Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Our Interview with Texas Southmost College Trustee Ed Rivera

Mean Mister Brownsville, TSC Trustee Ed Rivera

"I grew up behind this school on Illinois Ave.  Back then it was unpaved and we dealt with that," Ed Rivera told a group of 400 Lopez High School seniors Monday.  "I went to Texas Southmost College because it was affordable, then got financial aid from Shell Oil Company to attend the University of Houston.  Later, I paid my way through the Masters Program at Harvard University, but TSC was my stepping stone. . . . . . . I'm just like all of you.  If I can do it, you can do it."
Since being sworn in by Congressman Filemon Vela at the Gorgas Board Room, February 20, 2014, Rivera has sort of hit the ground running. He's discussed curriculum with the dean, met with TSC President Lily Tercero and BISD Superintendent Dr. Carl Montoya about dual enrollment, been "Principal for a Day" at Porter High School and talked with Lopez High School seniors about higher education.

Rivera sees the obvious two tiers of prospective students at TSC, then adds a third tier:  "I see those, like me, who want to use TSC as a steppingstone, attend two years, then transfer to UT-RGV, the University of Texas, Notre Dame or even Seattle University, those seeking a nursing certificate or another skill requiring an Associate Degree and also, those who do not initially seek a four year degree, but can be convinced to do so once they attend and gain confidence."

"What we must do at Texas Southmost College, is keep the tuition affordable.  That's why I was able to go.  It was affordable.  We've already lowered tuition, and, as we increase enrollment, we will continue to do so," Rivera continued.

Rivera later texted: "I went to Porter High School and picked up the dual enrollment pamphlet.  Dual enrollment is open to anyone who passes the TSI test.  One need only apply, take the test, pass the courses.  Hope this answers your question.  Enrollment(at TSC) is up over 4,000.  We expect a 15 to 20% bump next semester.  Dual enrollment will help our efforts.  I will get an answer to your question about the faculty.  

Best,  Ed"

We had asked Rivera about dual enrollment and interchangeable faculty between UTB and TSC.  

Rivera, appointed to fill out the last four months of the four year term of Dr. Robert Lozano, is now seeking election.  Early voting runs April 28 through May 6 with Election day on May 10.

City Commission to Make Real Estate Decisions Without Citizen Involvement 5/24/14

From the editor:  If there's anything scarier for Brownsville's hardworking taxpayers than the City Commission making real estate decisions behind closed doors, it's doing so with the legal guidance of City Attorney Mark Sossi.  

While most blame Mayor Martinez, the Gomer Pyle of Brownsville real estate, the City Commissioners weren't elected to be mayoral lap dogs, but independent adults, representing their constituents with thoughtful, intelligent consideration of each agenda item, not simply a puppy-style roll over.  

Consider this:  The City of Brownsville's seven elected officials roughly two years ago purchased 11 aged downtown properties to be paid for by the taxpayers in a 20 year Certificate of Obligation.  10 of those buildings have lay idle for two years now with taxpayers paying mostly interest on the note.(One building, a former adult care facility, purchased for $195,101, was recently used for bicycle storage.)

With the mayor using the AEP Texas Settlement Fund of $3,060,000 as his personal piggy bank, another property was purchased on E. 11th St. for $42,000 and an office leased at 1101-A E. Washington St. for a downtown mayoral office.(When this taxpayer abuse was reported on this blog, the office space was converted to a Downtown Brownsville Revitalization Information Office, used perhaps three times since the start of the lease, October 8, 2013.)  City Manager Charlie Cabler knew of this misuse of funds, but was too afraid of losing his job to tell the mayor "No!"

City Attorney Mark Sossi's ethical standard and legal competence have been well documented in this blog over the last two years;  a $167,363 judgment against him by his previous employer, the Willette & Guerra Law Firm, for pocketing money not his, a similar judgement of $20,711.66 by the Texas Workforce,  a $100,000 tax lien by the I.R.S., two malpractice lawsuits by Brownsville citizens who foolishly retained Sossi's services in private practice, the suspension of his law license and his recent failure to register as the attorney of record for the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, etc.

This is the group that feels they can cut a better deal for the city behind closed doors!

EXECUTIVE SESSION: 5:30 P.M. April 24, 2014.
A) Discussion pursuant to Section 551.072, of the Texas Government Code, to deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property, if deliberation in an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the position of the governmental body in negotiations with a third person, and pursuant to Section 551.071, of the Texas Government Code, on a matter in which the duty of the attorney, to the governmental body, under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of Texas, clearly conflicts with this chapter. (Mark Sossi – City Attorney – 15 min.)
B) Discussion pursuant to Section 551.072, of the Texas Government Code, to deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property, if deliberation in an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the position of the governmental body in negotiations with a third person, and pursuant to Section 551.071, of the Texas Government Code, on a matter in which the duty of the attorney, to the governmental body, under the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct of the State Bar of Texas, clearly conflicts with this chapter. (Mark Sossi – City Attorney – 15 min.)

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Song For You - Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, Leon Russell

Minor Repairs Made to City Commission's $2,300,000 Boondoggle~ La Casa del Nylon

From the editor:  After several months of sporting a broken window on the 13th St. side, leaving the building open to the elements, at least a temporary repair has been made with sheets of plywood blocking the opening to the taxpayer asset,  La Casa del Nylon at 1305 E. Adams St. 

