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High school students Melissa Castaño of Edinburg, featured center, and Atanacio Gómez of Eagle Pass were named Students of the Year on Monday, March 31 by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin. Castaño, a senior at Johnny G. Economedes High School, is the oldest child of Ricardo and María del Jesús Castaño. She ranks 13th in a class of 537 students and is the highest-ranked migrant student in her school. “She is a student who has a quiet demeanor and who excels in all her classes because she happens to be a very intelligent young lady,” said Castaño’s migrant counselor, Diana Alejos. “My ideal is to change a life and assist the people in my community,” Castaño said. See story later in this posting.

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Eagle Pass Mayor Chad Foster, chairman of the Texas Border Coalition, is among the key Texas border leaders scheduled to be in Edinburg on Tuesday, April 15, from 10:30 to noon, for a forum on the controversial planned Border Wall. The session, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the University of Texas-Pan American in the Student Theatre, located in the Student Union Building on campus. “We hope that this event contributes to UTPA’s standing as a national resource for the study of Latin America and its borders with the United States,” said Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, associate professor of modern languages and literature, who also serves on the board of directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. For more information on the forum, contact the Office of International Programs at 956/381-3572. See lead story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg CISD School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) will host its seventh annual ECISD Wellness Fair at the Harwell Middle School Gym on Thursday, April 10 from 6 – 8 p.m., announced Albert López, RN, Coordinator of Health Services. Harwell MS is located at 801 E. Canton Road. The wellness fair will feature various health-related entities from throughout the community as well as a food show sponsored by the ECISD Child Nutrition Department and a Physical Education Showcase by eight elementary schools. The SHAC is a state-mandated council made up of community members, parents and school district staff. The purpose of the SHAC is to address issues that deal with health, nutrition and a safe school environment with the intent to reflect the values of the community. Membership on the health advisory council is approved by the local school board every school year. For more information on the wellness fair, contact the ECISD Health Services office at 289-2300. Edinburg CISD School Health Advisory Council members (left to right) Mike Castillo, parent member; Esther López, Physical Education teacher; Albert López, RN, Coordinator of Health Services; and Dalia Fellows, parent member, plan for the health fair at the Harwell Middle School Gym. Not pictured are Mary DeLuna, director of Child Nutrition; Leo Reyes, PE teacher; and Iris Pérez, ECISD Dietitian.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce has revamped its web page presence on the Internet, thanks to a “virtual face lift” and brand new web page designed by Web Magik. The domain and web address will remain the same at http://www.edinburg.com and will continue to update the community on the local chamber’s news, including ground breakings, ribbon cuttings, seminars, event/meeting dates and more. The user friendly website includes an updated calendar, membership listing, photos, and news involving chamber and city events in which the chamber partners with other entities on such events as Texas Cook’em: High Steaks in Edinburg, set for July 4. The website was unveiled on March 31 at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors meeting held at the depot. If you would like more information on chamber events and news please call 956-383-4974, or log onto http://www.edinburg.com. Featured in this portrait are some of the active members of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, including, standing, from left: Abel J. Leal, Tiffany Gómez, Naomi Perales, Dalia Arce, Dr. Walt Green, Flo Prater, Ian Ochoa, Dina Araguz, Alicia Campos, Aaron Ramírez, Holly Martin, Frank Lara, and Marie García; and seated, from left: Gisela Hughes, Paulina Solis, Elva J. Garza, Jeannie Sandoval, and Eva Rodríguez.

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South Texas is making its mark in the realm of online media. PodCamp San Antonio Numero Dos is scheduled for May 3, 2008 at El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel. PodCamp San Antonio is an event that attracts online media stars and producers from throughout the state, and has a global audience. Technology events like PodCamp San Antonio Numero Dos have typically been held in cities like Austin, Houston, or Dallas; but they never specialized in podcasting. According to http://www.podcasting-tools.com, podcasting is quickly becoming a buzz word among the techie crowd. So what is podcasting, anyway? Podcasting is online audio content that is delivered via an RSS feed. Many people liken podcasting to radio on demand. However, in reality, podcasting gives far more options in terms of content and programming than radio does. In addition, with podcasting, listeners can determine the time and the place, meaning they decide what programming they want to receive and when they want to listen to it. Listeners can retain audio archives to listen to at their leisure. While blogs have turned many bloggers into journalists, podcasting has the potential to turn podcasters into radio personalities. Key organizers for PodCamp San Antonio Numero Dos are featured here, from left: Richard Galvan, Shaine Mata, Jennifer Navarrete, Michael De Leon, and Lans Hobart. See story later in this posting.

