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Gov. Rick Perry will be in Edinburg on Monday, February 4, to posthumously bestow the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor in memory of Alfredo “Freddy” González. Perry, who served four and a half years in the air force, will be in the three-time All-America City for the much-anticipated state ceremony, where he will deliver the Texas’ highest medal of valor to Dolia González of Edinburg, the mother of the famous hometown U.S. Marine sergeant who was killed in action in Vietnam. The governor’s appearance will come on the 40th anniversary of the young man’s death. On February 4, 1968, despite being seriously wounded in an early battle with communist troops, González aggressively moved against heavily fortified enemy emplacements, knocking them out of action, thus saving his platoon of about three dozen American marines. He was killed in action. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg City Councilmember Gus García, Jr., featured third from left, was one of the hosts on Tuesday, January 29, for Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, shown next to the local political leader. Noriega is seeking the March 4 Democratic Party nomination for U.S. Senate for the right to challenge Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, in the November statewide general election. Noriega’s appearance at The Social Club in Edinburg was part of his “Answering the Call to Service – South Texas Barnstorming Tour”, a three-day swing through the Rio Grande Valley to introduce himself to voters. Three other men are in the race for the Democratic Party nomination: Gene Kelley, Ray McMurrey, and Rhett R. Smith.

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As part of Board Appreciation Month, South Texas College honored its trustees at the January board meeting. The board’s seven members were recognized for their ongoing support of the college’s vision and mission to create a college-going culture in the Valley. “During the 2007-2008 school year, we have focused on creating a college-going culture in the Valley and this vision and mission has been endorsed by our visionary trustees, who can truly see a day when every student in Hidalgo and Starr counties will attend college,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College. “Our seven dedicated members have each overcome obstacles in their lives and understand the value of an education and so they have made a promise to our future generations that college will not just be an option – it will be a guarantee. There are no words to fully express our gratitude for their support and continued dedication to the college and our communities.” STC Board of Trustees members were presented framed pictures from future STC students representing communities across the Rio Grande Valley. From back row left are Roy de Le?n, Manuel Benavidez Jr., Dr. Alejo Salinas Jr., Jesse Villarreal, Reed, Mike Allen and Garry Gurwitz. From front row left are Gus McKay, Vincent Olivarez, Eric Castillo, Cassie Muñoz and Abby Talbot.

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U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday, January 30, wrote a letter to President Bush asking the White House to fund a South Texas project developed by local elected officials in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties that will repair the levees along the Rio Grande while securing the border. Also on January 30, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas released an artist’s rendition of how the planned levees. Hutchison is specifically urging that Bush request sufficient funding through the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to repair the levees and construct strategic fencing “in accordance with the proposal offered by locally elected officials” working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS). “We have an outstanding project developed at the local level that will secure our border while protecting Texas residents from the dangers of flooding caused by natural disasters,” said Hutchison. “I will work with the President, the Office of Management and Budget, IBWC, Congress, and local officials to repair the levees and secure the border.” See story later in this posting.

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Three Edinburg school board trustees want U.S. Department of Justice to throw out election changes

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is being asked by three Edinburg school board trustees to throw out a plan that would increase the terms of office of the seven-member governing board to four years from three years, and that would change the month for school board elections to November from May.

Prior to this challenge, the school board leadership was asked, in a written request submitted by this writer to ECISD Superintendent Gilberto Garza, Jr. – and acknowledged received by his office on Friday, January 18 – for information on what had transpired since the board majority inDecember voted in favor of these two changes .

No written response had been received from the superintendent’s office as of press time on Monday, January 28.

Jaime Chavana, Greg García, and Robert Peña, Jr. are challenging that plan, approved by a divided school board on Tuesday, December 11, in correspondence sent with their signatures on Monday, January 28 to Christopher Coates, Acting Chief of the Voting Section, Civil Rights Division, which is part of the DOJ.

All changes to elections in Texas and numerous other states must receive pre-clearance, which is approval, by the DOJ before they can go into effect. The DOJ solicits comments for and against all plans affecting elections, and if it finds that a plan discriminates against racial or language minorities, the federal government can sue to block any changes.

The brewing local political drama is the result of Senate Bill 670, which became state law in April 2007.

Under that law, school districts are required to hold joint elections with a municipality, a county, or the state.

According to the Texas Legislature’s bill analysis of SB 670, the new law authorizes a school district’s board of trustees to adopt a resolution changing the length of the terms of its trustees and changing the election from May to November, as long as a school board acted no later than December 31, 2007.

Part of the rationale of SB 670 is to address the rising costs of multiple elections and the confusion among voter precincts.

But uncertainty still reigns, according to Chavana, García and Peña, and worse, they believe, local voters were denied a direct say, through an election, in approving such significant action.

“The changes in election law we are disputing arise from Senate Bill 670, which was an attempt to clear up the admitted confusion by the Texas Legislature stemming from House Bill 1, adopted in the fall of 2006,” stated the letter by Chavana, García and Peña. “We believe much confusion remains, even after passage of SB 670, which was signed into law on April 25, 2007.”

The three men believe local residents were not properly informed of the changes by the school district, that the legal paperwork submitted by the school district administration to the DOJ is incomplete, and the issues should have been approved by voters, not through an administrative action by the majority of Edinburg school trustees.

