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With just a few days before Hispanics cast their votes in the March 4 Texas primaries, a new poll released on Wednesday, February 27, showed Sen. Hillary Clinton with a commanding 41 point lead over Sen. Barack Obama. A new Latino Decisions Texas Poll found that Hillary leads her opponent among registered Latino voters in Texas 62% to 21%, with 15% undecided. The poll also shows that in head to head general election match-ups, Clinton outperforms Obama against John McCain by a margin of two to one. “While we are taking nothing for granted and working hard to earn every vote, Senator Clinton have a strong relationship with the Hispanic community in Texas dating back to 1972,” said Congressman Solomon Ortíz, D-Corpus Christi. “She’s been working with the community for 36 years, and they understand that she’s been tested, is fighting for them, and that she’s the candidate who has the best chance of beating John McCain in November.” See story later in this posting.

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Chelsea Clinton, 27, daughter of President Bill Clinton and Sen. Hillary Clinton, is flanked by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as she rallied hundreds of her family’s supporters during a campaign swing on behalf of her mother in Edinburg on Saturday, February 23. Clinton, who was hosted by Edinburg attorney Ramón Garcia outside his office, reminded voters of her family’s deep ties to South Texas. Both Sen. Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, are seeking the March 4 Texas Democratic Party primary nomination for president. Both presidential candidates have promised to support the construction of a Veterans Hospital in the Valley if they are elected president.

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Former First Daughter Chelsea Clinton, who grew up in front of America when her father, President Bill Clinton, served eight years in the White House, poses with another potential future political candidate during Chelsea’s campaign swing into Edinburg on Saturday, February 23. Chelsea was 12 years old when her father was elected president. Her mother, Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, are seeking the March 4 Texas Democratic Party primary nomination for president. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón Garcia of Edinburg, and Edinburg school board president Carmen González were among the dignitaries who greeted Chelsea at the rally.

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With Sen. Barrack Obama, D-Illinois, showing strength among younger voters in his battle against Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, for the Texas Democratic Party nomination for president, the Saturday, February 23 appearance in Edinburg by Clinton’s daughter, Chelsea, is drawing support from the former First Daughter’s own generation. Hundreds of Edinburg residents, including these avid supporters, showed up to greet Chelsea during her campaign swing on behalf of her mother in downtown Edinburg. Hillary Clinton and Obama are seeking the March 4 Texas Democratic Party primary nomination for president. Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón Garcia of Edinburg, and Edinburg school board president Carmen González were among the dignitaries who greeted Chelsea at the rally.

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Edinburg Mayor Joe Ochoa, featured left, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, stand proudly with Sen. Barrack Obama, D-Illinois, during the Democratic presidential candidate’s swing through Edinburg on Friday, February 22. The two area Democratic leaders are among a select few who have chosen to endorse Obama against Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-Illinois, in the tight race in Texas for the March 4 primary nomination, along with Edinburg School Board Trustee Robert Peña, Jr. On Wednesday, February 27, Obama also picked up a major endorsement from Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, a leading candidate for Speaker of the House in the Texas Legislature. See related story on the Thompson endorsement later in this posting.

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Rep. Peña says Mission PD could be breaking the law by withholding videotape of Eddie Sáenz’ DWI arrest

A decision by the Mission Police Department to withhold the release of a videotape showing Democratic legislative candidate Eddie Sáenz could be in violation of state law, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, said Wednesday, February 27.

Sáenz, a civil engineer based in Edinburg, last fall was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated in Mission. He is challenging Peña, an Ednburg attorney, in the March 4 Democratic Party primary for state representative, House District 40, which includes most of Edinburg.

Sáenz says he is innocent of the charge.

Peña’s concerns were raised after a major political website, http://www.ACapitolAnnex,com, published a report stating that efforts to obtain videotape of Saenz’ arrest from the Mission Police Department had been unsuccessful.

“Capitol Annex has obtained a letter from a Brownsville blogger to the city of Mission concerning a public information request the blogger made for various documents and a videotape related to Sáenz’ arrest last year on charges of Driving While Intoxicated,” said Capitol Annex publisher Vince Leibowitz. “It is our understanding that, although the blogger in question received documents responsive to the request, he did not receive video tapes of Sáenz’ actual stop or any other subsequent interrogation which would have been videotaped.