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Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., executive vice chancellor for health affairs at The University of Texas System, was appointed interim chancellor of the UT System on Tuesday, April 1, by Regents’ Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr. The appointment is effective May 1. Shine, a world-renowned cardiologist and physiologist with outstanding academic and medical credentials, will succeed UT System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof, who last week was named the president of the University of California system. See story later in this posting.

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Border Wall to be discussed at April 15 forum sponsored by UT-Pan American, Texas Border Coalition

By MELISSA C. RODRÍGUEZ

The University of Texas-Pan American will host a forum to discuss the border wall and other issues on Tuesday, April 15 at the Student Union Theatre.

The border forum will feature political and business leaders of South Texas who are knowledgeable about the needs of border communities, and have been engaged in work to influence federal policymaking so that it responds to the needs and interests of these communities.

The event, Border Forum: The Wall and Other Issues, was created after UTPA faculty and the Texas Border Coalition (TBC) – an alliance of border mayors, county judges, and community members – discussed concerns regarding the border wall.

A committee consisting of students and faculty will be asking the panelists questions from 10:30 a.m.- noon.

Blanca Gómez from Univision, Octavio Sáenz from Fox 2 News will be the moderators for the event, which is free and open to the public.

“We hope that this event contributes to UTPA’s standing as a national resource for the study of Latin America and its borders with the United States,” said Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, associate professor of modern languages and literature.

Martínez also serves on the board of directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

“To this end, we will be webcasting the event to Latin American studies centers and international education councils throughout the country,” Martínez added. “With the help of UTPA’s Raúl Yzaguirre Policy Institute, we will also create and distribute an informative DVD for national policymakers and scholars to understand the unique perspective of border dwellers in the growing push for heightened border security.”

For information on parking on campus, visitors may contact the UTPA Police Department at 381-2737.

Dr. Ethan Sharp, assistant professor of modern languages and literature, said the border has become a focus of national political debates and is an important topic for the ongoing presidential campaign.

“During this critical time, when federal politicians are committing more resources and devising new policies for border security, it is important that people around the country hear the voices of people living along the border on issues like what border security means to them, and how best to achieve border security,” Sharp said.

Sharp said the event will be an invaluable opportunity for university students and other citizens from different parts of the country to learn about the border and federal policymaking concerning the border from leaders who know the most about them.

UTPA coordinators include the Office of International Programs, the Latin American Studies Program, Integrated Global Knowledge and Understanding Collaboration, Center for Academic Excellence, the Raul Yzaguirre Policy Institute, and the Texas Border Coalition.

For more information, contact the Office of International Programs at 956/381-3572.

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Sen. Cornyn announces new bill to ensure flood control reimbursements for Hidalgo, Cameron counties

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, on Friday, March 28, visited Edinburg to announce new legislation he will introduce to authorize the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to reimburse Hidalgo and Cameron counties for expenses they incur in designing, constructing, and rehabilitating the levees as part of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Flood Control Project.

Cornyn was joined by Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos, Mission Mayor Beto Salinas, and other local elected officials and community leaders.

Cornyn will also support efforts to secure funding for the project through the appropriations process. IBWC estimates it will take $125 million to complete the entire project.

“The Valley levees currently serve a critical role for the safety of local residents, but will also play an important part in our national security. For these reasons, I’ve been committed to securing much-needed federal funding, and I’ve stayed in regular communication with local leaders through visits to the Valley and meetings in my Washington office to ensure their voices are being heard on the federal level,” Cornyn said.

“I’m pleased to announce that I plan on introducing federal legislation next week authorizing the International Boundary and Water Commission to reimburse these Valley counties for this essential project. I know that by working together we can ensure the levees protect Valley residents from flooding, help boost security and provide the community support it needs from the federal government.

“I would like to thank all of the local leaders, including Judge Salinas, Judge Cascos, and the Hidalgo County Commissioners, for their hard work on behalf of the community and their continued, valuable insight.”

Cameron County Judge Carlos H. Cascos said:

“I’m very pleased with Sen. Cornyn’s visit to the Valley once again. Our community also gladly welcomes Sen. Cornyn’s announcement that he will be introducing legislation to allow the International Boundary and Water Commission to reimburse Cameron and Hidalgo counties for any costs incurred with repairs to the levees. Had it not been for the tenacity of Senator Cornyn, this important step would not be taking place. I’m proud of the fact that my Senator has stepped up to the plate, and now it is time for the House of Representatives to do the same.”