They even noted that in the agenda packet for the trustees, when the trustees voted on the controvery, there was no copy of the required resolution to authorize the changes.

Chavana, García and Peña also reported that late last year, the school district’s legal counsel, Jacques Treviño, found no penalties would be assessed against the school district if they had remained with the three year terms and not changed the month for school board elections.

But the majority of the school board was evidently not willing to take any chances, and opted to follow the legal advice of Treviño.

On a 4-3 vote, with Board Secretary Ciro Treviño (no relation to Jacques) expressing the sentiments of the majority of the board, the local school approved the changes – as have numerous other boards in the Valley and statewide.

“I have had a lot of questions, myself,” Treviño acknowledged prior to the December 11 vote, then explained, “We didn’t make this law. This is not our law. We have been told by our attorney, and some other school boards already have approved this. They are basing it on the same facts. I don’t want to violate the law.”

Treviño and Board President Carmen González were scheduled to be up for reelection in May, the same day as two upcoming Edinburg City Council races. But as a result of the December 11 board decision, Treviño and González are now scheduled to be on the ballot six months later, during the November general elections.

“We, the undersigned, strongly believe that the voters of our district should have the final say – through the vote of the people – on whether to increase the length of our terms in office and to change the month of our election,” the three men contended. “Based on that principle, and supported by the compelling factual information included in this correspondence, we hereby request a denial of (the plan).”

According to Ann McGeehan, Director of Elections, in a September 10, 2007 memo released to school districts statewide, SB 670 has already been precleared by the DOJ.

However, affected school districts will need to make a local submission to the DOJ for any specific term changes adopted by the district, she noted.

McGeehan noted that the DOJ is specific about the information they require from the school districts:

• The resolution by which the independent school district adopts the implementation schedule, with the recorded vote by the board of trustees;

• A description of the method of election of trustees in the independent school district;

• A statement of the benchmark terms of office, the proposed terms of office, and the effect of the transition period from the former to the latter. Note the change in terms of each current trustee, whose race should be provided;

• When there is a need to lengthen or shorten terms of specific trustees pursuant to the implementation schedule, describe the method (e.g., alphabetically, by number of votes received, drawing lots, and the “phase-in”) used and explain why it was chosen;

• The names and phone numbers of members of the minority community who have been consulted or otherwise involved in the district’s effort to determine an appropriate implementation schedule;

• Population data for the independent school district, including Spanish surname data if available; and

• A copy of public notice to the community soliciting input, through public meetings and otherwise.

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EEDC poised to promote the development of prime 20-acre site near appraisal district, local hospitals

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

A 20-acre site valued at $4.5 million and owned by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation will be put on the selling block in order to bring new businesses and their jobs to the city, and possibly be used to try to land a planned $44 million Texas Department of Public Safety regional headquarters.

The EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, in late February is set to review a Request for Proposal (RFP), to be developed by Ramiro Garza, the EEDC’s executive director, that will be marketed to let governments and businesses know that the land is available for purchase and/or development.

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 property, EEDC officials agreed, is prime real estate, located along major roadway arteries and in the booming southwest section of the city.

“These 20 acres are on the corridor that is the corridor in south Edinburg and North McAllen,” García said. “The property value, we can see from the last appraisal, has doubled in price.”

At Ochoa’s instructions, the issue will come up again during the EEDC’s regular monthly meeting, which will probably be held in the third week of February.

During its Tuesday, January 22 monthly board session, Garza brought up the land site for the board’s consideration and action.

“We have also discussed in the past having this property go out for proposals to see what kind of interest we could generate, if any,” Garza told the board. “We are trying to see if we can convert this property back into some economic development in the city, now that the Border Patrol has chosen not to use it. We definitely would like to move forward on this. We are looking for direction at this point.”

The decisions, made by the EEDC on Tuesday, January 22, involves property that had been donated several years ago by the EEDC to the U.S. Border Patrol, which at the time had planned to build several major facilities in the three-time All-America City.

The EEDC site, which is currently vacant grassland with trees, is located at the southeast corner of Trenton Road and Professional Drive, immediately east of the Hidalgo County Appraisal District, and near the Edinburg Children’s Hospital and Edinburg Regional Medical Center.

The site had been donated by the local government several years earlier to the federal government as part of a successful deal by the city to bring the U.S Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley Sector Headquarters – and its jobs and economic spin-off – to Edinburg.

However, the Border Patrol – now a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – decided it did not need the second site after all, choosing to only build, beginning in April 2003, its current $18 million, 85,000-square-foot headquarters at 4400 South Expressway 281, about a mile east of the EEDC site.

Palacios said that selling the property to private interests would be a boon to the community in more ways than one.

“I think if we sell the property anywhere close (to the $4.5 million appraised value), that would gives us, the school district, the county, more than $200,000 in new taxes (annually) if we put it up on the tax rolls,” Palacios said. “Let’s try to see if we can sell the property.”

Earlier in the meeting, Garza acknowledged that at least one entity – although he declined to identify the interest group – does have its eyes on the land.