Peña echoed those concerns.

“I would certainly hope Eddie Sáenz and his supporters had nothing to do with any actions taken against the peace officer who was simply doing his job,” the Edinburg lawmaker said on his website, http://www.ACapitolBlog.com. “The people of the Valley are certainly frustrated with the feeling that the powerful and well-connected have a different standard of justice applied to them than that of the average citizen.

Peña continued:

“As it stands, the refusal to follow the law in responding to an open records request regarding the video of the arrest of Sáenz, does not communicate confidence to a public increasingly cynical with the influence political figures have on the criminal justice system.

“I call on the appropriate authorities to investigate these circumstances to determine whether or not anyone acted improperly in attempting to punish the police officer or in shielding Sáenz by illegally withholding the videotape of the arrest when confronted by an open records request from the general public,” Peña concluded.

The Democratic primary is Tuesday, March 4.

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Eddie Sáenz criticizes Rep. Peña for missing debate hosted by Edinburg Review

By KELLY FERO

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, failed to show up for a scheduled candidate forum on Monday, February 24, but did manage to cash new campaign checks from a Republican political action committee under criminal investigation for violating state statutes prohibiting “legislative bribery,” pro-vouchers advocates, the GOP donor who funded the Swift Boat for Veterans attacks against Democrat John Kerry, and the leading group trying to limit Texas citizens’ access to the court system they pay for with their taxes.

“I’m not surprised that my opponent failed to show up last night to defend his record of failing to show up to defend his district,” Sáenz said.

The candidates forum, sponsored by the Edinburg Review, was held Monday evening at the Dustin M. Sekula Memorial Library. Peña sent an aide instead of participating himself.

(Editor’s Note: The aide, Orlando Salinas, said Peña had a schedule conflict which prevented him from attending.)

Last week, the national media criticized Peña for abandoning Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign with just days to go before the Tuesday, March 4 presidential primary. Washington Post political reporter Dana Milbank even told an MSNBC television audience, “Clearly, this is not a man you want in your foxhole.”

Peña in January defended his decision to pocket thousands of dollars from the Republican homebuilder who funded the GOP’s Swift Boat Veterans attacks on 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry by saying, “I’m in the middle of a war. If somebody wants to hand me a load of bullets, I’m not going to turn them down.”

Sáenz said his opponent’s failure to show up for Monday’s debate reinforces his nickname of “AWOL Aaron.”

“South Texas voters learned they can’t count on him when he took a walk as his Republican friends tried to strip us of our right to vote,” Sáenz said. “Hillary Clinton learned she can’t count on him when he flip-flopped on his support for her. And the audience at last night’s forum learned that they can’t count on him to defend his record.”

Sáenz said the latest campaign finance reports, filed this week, show his opponent has taken an additional $10,000 in the past few days from the Republican group, Texas Builds Jobs and Opportunity PAC, which has been charged with criminal violations of state law for its previous donation to Pena and other legislators.

Peña’s most recent filing also shows a $40,000 contribution from Texans For Lawsuit Reform, a group inked to the Republican leadership in Austin that lobbies for limiting the rights of ordinary Texans to hold corporations whose products cause harm accountable in court.

In addition, Peña’s recent report reveals a new $25,000 donation from Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, the top GOP funder who paid for 2004’s Swift Boat Veterans attacks on John Kerry.

Peña pocketed more than $20,000 in other contributions from special-interest lobbyists and representatives of energy and utility companies, as well groups that want to privatize public jobs, and one of the state’s leading advocates for siphoning tax dollars out of public schools to pay for a private-school voucher scheme. http://txprod.ethics.state.tx.us/public/366263.pdf

Sáenz is chairman of the board of governors of South Texas Health Systems and is a vocal advocate for a veteran’s hospital in Hidalgo County.

Sáenz is backed by mayors and community leaders throughout the district who are eager for a full partner in their efforts to create jobs, expand access to quality health care, improve public schools, make college affordable again for middle-class families, and improve vital public services.