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas said:

“Sen. John Cornyn understands that the levees are a federal responsibility and that it’s time for Congress to step up. Our hard-working citizens and small business owners should not have to placed in the position of having to choose between buying health insurance for families and employees or coughing up hundreds of dollars a year for mandatory flood insurance. Fixing the levees is the best economic stimulus for this area, to keep us moving ahead toward a bright and prosperous future.”

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

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Department of Homeland Security exercises waiver authority to expedite advancements in border security

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security on Tuesday, April 1, announced its intent to issue two waivers of certain laws to expedite security improvements at the southwest border. Congress gave the Secretary of Homeland Security authority to waive all legal requirements necessary to expeditiously install additional physical barriers and roads at the border to deter illegal activity.

“Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation,” said Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. “Congress and the American public have been adamant that they want and expect border security. We’re serious about delivering it, and these waivers will enable important security projects to keep moving forward. At the same time, we value the need for public input on any potential impact of our border infrastructure plans on the environment – and we will continue to solicit it.”

One waiver applies to certain environmental and land management laws for various project areas in Calif., Ariz., N.M., and Texas, encompassing roughly 470 total miles. It will facilitate additional pedestrian and vehicle fence construction, towers, sensors, cameras, detection equipment, and roads in the vicinity of the border.

A separate waiver was signed for the levee-border barrier project in Hidalgo County, Texas. This roughly 22-mile project will strengthen flood protection in the area while providing the Border Patrol with important tactical infrastructure. In addition to environmental and land management laws, this waiver addresses other legal and administrative impediments to completing this project by the end of the calendar year.

A substantial portion of the project areas addressed by these waivers have already undergone environmental reviews. In those areas where environmental reviews have not yet occurred, the department will conduct a review before any major construction begins. The department remains deeply committed to environmental responsibility, and will continue to work closely with the Department of Interior and other federal and state resources management agencies to ensure impacts to the environment, wildlife, and cultural and historic artifacts are analyzed and minimized.

The department also places a high priority on interaction with, and feedback from, local officials, landowners and community members about border infrastructure project plans. Since May 2007, more than 600 individual landowners have been contacted and over 100 meetings with local officials, public open houses and town halls have been held along the southwest border.

The department has used its discretionary waiver authority on three previous occasions. Certain environmental restrictions were waived on Sept. 13, 2005 to complete a roughly 14-mile stretch of fencing, as part of the Border Infrastructure System, near San Diego, California. A second waiver of environmental restrictions was used for additional border infrastructure near the Barry M. Goldwater Range in southern Arizona on Jan. 12, 2007. A third waiver of environmental restrictions was issued on Oct. 26, 2007, allowing the construction of border infrastructure to move forward near the San Pedro National Riparian Conservation Area in southern Arizona.

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Democrat Noriega: Why isn’t Sen. Cornyn standing up for South Texas?

By HOLLY SHULMAN

Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Rick Noriega on Tuesday, April 2, said he was outraged at Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s decision to waive more than 30 laws and regulations in order to build a fence along the Texas border, and John Cornyn’s repeated flip-flops on the issue.

“Mr. Cornyn’s continually mixed messages seem to have convinced the Department of Homeland Security that Texans don’t mind him bypassing all local community input in order to build a border fence,” said Noriega, a veteran Houston state representative. “As United States senator, I’ll stand up against this disregard for Texas landowners and property rights, and oppose the federal government’s incredible abuse of power in going forward with the fence without community input. ”

The federal government needs to hear from local communities “loudly and clearly, and with Cornyn as our voice in Washington, Texans are not being heard,” said Noriega.

Cornyn has “flip-flopped repeatedly on the fence, from his early opposition to it, to his July 26, 2007 vote to spend more than $3 billion to build more than 700 miles of fence,” Noriega noted. “In August 2007, the Dallas Morning News said of Cornyn’s position, ‘Two years ago, Sen. John Cornyn said a border fence was a bad idea. Last month, he voted to build one…In 2004, he said that ‘we cannot and should not build a wall on the U.S. and Mexico border.’ In November 2005, he called ‘a fence or a wall at the border a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem…. Can’t people just go around it?'”

In a recent Capitol Advantage ranking, Cornyn ranked 80th out of 100 most effective Senators.

“Today’s decision is just one more example of Texas families paying the price for Cornyn’s failed leadership,” said Noriega.

