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Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured second from right in this file photo, is hoping to get a new, four-year term to the Texas Senate if no one files against him by 5 p.m. Wednesday, January 2, the deadline for candidates who want to place their names on the ballot for the March 4 party primaries in Texas. As of Thursday, December 27, the veteran legislator, whose Senate District 20 includes Edinburg, remained unopposed, according to the Texas Democratic Party. Only those candidates whose constituency covers multiple counties are required to file with the Texas Democratic Party. If Hinojosa draws no opponents, his new four-year term will begin in January 2009. His district includes part of Hidalgo County, along with all of Brooks, Jim Wells, and Nueces counties. Local legislative races also up for grabs that affect Edinburg include the expected battle between two Democrats – Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Eddie Sáenz – and next fall’s upcoming contest between Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, and Javier Villalobos, a Republican. Gonzáles’ House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg.

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Edinburg High School’s twin brother athletes Roberto (featured left) and Ricardo Vergara, 17, were honored recently by the Edinburg school board with a resolution recognizing their many accomplishments in race walking. Both young men are members of the South Texas Walking Club which promotes health and fitness through competitive walking. In addition to be outstanding in their academics, the brothers also have built international athletic reputations. Along with the Edinburg school board members featured in this portrait, the two brothers also were joined by their former elementary school – and now Edinburg High School – principal, Maria Luisa Guerra, shown here in the first row, second from right. A.C. Jaime, featured third row, first on left, has been the coach and mentor for the Vergara brothers. See story later in this posting.

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Juez Susan Criss archivo para la Corte Suprema de Tejas, dice ella que va traer diversidad, justicia para todos los Tejanos

Escritor: DAVID A. DÍAZ

Juez de distrito estatal de Tejas Susan Criss, Demócrata de Galveston, el lunes 17 de diciembre, en Austin archivo como candidata democrática para el puesto 8 de la Corte Suprema de Tejas.

La Corte Suprema de Tejas es la arena legal más alta del estado para los asuntos civiles, y consiste de un jefe juez y ocho jueces asociados de la corte que son elegidos por votación estatal.

Criss, un juez de distrito estatal con experiencia y ex fiscal, dijo que el propósito primordial de su campaña “es luchar para proteger las derechos constitucionales de todos nuestros ciudadanos.”

En archivar para el nombramiento del partido demócrata el 4 de marzo del año 2008, ella dijo que el dominio del partido republicano sobre la corte más alta del estado es una amenaza para todos los Tejanos.

“El control republicano de la corte civil más alta de nuestro estado ha puesto el promedio del derecho constitucional del juicio por jurado de los Tejanos a riesgo. Cuando un Tejano lastimado es concedido compensación por daños y perjuicios por un tribunal en su palacio de justicia local – y esa decisión es apelada- esta corte dominada por republicanos cambia la decisión del jurado 90% del tiempo contra el demandante,” dijo ella. “Los Tejanos merecen algo mejor.”

Criss criticó la corte existente y señaló que los republicanos “han favorecido constantemente a las ricas corporaciones y compañías de seguros, y han hecho la vida cotidiana de los trabajadores Tejanos más peligrosa.”

Por comparación, Criss dijo que ella tiene un historial comprobado por ser justa y ofrece igualdad de oportunidades en el sistema de justicia. Ella ha sido reconocida alrededor de la nación por su liderazgo de parte de mujeres jueces y el reclutamiento de minorías para perseguir carreras en leyes.

Como parte de ese compromiso, Criss hizo un llamado para el sistema universitario de la Universidad de Texas (UT) para apoyar la creación de una escuela de leyes en el valle más bajo de Río Grande, que es predominante Latino.

“De los más de 77 mil abogados en Tejas, solamente 14 por ciento son minorías, según un informe producido en la primavera pasada por la abogacía estatal de Tejas,” dijo Criss. “Aún más de 59 por ciento de los alumnos de Tejas son de poblaciones de la minoría, y los mexicoamericanos componen una tercera parte de la población de nuestro estado. Necesitamos animar a más estudiantes de la minoría que persigan carreras en la ley.”

Su entrega a lo temas de la minoría y protegiendo familias trabajadoras también proviene de su familia, incluyendo su padre, ex representante estatal Lloyd Criss, Demócrata de Galveston, que en los años 80 ayudó formar legislación dice ella que fueron liberados miles de trabajadores agrícola de Tejas de condiciones de trabajo que ella llamaría “esclavitud.”

Ella tiene también encabezo sanciones más rígidos contra delincuentes sexuales y luchó por una protección más fuerte para niños. El trabajo más importante que hace la Corte Suprema de Tejas es revisar casos y determina si los tribunales fueron conducidos justamente y de acuerdo la ley- y ella también tiene la experiencia y los credenciales para hacer el trabajo, dijo ella.

“Traigo una nueva perspectiva basada en la actual experiencia en la sala de justicia ganada por presidir centenares de casos como un juez tribunal y por encargarme de miles de casos como abogada. Yo he trabajado en la sala de justicia probando casos con jurados por más de 20 años y conozco ahí de primera mano cómo el sistema del jurado trabaja,” dijo Criss.