The previously untrimmed palm tree on the Adams St. side, that was wedged into the awning, has been trimmed.  It appears a piece of moulding in back of the palm tree has been removed to allow some room for growth.  

The homeless couple, living under the awning for the last couple months, were not there today(4/21/14)

Now, if Mayor Tony Martinez or anyone on the City Commission can come up with a semi-plausible reason why this unnecessary building was purchased with taxpayer money for at least double its actual worth, we would love to hear it.

Guys, you've had two years now to formulate some sort of rationale.  Why did you buy it and include the purchase in a 20 year Certificate of Obligation that falls on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren?

"The cat got your tongue, City Commission and Mayor Tony?"

Plywood Sheets Cover Broken Window on 13th St.
Palm Tree Trimmed, Pulled Away from Awning

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Long and the Short of Why the GBIC Continues to Fund V.I.D.A. Despite Obvious Questions

Zeke Silva
Milling around before the GBIC Board Meeting 4/17/14, I passed Zeke Silva. "Have you seen anyone from V.I.D.A.?" I asked.  "I'm trying to get them to document their grandiose claims.  I sent two emails to the director, but, then, she resigned.  The group claims they took 43 Brownsville residents off welfare, placing them into jobs with an average salary of $35,000 per year.  I just don't believe it and they refuse to provide any documentation of their claims!"  

"Well, you could sign up for Public Comment," Zeke suggested.

Unification Church Mass Wedding
As I spoke extemporaneously to the GBIC, I saw that same glassy-eyed look I recall from my encounter four decades ago with members of the Unification Church, followers of the Korean Reverend Sun Myung Moon, "Moonies" as we referred to them back then.  They sold flowers for their leader, asking passersby if they "knew the Lord," then paired off to be married in mass ceremonies officiated by Moon,  When a citizen tells a board, that, despite repeated efforts to reach out to a non-profit for verification of their claims, the director ignores their questions, then quits, someone on that board, responsible for dispersal of millions of dollars of 4A tax dollars annually, should at least raise an eyebrow, unless, of course, they've already consumed a large quantity of Kool-Aid or suffer from acute cognitive dissonance.  

While the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation has already cut off funds for V.I.D.A. and its mimic sister entity RGV Leads, our BEDC and GBIC boards are a step slow, laggard in questioning, protecting taxpayer assets, dishing out $302,000 to V.I.D.A. this year alone.  

What does Brownsville get in terms of economic development for that money?  No one can explain that. We have only the V.I.D.A. claim, often repeated, but never verified:  "We took 43 people off welfare and placed them in jobs with an average salary of $35,000 per year."

I wrote down carefully what a V.I.D.A. rep told the GBIC last year about the 43 moved into good jobs:  "To get into the program, all had to have at least a GED. All are now 'on track' for an Associate Degree."

What that means is that all 43 are still "in school," likely at TSC or a technical school, while gainfully employed at a job "paying $35,000 per year."  If you believe that bull shit, I have swamp land, bridges and time-shares to show you.

There is more.  A careful reading of the V.I.D.A. website shows the methodology behind the wild claims of successfully moving welfare recipients with GED's into good jobs.  A counselor interacts with the prospect for "one hour per month." Each week, the trainee meets in group session with other unemployed, welfare recipients to discuss their respective experiences, sort of like Alcoholics Anonymous.

The "Faceless" Carlos Marin on V.I.D.A
Board of Directors
None of this makes sense.  To borrow from Judge Judy:  "If it doesn't make sense, it isn't true."  One thing we do know is that Carlos Marin, the CEO of Ambiotec Engineering, who has his behind-the-scenes finger in every Brownsville deal involving money, is on the Board of Directors of V.I.D.A.  

Really, that's all we needed to say.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

More Economic Development Hype from the 4/17/14 GBIC Board Meeting

Jason Hilts
Jason Hilt's BEDC Director's report is well worth the price of admission to GBIC's monthly meetings.  Hundreds of jobs at many dollars per hour roll off his tongue at each meeting, so many, that I find myself no longer writing down the numbers.  By now, certainly every Brownsville resident should have at least three high-paying jobs, if even 10% of Hilts' tantalizing projections over the last few years proved true.

At least the old west medicine shows selling Dr. Gillespie's Magic Elixer at a dollar a bottle never visited the same town twice.  

Add caption
But, each month, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation Board pencils in a director's report for Hilts, forcing him to revisit his notes, repeat what he said last month and the month before about Finnish foundries, Turkish pipe builders, desalinization plants producing clean water, exporting soda ash, etc.  

Anyway, at the 4/17/14 GBIC Board Meeting, Hilts mentioned a few things he hadn't said before:  Project Sizzle is still on the "back burner."  The Finnish
foundry is now joined by an Italian company, intrigued by producing steel, shipping it to Monterrey, Mexico. Caterpillar is said to be a potential primary customer of the steel produced by the foundry proposed adjacent to the Port of Brownsville.