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Statement by Hidalgo County Judge Salinas regarding DHS’ waiver announcement

“Today’s (Tuesday, April 1) announcement from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is a positive development for the residents of Hidalgo County. By working together, Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 and DHS are on its way to protect people and property from the threat of dangerous floods, protecting our economy from a devastating $1.7 billion blow that would result from a levee breach, and save taxpayers a significant amount of money.

The waiver for Hidalgo County allows Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1 to move the collaborative levee barrier project forward by setting aside certain environmental and land management laws and lifting legal and administrative obstructions. This waiver gives DHS the mechanism to continue consultations with Hidalgo County and Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1. Today, the court was informed via a faxed letter from U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner W. Ralph Basham that a cooperative agreement is the appropriate method for executing the project.

Through this anticipated cooperative agreement, DHS states it ‘will transfer funding, plans, and other resources, to allow Hidalgo (County Drainage District No. 1) to implement the project to meet its flood mitigation needs, while also satisfying DHS’s requirements … to construct border infrastructure in an area of high illegal entry.’ The next step in the process is to finalize the cooperative agreement with DHS before beginning construction on 22 miles of the concrete flood protection structure authorized by the waiver for Hidalgo County.

As it relates to Hidalgo County, the DHS waiver is responsive to the needs of our diverse border community. It is the result of listening to the concerns of those who opposed the construction of the border fence for various social, economic and environmental reasons, and it is the result of listening to those who wholeheartedly support rehabilitation of the deteriorated river levee system.

The Hidalgo County waiver does not halt environmental discussions on the project. DHS has stated that it ‘remains committed to protecting the Nation and deterring illegal entry and other crimes through control of the border, while acting to protect the environment…’ Hidalgo County leaders are committed to listen to the concerns of various environmental groups concerned with the levee barrier plan and submit these concerns to the appropriate federal agencies with decision-making authority.

Hidalgo County has been at the forefront of the border fence issue from day one, pushing our elected officials in Washington to listen to community concerns and formulating a strategy to protect the residents of Hidalgo County from flood waters while accomplishing plans of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to protect the nation’s borders. It is a good day when Washington listens and responds to our needs. Hidalgo County appreciates the opportunity to continue consultations with DHS to make our community safer and more attractive to future smart development.”

For the latest Hidalgo County news, visit http://www.judgejd.com.

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Sen. Hutchison welcomes DHS announcement, says Hidalgo County levee can be complete by end of year

By MATT MACKOWIAK

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday, April 2, welcomed the announcement by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that they will move forward on the promised 22 mile levee barrier in Hidalgo County.

The levee barrier project in Hidalgo County will strengthen flood protection in the area while providing the Border Patrol with important tactical infrastructure.

“I believe Secretary Chertoff is taking the responsible approach to exercise his legal authority to keep the agreement with Hidalgo County that serves the dual purposes of flood protection and border security,” said Hutchison.

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Edinburg’s jobless rate in February 2008 drops to 4.4 percent, best in the Valley, better than U.S. rate

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg posted a 4.4 percent jobless rate in February 2008, an improvement over the previous month, and represented the best showing among all major Valley cities, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has reported.

By comparison, the state’s jobless rate in February 2008 averaged 4.1 percent, while the U.S. unemployment rate in February 2008 was 4.8 percent.

The jobless rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy.

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

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Elias Longoria, Jr., and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

Edinburg, like almost all other cities in Texas, showed an decrease in the number of unemployed residents from the previous month, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

All cities in Hidalgo County for February 2008 had a combined 6.5 percent jobless rate, also an improvement from the previous month, which registered at 7.3 percent, and 6.6 percent in December 2007.

For February 2008, all cities in Cameron County had a combined 5.9 percent jobless rate, compared with a 6.5 percent jobless rate in January 2008, and a six percent jobless rate in December 2007.

McAllen, which usually has the lowest monthly jobless rates in the Valley, came in second among major Valley cities in February, posting a 4.5 percent jobless rate that month.

Among the Valley’s largest cities in February 2008, Weslaco posted a 6.9 percent jobless rate, followed by Brownsville with a six percent jobless rate, Mission with a 5.7 percent jobless rate, and Pharr with a 5.3 percent jobless rate.

Harlingen had the third-lowest jobless rate among Valley cities in February 2008 at 5.1 percent.

For all of 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg averaged 4.8 percent, according to the latest state figures compiled by the TWC.

