott Nicol

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tuesday's Board Appointments Put 4A Funds Back Under Control of City Commission

BEDC Director Jason Hilts
In 1992 the City of Brownsville decided to take advantage of a 1989 Texas law allowing the establishment a 4A entity to receive 1/2 cent of the 8-1/4 cent sales tax collected to use for economic development. The Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, the beneficiary of such monies, has, according to their website, spent $49,000,000 from that taxpayer fund, $12,000,000 on "operating expenditures" and $37,000,000 on "project expenditures."

In 2002 Brownsville decided to split the 4A funds into a 4A and 4B, with a 4B entity getting 1/4 cent from each taxable dollar for "quality of life" projects. Since that time the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation declares $10,300,000 spent on such projects.

Vetting and recommending projects for the GBIC is its symbiotic sister board, the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation. The GBIC actually holds its meetings in the BEDC Board Room and BEDC Director Jason Hilts is the most vocal, active participant in those meetings.

One of the original, stated purposes of diverting tax dollars into separate funds was so that economic development and quality of life projects would not be "politicized" by being under the exclusive control of elected officials who might be tempted to disperse patronage in the form of 4a and 4b projects.

Commissioner Debbie Portillo
With that backdrop, it was a bit stunning that the City Commission this past Tuesday countermanded the original intent of separating 4a and 4b monies from the general fund by appointing two commissioners, Debbie Portillo and Cesar de Leon as board members.  With Commissioner Jessica Tetreau already serving on the GBIC board, that essentially gives the City Commission majority control of the five member GBIC.

Commissioner Cesar de Leon
Bypassed with the appointment of two city commissioners were four applicants from various districts in the city:  Cynthia Garza, Gerardo Martinez, Alberto Velez and Myles R. Garza.  De Leon and Portillo replace the outgoing Al Villarreal and Ewing Sikes, both of whom indicated a willingness to serve despite having completed their four year stint.

Although having a majority of the GBIC board coming from the City Commission is a bad precedent, the function should actually improve. The board has been miserably gutless, simply rubber stamping ill-advised projects submitted by the BEDC, such as Titan Tire, the $454,592,08 for the Greater Brownsville Infrastructure & Development Plan, along with the $180,000 to Jacobs Engineering for its implementation, etc., with mealy-mouthed huckster, Jason Hilts, easily manipulating the awards.   My hope is that De Leon, Tetreau and Portillo will more carefully scrutinize projects presented for their approval.

Trey Mendez Fears Brownsville's Historical Buildings Not Being Adequately Preserved

From the editor:  Attorney Trey Mendez, Chairman of the City of Brownsville Heritage Council, shared the following article with us after two initial submissions to the Brownsville Herald were not run, the original sent to the local paper three weeks ago, a second ten days ago.  We are happy to publish his "Letter to the Editor."  

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a
conference in Washington, D.C. sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a nonprofit group that works to save America's historic places for the next generation. Not only did it refresh my interest in Brownsville's valuable architectural history, but it also served as a reminder that we aren't doing enough to preserve our historic places. 
When I say "we", I am collectively referring to property owners, contractors, realtors and the City. 

Trey Mendez
It is often said that Brownsville is the second most historic city in Texas, right behind San Antonio, but I would venture to say that our place on that list is in jeopardy. Many of our historic buildings and homes are being torn down, are undergoing shoddy or illegal "remodeling"efforts, or are simply suffering from a lack of maintenance, commonly referred to as "demolition by neglect." 

While some of that is driven by economics, awareness also plays a big part. Now is the time to reverse course and begin a concerted effort to save our past. Currently, all exterior remodeling, repairs, and new construction of properties located within the historic district require a permit. Despite this, many contractors and property owners press forward without one, performing inappropriate or irreversible alterations, thereby causing more harm than good. 

Soon, a new ordinance will go into effect that will strengthen oversight for alterations and new construction in our historical district and severely discourage demolitions. This is not meant to prevent individuals from making repairs to their properties, but rather, to encourage them to take proper measures to ensure that the repair or remodel has a sustainable design component and is performed with the utmost respect for the historical characteristics of the property. 

Generally, historic structures are valuable not only from a cultural perspective, but have also proven to be strong drivers for economic development. Various studies have shown that districts with rehabilitated older structures thrive, providing an avenue for art and culture, new jobs, and ultimately create heritage tourism, something that has brought millions of dollars in revenues to other cities throughout the nation, such as San Antonio and New Orleans. We are missing out. 