An unnamed Mexican maquiladora is said to be contemplating a move to Brownsville, based on access to the Port of Brownsville, security and cheaper power.

I'm not exactly a true believer as shown by these observations from a 5/24/13 Mean Mister Brownsville article:
"When Administrator Jason Hilts appears before the GBIC board, his mission is two-fold; tantalize the board with their favorite buzzwords indicating economic growth, increased revenue AND reassure the members that his tireless efforts on the city's behalf justify his six figure income and lavish travel. Hilts is a salesman and those in sales are always aware of the need to "sell themselves."

One company will provide "300 jobs immediately" but eventually need 600 full-time employees. Another firm will add "1300 jobs over 8 years." "100 machinists at $20,00 per hour" has a nice ring in this impoverished community. While the company's name may be somewhat obscure, we all learn the particulars, however overstated. Just to illustrate, think SpaceX. Even young Debbie Portillo is repeating the line "1000 jobs at a minimum of $55,000" although Elon Musk says nothing close to that in official company projections.

Ruben Gallegos took the bait, or was perhaps cleverly setting up his friend Hilts with: "That's a lot of work, Jason."

Hilts responded: "Yes, it's a lot of hard work." What Hilts had been describing and Gallegos lauded was the process of finding 75 appropriate acres for the Finnish foundry. "We had a perfect site until we found that the electrical service would not be P.U.B." When someone whispered "Magic Valley," Hilts nodded. Another site, near the port, thought also to be "perfect" was found to historically have been a landfill, not the proper ground to take the weight and constant pounding of a foundry. The picture is painted that Hilts is carefully protecting all our interests, maneuvering things so that a $200,000,000 company becomes part of the Brownsville tax base and spends its megawatt energy dollars with P.U.B. Yes, Hilts is selling Hilts."

One Minute Question & Answer with Yolanda Begum~Part 4

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Project Behave~Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation Offers $750,000 Incentive to Attract New Psych Ward

BEDC Director Jason Hilts
Included in his report regarding "economic development, expansion and growth, BEDC Director Jason Hilts gave a rapidfire synopsis of projects "in the works."

Project Behave is the cutesy name given to an incentives program to lure a $11.5 to 13 million psychiatric hospital to Brownsville.  The project, if it comes to fruition, would bring 225 jobs to Brownsville paying $18-22 dollars per hour plus benefits.  Harlingen is our main competitor as McAllen/Edinburg already has such a facility.

Hilts explained that the Brownsville area currently has only 37 psych beds available, that 3 Brownsville Police Department employees are currently dedicated to transferring prisoners to and from facilities in Hidalgo County. 

The BEDC is recommending the GBIC approve Project Behave, giving the hospital $150,000 per year for 5 years, provided they stay at least 6 years.  A commitment of fewer than 6 years results in a pro-rated callback on the investment.  The total contract is for 10 years, approved Thursday evening by the GBIC.  The incentives are based on a 92 bed unit being built.  Should the firm opt for a 72 bed unit, the incentives drop to $135,000 per year for 5 years.

Hilts stated that the vacant Doctor's Hospital was mentioned as an option, but with no interest from the prospect.

U.S.S. Forrestal
All-Star Metals, a ship-breaking company located at the Port of Brownsville was given $400,000 to provide 400 jobs in salvaging the U.S.S. Forrestal. The jobs must be held for 10 years to earn the incentive, $100 per year for every job created.

Brownsville Metro's Downtown Parking Garage Stuck in Concrete

Sign(now torn down) Announcing Downtown Parking Garage
In this sometimes frugal city, signs are typically updated, not discarded.  The "$3.99 Lunch Special" is blacked out, repainted, reincarnated as the "$4.99 Lunch Special."

Sylvia Garza-Perez had her Cameron County "Judge" signs cleverly covered with "Clerk."(A septuagenarian candidate was even accused of using his high school graduation picture on his campaign sign.)  Penny-pinching candidates all over town cover "10" with "12," then "14," demonstrating how careful they will be with taxpayer money.

The sign in the picture above did not get the typical Brownsville "upgrade," but when the "completion date" of the "Fall of 2013" failed to materialize, the sign was simply uprooted.  

Brownsville Metro's top two officers, Director Norma Zamora and Assistant Director Andrew Munoz, appeared before the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation 4/17/14 to ask for a repayment "extension," on monies already advanced.  

In a move of sheer protocol, Director Zamora came merely to give Assistant Director Munoz a 15 second introduction.  Munoz, it seems, is the detail man on Brownsville Metro's (Planned) Downtown Parking Garage.

Munoz covered very familiar ground in describing the work by P.U.B. to electrify the garage.  We heard eighteen months ago about the high cost involved in going underground from International to E. 14th Street.  

This was the first time Munoz mentioned a "soil sample," not saying whether it was taken in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014.  Anyway, the soil sample reveals that the concept's original plans calling for 50 piers, 50 foot deep, is inadequate.  The soil sample mandates 160 auger piers, 85 foot deep.  The additional concrete alone adds $650,000 to the project.  

Brownsville Metro received a one year "deferment"(remember that word, Vietnam era guys?), but no money.  They will ask the City of Brownsville for $650,000 in matching funds to complete the project.