In 2006, the city’s jobless rate averaged 5.3 percent, while in 2005, the Edinburg’s jobless rate averaged 4.9 percent.

The best showing in history for Edinburg came in November 2007, when the jobless rate dropped to 3.7 percent.

The highest jobless rate in the past year for Edinburg came in July 2007, reaching 5.8 percent.

The February 2008 jobless rate in Edinburg represents a growth of 2,439 jobs since February 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

In February 2008, there were 27,753 people employed in Edinburg.

In February 2007, there were 27,697 people with jobs in the three-time All-America City. In February 2007, the jobless rate was 4.7 percent.

In February 2006, there were 26,972 people employed in Edinburg. In February 2006, the jobless rate was 4.8 percent.

In February 2005, there were 25,314 people employed in Edinburg. In February 2005, the jobless rate was 5.2 percent.

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

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

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

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

The breakdown of the city’s jobless rate for the past 14 months follows:

  • In February 2008, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.
  • In January 2008, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.
  • In December 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.7 percent.
  • In November 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 3.7 percent.
  • In October 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.
  • In September 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5 percent.
  • In August 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.
  • In July 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5.8 percent.
  • In June 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 5.5 percent.
  • In May 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.
  • In April 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.3 percent.
  • In March 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.4 percent.
  • In February 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.8 percent.
  • In January 2007, the jobless rate in Edinburg was 4.9 percent.

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission:

The unemployment rate in Texas hit 4.1 percent in February 2008 – a record low – with Texas employers adding 13,500 jobs during that month.

The February statewide seasonally adjusted unemployment rate decreased to 4.1 percent, down from 4.3 percent in January and 4.5 percent in February 2007, reflecting lows not seen since the mid-1970s.

The 4.1 percent February unemployment rate in Texas remains significantly below the U.S. unemployment rate of 4.8 percent.

Seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment in Texas grew by 13,500 jobs in February. Texas employers now have added 235,000 jobs over the past 12 months, for an annual growth rate of 2.3 percent.

“Texas has once again reached a prominent benchmark – a more than 30-year record low for unemployment,” said newly appointed Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Tom Pauken. “Our falling unemployment, coupled with this month’s significant job gains, indicates the sustained health and vitality of the Texas economy.”

The Midland Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.6 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Odessa MSA was second at 3.1 percent, followed by the Amarillo MSA at 3.2 percent.

Topping the job tally was Trade, Transportation and Utilities, which posted gains of 6,600 positions in February, for a total of 37,400 jobs created since February 2007. Leisure and Hospitality increased by 4,900 positions last month, for a total of 42,400 jobs added in the past 12 months.

“Texas employers spurred job growth again this month, adding 13,500 positions in February across a broad range of industry sectors,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Employers Ron Lehman. “The unwavering commitment that Texas has shown to economic and workforce development has resulted in a resilient Texas labor market. While states across the nation are seeing a slowdown of job growth, this strong foundation is buffering what we are experiencing in Texas.”

The Construction industry gained 1,900 positions in February, with 27,300 jobs added over the year, for an annual job growth rate of 4.3 percent. The Financial Activities and Professional and Business Services sctors grew in February by 1,800 and 1,600 positions, respectively, adding more than 60,000 jobs this past year.

“Texas is the place to be for those seeking new jobs,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “With gains of more than 13,000 jobs in February, there are job opportunities in many industry sectors.”

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Edinburg construction activities total almost $8 million in February

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Total construction activities in Edinburg in February 2008 totaled almost $8 million, with construction of commercial facilities leading the way at almost $3 million, according to the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

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.

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

Also, the city figures do not include the value of any construction work being conducted at the University of Texas-Pan American.

For the first two months of 2008, total construction in Edinburg reached more than $13.1 million, compared with more than $63 million during January and February 2007.

In February, building permits were issued for construction valued at more than $2.8 million in new commercial buildings, while work also began that month on 22 new single-family homes valued at more than $1.9 million.

First National Bank received a building permit for the most valuable construction project to begin in February. First National Bank is building a commercial facility, valued at $2,159,000 at 594 S. Mon Mack Road, in the Lomas Y Lagos Subdivision.

Additions/repairs of the Edinburg school district’s School Plant Services, located at 1305 E. Schunior, represented the second-most expensive construction project to begin in February, with work on that facility valued at $1,980,000.

Only two multi-family residences began construction in February, with both valued under $100,000 apiece.

In February 2008, total construction in Edinburg was reported at $7,963,248, compared with $20,275,037 in February 2007.