“There is a project that has come as of late that we have been working for quite some time, that they are interested in the project,” Garza said of the site. “They submitted a letter of intent to us. At this point, they would like to spend on environmental studies, surveys – they want to make sure they have the right of access to this property.”

Generally, negotiations over real estate by a government entity such as the EEDC are discussed behind closed doors, known as executive session, according to the Texas Open Meetings Act. The local government must take any actions in open session, though, such as voting on a proposal.

However, it is up to the governing board to decide whether to bring such negotiations into the open.

Ochoa said he wanted Garza, in the EEDC’s upcoming late February meeting, to provide more information to the board, in open session, so citizens can find out about with whom Garza has been in discussion.

Ochoa, backed by fellow board member Longoria, said if the offering by the prospective developer fails to pan out, the board could then put out the Request for Proposals.

“If someone is interested in property, and it is evident – it has been said – that it has already been asked of the board on this particular piece of property, why would it take that long for someone to be able to come up for it?” Ochoa asked. “At the same time, once we decide within 10 days, and we are given all this information so we can look at it and have proper discussions here in open session, then let’s move forward.”

In the end, the board settled for two actions: Garza will prepare the Request for Proposals, which would be reviewed by the board in its meeting in late February, and he also would inform the board about the individuals/entity currently interested in the site.

Palacios asked Garza if the EEDC could have commitments on the RFPs within a year.

“It would depend on how we structure the RFP, depending on how you move forward on this,” Garza explained. “I would like to come back with some options on the RFP. We have done this before, we went through the whole process of identifying timelines, identifying criteria for what would be involved, what would be most important to the board, whether it be price. There are a number of factors. The other side to that is dealing directly with one company, with one user, if you choose.”

The site is officially listed as being a real property know as 20.592 acre tract of land, being all of Lot 2, EEDC No. 5, Subdivision, an addition to the City of Edinburg, Hidalgo County, Texas.

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With Edinburg preparing for his visit, Gov. Perry cites major legislation and new laws for all veterans

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Gov. Rick Perry’s upcoming visit to Edinburg on early Monday afternoon, February 4, to posthumously bestow the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor in memory of Alfredo “Freddy” González, also will allow the state’s top leader and area lawmakers to draw attention to new and proposed laws designed to help thousands of South Texas veterans and their families.

Perry, who served four and a half years in the air force, will be in the three-time All-America City for a much-anticipated state ceremony, where he will deliver the Texas’ highest medal of valor to Dolia González of Edinburg, the mother of the famous hometown U.S. Marine sergeant who was killed in action in Vietnam.

The governor’s appearance will come on the 40th anniversary of the young man’s death. On February 4, 1968, despite being seriously wounded in an early battle with communist troops, González aggressively moved against heavily fortified enemy emplacements, knocking them out of action, thus saving his platoon of about three dozen American marines.

For that bravery and sacrifice, González was posthumously bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor by a grateful nation a few years after his heroism, and as time have gone by, he has had roads across the country, a local elementary school, a state veterans home in Hidalgo County, and a $900 million guided missile destroyer named in his honor.

As a result of legislation authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and sponsored by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, the Texas Legislature passed the measure to bestow Texas’ highest recognition for valor – the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor – in memory of González.

1 p.m. arrival time recommended

The latest information on preparations for the Gonzalez event is available on the Internet at http://www.sgtgonzalez.blogspot.com or by calling Peña’s district office at 383-7444.

The ceremony, sure to be both a source of pride yet sorrowful reflection for his mother and the many relatives and friends he left behind, will begin at 1:30 p.m. at Cats Stadium, where González played quarterback for the Edinburg Bobcats.

The ceremony venue follows the wishes of Dolia González, who remembers Freddy’s joy in playing quarterback at the stadium for the Edinburg Bobcats,” Peña said. “If inclement weather takes the ceremony indoors, arrangements have been made to use the gymnasium at Harwell Middle School on Canton Road.

Organizers of the event are encouraging residents to beginning arriving around 1 p.m. at the stadium in time to enjoy a performance by the Edinburg High School Band, which will set the inspirational atmosphere for what promises to be a high-level, historic and inspirational ceremony.

As with any afternoon outdoor outing in winter, residents should monitor the weather forecast for the event, and dress accordingly, especially senior citizens and young children.

“Although winters are usually mild in Edinburg, we all know how quickly weather can change down here in February,” Peña said. “Wearing hats and caps or bringing an umbrella to help protect against sunburn, having plenty of water to drink during the event, and being properly dressed will help make the event a very pleasant one to remember.”

The bathrooms at the stadium will be available for us as well, Peña added.

As with any outdoor event, EMS personnel and vehicles will be at the stadium, along with the beefed-up law enforcement security associated with an appearance by a governor, he noted.

Honor Roll

“So rare is this recognition in Texas history that only six Texans have been so honored by their state,” Peña said.

According to the local lawmaker, the following men have earned the state’s highest honor:

• James M. Logan of Luling, a World War II veteran, was awarded the first Legislative Medal of Honor on Memorial Day 1997 at the Texas Capitol in Austin;

• Lt. Jack L. Knight of Weatherford, a World War II veteran, received the 1999 award;

• In May 2001, during a joint session of the Texas Legislature, Perry presented the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor posthumously to MSgt. Roy P. Benavidez, of Lindenau, a Vietnam War veteran;

• Col. M B Etheredge of Huntsville, a World War II veteran, received the 2003 award; and

• Capt. Robert Thomas Edlin of Corpus Christi, a World War II veteran, received the award in 2005.