Through innovative and careful reuse, design and retrofitting of our downtown buildings, homes and vacant structures, Brownsville can actually fulfill it's goal of a downtown revitalization. The goal shouldn't just be a healthy and vibrant downtown, but a healthy and vibrant Brownsville that can boast a sense of pride in its history and architecture. 

A recent nonprofit start up, the Brownsville Preservation Society, has tasked itself with taking the leading on transforming west Brownsville and other historical areas, for the purposes of creating awareness and restoring a sense of pride in one's home and neighborhood. 

Our past is our future. We must all support revitalization efforts and do our part to make Brownsville a destination, rather than a stop on an otherwise lackluster trip down memory lane. 

Trey Mendez
Chairman, City of Brownsville Heritage Council

Circle the Word That Best Describes Donald Trump

bigot, demagogue, ignoramus, liar, phony, racist, egomaniac, jerk, dumbass, provocateur, fearmonger, intolerant, small-minded, sexist, opinionated, fiend, dogmatist, uninformed, asshole, clown, idiot, buffoon, nuts, egotistical, crazy, joke, unstable, pompous, strange, blowhard.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

City Commission Hires Lobbyist to Protect Extraterritorial Jurisdiction At New Causeway

Sossi Let It Slip

City Attorney Mark Sossi
City Attorney Mark Sossi stepped up to the podium at the City Commission December 1, 2015, pushing for the hiring of a lobbyist to represent Brownsville at Austin, introducing Agenda Item #18:

Consideration and ACTION to award a term contract for Legislative Consulting Services for the City of Brownsville.

"As a member of the review committee, I can say that the firm we found to be the best was also the cheapest," Sossi said reassuringly. 

"The rate will be $6,000 per month plus expenses," Sossi continued, explaining the good deal the city's hardworking taxpayers would be getting.

Just when I was thinking:  "Isn't that what we have Representative Rene Oliveira and Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. for, to represent us in Austin?"  Then, Sossi let it slip.

"We will be having a lot of issues facing the city like extraterritorial jurisdiction and the spaceport in coming years."

So, damn!  That's it.  The City of Brownsville, not supported by Oliveira and Lucio in their fight to retain lucrative strips of property on their tax rolls near future high-dollar development, especially along the proposed second causeway to South Padre Island, are hiring their own lobbyist.  

Sossi didn't take the time to include the search committee's findings in the binder.  That's sloppy, Mark!  Did he say the winning bidder was Martinez and Martinez in Austin? 

Of course, the next legislative session in Austin doesn't start until January 2017.  If we start paying our $6,000 per month immediately, we have at least spent $78,000 before the session even starts. Oh, I forgot he said "plus expenses."  How much will that be?  

A Whopping 23 Appointments to City Boards Scheduled Tonight

Tonight's City Commission agenda includes multiple appointments to four city boards,  23 regular appointments along with 7 alternates for a total of 30.  

Apparently, two new city boards have been created, needing appointees:  The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and The Historic Preservation and Design Review Board.  The bicycle boards sets itself up for gridlock with only 6 members, whereas the new historic board may be a bit cumbersome with 11 members and 7 alternates.  It won't be a surprise if not all the scheduled appointments get made tonight as these agenda items are frequently tabled.

Carlos Marin
Two of the affected boards control approximately $9,000,000 in taxpayer monies annually, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation and the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation.  These two boards receive 1/4 cents from each tax dollar for "economic development" and "quality of life" projects.  The GBIC entertains recommendations from the Brownsville Economic Development Council, an entity strongly influenced by Carlos Marin.  Tonight's new appointees to the GBIC board should expect an immediate lunch invitation from the Matamoros millionaire.


6. Consideration and ACTION to appoint two (2) members to the Greater Brownsville Incentive Corporation (GBIC) Board. (Commissioners C. de Leon/R. Longoria, Jr.)

7. Consideration and ACTION to appoint four (4) members to the Brownsville Community
Improvement Corporation (BCIC) Board. (Rebeca Castillo - BCIC)

8. Consideration and ACTION to appoint six (6) members to the Bicycle and Pedestrian
Advisory Committee. (Constanza Miner – Interim Planning Director)

9. Consideration and ACTION to appoint eleven (11) and seven (7) alternate members to the Historic Preservation and Design Review Board. (Constanza Miner – Interim Planning


Self-Portrait by Josie del Castillo