In February 2008, residential construction – work done on single-family homes – reached $1,922,000, compared with $6,398,110 in February 2007.

Year-to-date, residential construction reached almost $5.1 million, compared with almost $10.9 million for the first two months of 2007.

Also in February 2008, work was authorized for alterations, valued at $459,648, on single-family residences, compared with alterations, valued at $393,138, on single-family homes in February 2007.

Year-to-date, alterations of single-family residences totaled almost $852,000, compared with more than $778,000 for the first two months of last year.

In February 2008, the value of new commercial construction – not counting government facilities or churches – reached $2,845,000 compared with $7,996,050 in February 2007.

Year-to-date, the construction of new commercial facilities was more than $4.2 million, compared with more than $41 million during the first two months of 2007. Major construction projects at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance accounted for much of the difference in those figures.

Also in February 2008, work was authorized for alterations, valued at $570,600, on commercial structures, compared with alterations, valued at $61,739, on commercial structures in February 2007.

Year-to-date, alterations of commercial buildings totaled almost $774,000, compared with more than $383,000 during the first two months of 2007.

Work valued at $186,000 began on multi-family residences in February 2008, compared with $864,000 in new construction of multi-family homes in February 2007.

Year-to-date, permits were issued for work valued at $186,000 for new multi-family residences – duplexes, triplexes, four-plexes, and apartment with five or more units – while during the same two months in 2007, multi-family residences represented more than $1.7 million in construction projects.

No new construction was authorized in February 2008 and in February 2007 for non-taxable structures, such as government facilities and churches – but not including UT-Pan American construction.

The work valued at $1,980,000 for the alterations in February of the school district’s plant services building compared with $4,562,000 in alterations of non-taxable structures in February 2007.

Year-to-date, alterations to non-taxable structures (schools, churches, government buildings), not including construction at UT-Pan American, totaled $1,980,000, compared with more than $8 million during January and February 2007.

In February 2008, work began on 22 new single-family homes, compared with 60 new single-family homes in February 2007.

Year-to-date, building permits were issued for the construction of 55 new single-family homes, compared with 100 new single-family homes during the first two months of 2007.

In February 2008, building permits were issued for the construction of two multi-family homes, compared with 11 multi-family homes in February 2007.

Year-to-date, building permits were issued for two multi-family homes, compared with 20 multi-family homes in the first two months of 2007.

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

First National Bank and the Edinburg school district received building permits for the first and second-most valuable projects for February.

First National Bank began work on the first of what will be numerous major facilities in its planned corporate headquarters, located in the Lomas Y Lagos Subdivision. Valued at almost $2.2 million, its facility is being built at 594 S. Mon Mack Road.

Additions/repairs of the Edinburg school district’s School Plant Services, located at 1305 E. Schunior, represented the second-most expensive construction project to begin in February, with work on that facility valued at $1,980,000.

Karen Hutton received a building permit in February for the third-most valuable project – a commercial building, valued at $275,000, located at 638 S. Raúl Longoria Road in the Hutton No. 9 Subdivision.

Doctors’ Hospital at Renaissance followed, with a building permit for work valued at $275,000 for addition/repairs at a commercial facility located at 5501 South McColl Road.

Jeff and Elida Ward received a building permit in February for that month’s most valuable single-family residence. The home, located at 3110 Brightwood in the West Meadows II Subdivision, is valued at $225,000.

Cris Wicker was issued a building permit for the second-most valuable addition/repair to a commercial facility. He began additions/repairs in February 2008 on a building, located at 1802 S. Closner, valued at $150,000.

Commercial construction

In addition to the commercial facilities being built by First National Bank and Karen Hutton, there were two other projects valued at $100,000 or more authorized for construction in February 2008.

Hector Guerra was issued a building permit for a commercial facility, valued at $154,000, located at 4854 South Jackson Road in the Stoneworks Plaza Subdivision.

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance was issued a building permit for construction of a commercial facility, valued at $113,000, located at 2117 Micheal Angelo Ste 201 in the Doctors Center Phase II Subdivision.

Single-family homes

Highlights of construction in February 2008 of single family homes valued at $100,000 or more include:

  • Jeff and Elida Ward, 3110 Brightwood ($225,000);
  • Antonio Treviño, 1227 Esther ($194,000);
  • Rey Benavidez, 802 Summit Circle ($150,000);
  • Moises J. Carillo, 3905 Salinas Street ($132,000);
  • West Wind Homes, 3421 Prestwic ($115,000);
  • Luis R. Zamarron, 2502 Nessuh Avenue ($105,000); and
  • Andres Lozano, 2618 Flipper ($100,000).