Historic Marker of the Battle of Palmito Hill Delays Launch of Boca Chica SpaceX

Historical Marker of the Battle of Palmito Hill
Placed along Highway 4 near Boca Chica Beach
SpaceX may already be creating jobs for Cameron County. According to BEDC Director Jason Hilts, some within the Department of Interior worried that a commercial launch site at Boca Chica might break the atmosphere of tourists stopping at the historic marker on the south side of Highway 4 commemorating the Battle of Palmito Hill, the last known battle of the Civil War, fought May 12, 13 1865.  

The Department of Interior  estimated that 1,000 people per year stop at the historic marker to contemplate history.(Was the Department of Interior confusing 1,000 annual historical tourists with the "1,000" who ride the Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail daily into the City of Brownsville or just guesstimating?  

Operatives of Elon Musk, still waiting on the results of an environmental impact study that could open the door to Boca Chica SpaceX, paid workers to sit in shifts, counting how many stopped at the historic marker in the course of a day.  These workers, if Brownsville residents, may be the first gainfully employed by the space transport guru, though likely not at the $55,000 plus per year Gilbert Salinas of the Brownsville Economic Development Corporation predicted SpaceX would eventually employ "500" annually.   

BEDC Director Jason Hilts
Hilts reported at the 4/17/14 meeting of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation, that the Musk-funded study showed that, on average, two cars stopped daily at the Battle of Palmito Hill Historical Marker on the south side of Texas State Highway 4, halfway between the Border Patrol checkpoint and the beach.  In only one of two cars, the study found, did a passenger get out of the car to read the historic plaque. Half the time, the car's passengers merely stopped to take a break without leaving their vehicle.  Hilts hopes the results of the study will contribute to a favorable ruling by the FAA and the Department of the Interior on the commercial launching pad.

Asked for more specifics after the GBIC meeting, Hilts stated that the commericial launch at Boca Chica would have only a "15 hour window," starting with the rocket "laying flat," unlike Cape Canaveral, where the rocket is already upright in the launch pad
SpaceX Launch
well before the launch."  Hilts was a bit bemused that the State of Texas would block launches on holidays like July 4 and Labor Day:  "Those would have been great days to observe launches," he stated.  

When asked if citizens would be prevented from accessing Highway 4 beyond the Border Patrol checkpoint on launch days, Hilts agreed:  "That would be the logical stopping point."

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Our Visit With Alex Dominguez, Candidate for County Commissioner, Precinct 2, At Antonio's

Alex Dominguez
The 2014 Cameron County elections are already historic, regardless of what happens from this point.  The voters have finally rejected the indicted Ernie Hernandez, Jr., after he's used Brownsville and Cameron County as his personal ATM machine for 25 years.  His daughter Erin, the apple not falling far from Ernie's tree, has also received her pink slip from the sleepy, but not comatose, voters.

Now, who will replace Ernie?  After we published the impressions of our interview with Leo Lopez, Candidate for County Commissioner, Precinct 2, we received a call from Zeke Silva, Campaign Manager for Alex Dominguez, the primary's top vote getter in that race.  Nena and I met with Alex and Zeke at Antonio's on Paredes Line Road.  

One of nine children in a migrant farm family, Alex Dominguez became a valley resident at the age of five, when his mother insisted the children not miss school.  His father took a job supervising a Santa Rosa sugar field.  He's proud of his family's work ethic, how his brothers and sisters cared for a special needs' sibling, the fact that six of the siblings became teachers.  

When I mentioned that Rice University, where Alex received a BA in Political Science after transferring from Southwest Texas State, is not the easiest of schools, he replied:  "True, I'm not sure I could even get in now as they require a near perfect S.A.T."  Dominguez received his law degree from Arizona State.

Our discussion shifted to Precinct 2 and the county as a whole.  "The county could really benefit from a grants writing department similar to the city's," offered Dominguez.  

As to Cameron Park's future, Dominguez feels those residents have "earned the right to decide that for themselves."  He's not certain they would even prefer annexation by Brownsville at this point, perhaps even consider becoming their own "municipality."  He admires their community leaders, like Gloria Moreno, and the fact that they vote with a higher percentage of registered voters than the city.  He cites "loose dogs, trash pickup, lighting" as among that area's primary concerns.

He wants the county to take the lead in developing the industrial corridor.  He doesn't see United Brownsville so much as a scam, but aggressive businessmen making certain their companies get a piece of the action.  

He would not hesitate to approach developers to handle their responsibilities with regard to infrastructure, flood control, etc. Dominguez feels his public speaking skills in English or Spanish give him an edge in representing the county's interests by courting new business in Mexico or seeking consensus within the Commissioner's Court.  

While there's nothing wrong with someone entering politics immediately after law school, that's not the situation with the 42 year old Dominguez.  His twenty-year work history includes legal assistant, four years as a teacher, stints at a Prosecuting Attorney's office, the Cameron County District Attorney's Office(not under Villalobos), and over nine years as a lawyer, focusing on "civil, criminal defense and pro bono cases."  His practice, currently with 150 annual clients, would be greatly reduced to serve as Precinct 2 Commissioner.  