Desde anunciar para esta posición en abril de 2007, Criss ha viajado a través de Tejas, visitando sobre 90 condados de Tejas y recolectando sobre 1600 firmas para su candidatura.

“La respuesta ha sido abrumadora. La gente desea un cambio. El año 2008 puede ser un año de victoria para los demócratas,” respondió ella. “Nuestro partido merece los candidatos más fuertes y que puedan ser elegidos. Nosotros necesitamos demócratas con el valor y la determinación de hacer lo correcto para Tejas y los Tejanos.

Criss fue elegida al distrito estatal 212th en el condado de Galveston en 1998 y ha sido reelegido dos veces. Ella preside sobre casos criminales y civiles.

Criss ha recibido numerosos premios, incluyendo en el 2005 le otorgaron el premio- Personas Haciendo Una Diferencia por la fundación de Fred C. Johnson, en el 2004 le concedieron el premio- Excepcional Mujer Funcionario en Tejas de la Asociación Democrática de Mujeres Tejanas, y en 1994 recibió el premio- Excepcional Joven Abogado del condado Galveston.

Una ex fiscal y abogada defensor, Criss fue ayudante de abogado de distrito en el condado de Galveston desde 1986 hasta 1997 donde ella era Jefe de la División Delito Menor y también sirvió como fiscal probando casos sobre el abuso de niños y ancianos.

Criss comenzó su carrera legal como una oficinista de leyes en la División de Protección Medioambiental del Procurador del Estado de Tejas y también fue dueña de su propia oficina de leyes.

Más información sobre su campaña es disponible en su página electrónica, http://www.JudgeCriss.com, puede comunicarse con ella: Susan Criss Campaign, P.O. Box 16474, Galveston, Texas 77552 (Tel: 409-771-4060).

Anuncio político pagado por la campaña de Susan Criss. Tesorero, Lloyd Criss. P.O. Box 16474, Galveston, Texas 77552.

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Edinburg’s jobless rate drops to 3.7 percent for November 2007, best showing in city’s history

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s economy received a big Christmas gift, with news announced on Friday, December 21, that the city’s jobless rate – which is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy – in November, 2007 dropped to 3.7 percent, the best showing in the city’s history.

The latest statistic, compiled by the Texas Workforce Commission, also showed that Edinburg had the lowest jobless rate among major Valley cities for November 2007, noted the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García,

who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Elias Longoria, Jr., and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

The 3.7 percent jobless rate of November 2007 also represented a drop in the jobless rate from October, 2007, which came in at 4.4 percent, and a drop from September, which came in at five percent.

Edinburg’s latest showing also is better than the previous best mark for 2007, which came in April at 4.3 percent.

The highest jobless rate in Edinburg in 2007 came in July, reaching 5.8 percent.

The November 2007 jobless rate in Edinburg represents a growth of 976 jobs over November 2006, and a growth of 1,660 jobs over November 2005.

In November 2007, there were 27,792 people employed in Edinburg.

In November 2006, there were 26,816 people with jobs in the three-time All-America City.

In November 2005, there were 26,132 people employed in Edinburg.

Those levels represent some of the lowest unemployment rates and the largest numbers of people employed in the city’s history.

With the exception of the July 2007 level, Edinburg has posted either the lowest, or second-lowest jobless rate, in the Rio Grande Valley each month this year.

The state’s jobless rate in November averaged 4.2 percent.

The U.S. unemployment rate in November was 4.7 percent.

The latest figure compares with a 4.7 percent jobless rate in November 2006, and a 4.4 percent jobless rate in November 2005.

McAllen, which usually has the lowest jobless rates in the Valley, reported a 3.8 percent jobless rate in November 2007.

All cities in Hidalgo County for November 2o07 had a combined 5.9 percent jobless rate, while all cities in Cameron County had a combined 5.6 percent jobless rate during the same month.

Among the Valley’s largest cities in November 2007, Weslaco posted a 5.3 percent jobless rate, followed by Brownsville with a 4.9 percent jobless rate, Mission with a 4.5 percent jobless rate, and Pharr with a 4.4 percent jobless rate.

Harlingen had the third-lowest jobless rate among Valley cities in November 2007 at 4.3 percent.

The jobless rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force.

The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed.

To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and actively seeking work.

In 2006, the annual jobless rate for Edinburg was 5.3 percent, while in 2005, the annual jobless rate for Edinburg was 4.7 percent.

The monthly breakdown of the city’s jobless rate in 2007 follows:

In November, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 3.7 percent.

In October, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.

In September, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5 percent.

In August, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.

In July, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5.8 percent.

In June, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5.5 percent.

In May, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.

In April, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.3 percent.

In March, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.

In February, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.8 percent.

In January, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.

Statewide, the jobless rate went up, according to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment grew by 12,300 jobs in November.

Texas employers now have added 204,400 jobs over the past 12 months, for an annual growth rate of 2.0 percent compared with a national growth rate of 1.1 percent.