Owner and chief executive officer of one of South Texas’ leading civil engineering firms, Sáenz is a recognized expert in helping cities, school districts, and other public entities improve their operations and basic services.

Sáenz is a former chairman of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition Transportation Committee, and the Edinburg 2020 Action Committee. He also served as a member of the board of directors of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

A graduate of McAllen High, he earned his degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1982. He is a member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He and his wife and child live in Edinburg.

The Democratic primary is Tuesday, March 4.

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Dispute develops over public information request for Mission PD’s videotape of Sáenz’ arrest for DWI

By VINCE LEIBOWITZ
vince.leibowitz@gmail.com

There is an interesting behind-the-scenes development in the House District 40 race between State Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, and Eddie Sáenz, D-Edinburg. However, it’s one that doesn’t directly involve either of the two candidates. It, in fact, involves a Brownsville blogger and the city of Mission’s police department. And, it’s quite interesting, especially from an open government perspective.

Capitol Annex has obtained a letter from a Brownsville blogger to the city of Mission concerning a public information request the blogger made for various documents and a video tape related to Sáenz’ arrest last year on charges of Driving While Intoxicated. It is our understanding that, although the blogger in question received documents responsive to the request, he did not receive video tapes of Sáenz actual stop or any other subsequent interrogation which would have been videotaped.

(Editor’s note: Sáenz says he is innocent of the charge.)

This case is disconcerting for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost, in his letter, the blogger references that the police officer who arrested Sáenz has been subject to “retaliation.” Capitol Annex has learned that the police officer’s union or employee’s association representing Mission PD officers is aware of this and that some sort of complaint or grievance has been filed.

Second, if the Mission PD since the Mission PD didn’t furnish the tape in question to the blogger who requested it, they have a couple of duties under the Texas Public Information Act which it appears they did not complete. If Mission PD desired to withhold the tape, they are required to notify the Texas Attorney General’s office that they believe the information is excepted from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act and send the information they desire to keep secret, along with a letter stating their reasoning, to the AG–and to notify the person requesting the information that they have done so, pursuant to Texas Government Code, Section 552.301.

In this particular case, it is possible that the Mission Police Department would have a valid exception to claim before the AG. Section 552.108 of the Texas Government Code provides that certain material may be excepted from disclosure if its disclosure would unduly hinder an ongoing criminal investigation or prosecution. While it is unclear how the AG would rule on this particular request–had it ever been made – it isn’t a decision the Mission PD can make on its own or in a vacuum. While I don’t think that releasing the video would particularly hinder prosecution, the exception was, at minimum, out there for the Mission PD to claim.

The most interesting thing about this is that, as a result of the Mission PD’s failure to seek an AG’s opinion on this matter in a timely or proper fashion, the tape of Eddie Sáenz’ DWI arrest is now a de facto public record under Texas law, per Section 552.302 of the Texas Government Code:

§ 552.302. FAILURE TO MAKE TIMELY REQUEST FOR ATTORNEY GENERAL DECISION; PRESUMPTION THAT INFORMATION IS PUBLIC. If a governmental body does not request an attorney general decision as provided by Section 552.301 and provide the requestor with the information required by Sections 552.301(d) and (e-1), the information requested in writing is presumed to be subject to required public disclosure and must be released unless there is a compelling reason to withhold the information.

It is my understanding that, in the case of a “compelling reason” to withhold the information, the government body still has to go to the AG or to court to prevent disclosure once they have shot themselves in the foot on the statutory time-line.

The big question now is, “what happens next?” We’re in the process of obtaining more information on the allegations that the officer who arrested Sáenz was subject to retaliation and will be doing some additional digging to determine what the situation is with regard to the tape in question.

What this case really needs is attention from the MainStreamMedia. Not because, necessarily, it involves a candidate (although that is without question newsworthy in and of itself) but because a city police department is evidently violating public information laws with impunity and, to date, getting away with it.

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Latino Decisions poll finds Sen. Clinton with big leads among Texas Hispanics over Sens. Obama, McCain

A poll of 500 Hispanic Texas voters, completed on Sunday, February 24, reveals critical data regarding the concerns of the Latino community. The Latino Decisions Texas Poll, released on Tuesday, February 26, is part of a larger effort to understand the Latino electorate, state by state, in those states where the Latino electorate will have a high impact on election results.