Dominguez cites "truancy" and Brownsville's high school dropout rate as critical, sees a need for the county to develop the area along Highway 4 to Boca Chica, not simply wait on SpaceX.  If Elon Musk does decide to locate near Boca Chica, Dominguez states "we don't have potential employees with the skills required for those jobs."  He says our educational institutions will have to react quickly with training for the job demand that enterprise would create.

Nena wants me to add that she found Alex "easygoing, approachable, not only able to express his opinion, but interested in ours."


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Was That Commissioner Portillo Giving Mayor Martinez "Back-Talk" At Tuesday's City Commission Meeting?

Commissioner Debbie Portillo
It seemed like a watershed moment, similar, but maybe not reaching the stature of Rosa Park's refusing to relinquish her bus seat to a white man in 1955, but, at least in the same spirit.  

Newbie City Commissioner Debbie Portillo had introduced Agenda Item #18: 

 Consideration and ACTION to acknowledge the list of City properties that could possibly be placed on the City's seller list. (Commissioners D. Portillo and J. Villarreal)

The only property mentioned was El Cueto Building, leased to UTB for three years at $30,000 per year, although we've been told that not a penny of the lease has been paid.(I've sent a Public Information Request to the City of Brownsville for the complete list.)

Mayor Tony Martinez
No sooner had agenda 18 been read by City Secretary Estela Von Hatten, Tony Martinez called for a motion to table since he'd been out of town and not had time to examine the agenda item.(Actually, in town or not, Tony likely receives the agenda via email on Fridays, just as I do.) Tony expressed concern that the "lessee," UTB, might misunderstand the decision to list the building, calling the lease a "less." to the chagrin of onlookers.  He was obviously flustered with the agenda item.  

When Portillo stated that she did not want inaction for "two months" on the agenda item, Mayor Tony started trying to talk over her.  For a minute, both Portillo and Martinez talked at the same time, but not in harmony.  Tony eventually got the item tabled, but not with the typical mindless rubberstamp by the City Commission.

This past January 27th, Portillo had joined John Villarreal in presenting an agenda item designed to curb Mayor Martinez dipping into the AEP Texas Settlement fund for his own pet projects: 

12. Consideration and ACTION to acknowledge the expenditures paid from the AEP lawsuit settlement proceeds and to approve an expenditure budget from the remaining proceeds.(Commissioners J. Villarreal/D. Portillo)

Tony had already spend $400,000 of the $3,060,000 utility refund before the commissioners moved in to protect the fund.  

If Ms. Portillo's current conduct continues, Brownsville citizens may find something they've not had on the City Commission for a long, long time; a voice.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Handicapped May Have Full Access to City Departments "Within a Week"

Workmen Lowering New Hydraulic Jack in Elevator
Workmen from Rio Elevator were busy lowering a new hydraulic jack into a PVC sleeve or "sock" Monday at El Tapiz Building.  

"Maybe as much as one and a half weeks, but likely within the week," Rio Elevator's foreman estimated, when asked when the project would be completed.  

This is the second time within two years this exact repair has been made at El Tapiz.  Elevators in both the U.S. and Europe frequently operate for decades without needing hydraulic jack replacement.  

Sign Posted at El Tapiz Elevator for 8 Months
Our visit with Rio Elevator Supervisor James last February revealed why the relatively new hydraulic jack became totally corroded and worthless in less than two years:

"The hydraulic jack was placed in a PVC sleeve, but, without a cap, it was set in mud. In a short time, the thing was completely corroded," stated James.

When asked how his company will prevent a repeat of the previous short-lived hydraulic jack repair, James stated: "We will put a PVC cap underneath the sleeve to prevent contact corrosion."

James did not know why the City of Brownsville did not require the previous contractor to make good on the poor workmanship or even if the job was guaranteed.

Compliance with the 1990 American Disabilities Act is at issue for the City of Brownsville.  For the better part of a year, disabled citizens have had no physical access to the Brownsville's Planning, Fire Department Administration and the Metropolitan Planning Organization.(Recent meetings of the MPO have been held at Brownsville Metro and, last Saturday, at the Southmost Community Room, adjacent to the Brownsville Police Department Southmost Substation.)
While a rugged, concrete service stairs is available for the able-bodied, the city implemented a plan for the disabled recently to give them another option.  A phone was set up in the lobby for those "unable to walk up the stairs," with the promise that someone would come down to the lobby to "meet with them."

Hot Tar Delivered to Roof, 4/14/14
Meanwhile, Arco Construction has been working on the building's roof and exterior.  Here is this excerpt from a February MMB article:  
"We spoke with Jorge, a supervisor with Arrco Construction, the winning contractor on El Tapiz Building roof repair. 

Jorge stated that his company had received the $122,500 contract from the City of Brownsville to "remove the metal window bars, repair the cracks in the roof's parapet railing and give the roof a composite coating" with a three inch insulation underlay.

The repair's anticipated completion date is within 75 days."

El Tapiz Receiving Necessary Repairs

These two projects are necessary and beneficial to taxpayers needing city services, in contrast to the foolish purchases of speculative real estate approved by the City Commission the last two years.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Bike Trails in My Old Home Town

Let me clarify.  I'm not against bike trails.  Build them if you think that's Brownsville's top priority.  But, we do not need to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on studies, cycling seminars, artificially pumping up CycloBia.  Just build them.