With González selection in 2007. he became the first soldier from the Rio Grande Valley to be awarded the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor.

Like González, Logan and Benavidez were also prior recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Veterans’ legislation

The gathering of some of the state’s and South Texas’ most visible leaders also will serve to inform all Texans of recently-passed laws and current national proposals on behalf of more the 1.7 million military men and women who call Texas their home, Peña added.

On Friday, January 25, Perry was in Austin “thanking members of the Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) for their service to our country and encouraged them to continue playing their key role in the lives of soldiers returning from active duty.”

According to the governor’s office, Perry’s presentation before the Texas VFW focused on the following measures:

“The Texas VFW plays an important part of our state’s military readiness,” said Perry at the TFW Annual Mid-Winter Round Up. “Not only because their real-life stories of survival encourages our young soldiers fighting today, but also because of the role that they play when our servicemen and women return from overseas and begin integrating themselves back into society.”

Many were stationed at one of Texas’ 18 active military bases. Perry supports providing service men and women returning from war 100 percent disabled with a 100 percent deduction on their property taxes. If implemented today, this initiative would relieve the financial burdens for approximately 7.5 percent of the nation’s disabled veterans.

Additionally, the governor stated support for an initiative currently being considered in Congress to direct the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) to forgive the debts of service members who have given their lives in defense of our nation since 9/11. The bill was crafted after 22 families in 14 states, including three in Texas, were contacted by the VA to pay a total of $56,000 in debts for educational loans after troops were killed serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Last year, Perry signed into law House Bill 125, which waived tuition and fees at public universities for children of Texas armed forces members who are totally disabled as a result of service. Children of service members who are lost or killed in action already receive this waiver under the Hazelwood Act.

Additional bills signed by Perry in 2007 include:

• House Bill 233, which waives the concealed handgun fee for honorably discharged veterans who were discharged in the last 365 days;

• HB 1187, which creates a tuition exemption program to allow eligible students to play “Taps” at military funeral services in exchange for a tuition voucher at an institution of higher education in Texas;

• HB 2105, which allows certain veterans with disabilities to receive two disabled parking placards in addition to two sets of special license plates; and

• Senate Bill 251, which allows a veteran with disabled plates to park in handicap spaces.

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Sen. Hutchison asks President to fund levee fence along Rio Grande while helping secure the border

By MATT MACKOWIAK

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday, January 30, wrote a letter to President Bush asking the White House to fund a South Texas project developed by local elected officials in Cameron and Hidalgo Counties that will repair the levees along the Rio Grande while securing the border.

Hutchison is specifically urging that Bush request sufficient funding through the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to repair the levees and construct strategic fencing “in accordance with the proposal offered by locally elected officials” working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

“We have an outstanding project developed at the local level that will secure our border while protecting Texas residents from the dangers of flooding caused by natural disasters,” said Hutchison. “I will work with the President, the Office of Management and Budget, IBWC, Congress, and local officials to repair the levees and secure the border.”

The President is expected to release the 2009 Federal Budget request on February 5.

On Friday, January 25, Hidalgo County leaders met for a briefing on the levees.

Highlights from that session included:

• Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1’s timeline for the completion of approximately 18 miles of the river levee between Peñitas and Hidalgo is by the end of 2008.

• The intent of the county is to repair the entire river levee; however, scientific hydraulic models have identified the western portion of the levees as being the most in need. Work in the west will benefit the entire county and even Cameron County.

• By completing all or at least 70 percent of construction by this timeline, FEMA will not declare certain portions of Hidalgo County as floodplain with the release of the new maps, saving taxpayers from having to pay costly flood insurance.

• HCDD No. 1 is in the bid advertising/award stage for segments of the river levee with which the district has a Memorandum of Understanding with the U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission. HCDD No. 1 estimates construction to begin in mid-April.

• The impact of the levee collapse due to a 100-year flood in the river on Hidalgo County would be $1.737 billion, according to an economic impact study commissioned by HCDD No. 1. This includes residential, commercial and industrial property damage, plus automobile damage and alternative living expenses for households displaced by the flood.

• The HCDD No. 1 Board of Directors, which is also the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court, approved the sale of the remaining balance of the $100 million bond issue ($72 million; $28 million was sold in Feb. 2007) to expedite construction of the river levees, subject to the appropriation of any federal money.

• The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has bought off on the concept of using the 18-foot concrete flood protection structure as an alternative to fencing. This plan does not include fencing on top of a levee.

• Hidalgo County and HCDD No. 1 will continue to negotiate with all federal agencies involved in the process and work with our federal and state legislators backing the plan. The county expects a decision soon. However, regardless of the decision, Hidalgo County is moving forward with fixing the 18 miles of river levees by the end of 2008.

(Carri Lambrecht provided the information on the January 25 meeting of Hidalgo County leaders.)