The November statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate increased to 4.2 percent, up from 4.1 percent in October, but down from 4.7 percent a year ago.

“Job growth in Texas continues to outpace the nation as employers hire workers and expand,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chair Diane Rath. “The solid economic foundation laid in Texas over recent years is serving employers and workers well.”

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.7 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Amarillo, Lubbock and Odessa MSAs were second at 3.2 percent.

Education and Health Services gained 4,700 positions in November, contributing to an annual job growth of 25,900. Leisure and Hospitality recorded a monthly increase of 2,900 jobs in November, for a total of 39,200 since November 2006, a 4.1 percent annual job growth rate.

“Texas employers across many industry sectors are adding jobs faster than the nation as a whole,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman.

“Construction, Professional and Business Services, and Financial Activities, for example, are adding jobs at more than twice the rate of the rest of the country.”

Natural Resources and Mining continues to maintain the highest annual job growth rate at 8.0 percent, adding 1,400 jobs during the month and 15,500 over the year. Employment in Professional and Business Services gained 3,500 positions in November, for an increase of 50,500 positions over the year and an annual job growth rate of 4.0 percent.

“More jobs mean outstanding prospects for Texas workers,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “Whether workers are in goods producing or service providing sectors, many opportunities are available.”

Construction employment posted a significant gain of 2,200 jobs in November, bringing the number of jobs added in Construction since November 2006 to 14,700.

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Edinburg’s 2007 construction between January and November approaches $166 million

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Total construction activities in Edinburg between January and November 2007 – which include everything from installing plumbing to building the structures, but not the price of the lots – reached almost $166 million, with new commercial construction leading the way at more than $69 million, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García,

who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Elias Longoria, Jr., and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

However, the latest total construction figures are still behind 2006’s level during the same time period, which had reached almost $177 million.

Still, the level of new commercial construction through most of 2007 was ahead the previous year’s level, which was reported at $61.5 million from January through November 2006.

As for new residential construction, the 2007 figure reached more than $54 million from January through November 2007, compared with more than $67 million during the same period in 2006.

Meanwhile, from January through November 2007, residential construction accounted for more than $54 million, compared with more than $67 million

For the month of November, which represents the latest figures available, total construction in Edinburg – not counting any activities at the University of Texas-Pan American – reached almost $13.1 million, nearly double the $7.7 million mark reached during the same month in 2006.

In November 2007, the value of new commercial construction – not counting government facilities or churches – was more than $5.7 million, up from more than $1.1 million in November 2006.

In November 2007, residential construction – work done on single-family homes – reached almost $5 million, compared with almost $3.2 million in November 2006.

Residential construction figures do not include multi-family dwellings, such as duplexes, triplexes, fourplexs, and apartment buildings.

Multi-family residences accounted for slightly more than $19 million in new construction between January and November, compared with more than $16.3 million during the same period in 2006.

No new construction has been authorized in 2007 for non-taxable structures, such as government facilities and churches – but not including UT-Pan American construction. From January through November 2006, building permits were issued for $8,996,000 in new construction of nontaxable structures.

In November 2007, building permits valued at $687,000 were issued for alterations on nontaxable structures, compared with $16,300 during the same period in 2006.

Between January and November 2007, building permits valued at $13,263,500 were issued for alterations on nontaxable structures, compared with $$7,636,300 during the same period in 2006.

What are building permits?

The values of the construction are listed in building permits issued by the city’s Code Enforcement Division.

Building permits are permits taken out in order to allow excavation and to protect public safety.

Building permits represent the estimated cost of construction, not the selling price.

The building permits do not include the price of the lot.

A start in construction is defined as the beginning of excavation of the foundation for the building and is usually composed primarily of residential housing.

A building permit is permission issued by a city’s planning department to oversee and approve any changes to structures.

They are documents designed to guarantee that any construction work, from remodeling to demolition to building a new home or business facility, meets the city’s building codes.

Most valuable projects

A 104,000 square-foot JC Penney retail structure, which is set to be one of the anchor tenants at The Shoppes at Rio Grande in Edinburg, was the most valuable project to receive a building permit in November.

The JC Penney store, one of as many as two dozen stores to be built at the shopping mall, received a building permit for work valued at $4 million.

Another commercial facility that will be part of The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley was the second-most valuable project to receive a building permit in November. Jeff Radesi was issued a building permit for new construction, valued at $750,000, of a facility located at 457 E. Trenton Road.

An addition/repairs to an existing government facility was the third-most valuable project approved for construction in Edinburg in November. The Hidalgo County Precinct 4 facility, located at 1051 N. Doolittle Road, was issued a building permit for work valued at $687,000.

An addition/alteration to an existing commercial property was the fourth-most valuable project approved for construction in Edinburg in November. H.k. Jain was issued a building permit, valued at $500,000, for a commercial addition/repairs at a facility located at 2310 W. Trenton Road in the A.J. McColl Subdivision.