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Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., named interim chancellor of The University of Texas System effective May 1

By MATT FLORES

Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., executive vice chancellor for health affairs at The University of Texas System, was appointed interim chancellor of the UT System on Tuesday, April 1, by Regents’ Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr.

The appointment is effective May 1.

Shine, a world-renowned cardiologist and physiologist with outstanding academic and medical credentials, will succeed UT System Chancellor Mark G. Yudof, who last week was named the president of the University of California system.

“On behalf of the Board of Regents, I would like to express our gratitude to Dr. Shine for agreeing to accept this additional responsibility,” Caven said. “As a senior member of Chancellor Yudof’s leadership team for the past four years, Dr. Shine is intimately knowledgeable about the UT System, its institutions and constituents. His demonstrated achievements as an academician, physician and administrator make him a perfect choice to lead the UT System. I am confident he and the executive staff will build upon the momentum of the past several years and continue to move the System forward during this time of transition.”

Shine joined the UT System in 2003. In his current post, he oversees operations at the UT System’s six health institutions, which play a critical role in education, research and healthcare delivery in Texas. Collectively, the health institutions confer roughly three-fourths of all health-related degrees in Texas each year and deliver about $1.5 billion in health care to the state’s uninsured and underinsured patients.

Through the presidents of the health institutions, the executive vice chancellor has responsibility for academic planning and programs, budgets, facilities planning and construction, and personnel. UT System health institutions have a combined operating budget of $6.8 billion, nearly two-thirds of the System’s overall annual budget.

“I’m grateful to the Board of Regents for the opportunity to further serve The University of Texas System, which has benefited immeasurably from the remarkable leadership of Mark Yudof,” Shine said. “I am delighted to work with a superb group of leaders in the UT System and I look forward to working closely with the presidents of the 15 institutions, our faculty, students, staff and supporters not only to maintain, but to accelerate our progress in developing knowledge; educating informed, literate and well-prepared students; enhancing creativity; improving health; and fostering economic development in the state. “

“A great university must be a center of learning which preserves and expands knowledge. We are proud of the commitment of over 25 percent of UT System students to advancing science, technology, engineering, mathematics, and medicine,” Shine added. “Leadership in these areas is essential to the standing and performance of our state and nation in a global environment. But it is also essential that we expand our efforts in the social sciences, humanities, literature, languages and other disciplines of the institutions relevant to the human experience.”

Shine was president of the prestigious Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Sciences from 1992 to 2002. Under his leadership, the institute played an important role in addressing key issues in medicine and health care. Reports by the institute on quality of care and patient safety heightened national awareness of these issues.

He started his academic career at the UCLA School of Medicine in 1971 as an assistant professor of medicine and director of the Coronary Care Unit. He became chief of cardiology in 1976, professor of medicine and executive chairman of the Department of Medicine in 1981, and was named dean and provost for health sciences in 1986. Shine served as president of the American Heart Association in 1985-86 and was chair of the Council of Deans of the Association of American Medical Colleges in 1991-92.

Shine earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemical sciences with highest honors from Harvard University and his medical degree from Harvard Medical School. He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American College of Cardiology, as well as a master of the American College of Physicians. He was elected to the Institute of Medicine in 1988.

The UT System Board of Regents will conduct a national search for a permanent chancellor, the details of which will be announced at a later time.

Effective May 1, Yudof will become a special advisor to the interim chancellor. He will serve in this capacity until his departure for the University of California, which is expected to be sometime this summer.

“Chancellor Yudof has served as a model of leadership and efficiency for the UT System since he arrived here nearly six years ago,” Caven said. “His unprecedented accomplishments have set a high-water mark for success for our system and institutions, and we will always be grateful for his contributions.”

About the University of Texas System

Serving the educational and health care needs of Texans for more than 125 years, the UT System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems with 15 campuses – including nine academic and six health institutions – and an annual operating budget of $10.7 billion (FY 2008). Student enrollment exceeded 194,000 in the 2007 academic year. The UT System confers one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates three-fourths of Texas healthcare professionals. With more than 80,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in Texas.

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South Texas podcasting enthusiasts invited to attend or present at the PodCamp San Antonio Numero Dos

By SHAINE MATA

South Texas is making its mark in the realm of online media. PodCamp San Antonio Numero Dos is scheduled for May 3, 2008 at El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel.