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Eddie Sáenz continues securing endorsements from Delta area, La Joya in race against Rep. Peña

By KELLY FERO

Political leaders from the western and eastern portions of House District 40 have endorsed Democrat Eddie Sáenz in his race for state representative, saying that the region needs change in Austin to help citizens and small businesses deal with the economic downturn.

Sáenz is challenging Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg.

“Eddie Sáenz offers our communities a unique opportunity to turn the page from the politics of the past,” said Edcouch-Elsa Independent School District board member Richard Ozuna. “He is a friend who understands that our health, education, and infrastructure challenges will not be fixed by playing politics in Austin instead of taking care of our needs back home.”

Ozuna and his parents, Gilberto and Orfelinda Ozuna, represent one of the leading families of public services in Hidalgo County. Gilberto Ozuna was a distinguished member of the Edcouch City Council.

Sáenz has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority of local officials, school board members, and community leaders throughout the district, who have repeatedly stated that Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and others representing South Texas need a full partner in District 40.

Following on the heels of La Joya Mayor Billy Leo’s endorsement in mid-January, all five members of the La Joya City Council on Friday, January 25, lined up with Sáenz in his race for the House 40 district seat.

“Our community has suffered from not having a full partner in Austin,” said council member Mary Salinas. “Eddie Sáenz will be that partner for La Joya and all the communities of our district.”

Salinas and council members Isidro Casanova, Angie Garza, Lee Roy Alaniz, and Robert Jackson gave Sáenz their endorsement and said they will do what they can to help him win the March 4 Democratic primary.

As chairman of board of governors – an advisory panel – of South Texas Health Systems, Sáenz helped lead local efforts to pass Proposition 15, the cancer research fund approved by voters last November. His opponent voted against putting the measure on the ballot.

Sáenz also served as chairman of Avance, a non-profit organization that works to strengthen families. Avance helped implement the enrollment process for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in South Texas. Since his opponent took office, hundreds of thousands of eligible children of working parents have been stripped of their CHIP benefits.

As former chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition Transportation Committee, and the Edinburg 2020 Action Committee, and as a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, Sáenz has spoken out against a proposal by his opponent’s political allies that would increase the state sales tax on everything from food and medicine for the elderly to child care services and car repairs, giving Texas the highest sales tax rate in the nation.

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STC honors Board of Trustees for dedication to current and future students of Hidalgo and Starr counties

BY HELEN ESCOBAR

As part of Board Appreciation Month, South Texas College honored its trustees at the January board meeting. The board’s seven members were recognized for their ongoing support of the college’s vision and mission to create a college-going culture in the Valley.

“During the 2007-2008 school year, we have focused on creating a college-going culture in the Valley and this vision and mission has been endorsed by our visionary trustees, who can truly see a day when every student in Hidalgo and Starr counties will attend college,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, president of South Texas College. “Our seven dedicated members have each overcome obstacles in their lives and understand the value of an education and so they have made a promise to our future generations that college will not just be an option – it will be a guarantee. There are no words to fully express our gratitude for their support and continued dedication to the college and our communities.”

In appreciation of their hard work, each board member was given a framed picture of future students representing communities across the Rio Grande Valley. A group of five pre-school children presented the framed pictures to the board members and shook their hands, thanking them for their dedication to a brighter future for all children and students in Hidalgo and Starr counties.

“It is an honor for us all to serve on STC’s Board of Trustees because we know that we hold the future of the Valley’s higher education in our hands and it is an obligation we do not take lightly,” said Irene García, chair of the STC Board of Trustees. “The children in the picture and at the meeting are our children too,” she said. “We want them to grow up with access to the best and most affordable education possible and we will do our best to ensure that for all future generations of Valley students.”

García, a District 2 representative, has been a member of the board for more than seven years.

Jesse Villarreal, vice chair of the board, has represented District 6 for seven years and works as a parent specialist for the Weslaco ISD. Mike Allen, widely known member of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, serves as the secretary for the board and has been a member of the board since May 2004.

Roy de Le?n, representing District 7, has served the board for 11 years. He was appointed by former Governor Ann Richards to fill the unexpired term of Congressman Ruben Hinojosa and was subsequently elected to the board in May 2002 to a six year term and serves as a vice president for Laredo National Bank.

Atlas and Hall managing partner Gary Gurwitz, District 4 representative, and director of transportation for the Rio Grande City ISD Manuel Benavidez Jr., District 1 representative, were both hand-selected by former Governor Ann Richards to serve on the board in 1993 with the inception of the college.

District 5 representative, former superintendent of Hidalgo ISD, and former Edinburg city councilmember Dr. Alejo Salinas, Jr. has served STC since 1996. He is superintendent emeritus for and a clinical lecturer at The University of Texas-Pan American.

For additional information about South Texas College visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu.

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District Clerk Hinojosa, County Clerk Guajardo participate in professional education seminar for respective posts

By RICARDO CONTERAS

Laura Hinojosa, Hidalgo County District Clerk and Arturo Guajardo, Jr., Hidalgo County Clerk joined over 400 county and district clerks for the 36th Annual County and District Clerk’s Continuing Education Seminar at the Hilton College Station Hotel and Conference Center on January 14 -17, 2008.