The City of Brownsville has a history of wasting money on studies. $900,000 on Imagine Brownsville; never implemented.  $70,000 on Downtown Revitalization; nothing to show for it.  $454,000 on an industrial corridor plan;  may or may not come to fruition.  I understand we may be paying for a comprehensive bike trail plan soon.  With all of the above monies coupled with grants, we could have bike trails in every part of town.

Anyway, I Googled my old neck of the woods and "bike trails." Yes, the roads in Western Washington are typically wet.

Will the City of Brownsville Now Try to SELL Some of the Speculative Real Estate Purchased in the Last Two Years? Also, The Traveling Man

This agenda item for the April 15 City Commission meeting caught our attention, placed on the agenda by Commissioners Portillo and Villarreal:

Commissioner Debbie Portillo
18. Consideration and ACTION to acknowledge the list of City properties that could possibly be placed on the City's seller list. (Commissioners D. Portillo and J. Villarreal)

Could it actually be that the city, after acquiring property after property for the last two years will now try
Commissioner John Villarreal
to sell some of these unwise, unnecessary acquisitions?

Among the properties purchased without a hint of justification or even explanation to the taxpayers:  A brick building and warehouse at 1700 Ringgold St. for $100,000, 611 and 615 E. 11th for $41,000 and $42,000(later Tony tapped into the AEP Texas Settlement Fund to buy 609 E. 11th for $42,000), the Mother of Perpetual Help Home at 519 E. Madison for $195,101(now used for bicycle storage), the Old National Guard Armory at 344 Porter Drive for $431,200, the San Fernando Building at 1100 E. Adams St. for $315,000(rumored to have been made available to an architectural firm working on a network of bicycle trails), and, of course La Casa del Nylon for $2,300,000.

Health Director Arturo Rodriguez, the "Traveling Man"
Health Director Arturo Rodriguez
In a recent story we stated that Arturo Rodriguez "must have must have an extraordinarily light work load as City Health Director," because he seems to always be on the go for training, seminars and conferences.  When is he in his office?

Just during March Arturo was out of town in seminars two full weeks, half the month, at the Texas Trails & Active Transportation Conference and the Active Living Conference.  Not only was Arturo out of the office, unavailable to Brownsville citizens, he socked it to the taxpayers on airfare, hotel accommodations and a whopping $71 per diem meal allowance.  Rodriguez charged us $1,439 for the TTAT and $2,623 for the ALC.  He also took Judy Hernandez, Wellness Coordinator, to the ALC.  Judy also asked the city for $2,623, meaning the taxpayers spent $6,685 in March for Health Department Travel.  

Both conferences offered at least some meals, a "networking" lunch here, dinner, continental breakfasts.  The Active Living Conference, in keeping with its theme, had scheduled physical activity.  Wellness Coordinator Judy Hernandez chose walking, zumba and beech volleyball as her activities.  Health Director Rodriguez wrote on that line:  "No thanks.  I'll exercize on my own."

Friday, April 11, 2014

"No, Thank you!" The Taxpayers of the "Poorest City in the United States" Can't Afford Any More Awards

City Manager Charlie Cabler with
Community Showcase CEO David McCarthy
Do you remember "bannergate?"  Two years ago, a Warsaw, NY "businessman," attending the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Orlando, FL, sought out Tony Martinez(likely with a pic of Martinez in his pocket) to let the mayor know that Brownsville was one of 15 cities to be honored nationally with a Community Showcase Award.  

The award, according to Community Showcase CEO David McCarthy, would "show the city of Brownsville's economic vitality and the support of the business community."

With a contract letter in hand from the City of Brownsville, clearly indicating the award would be at "no cost to the city," McCarthy and a buxom  companion, identified as Itza Pena, began visiting Brownsville businessmen to sell banner packages ranging from $600 to $4,000.  It was emphasized that the meager $600 package was only for "churches and non-profits.  Upstanding businessmen, who "supported Tony" were expected to cough up four grand.

Variations of this scam are legendary, including upfront money to make your five year old a Hollywood star or get your invention patented and in production.  "Flattery", whether directed at individuals or cities,  according to the late actress Mae West, "will get you everywhere."

The City of Brownsville, increasingly recognized as the "poorest city in the United States," is in contention for another award, that of "All-American City."  All-American cities aren't picked the same way as All-American football players.(Marshall is the other Texas city, along with Brownsville, still in the running, both city's "90 lb weaklings" as cities go.) It takes self-promotion and MONEY to get the nod.  Fayetteville, NC estimates expenditures in excess of $170,000 to garner the honor in 2011.

 Note this comment to the Fayetteville Observer:  

"It would be interesting to know how many folks who have moved to Fayetteville recently did so because of the previous designation as an All-American city. Seems to me that the city could use that money for something more worthwhile."

Health Director Arturo Rodriguez(in background)
Arturo Rodriguez, who must have an extraordinarily light work load as City Health Director, gave the half hour power point to United Brownsville in February about the city's quest for the All-American designation.(Arturo shows up again and again on travel requests, just spending a week at the bike seminar in Fort Worth along with a large delegation at taxpayer expense.)