Latino Decisions’ poll in Texas is one in a series of statewide polls that provide independent analysis on Latino opinions regarding policy issues. The polls focus on states in which the Latino vote plays a significant role in the 2007 and 2008 elections, and are intended to provide information for organizations and candidates to reach out to voters.

Latino Decisions is a joint effort of Pacific Market Research, Dr. Gary Segura, and Dr. Matt Barreto, both of whom are Senior Researchers at Latino Decisions and Professors at the University of Washington. Texas A&M University researchers collaborated on the Latino Decisions Texas poll.

The poll also shows that in head to head general election match-ups, Clinton outperforms Obama against Sen. John McCain by a margin of two to one.

“While we are taking nothing for granted and working hard to earn every vote, Senator Clinton have a strong relationship with the Hispanic community in Texas dating back to 1972,” said Congressman Solomon Ortíz, D-Corpus Christi. “She’s been working with the community for 36 years, and they understand that she’s been tested, is fighting for them, and that she’s the candidate who has the best chance of beating John McCain in November.”

Among the findings of the Texas poll were:

• Clinton holds a commanding lead over Obama among Latino registered voters in Texas. Clinton was the choice of 62% of self-identified Democrats and Democratic-leaners, Obama had 22% while another 15% remain undecided.

• Both candidates, however, are viewed favorably by the entire electorate, with 76% of all respondents viewing Clinton somewhat or very favorably, while 66% view Obama somewhat or very favorably.

• Likely GOP nominee Senator John McCain is viewed favorably by 48% of all respondents, but unfavorably by 31%.

• In hypothetical head-to-head match-ups against McCain, both Clinton and Obama do extremely well, though Senator Clinton’s advantage persists. Among all Latino voters without regard to partisanship, Clinton outpolls McCain 61% to 20% (19% undecided). Obama outpolls McCain 46% to 25% (29% undecided).

• President Bush is viewed unfavorably by 55% of the respondents, and favorably by only 34%. Republicans in Congress have even less support at 28% favorability against 39% unfavorable. Democrats in Congress are viewed favorably (somewhat or very) by 59%, with only 17% viewing them unfavorably.

• Voting Issues — when asked which issues would be most important in their presidential vote, Texas Latinos overwhelmingly identified the Economy (33%) and Health Care (29%) as the biggest factors with Immigration Reform (22%), the War in Iraq (21%) and Education (20%) rounding out the top 5. When asked about issues specifically important to Latinos, Immigration Reform jumps to the top of the agenda (37%), with jobs and the economy (30%) in second.

• On the war, 69% report feeling that the war was “not worth fighting,” while only 23% felt the effort was worth the costs. The overwhelming policy preference was for immediate withdrawal (48%) or

beginning withdrawal (33%), a total of 81% of the respondents favoring a significant policy shift. Just 9% favor the current policy, while another 7% favor escalation.

• On Immigration, 31% favor amnesty for those currently in the country, while another 32% favor some form of earned legalization and a path to citizenship. This total of 63% support for either amnesty or earned legalization is notable since the sample is entirely among US citizens registered to vote. Only 26% favor a temporary guest worker program, and 6% favor declaring illegal immigrants felons and deporting them.

Latino Decisions will continue its research through the 2008 general elections. Reports from the Texas, Nevada, and California surveys are available now.

For more information on the researchers, or about Latino Decisions, visit http://www.latinodecisions.com

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Sen. Obama endorsed by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, leading candidate for Texas Speaker of the House

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, who is seeking the U.S. presidential nomination by Texas Democrats on March 4, has been endorsed by State Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, the leading candidate for Speaker of the House in the Texas Legislature.

A former public school teacher who became a lawyer, Thompson, in her 17th term, is the longest serving Texas legislator among women and African Americans.

“We are on the precipice of history, but we will be much more than witnesses to destiny,” said Thompson. “He’s not asking us to believe in his ability to bring about real change in Washington. He’s asking us to believe in ours.”