“First and foremost, it is essential that we actively seek education to fulfill our constitutional duties as elected officials, as well as to keep informed of any legislative updates or administrative changes that may be required of our respective offices,” said Hinojosa. “I welcome any educational opportunities that will allow me and my office to work more effectively to better serve the County of Hidalgo.”

The annual continuing education seminar at College Station is sponsored by the V.G. Young Institute of County Government, which is part of Texas AgriLife Extension Service. The Institute provides elected county official with information and technical assistance and helps officials complete their state-mandated, minimum continuing education requirements. The seminar offered 17 hours of credit to clerks attending all of the sessions.

“As one of a small number of states that requires all elected county officials to earn continuing education credits,” explained Richard O. Avery, Director of the Institute, “Texas county officials get an opportunity to learn new and vital information, so they can better serve the citizens of Texas. The Institute provides education to county commissioners, judges, treasurers, tax assessor-collectors and county and district clerks through various programs held across the State.”

Included in this year’s program were:

• Legislative Updates for County & District Clerks

• Tax Suits

• Attorney General Contacts

• Fraudulent Filings

• Forms of Identification

• Personnel Issues

“The College Station Seminar is always very informative. Not only does it provide the opportunity for county and district Clerks to earn continuing education credits, it is also the perfect place to network with fellow clerks to share ideas and experiences as they pertain to their daily jobs,” said Guajardo.

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Rep. Gonzáles: Tropical Texas Behavioral Health in Edinburg earns national “2007 Award of Excellence”

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA

Tropical Texas Behavioral Health in Edinburg, the Rio Grande Valley’s community MHMR center, has been selected by the U.S. Health Resources Services Administration – a division of the U.S. Health and Human Services Department – for the National Health Service Corps “2007 Award of Excellence.”

As one of only three healthcare organizations chosen nationwide, Tropical Texas Behavioral Health is proud to be recognized for its clinical outcomes for patients through the provision of comprehensive and excellent care, said Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen.

Each year, the Health Resources Services Administration recognizes organizations across the nation that have vastly improved services for their communities by building effective community partnerships and promoting health education and preventative care.

“Terry Crocker, executive Director and a good friend, has worked tirelessly to secure funding and increase services to Valley residents,” Gonzáles said. “I am proud to share with you this well-earned achievement for a national leader in mental health services here in the Valley.”

Some of Tropical’s recent initiatives include:

• Partnerships with the Valley Primary Care Network toward integration of mental health and primary care services, work with UTPA in development of internships for students in the mental health field, the cultural adaptation of evidence based practices, the development of preventative programs and health education for local “promotoras”, and partnerships with multiple local school districts in the expansion of mental health services; and

• Recent activities in these areas involved center-wide efforts and have allowed Tropical to be the forefront of quality service provision.

“We have been able to significantly expand the types and amounts of our services, and the demand for service continues to grow,” said Crocker. “The number of people in the Valley who received services from us grew by almost 15 percent last year alone. With this pace of growth, keeping the quality of service high is a formidable challenge – it takes a very talented and dedicated team of people that we have working at this agency. Support of local elected officials and their assistance in fighting for additional funds has also been paramount to the successes we are achieving” Crocker added.

As the first Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation (MHMR) Center in the state of Texas, Tropical Texas Behavioral Health (TTBH) began as a small operation located in the basement of an old hospital building with a vision of effective treatment and recovery. With that vision in mind, in the summer of 1967 with only six staff members and an enormous agenda for the citizens of the lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, the Center opened its doors and began the provision of services.

Today, TTBH is the sixth largest of 39 community MHMR centers in Texas. Through funding from the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, TTBH implemented a Cultural Adaptation Initiative. Through this initiative TTBH has modified and implemented specific, culturally sensitive evidence-based psychiatric practices to ensure the most efficient and effective clinical impact to TTBH’s primarily Hispanic client populations.

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Attorney General Abbott takes action to halt Hudspeth County colonia development

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Friday, January 25, charged Adolfo Ramírez, a Hudspeth County Appraisal District employee, and his wife, Patricia, with violating the state’s colonia-prevention laws. According to court documents, the Ramírezes failed to install or bond sewer and water services on residential lots offered for sale in the Sierra Blanca Land Development – Phase One subdivision.

“Today’s enforcement action seeks to ensure this Hudspeth County development complies with state colonia-prevention laws,” Abbott said. “Texas law requires border-area developers and land speculators to guarantee that basic water and wastewater infrastructure will be installed before lots are sold to unsuspecting purchasers. The Office of the Attorney General will continue enforcing the state’s colonia-prevention laws.”

According to the Attorney General’s enforcement action, which was filed in Travis County district court, the defendants sold 16 residential lots lacking water and wastewater infrastructure in violation of the Texas Local Government Code. Attorney General investigators also assert the defendants purchased the lots at low cost at Hudspeth County tax sales and then sold them at substantially higher prices without making necessary water and wastewater improvements.

The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) seeks to prevent the defendants from continuing to sell lots illegally and is asking the court to force them to either meet the necessary platting and infrastructure requirements or refund the purchasers’ money.

The case against the Ramírezes is one of five South Texas colonias cases recently pursued by the OAG. Earlier this month, the OAG took legal action against Webb County developers John and Leonor Daves for failing to install or bond utility services on residential lots in the D-5 Acres subdivision.