The All-American City designation is like being in the "Who's Who in College" book.  The benefit is psychological, appealing to municipalities with low self-esteem.  What if for $39.95, a city can be listed in the book, "Great American Cities," and you get a copy of the book?

Here's the scary part for Brownsville's hardworking, overburdened taxpayers.  According to Brownsville Herald reporter Ty Johnson:

"City officials will head to Colorado this June to make their case for Brownsville to be named a member of the 2014 All-America City class now that the National Civic League has identified 25 finalists for the award."

Packing their bags and ski wear for Denver?
Please don't tell us Ty that Brownsville taxpayers are sending a large delegation to Colorado to plead their case for this award, while attempting to scrimp by on a $56 or $71 per diem meal allowance at a plush Denver hotel and spa.    

We will be keeping an eye on travel requests made to the City of Brownsville.  Oh, by the way, is there an award for conserving and protecting taxpayer assets?  I didn't think so.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blogger Sniping Aside, It's Time for Sheriff Omar Lucio to Retire

Mean Mister Brownsville, Sheriff Omar Lucio
It was only after Ronald Reagan's term of office that reports of his Alzheimer moments surfaced.  

"Damn, the man's brain waves and short term memory were short-circuiting while sleeping inches from a red button that could trigger nuclear war!" we thought.  

None of the whispers about Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio have mentioned dementia, just a sleepy turnover of authority to the Reyna brothers or others, sometimes using grants or forfeitures to supplement their pay.  

Mental slippage I've not seen from the sheriff.  Unlike other public officials, Lucio answers questions.   Recently I asked him how an establishment selling alcoholic beverages could operate seemingly closer to a school or church then called for in city code.  

"Well, Jim, the inspector doesn't always measure 'as the crow flies,' but may measure down a sidewalk, along a street, then, down another sidewalk to get the necessary footage," was Lucio's reply.

Yes, Lucio was lucid.
Juan Montoya of El Rrun Rrun
Then came reports of exam cheating within the department. Bobby Wightman of the BROWNSVILLE VOICE reported "as many as 25" cheaters, while this blog mentioned "5 had been suspended for cheating" in a brief April 7 report that also mentioned two Mexican nationals hired.  Two days later, Juan Montoya of El Rrun Rrun, reflecting a certain pettiness and insecurity unrelated to actual journalism, mentioned "breathless tantalizing going on in other would-be investigative blogs promising their readers the skinny leaves much to be desired," then proceeded to give what he represented as the definitive story.  Whatever.

My source was accurate when he told me April 8 that "5 officers have been suspended for cheating" but it's "being kept hush, hush."

The source also said:  "I'm sure questions were raised when ex police commander or chief of nuevo laredo mexico, and current mexico liason Alvaro Guerra was promoted to Lt. He was either given the test or just simply illegally appointed..."

About the commander:  "On the Mexico side. He illegally crossed to the us after shooting and killing a major drug lord over there..."

And later:  "On his TCLEOSE record it shows not a U.S.citizen."

What is TCLEOSE?  Every record any police has ever had along with licensing.

"focus on recently promoted captain Carlos Garza, and recently promoted Lt. Alvaro Guerra. ..those two guys im sure didn't pass(on their own)."

Whatever the final tally of cheaters or whether or not a cell phone was used to copy the exam, it happened on octogenarian Lucio's watch. It is time to move on Sheriff.

"Jim, You're Wrong! The Battlefield Bike Trail DOES Have 1,000 Daily Riders, But Only 'We' Can See Them!"

It's a matter of perception.  When an ordinary citizen, like me, crosses the Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail, looking to the right and to the left, I see no cyclists.  According to the large taxpayer-sponsored delegation to the seminar in Fort Worth, that simply proves I have no "vision."

Not only do these city administrators, BCIC board members see hoards of cyclists using the city's bike trails, one accompanies them everywhere they go.(Note the phantom cyclist amongst the celebratory throng above.)

Perhaps, someday one of the bike-obsessed BCIC board members will have the fortitude to ride a bike to their noon meeting.  They could still park free at one of the hooded meters.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Brownsville's Bicycle Tourists~"We Don't Go to Bike Seminars Often, But, When We Do, The Taxpayers Pay for Everything!"

The happy tourists above impacted the economy of Fort Worth, Texas this past month by their attendance at a bike & trails seminar.  Who wouldn't smile while enjoying the plush accommodations of Sheraton Fort Worth Hotel & Spa while enjoying $56 per diem eats?  Six received travel money in advance from the City of Brownsville with travel requests ranging from $966 to $1,439, while four others were sponsored with 4B tax dollars through the Brownsville Community Improvement Corporation.  

We don't know who paid for Assistant City Manager Jeff Johnston or Tourism Guru "Bean" Ayala, but it would shock if they paid their own way for yet more bicycle training.  Is their any reasonable explanation as to why the "poorest city in the United States" has to foot the bill for this large a delegation to learn about bikes and bike trails?  Can you justify this Rose?  What do you have to say Bean?  Are hard earned Brownsville tax dollars and assets being protected Jeff?  You just don't understand, do you Ramiro?