Thompson, consistently ranked as one of the top Texas legislators by key news media outlets and statewide organizations, said Obama’s plans for America are based on the power of good ideas, forged by his experiences and skills, but also derived from the people.

“Sen. Obama’s words are so powerful because he tells us like it is and provides realistic solutions to the major issues facing our nation,” Thompson added. “Just as important, Sen. Obama’s words are so inspirational because his words build up our country, not tear it down, and he speaks truth to power.”

Thompson, who has authored and passed more than 200 Texas laws, has one of the best voting records on issues of concerns to women, minorities, labor, consumers, reform advocates, domestic violence victims, the elderly, teachers, and civil libertarians, according to her official biography.

“We are going to elect Sen. Obama as our next president because of his tremendous experiences and skills, and because he will make sure that Americans from all walks of life will have an equal seat at the table of power.”

“I’m honored to have earned the support of Representative Thompson and am pleased that she’ll play an important role in advancing our grassroots movement for change in Houston and across Texas,” Obama said in a statement. “Throughout her three decades in the Legislature, she’s been a tireless advocate for working families and when I’m president we’ll work together to put the American dream within reach of every child in Texas and across our country.”

Obama’s official biography and extensive information about his campaign platform are available on his website at http://www.barackobama.com.

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Edinburg construction reaches almost $173 million for 2007

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Total construction activities in Edinburg for 2007 totaled more than $172.6 million, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, with new commercial facilities leading the way, representing almost $72 million of that amount.

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

It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, former Mayor Richard García, who serves as board president, Fred Palacios, Dr. Glenn E. Martínez, Ph.D., and Elias Longoria, Jr.

Also in 2007, the construction of new homes totaled almost $58 million, representing 605 new single-family residences.

Those totals continue to reflect positive growth in the three-time All-America City, and are key indicators of the strength of the local economy.

In 2006, Edinburg also posted significant levels of construction activities.

Total construction in Edinburg in 2006 reached almost $192 million, with new commercial construction representing almost $70 million of that amount, while new residential construction in 2006 totaled almost $70.5 million.

The construction figures include the value of everything from installing plumbing to building the structures, but not the price of the lots.

For the month of December 2007, which represents the latest figures available, total construction in Edinburg – not counting any activities at the University of Texas-Pan American – reached more than $6.7 million, compared with the almost $15 million figure for the same month in 2006.

In December 2007, the value of new commercial construction – not counting government facilities or churches – was more than $2.2 million, compared with more than $8.2 million in December 2006.

In December 2007, residential construction – work done on single-family homes – was reported at almost $3.6 million, compared with more than $3.3 million in December 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 $19.5 million in new construction in 2007, compared with more than $18.7 million 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. In 2006, building permits were issued for $8,996,000 in new construction of nontaxable structures.

In December 2007, there were no building permits issued for alterations on nontaxable structures. In December 2006, there were no building permits issued for alterations on nontaxable structures.

For all of 2007, building permits valued at $13,263,500 were issued for alterations on nontaxable structures, compared with $$7,636,300 during 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.

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

Dominic Reyna received two building permit for the most valuable construction projects in December.

Those permits, each valued at $741,500, were issued for commercial additions/repairs at 3992 South Jackson Road and 3894 South Jackson Road.

Reyna’s facilities are located in the Autumn Ridge Phase 1 Subdivision.

The second-most valuable project authorized for construction in December was for a new commercial facility, located at 1905 E. Monte Cristo Road, valued at $250,000. That building permit was issued to Geronimo Gracia for a facility that is being built in the Minnie Fenton Subdivision.

The third-most valuable facility to receive a building permit in December is a single-family residence located at 1802 Battista Street. The permit, valued at $221,000, was issued to Dan Sitterly for a home in the Valencia Subdivision.

The fourth-most valuable project authorized for construction in December was for a commercial addition/repair, valued at $216,000, issued to Beyamar, for a facility located at 4901 S. McColl Road in the Plaza de Oro Subdivision.

A more detailed breakdown of December 2007 and 2007 annual figures for Edinburg features the following highlights:

Commercial construction

New construction of commercial buildings, not including multi-family residences, was reported at $2,2655,500 in December, compared with $8,235,950 for the same month in 2006.