In November 2007, the OAG obtained a temporary injunction against Manuel Montemayor, a developer who was offering unapproved lots for sale in Cameron County. Abbott also filed legal action against rural housing project developer Aurora Graham for failing to obtain plat approval or to install or bond sewer and water services on residential lots she sold in rural Cameron County. In 2006, the OAG concluded a similar case in Cameron County against Eric Solís, who sold lots in a colonia known as Toribio Estates.

In Texas, unincorporated residential subdivisions near the U.S.-Mexico border that lack adequate water and sewage services are commonly referred to as colonias. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county and lack even basic infrastructure and utilities. Residents often must haul water, go without electricity and risk higher incidence of disease.

Before purchasing residential property outside city limits, border area purchasers should check with county officials to confirm the property was legally subdivided and that the developer has made necessary arrangements to supply required infrastructure.

Consumers can file complaints with the OAG against developers or sellers who fail to provide water and wastewater services, or who subdivide land without first obtaining necessary county approval. Complaints can be filed on the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.oag.state.tx.us or by calling (800) 252-8011.

The Office of the Attorney General also maintains the state’s Colonia Geographic Database, which offers geographic and descriptive data on more than 1,800 colonias. To access the database, or for more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the “Texas-Mexico Border” page on the Attorney General’s Web site.

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Brownsville Deputy Superintendent Beto González appointed to Select Committee on Public School Accountability by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, Speaker Craddick

By RICH PARSONS

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, on Friday, January 25, announced the following joint appointments to the Select Committee on Public School Accountability:

Susan Lewis

Elementary Math Teacher

Northside Independent School District

San Antonio, Texas

Statewide Chair of the Curriculum & Instruction Committee for Texas Classroom

Teachers Association

Dalia Benavides

Principal, South Elementary School

Midland Independent School District

Midland, Texas

Former English and Bilingual Teacher

Dr. David Splitek

Superintendent, Lackland Independent School District

San Antonio, Texas

Former San Antonio ISD Superintendent and High School Math Teacher

Dr. Thomas Randle

Superintendent, Lamar Consolidated Independent School District

Rosenberg, Texas

President, Texas Association of School Administrators

Beto González

Deputy Superintendent, Brownsville Independent School District

Brownsville, Texas

Former Temple ISD Superintendent and former Acting Assistant Secretary for the

U.S. Dept. of Education

“Accountability is the cornerstone of a successful public education system. It ensures that the instructional needs of our students are identified and met,” Dewhurst said. “Each of these fine appointees has dedicated their careers to providing our children the best possible education and I thank them for continuing their commitment to improving our public schools by serving on this important committee.”

“Over the past three years the Texas Legislature has gone a long way to improve our public school system,” Craddick said. “High school accountability is a key component in ensuring that the work we have done has its desired results. I am pleased to appoint these members to the Task Force as each of them has the experience necessary to make it a success.”

The Select Committee on Public School Accountability was created by Senate Bill 1031, which passed during the 80th Legislative session. The bill changed the state’s current method of assessing high school student performance by transitioning from the traditional exit-level tests to end-of-course examinations.

After conducting a comprehensive review of the current accountability system, the committee will make recommendations for improvement to the 81st Legislature. Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, chair of the House Committee on Public Education, and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, chair of the Senate Education Committee, are co-presiding officers of the committee.

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Caroline Kennedy, daughter of President Kennedy, endorses Sen. Barack Obama for President

In an op-ed published Sunday, January 27, in The New York Times, Caroline Kennedy announced her support for Senator Barack Obama, citing his judgment in opposing the Iraq war from the start, his character in running a dignified campaign, and his ability to unite this entire nation around a common purpose.

Obama said, “I am honored to have the support of Caroline Kennedy. Caroline has been a tireless advocate for providing every child with a quality education, most recently through her work with New York City’s public schools. And through her role in selecting Profile in Courage awardees, she has shined a spotlight on leaders who have the courage to tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. It’s also a special privilege to have this endorsement because I’ve always believed that Caroline’s father was one of our greatest presidents. At a time of great challenge at home and abroad, President Kennedy led this nation with judgment and courage, pulling the world back from the brink of war, calling a generation to service, and inspiring this entire nation to reach for new frontiers.”

A President Like My Father

By CAROLINE KENNEDY

“OVER the years, I’ve been deeply moved by the people who’ve told me they wished they could feel inspired and hopeful about America the way people did when my father was president. This sense is even more profound today. That is why I am supporting a presidential candidate in the Democratic primaries, Barack Obama.

My reasons are patriotic, political and personal, and the three are intertwined. All my life, people have told me that my father changed their lives, that they got involved in public service or politics because he asked them to. And the generation he inspired has passed that spirit on to its children. I meet young people who were born long after John F. Kennedy was president, yet who ask me how to live out his ideals.

Sometimes it takes a while to recognize that someone has a special ability to get us to believe in ourselves, to tie that belief to our highest ideals and imagine that together we can do great things. In those rare moments, when such a person comes along, we need to put aside our plans and reach for what we know is possible.