Our city boards and officials have gone bike crazy, are bike obsessed and in some sort of irrational, bicycle loony land.  The BCIC spent $7,000 of tax dollars for the postcard ad above to hang in the Harlingen airport terminal for one year, announcing Brownsville as "The Bicycling Capital of the Rio Grande Valley."  Board Chairman Rose Gowen hailed the ad, declaring bicycle tourists as affluent with "annual salaries of $190,000, no $200,000 per year, with education averaging two advanced degrees."

I doubt if a single one of the "bicycle tourists" has traveled to Brownsville to ride our two bike trails or to get killed pedaling in our bike lanes.  The only real "bicycle tourism" generated so far is our city administrators, commissioners and board members traveling to Colombia, Galveston, Fort Worth and who knows where else to get bike-educated with taxpayer money.

Brownsville's Big Bike Illusion has even extended to submitting obviously false grant applications. An application sent by the city for a Traffic enhancement grant of $786,000 to extend the Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail through downtown, connecting it to Fort Brown claimed that the "Battlefield Hike & Bike Trail" currently has "1,000 riders daily," obviously a lie.  

It's actually a matter of priorities.  At Tuesdays BCIC meeting the board chose to fund several bicycle events, committed $18,000 for landscape managment of the Belden Bike Trail, $4,500 for a "Resaca-Kite Flying Regatta, but a request of $4,500 for bus stop "seats and signs" was denied.

Oh, the pic at the top also reflects celebration of Rose Gowen's award as "Trail Boss," doubtless because she rounded up such a large contingent to the seminar at taxpayer expense.  Actually, those who misuse, waste, squander taxpayer dollars as we've documented, disrespecting the hard workers in this "poorest city," should simply hit the trail.

Leo Lopez, Bringing a Unique Skill Set to the Precinct 2 County Commissioner Race

Leonel "Leo" Lopez
For many in this corruption-plagued town, the biggest news in Precinct 2 was finally seeing the indicted Ernie Hernandez, Jr. voted out of office.  The top vote-getter in the primary, young lawyer Alex Dominguez, likely is the favorite to succeed Hernandez, but there may be a much better option.  

Leonel "Leo" Lopez, not the typical young lawyer type that frequently enters politics, but a mature man with a unique skill set to run for this office, gives voters an interesting option.

Lopez doesn't just know the boundaries of Precinct 2, but where the "basins" are that cause flooding, the colonias, understands the relationship of road construction and flood control, sees the future of light rail, but on existing track, not the raised track of 2014 that can act like a dam.
Operation Lone Star

His background is in epidemiology, that is public health & safety, with stints in "Operation Lone Star" as an ICS Manager and the Texas Division of Emergency Management.  A 1st responder during Hurricane Dolly, Lopez thinks in terms of evacuation routes.

"I believe in Civic Advisory Committees," states Lopez.  "I don't know everything."  Lopez is a good listener, picking up on body language, paying attention, not just to what you say, but how you say it.  Upset citizens or even disagreements can stimulate looking at things differently, which Lopez finds constructive.

"My approach for Precinct 2 would start with land surveys to determine the infrastructure needs of the various communities."

Lopez sees value in offering incentives for wind generated power, but says solar energy is not as effective in Brownsville as other areas.  "We have a sufficient number of sunny days, but the angle of solar rays, their diffused nature here, is not the same as farther north."  He says it's important for Cameron County to be an "energy hub."

Lopez faces Alex Dominguez in a runoff for County Commissioner, Precinct 2, on May 27.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Glimpse At the Work of the BCIC, Brownsville's Disperser of 4B "Quality of Life" Tax Dollars

With its other half, the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation shut down by the Secretary of State for not keeping itself legal, the Brownsville Community Improvement board went about the business of spending part of $4.2 million the group receives annually from the taxpayers to spend on "quality of life" projects during their monthly meeting 4/8/14.  

The group is still hamstrung with millions of dollars in obligations to pay off and maintain the Brownsville Sports Park located across the interstate from Olmito.  Even at today's meeting City Engineer Doroteo Garcia brought in invoices totaling $72,000, requesting that the BCIC reimburse the City of Brownsville for Sports Park repairs/improvements.

A Memorandum of Understanding was approved, giving the Parks Department an annual $18,000 stipend for landscape maintenance of the Belden Trail.  

Approval for the first cycle of project requests were being discussed as Nena and I had to leave.  The projects now have a limit of $5,000 each with two cycles of applications.(This is a change from annual approval of projects with a $10,000 limit.)  

This cycle's requests totaled $173,000 with 24 new requests, 11 carried over from last year and two "time sensitive" requests. 

Two projects carried over from last year were applied for by Healthy Communities of Brownsville, Inc., a speech about autism and a speech about bullying, each speech costing the taxpayers $5,000.  

The board leaned toward denying the $5,000 request from Charro Days, Inc., as they felt the celebration was sufficiently established so as to not need BCIC taxpayer monies.  The request from the Brownsville Beer Fest was cut in half to $2,500.  The request from the Brownsville Museum of Fine Art for the King Tut Exhibition was denied as substantial BCIC funds have already gone to that exhibition.