A multi-family residence, being built by Freddy Segovia at 2308 N. Sugar Road in the Sugar North Apartments subdivision, was the fifth-most valuable project approved for construction in November. That complex is valued at $485,000.

The most expensive single-family residence authorized for construction in November belongs to Óscar Enríquez, located at 1222 Dartmouth Avenue, valued at $350,000, in the West Meadows II subdivision.

A more detailed breakdown of November 2007 figures for Edinburg features the following highlights:

Commercial construction

New construction of commercial buildings, not including multi-family residences, was reported at $5,728,000 in November, compared with $1,124,500 for the same month in 2006.

Calendar year-to-date, new construction of commercial buildings reached $69,437,225 from January through November, compared with $61,539,472 during the same period in 2006.

Commercial alterations in November totaled $901,287, compared to $554,661 in November 2006.

Calendar year-to-date, commercial alterations have reached $5,318,236, compared with $10,003,465 from January through November 2006.

Home construction

New construction of single-family homes in November 2007 reached $4,964,566, compared with $3,190,195 in November 2006.

Calendar year-to-date, building permits have been issued for residential homes valued at $54,182,346, compared with $67,122,064 during the same period in 2006.

Calendar year-to-date, building permits have been issued for the construction of 569 single-family homes, compared with 732 from January through November 2006.

In November 2007, work began on 45 single-family residences, compared with 36 homes in November 2006.

In November 2007, alterations for single-family residences were valued at $164,265, compared with $147,400 for the same month in 2006.

Calendar year-to-date, building permits have been issued for residential alterations valued at $4,557,259, compared with $5,176,432 in alterations during the same period in 2006.

Multi-family residences

New construction of multi-family residences in November 2007 reached $691,500, compared with $2,694,740 for the same month in 2006.

Calendar-year-to-date, new construction of multi-family homes totaled $19,169,000, compared with $16,378,740 from January through November 2006.

During the first 11 months of 2007, building permits were issued for 126 multi-family residences, or 417 units, compared with 161 multi-family residences, or 352 units, between January and November 2007.

For the month of November 2007, building permits were issued for four multi-family residences, or 23 units, compared with 18 multi-family residences, or 44 units, in November 2006.

Top November 2007 construction projects

Highlights of construction in November 2007 of commercial buildings, not including multi-family residences, valued at $100,000 or more include:

  • JC Penney Store, 419 E. Trenton Road ($4,000,000);
  • Jeff Radesi, 457 E. Trenton Road ($750,000);
  • José Chapa, 1627 S. McColl ($290,000);
  • Miguel A. Garza, 4853 S. Jackson Road ($200,000);
  • Eddie Aguilar, 3317 W. University Drive ($200,000); and
  • M&G Holding, 2123 Jackson Creek Avenue ($200,000).

Highlights of construction in November 2007 of multi-family residences (duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, and apartment buildings) valued at $100,000 or more include:

  • Freddy Segovia, 2308 N. Sugar Road ($485,000); and
  • Rubén Gutiérrez, 2500 Tahiti Drive ($160,000).

Highlights of construction in November 2007 of single family homes valued at $100,000 or more include:

  • Óscar Enríquez, 1222 Dartmouth Avenue ($350,000);
  • Mr. and Mrs. Lopez, 3515 Monserat Drive ($300,000);
  • Dankar Homes, 3006 Iris Avenue ($203,000);
  • Randy Rives, 3125 Clubhouse Drive ($185,000);
  • René and Angie Domínquez, 1305 Ester Avenue ($175,000);
  • René Ricardo Navarro, 3405 Lerma Drive ($167,000);
  • Roberto Vargas, 427 N. M. Road ($140,000);
  • Ricardo Saldívar, 3212 Page Avenue ($140,000);
  • Ángel Banderas, 3308 Aceves Street ($137,000);
  • Fidel Ledezma, 1107 Shavano Drive ($130,000);
  • Rafael and Lisa Gómez, 5415 Flagg Drive ($126,000);
  • Rolando Cavazos, 3217 Francis Lane ($125,000);
  • Reynaldo Benavidez, 433 Martha Louise Avenue ($114,366);
  • Rey Benavidez, 417 Martha Louis Avenue ($108,000);
  • Rey Benavidez, 425 Martha Louis Avenue ($107,000);
  • Óscar Cantú, 3609 Ripple Drive ($100,000);
  • Óscar Cantú, 1612 Damasco Street ($100,000);
  • Óscar Cantú, 1616 Damasco Street ($100,000);
  • Óscar Cantú, 620 Oregano ($100,000);
  • Thelma Hill,3621 Featherie ($100,000);
  • Raúl González, 1801 Damasco Street ($100,000); and
  • Raúl González, 1802 Damasco Street ($100,000).

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Edinburg school board provides views by majority to lengthen terms of office, change election date

By GILBERT TAGLE

The Edinburg CISD Board of Trustees on Tuesday, December 11, voted 4-3 to adopt a resolution extending trustees’ terms from three years to four years in order to comply with Senate Bill 670, which mandates that school board elections coincide with municipal or state and county elections.