We have that kind of opportunity with Senator Obama. It isn’t that the other candidates are not experienced or knowledgeable. But this year, that may not be enough. We need a change in the leadership of this country – just as we did in 1960.

Most of us would prefer to base our voting decision on policy differences. However, the candidates’ goals are similar. They have all laid out detailed plans on everything from strengthening our middle class to investing in early childhood education. So qualities of leadership, character and judgment play a larger role than usual.

Senator Obama has demonstrated these qualities throughout his more than two decades of public service, not just in the United States Senate but in Illinois, where he helped turn around struggling communities, taught constitutional law and was an elected state official for eight years. And Senator Obama is showing the same qualities today. He has built a movement that is changing the face of politics in this country, and he has demonstrated a special gift for inspiring young people – known for a willingness to volunteer, but an aversion to politics – to become engaged in the political process.

I have spent the past five years working in the New York City public schools and have three teenage children of my own. There is a generation coming of age that is hopeful, hard-working, innovative and imaginative. But too many of them are also hopeless, defeated and disengaged. As parents, we have a responsibility to help our children to believe in themselves and in their power to shape their future. Senator Obama is inspiring my children, my parents’ grandchildren, with that sense of possibility.

Senator Obama is running a dignified and honest campaign. He has spoken eloquently about the role of faith in his life, and opened a window into his character in two compelling books. And when it comes to judgment, Barack Obama made the right call on the most important issue of our time by opposing the war in Iraq from the beginning.

I want a president who understands that his responsibility is to articulate a vision and encourage others to achieve it; who holds himself, and those around him, to the highest ethical standards; who appeals to the hopes of those who still believe in the American Dream, and those around the world who still believe in the American ideal; and who can lift our spirits, and make us believe again that our country needs every one of us to get involved.

I have never had a president who inspired me the way people tell me that my father inspired them. But for the first time, I believe I have found the man who could be that president – not just for me, but for a new generation of Americans.”

Caroline Kennedy is the Vice Chair of the New York City Fund for Public Schools, a non-profit organization which seeks private sector support for public education. Since 2002, The Fund has raised more than $210 million in support of critical reform initiatives and enlisted record numbers of New Yorkers to volunteer in New York City schools. A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School, Kennedy is an attorney and the author/editor of seven best-selling books on civil rights, American history, politics, and poetry including In Our Defense: The Bill of Rights in Action, and A Pariot’s Handbook: Songs, Poems, Stories and Speeches Celebrating the Land We Love. She writes a column for TIME on the Power of One about people who are making a difference in their communities. Caroline Kennedy also serves on the Commission on Presidential Debates and the Profile In Courage Award Committee of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She and her husband, Edwin Schlossberg, have 3 children.

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Sen. Hutchison introduces bill to forgive debt of servicemen and women killed in combat

By MATT MACKOWIAK

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, ranking member of the Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations subcommittee, on Wednesday, January 22, introduced legislation to change Title 38 of the U.S. Code to forgive the debt owed to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of men and women who have lost their lives in combat.

“This bill is about honoring our fallen heroes by treating the families they left behind with dignity and by showing them we mean it when we tell them our nation is truly grateful,” said Hutchison.

Current law states that if a member of our Armed Forces is killed and owes the VA any outstanding indebtedness, the Secretary of VA is required to contact the family for collection. Current law allows the VA Secretary some discretion for waiving certain cases. Hutchison’s bill would remove that discretion and forgive all debts that fall into this category.

To date, the VA has sought to receive over $56,000 from 22 deceased soldiers, with most of the indebtedness in college education loans. Once a soldier in these cases is killed, the VA must then contact the families of the deceased and ask that they be reimbursed from the estate for that GI bill education payment.

“The fact that the VA is forced to collect a few hundred dollars from bereaved mothers and fathers for something as simple as a small debt for education benefits is ludicrous,” said Hutchison.

There are cases in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Illinois, Iowa, Connecticut, Nebraska, Colorado, Michigan, Washington, California, New York, Kentucky, Georgia and South Carolina. Three of the 22 cases occurred in Texas, which is more than any other state:

• An Army soldier on his third tour in Iraq was killed by a sniper’s bullet and owed the government $389 for an education overpayment. The family paid this debt in full because they believed it was the right thing to do.

• An Army Sergeant who had served in the U.S. Marine Corps before enlisting in the Army attended two different colleges with VA education benefits. After serving one tour of duty in Afghanistan, he was serving his second tour in Iraq when he was killed by a bomb explosion. He owed the VA $2,282 in student loans and was survived by a wife and four children. The family paid the debt because they, too, felt it was the right thing to do.

• A Marine reservist who received education assistance to attend Texas A&M University was killed in an explosion in Iraq. The VA informed his mother of his death with a collection letter that said he owed the VA $845, which must be collected from his estate.

S. 2536, the Combat Veterans Debt Elimination Act would relieve grieving families from paying such debt and remove the provision in law which requires the VA to seek the collection of such debt. It is retroactive to September 11, 2001.

Hutchison on January 22 asked the Senate majority and minority Leaders to bypass the committee process and bring this legislation to the floor before another family suffers the indignity of the current law.

“We can and should correct this requirement and honor the families of our fallen heroes,” said Hutchison.

Hutchison is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

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