For all of 2007, new construction of commercial buildings reached $71,692,725, compared with $69,775,422 in 2006.

Commercial alterations in December totaled $313,050, compared with $614,156 in December 2006.

For all of 2007, commercial alterations reached $5,631,286, compared with $10,617,621 in 2006.

Home construction

New construction of single-family homes in December 2007 reached $3,599,200, compared with $3,324,600 in December 2006.

For all of 2007, building permits were issued for residential homes valued at $57,781,546, compared with $70,446,664 in 2006.

For all of 2007, building permits were issued for the construction of 605 single-family homes, compared with 765 in 2006.

In December 2007, work began on 36 single-family residences, compared with 33 homes in December 2006.

In December 2007, alterations for single-family residences were valued at $139,633, compared with $388,218 for the same month in 2006.

For all of 2007, building permits were issued for residential alterations valued at $4,696,892, compared with $5,564,650 in alterations in 2006.

Multi-family residences

New construction of multi-family residences in December 2007 reached $395,000, compared with $2,367,000 for the same month in 2006.

For all of 2007, new construction of multi-family homes totaled $19,564,000, compared with $18,745,740 in 2006.

For all of 2007, building permits were issued for 130 multi-family residences, or 425 units, compared with 182 multi-family residences, or 406 units, in 2006.

For the month of December 2007, building permits were issued for four multi-family residences, or eight units, compared with 21 multi-family residences, or 54 units, in December 2006.

In December 2007, building permits were issued for four two-unit residences (duplexes).

For all of 2007, building permits were issued for 116 two-unit residences (duplexes), three triplexes or fourplexes, and 11 buildings with five or more apartments.

In December 2006, building permits were issued for 15 duplexes and six triplexes/fourplexes.

For all of 2006, building permits were issued for 161 duplexes, 12 triplexes/fourplexes, and nine residences with five or more apartments.

Top December 2007 construction projects

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

  • Dominic Reyna, 3894 S. Jackson Road ($741,500);
  • Dominic Reyna, 3992 S. Jackson Road ($741,500);
  • Geronimo Gracia, 1905 E. Monte Cristo Road ($250,000); and
  • M.G. Holdings, 2105 Jackson Creek Avenue ($200,000);

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

  • L.I.C.I. Llv, 2213 Candlelight Drive ($135,000);
  • Edgar García, 702 Jade Street ($130,000); and
  • Edgar García, 710 Jade Street ($130,000).

Highlights of construction in December 2007 of commercial additions/repairs homes valued at $100,000 or more include:

  • Beyamar, 4901 S. McColl Road ($216,000).

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

  • Dan Sitterly, 1806 Battista Street ($221,000);
  • Dan Sitterly, 1808 Battista Street ($210,000);
  • Dan Sitterly, 1802 Battista Street ($200,000);
  • Jaime Lozano, 2605 Woods Drive N ($200,000);
  • Dan Sitterly, 1812 Battista Street ($184,000);
  • Dan Sitterly, 1810 Battista Street (175,000);
  • Dan Sitterly, 1804 Battista Street ($169,000);
  • John Palmer, 3309 Lonny Lane ($150,000);
  • Víctor Tanguma, 2726 Stirling Avenue ($143,000);
  • Rolando Gómez, 3121 Whitewing ($135,000);
  • Froilan García, 4212 Gyr ($120,000);
  • Marco Ríos, 2724 April ($115,000);
  • Óscar Cantú, 628 Oregano ($100,000); and
  • Óscar Cantú, 1604 Damasco ($100,000).

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EEDC’s financial affairs meet highest standards, deliberations continue on DPS headquarters

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

An annual independent audit, which takes a close look at financial statements and records, has found that during the 12-month period which ended September 30, 2007, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation met the highest level of accountability to the public in how it documents its financial affairs.

In other action, the EEDC – which is the jobs creation arm of the Edinburg City Council – deliberated in executive session, but took no action, on what to do with more than 20 acres of prime real estate that it owns in the booming southwest section of the city.

Ramiro Garza, EEDC executive director, said the five-member EEDC governing board probably will receive a update in its March monthly meeting.