Trustee Omar Palacios made the motion to adopt the resolution with a second by trustee David Torres. Voting to adopt the resolution were Palacios, Torres, Carmen González and Ciro Treviño. Voting against adoption of the resolution were trustees Robert Peña, Jaime Chavana and Greg García.

A delegation of ECISD officials, including trustees Peña and Torres, traveled to Austin on October 30 to meet with the General Counsel for Elections Division in the Secretary of State’s office. Both district and state officials reviewed the district’s proposed plans for complying with the new state law. According to Treviño, the Edinburg delegation was encouraged to adopt a plan that would minimize voter confusion and promote a high voting turnout.

Trevino, who serves as the ECISD board vice president, said the board was obligated to abide by the new law that was passed by the legislature.

“We (the ECISD) didn’t make the law, but we have to abide by it,” said Treviño. “I don’t want to violate the law. I want to do what is right.”

House Bill 1, which was passed during the Special Session of the 79th Texas Legislature in 2006, changed school district elections.

General elections for board members must now be held on either: (1) the election date for the members of the governing body of a municipality located in the school district, or (2) the general election date for state and county officers.

The 80th legislative session, held in the spring of 2007, gave school districts the authority to change between three and four-year terms.

Senate Bill 670, which amends Texas Education Code section 11.059) gave school district until December 31, 2007 to adopt a resolution changing the length of the terms of its trustees. The transition must begin with the first regular election for trustees that occurs after January 1, 2008.

All of the Valley legislators voted for the new state law.

Dr. Jacques Treviño, the school board attorney, said the resolution adopted by the ECISD school board changes the current three-year trustee terms and annual elections to four-year trustee terms and biennial elections in order to hold elections on the general election date for state and county officers.

The resolution allows the ECISD school board to comply with Texas Education Code section 11.0581 and Texas Attorney General Opinion GA-535 (2007).

Attorney Treviño (no relation to Ciro Treviño) said the resolution will automatically extend the term of office for six of seven current ECISD board members. He said that as approved, the voters will elect a majority of the board at once every four years.

Elections will be held with the County of Hidalgo at the county’s selected polling places, said Trevino. The district can also choose to allow the county to run the election entirely thereby saving the district approximately $15,000 every year a school board election is held. Treviño said the district may also choose to use separate voting machines.

Under the new elections terms adopted in the resolution, the first day for school board candidates to file for a place on the board would be July 27, 2008. The last day to file would be August 26, 2008.

Attorney Treviño said the ECISD will notify the Department of Justice of the resolution extending the trustees’ terms and the DOJ will in turn verify that it complies with the Voting Rights Act.

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First National Bank of Edinburg launches new website design developed by LevelTen Design of Dallas

The largest privately owned bank in Texas, First National Bank of Edinburg, launched its newly designed website on Tuesday, December 11, with look and feel elements similar to the building’s Mexican mission style architecture and warm customer-friendly atmosphere.

For over 70 years, First National Bank of Edinburg has served Texas communities. With over 49 branches currently in operation and two new branches opening monthly, FNB is one of the fastest growing banks in the South. Currently there are branches in Texas throughout Rio Grande Valley, Laredo, Corpus Christi, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, El Paso, and Dallas/Fort Worth.

First National Bank’s adobe stucco exterior and artfully adorned interior sets it apart from most stereotypically cold, corporate, brick-and-motor financial institutions. With authentic decorative items, furniture, and art imported from Mexico and arranged by a sole interior designer for consistency, FNB creates a homey and warm atmosphere reminiscent of Mexican style and culture.

“‘You’re family here’ is our motto and this is the way we treat our customers. Sometimes customers like to just ‘hang out.’ They sit and read the newspaper, drink coffee, or socialize, even after they are done with business,” explained Sales Support Supervisor Erica Rentería.

This fast growing private bank with aesthetic sensibilities called upon the creative talents of LevelTen Design to design their new website

“We visited First National Bank’s headquarters to gain a greater understanding of the project and we were very impressed with the beauty of the building, especially the inside. We were equally impressed with how friendly everyone was there,” said Tom McCracken, Director of LevelTen Design.

LevelTen used candid photography shots with dynamic angles from outside and inside the bank to build the thematic design and color scheme of the new web site. LevelTen used panoramic photos of the bank, employees in action, beautifully lit corridors with foliage, and wind-blown palm trees with detailed pottery designs, all found on location to illustrate different pages of the site. Earthy/sandy browns and sky-lit blues were used to give the site color consistency and convey the warm and friendly feel already present at the bank.

First National Bank’s website is not only creative and aesthetically pleasing, but it also offers a number of resources including educational links and tools for customers that help answer questions like: “Should I refinance my home mortgage? What would my payments be for a fixed rate loan? What would my payments be for an adjustable rate loan? What would my payments be for a balloon loan? Should I rent my home or buy?” There are also informational links on identity theft, current consumer awareness alerts, and money management tips. For more information on First National Bank visit http://www.WebFNB.com./

LevelTen Design is a full service e-media agency headquartered in Dallas, Texas, offering web consulting, design, technical development, and marketing. LevelTen Design is one of the top five most visited e-media agencies in the world. For more information, visit LevelTenDesign.com/

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UT-Pan American makes improvements to program that provides free tuition for eligible students

By MELISSA C. RODRÍGUEZ

The cost of college will now be more affordable for students at The University of Texas-Pan American after changes were announced on Thursday, December 20, regarding the UTPAdvantage free tuition initiative.

The initiative, which started fall 2007, was created to guarantee that qualified students would pay no out of pocket expenses for tuition and fees, said Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services at UTPA.

“Today the University is proud to announce two changes to the UTPAdvantage program that will enable more students to take advantage of its benefits,” he said. “These changes help to open the UTPAdvantage program to a much broader base of students.”

The priority deadline was extended one month and is now April 1 to allow students more time to apply. Additionally, the income threshold was raised to $30,000.

The cost of tuition and fees will be completely covered for the regular academic year – fall and spring – for students who meet all of the following requirements:

  • Have a family income of $30,000 or less as reported on the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).
  • Are classified as a Texas resident.
  • Are enrolled 15 hours or more a semester.
  • Are enrolled as an undergraduate in a degree-seeking program.
  • Have filed the FAFSA for the upcoming academic year by April 1.
  • Are making satisfactory academic progress.

Edwards said the University created the UTPAdvantage program in response to rising tuition costs across the state of Texas.

“It was designed to help the neediest students and their families remove the financial barriers to attending college,” he said.

Edwards projects that these changes will open the UTPAdvantage program up to an additional 1,000 students on top of the nearly 500 who qualified last year.

UTPAdvantage, Edwards said, is one of the many innovative programs that are part of UTPA’s overall philosophy in assisting students.

“Our Student Financial Services Office is continually on the lookout for new monies to assist our students, whether it be petitioning for additional Texas Grant funds, work-study funds or scholarships. Our goal has always been to find as much funding for our students as possible,” he said. “By helping to eliminate these financial barriers to attending college UTPA is helping to change student’s lives and helping to solidify the college-going culture in the Rio Grande Valley.”

For more information about the UTPAdvantage program, log on to http://www.utpa.edu/finaid or call 956/381-8787.

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Congressman Hinojosa secures funding to boost affordable housing in spending bill OK’d by Congress

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Rural and low-income housing projects are set to receive a significant boost thanks to funding obtained by Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, in the omnibus spending bill approved by Congress last week. The spending package includes more than a billion dollars for vital programs that increase access to affordable housing.

“Over four million Americans live in conditions that are poor, inadequate, or run-down,” Hinojosa announced on Thursday, December 21. “This bill takes a step in the right direction and devotes much-needed resources to attack our nation’s chronic problem of substandard housing.”

The Omnibus Appropriations bill contains the following funding secured by Hinojosa:

$2.94 million for Housing Assistance Council — the Housing Assistance Council provides technical assistance, training, and support to community-based rural housing organizations. It also supplies loans, grants, or other financial assistance to these organizations so that they can improve affordable housing options for low- and moderate-income families;

$980,000 for the La Raza Development Fund — The Raza Development Fund provides flexible loans, along with technical assistance, to organizations that provide services and opportunities to low-income Latino families;

$17 million for RHED — The Rural Housing Development Program provides additional funding to state and local entities so that they can better support innovative housing and economic development activities in rural areas;

$1.1 billion for USDA Section 502 Housing Loans To Rural Areas — the program enables borrowers to obtain loans for the purchase or repair of new or existing single-family housing in rural areas. Borrowers with income of 80% or less of the area median may be eligible for the direct loans, and they may receive interest credit to reduce the interest rate to as low as 1%. The loans are repayable over a 33-year period. In a given fiscal year, at least 40% of the units financed under this section must be made available only to very low-income individuals or families. The Section 502 direct loan program is an extremely efficient program that results in a total cost to the federal government of only $10,000 per loan.

$69.5 million for USDA Section 515 rural rental housing — The Section 515 program provides funds both for new construction and for the repair and preservation of affordable rental housing units. The program is the only authorized Federal program that provides direct loans for multi-family housing in rural areas;

$4.9 million for USDA Section 523 Self-Help Housing land development loans — Self-Help Housing makes homes affordable by enabling future homeowners to build their homes themselves and enables qualified nonprofit and local government organizations to provide technical assistance to low and very low-income families who are building homes in rural areas;

$28.5 million for USDA Section 514 Farm Worker Housing Loans and Section 516 Farm Worker Grant Programs — provides assistance for farm worker housing. Farm workers and their families are some of the poorest and assisted people in the nation. Approximately 61% percent of farm workers earn incomes below the poverty level.

$1.4 million for Excellence in Economic Education — This program promotes economic and financial literacy among all students in kindergarten through grade 12 through the award of one grant to a national nonprofit education organization that has as its primary purpose the improvement of the quality of student understanding of personal finance and economics. The objectives of this program are to: (1) increase students’ knowledge of and achievement in economics; (2) strengthen teachers’ understanding of economics; (3) encourage economic education research and development, disseminate effective instructional materials, and promote the replication of best practices and exemplary programs that foster economic literacy; (4) assist States in measuring the impact of education in economics; and (5) leverage and expand increased private and public support for economic education partnerships at the national, state, and local levels.