One of the options being considered by the EEDC is to use that property to land a planned $45 million Department of Public Safety regional headquarters.

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.

While the discussion on the property took place in executive session – as allowed by state law – the favorable audit regarding the EEDC took place in the open – as required by state law.

An audit is generally defined as an examination and verification of an entity’s financial books to see if it meets the highest standards of the profession, known as GAAP, the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles.

In most cases, an audit is not responsible for detecting every mistake or even fraud. But, audits are conducted in such a way that they would probably catch some errors or raise questions during the financial investigation if there were suspicious activities.

The EEDC had no such problems, however.

“Mr. Noel Garza, CPA, conducted the EEDC annual audit for the Fiscal Year ending September 30, 2007,” EEDC executive director Garza reported to the board during its monthly meeting, held Tuesday, February 26. “He has presented an unqualified opinion, which is the highest, positive opinion for this type of audit.”

Noel Garza is a partner with Reyna and Garza, CPAs, of Edinburg, which was the firm which performed the annual audit, which is required by state law.

“In a nutshell, we feel that these financial statements are fairly representative of the financial position of the EEDC as of September 30, 2007,” the Edinburg-based CPA told the EEDC officials. “We have rendered an unqualified opinion, which is the highest rendering that can be issued. It is very indicative of the good financial condition of the corporation. We found no issues that warranted any other type of rendering, so we have issued an unqualified report.”

The EEDC generates income from a local one-half cent economic development sales tax, as well as from other assets, such as leasing of properties, investments, and even sales of holdings.

Noel Garza also listed other highlights during the remarks he presented to the board:

•As of September 30, 2007, the EEDC had $6.1 million in the fund balance, compared with $4.5 million as of September 30, 2006 – an improvement of $1.5 million.

The fund balance is the difference between assets and liabilities.

•Between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2007, the EEDC generated $3.7 million in revenue, with the vast majority of that income coming from the 1/2 cent economic development sales tax. This was $500,000 more than the previous fiscal year (October 1, 2005 through September 30, 2006), which generated $3.2 million.

•The $3.7 million generated by the EEDC between October 1, 2006 and September 30, 2007 mostly came from the 1/2 cent sales tax, which accounted for a little more than $3.3 million of that annual total. Another $252,000 in revenue was generated for the EEDC from property leases, and about $132,000 came from investment earnings.

•Expenditures from the latest fiscal year which ended on September 30, 2007 were about $6.3 million, but only $2.7 million were actually spent.

“That was due to the projects that were planned on being undertaken, or progress was not made sufficiently to warrant the expenditures to the point that they had been budgeted,” the CPA noted.

As for the 20-acre property owned and being marketed by the EEDC, that asset could very well wind up generating benefits for the community in more ways than one.

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

During the January 22 public session of the EEDC, what to do with the property was the subject of much public discussion.

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

During that January 22 board session, EEDC’s Ramiro Garza first 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 January 22 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.”

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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Sen. Lucio is appointed to Senate Select Committee on Economic Development

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Tuesday, February 26, appointed Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, to serve on the Senate Select Committee on Economic Development.

“As the only South Texas/Border senator appointed to this critical Select Committee, I am very thankful that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has entrusted me with this key appointment,” said Lucio. “The economic development issues we will be researching, coincide with and build on the work that I have achieved over the years as Chairman of the Senate’s International Relations and Trade Committee (IRT). I look forward to working with both committees and to continue to be a proponent of innovative legislative measures that engender economic development in cities and distressed regions of Texas.

“With the growth that we have experienced in recent years, especially in South Texas, I feel strongly that we need to continue to create greater job opportunities and attract businesses that provide higher wage jobs, particularly in distressed areas of the state,” said Lucio. “The charges of this Select Committee will complement the charges that my Standing Committee on International Relations and Trade has been given to develop directives that will advance Texas’ economy and make it more competitive in the global marketplace.”

The committee’s charges are:

• Inventory economic development programs and incentives, including tax abatements, offered by state and local governments. Review the costs and benefits of Texas’ economic development tools, including the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technologies Fund, and make recommendations for improvements. Review similar incentive programs in other states and the potential impact on Texas’ competitive advantage in attracting and keeping strong businesses. Analyze regional economic development trends and opportunities and identify option for maximizing economic development with region-specific incentives.