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Gov. Perry says courtesy reminders now available to warn motorists who violate handicapped parking law

Courtesy reminders addressing the use of parking spaces reserved for people with disabilities are now available through the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. Reminders cover the state law and fines, access aisles, curb ramps, eligibility, and more.

“Accessible parking begins a path of travel to shop, work, eat and much more for an estimated 4 million Texans with disabilities,” said Pat Pound, Executive Director of the Committee. “It is our hope that the reminders educate more Texans on the laws of this state and how extremely important parking spaces are to people with disabilities.”

The reminders can be placed under the windshield wipers of inappropriately parked vehicles to educate individuals about accessible parking responsibilities under Texas law. Courtesy reminders may be used without formal training or participation in volunteer parking programs. It is recommended that the reminders be used only when a vehicle is not occupied to protect the safety of all concerned.

Order online:

http://www.governor.state.tx.us/divisions/disabilities/resources/parking

Call to order:

Governor’s Committee at 512-463-5739 or dial 711 for Relay Services.

Information on key laws about accessible parking:

http://www.governor.state.tx.us/divisions/disabilities/resources/keylaws/parking

The Governor’s Committee recommends changes in disability policies and programs in the areas of access, communication, education, emergency preparedness, health, housing, transportation, and workforce. The Committee also supports a network of committees on people with disabilities, issues awards to promote greater awareness, and evaluates the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Edinburg twins Ricardo and Roberto Vergara honored for accomplishments in race walking

By GILBERT TAGLE

Edinburg High School’s twin brother athletes Ricardo and Robert Vergara were honored recently by the Edinburg school board with a resolution recognizing their many accomplishments in race walking.

Both Roberto and Ricardo, 17, are members of the South Texas Walking Club which promotes health and fitness through competitive walking. The resolution states that both brothers have maintained club requirements that call for members to achieve a grade average of a “B” or better; to provide reports for verification; to have active participation from their parents; and to be considerate of their coaches and other teammates.

They began their race walking career while students at Freddy González Elementary under the then principalship of Maria Luisa Guerra who is now their principal at EHS. The brothers have continued their race walking career though elementary school, while attending South Middle School, and into their student membership at EHS. Both of them have been successful in balancing both their academic and athletic high school careers.

As athletes, they are recognized at the local, national, and international levels for their accomplishments in the sport of race walking. In 2007, Ricardo and Roberto won four National Junior Race Walk Championships each and became the only twin high school juniors ever to be selected as the top two high school race walkers in the U.S. by the USA Track and Field National Race Walk Committee.

In 2007, Ricardo became an 11-time High School All American by winning the New York One-Mile Indoor National Race Walk Championship in New York; the USA Junior National 5K Championship in Tennessee; the USA Junior National Pan American National Cup Trials Championship in Florida; and represented the USA as one of the only two USA youth boys at the Pan American Cup in Brazil where he captured 14th place.

In 2007, Roberto became an 13-time High School All American by winning the Nike High School One Mile Indoor National Race Walk Championship in Maryland; the USA Junior National One Hour Championship in Massachusetts; the USA National Championship at the USA Versus Canada Championship in New York; the USA Junior Outdoor Track and Field Championship in Indiana; and represented the USA as the other USA youth boy at the Pan American Cup in Brazil where he captured 15th place.

The resolution reads:

“Be it resolved that Gilberto Garza, Jr. ECISD Superintendent of Schools hereby commends Ricardo and Roberto Vergara for the pride, honor, and dedication they have lifted up to their school, to their fellow classmen, to the Edinburg school district, and the community of Edinburg.”

“Be it resolved that Carmen González, ECISD School Board, president, hereby commends Ricardo and Roberto Vergara for their outstanding commitment to leading by example and exhibiting excellence in their athletic ability and in their academic studies.”

“Be it resolved that Maria Luisa Guerra, Edinburg High School principal, hereby commends Ricardo and Roberto Vergara on their many accomplishments as athletes, students, and Bobcats and extend to them sincere best wishes for continued success.”

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Open government legislation by Sen. Cornyn receives final congressional approval, expands FOI Act

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a leading open government advocate, said final congressional passage of his bipartisan OPEN Government Act on Tuesday, December 18, is a “victory for transparency in federal government operations, and a vital building block to strengthen our democratic process.”

The legislation, sponsored by Cornyn and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont., will enact the most sweeping reforms to open government laws in more than a decade. Following Senate passage in early December, the House unanimously passed the Cornyn-Leahy bill on December 18, sending it to the President for his signature.

“Passage of these long-overdue open government reforms is a victory for transparency in federal government operations, and a vital building block to strengthen our democratic process. This sweeping legislation to let more sunshine in government will be one of the signature achievements of this Congress,” Cornyn said. “Our bipartisan bill holds politicians and bureaucrats accountable in an age of ever-expanding size and scope of government. These reforms, embraced across the political spectrum, strengthen our democracy by building on the ideals this nation was founded upon—the people’s fundamental right to know.”

Cornyn added: “Texas has one of the strongest open government laws in the nation. When I came to the Senate five years ago, bringing a little Texas sunshine to the federal government was a cornerstone of my legislative priorities. It is a principle I have advocated throughout my years in public service. So it is great to see these significant reforms achieved following years of bipartisan efforts.”

The Cornyn-Leahy open government bill expands transparency by closing loopholes in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), helping FOIA requestors obtain timely responses and ensuring agencies have strong incentives to act on requests, among other provisions.

The bipartisan Open Government Act will:

  • Restore meaningful deadlines for agency action under FOIA;
  • Impose real consequences on federal agencies for missing FOIA’s 20-day statutory deadline;
  • Clarify that FOIA applies to government records held by outside private contractors;
  • Establish a FOIA hotline service for all federal agencies; and
  • Create a FOIA Ombudsman to provide FOIA requestors and federal agencies with a meaningful alternative to costly litigation.

For additional information on Sen. Cornyn’s open government record, please go to: http://cornyn.senate.gov/FOIA.

Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference and the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.

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Sen. Hutchison files legislation to ease digital television transition for Texas border stations

By MACK MACKOWIAK

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation committee, has filed S. 2507, the Digital Television Border Fix Act, which addresses the concerns of South Texas and border residents regarding the digital television (DTV) transition that must be completed in early 2009.

At midnight on February 17, 2009, federal law requires U.S. broadcasters to cease analog broadcasting and broadcast in digital format exclusively. The lack of analog broadcasting after this date poses special challenges for border communities.

“This legislation will ensure that Texans living along the border will not lose access to public safety communication messages sent through television stations,” said Hutchison.

Hutchison’s legislation allows broadcasters along the border to continue analog broadcasts for five years, but maintains Federal Communications Commission (FCC) authority to deny stations in the affected area the ability to simulcast in both analog and digital if it does not serve the public interest. The legislation applies only to stations within 50 miles of the common border with Mexico.

Specifically, Hutchison ensured that the legislation would affect the following Texas cities Laredo, McAllen, and El Paso.

When the DTV transition occurs, customers who rely on rooftop antennas or “rabbit ears” to receive television broadcasts will have to subscribe to a “pay” television service, purchase a television with a digital tuner, or acquire a converter box for each analog television in their home to continue receiving American television. At the same time, “free” analog television signals originating in Mexico will remain available to border residents.

The lack of federal education on this issue and the expense of these preparations may discourage many households from participating in the transition. If this occurs, it could pose an unnecessary and avoidable public safety risk. Once the DTV transition is complete, customers who do not take part would no longer receive the Emergency Alert System (EAS) and AMBER Alert messages broadcast over domestic television stations.

This legislation was carefully drafted so it would not interfere with the transition, giving the FCC total flexibility to deny analog broadcasting privileges to any domestic station that causes interference with a full power digital broadcasting station after the transition. The limited number of stations covered by the legislation will prevent this action from interfering with the recovery and auction of the analog spectrum in which domestic television stations broadcast.

This bill is critically important to ensuring that residents in the border region will retain access to important public safety messages.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, is the chief co-sponsor of this legislation.

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District Judge Jim Jordan, D-Dallas, signals run for Chief Justice, Texas Supreme Court

By BRANDON FOSTER

The highly partisan, all Republican Texas Supreme Court will soon face another voice for reform as Dallas District Judge Jim Jordan on Thursday, December 21, amended his committee filings with the Texas Ethics Commission to allow for a candidacy for Chief Justice.

(Editor’s Note: Jordan will be running against Chief Justice Jefferson, R-San Antonio. Jefferson was appointed chief justice September 14, 2004, by Gov. Rick Perry. He succeeds former Chief Justice Thomas R. Phillips, who resigned September 3, 2004.)

Jordan, a veteran civil defense attorney and past member of the Texas Association of Defense Counsel, noted a serious backlog in cases at the state’s highest court. “They are failing to do their work as the backlog in cases has reached record levels.”

Jordan, who currently presides over the 160th District Court in Dallas, is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law — a certification earned by less than two percent of Texas Lawyers.

“When the system is broken, the responsibility must fall on the leader,” Jordan noted, explaining his decision to seek the Chief Justice position. “I am running for Chief Justice because this Court has lost its way. Instead of upholding the law, it is advancing an ideology,” Jordan added, referring to a recent study released by a University of Texas law professor that criticized the court for routinely exceeding its Constitutional authority, ignoring the role of juries, and using the bench to make policy instead of deciding questions of law.

Jordan, who first presided over the 44th District Court in Dallas, was a partner with the firm Shannon, Gracey, Ratliff & Miller before returning to the bench. In 2006, he won election to the 160th District Court. In amending his filings with the Texas Ethics Commission, Jordan also reaffirmed his intention to voluntarily comply with the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act.

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