• Review the costs and benefits of using the Texas Enterprise Zone Program as an economic development tool for local communities to partner with the state to promote job creation and capital investment in economically distressed areas of the state.

• Study the current state of the nanotechnology industry in Texas. Analyze the impact of the industry on economic development. Review federal and state regulations regarding the development, use, and disposal of materials and waste products related to nanotechnology. Make recommendations for ensuring that Texas is a competitor in the nanotechnology industry and for ensuring the safety of the public as this industry grows.

• Examine the costs and the effectiveness of policy options, including state incentives, available to cities and counties to preserve and redevelop historic downtown properties.

• Study the merits of developing a comprehensive state policy of offering incentives to local governments for activities relating to recruiting and hosting special events.

In addition to Lucio, also appointed to the Committee are Sen. Kim Brimer, chairman, and Senators Kevin Eltife, Troy Fraser, Mike Jackson and Kirk Watson.

••••••

House Committee on Border and International Affairs held hearing in Edinburg on border security

Rep. Stephen Frost, D-Atlanta, Vice Chairman of the House Committee on Border and International Affairs, traveled to South Texas for a Joint Committee hearing to see first-hand the challenges of protecting our borders.

The meeting was held on Wednesday, February 20, at the University of Texas-Pan American.

“Although about 650 miles separates Northeast Texas from our state’s border with Mexico, the issue of border security is crucial for all of us,” Frost said on Monday, February 25. “We need common sense solutions to secure our borders. It is crucial for the state to help balance support for the economic livelihood of the citizens of Texas with the efforts to stop drugs and crime from crossing the border our country.”

Along with Frost’s Border and International Committee, members of the House Committee on State Affairs comprised the Joint Committee. During general discussion, Frost pointed out that even though Texarkana is closer to Chicago than it is to parts of the Texas/Mexico border, the safety of our border is important to every Texan.

The Joint Committee heard testimony from officials from across the spectrum of border protection: county sheriffs, emergency management, border security and law enforcement. Each official highlighted improvements in security which have been the result of increased state resources. Common agreement among the officials reiterated the need of increased Federal enforcement of our nation’s laws.

“It was extremely helpful to hear from the law enforcement officials who live and work along the border. They have a big job to do, stopping criminals and drug cartels along the border to protect us. They put their lives on the line every day to do it,” said Frost. “Talking with them was enlightening; it renewed the committee’s appreciation of the challenges along our border. The information we gathered during this meeting will help us in finding solutions to assist our law enforcement secure our borders.”

••••••

Senate Education Committee hears progress report from Texas Education Agency

The Senate Education Committee met Wednesday, February 27, to hear from state education officials about the implementation of reforms passed by the Legislature last session.

Texas Commissioner of Higher Education Dr. Raymund Paredes began the hearing by reporting on the progress of Texas’ “Closing the Gaps” initiative. This program seeks to increase college enrollment and graduation rates for all Texas high school students, but focuses on increased enrollment for minority students.

Paredes said the state is on track to meet its enrollment goals by 2015, adding 235,000 more college enrollees as of 2007. A little more than half of all Texas High School graduates attend a two- or four-year institution. Enrollment among minorities is up since 2000, an increase of 49 percent for Hispanics and 38 percent for African-Americans.

College completion rates were also up, said Paredes, increasing by 152,000 degrees in the last seven years. Again, the largest percentages of growth were among minorities, with a 67 percent increase in college graduation for Hispanics, and 44 percent for African Americans.

The committee also heard testimony relating to last session’s $275 increase in per-student allotment for Texas High Schools. The program, which will cost the state $641 million in 07-08 biennium, encourages school districts to use the money to increase graduation rates and reduce dropouts. Texas Education Agency official Barbara Knaggs testified that a recent survey conducted by her agency showed that schools are using the money as the Legislature intended. Schools use the additional money to pay for standardized college entrance exams, teacher training for Advanced Placement programs, for dual credit programs with local colleges, and for enhancing remedial education programs.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages.

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