PodCamp San Antonio is an event that attracts online media stars and producers from throughout the state, and has a global audience. Technology events like PodCamp San Antonio Numero Dos have typically been held in cities like Austin, Houston, or Dallas; but they never specialized in podcasting.

According to http://www.podcasting-tools.com: podcasting is quickly becoming a buzz word among the techie crowd. So what is podcasting, anyway? Podcasting is online audio content that is delivered via an RSS feed. Many people liken podcasting to radio on demand. However, in reality, podcasting gives far more options in terms of content and programming than radio does. In addition, with podcasting, listeners can determine the time and the place, meaning they decide what programming they want to receive and when they want to listen to it. Listeners can retain audio archives to listen to at their leisure. While blogs have turned many bloggers into journalists, podcasting has the potential to turn podcasters into radio personalities.

In 2007, the San Antonio Podcasting and New Media Group experimented with hosting the state’s first podcasting unconference in San Antonio. The result was strong support by the podcasting and technology community from all over Texas. The San Antonio Podcaster and New Media Group is now organizing their second PodCamp San Antonio, which is scheduled for May 3, 2008. Keeping to the unconference custom and their South Texas character, they made it “Numero Dos”.

PodCamp San Antonio Numero Dos is the first successful unconference geared towards producers and consumers of new media. Attendees can expect to meet with fellow enthusiasts to learn about all aspects of the new industry. There are presentations that range from the basics of podcasting to successfully marketing and distributing a podcast.

Some of the new topics expected at this year’s event include how corporations use machinima, a type of computer animation, to promote their brands. Also, there will be discussions on the use of new media by corporations, non-profits, and politicians to get their message out to the public.

Events like PodCamp San Antonio show that there is a technical community in South Texas region that is largely untapped.

Podcasters are typically self-taught individuals. Along with that come some gaps in knowledge about software, sound equipment, web hosting, and a whole range of topics. The best way for most podcasters to expand their skills is by exchanging knowledge amongst themselves. In this way podcasters help each other to fill in those gaps in knowledge.

“We get all kinds of people,” says Jennifer Navarrete, lead organizer of PodCamp San Antonio and co-star of The Morning Brewcast (http://www.morningbrewcast.com). “We get people who have heard of podcasts and want to learn what they are. We also get people who are expert podcasters and are willing to share their knowledge. In fact, the members of the San Antonio Podcasting and New Media Group also come from various backgrounds; some even live in the Rio Grande Valley.”

Unconferences are different from regular conferences in that there is no set schedule or agenda. Unconference attendees typically choose the topics they will present on the day of the event and others are welcome, and encouraged, to wander from presentation to presentation. “It is a very free-flowing event,” according to Project Spurs podcast producer, Michael De Leon (http://www.projectspurs.com). “Discussion amongst attendees is what gives events like this their strength. You come here to learn about specific issues that affect you and your podcast.”

The public is welcome to attend this free event, which will be held at El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel on May 3. There is a pre-event mixer at the Blue Star Arts Complex on May 2nd, and a post-event gathering at Cafe Latino on May 5th. Interested persons can visit the PodCamp San Antonio Numero Dos website at http://www.podcampsanantonio.org to sign up as an attendee. Those not able to attend in person will be able to listen to or view live broadcasts from the event. The group is also taking donations and accepting sponsorships to offset the cost of hosting the event.

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Melissa Castaño of Edinburg winner of prestigious Migrant Student Award at UT-Austin

High school students Melissa Castaño of Edinburg and Atanacio Gómez of Eagle Pass were named Students of the Year on Monday, March 31, by the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program at The University of Texas at Austin.

Castaño, a senior at Johnny G. Economedes High School, is the oldest child of Ricardo and María del Jesús Castaño. She ranks 13th in a class of 537 students and is the highest-ranked migrant student in her school.

“She is a student who has a quiet demeanor and who excels in all her classes because she happens to be a very intelligent young lady,” said Castaño’s migrant counselor, Diana Alejos.

Each student received a $2,000 college scholarship funded by a gift from ExxonMobil. Castaño, who has a grade average of 97.64, and Gómez, who has a grade average of 100.09, were among 40 migrant students honored in the ballroom of the Texas Union for their exemplary achievements during the university’s annual Exemplary Migrant Student Recognition Ceremony.

The event was attended by about 360 guests, including migrant students from 31 high schools in 21 Texas school districts. More than 1,000 Texas migrant students are completing their high school graduation requirements this year through the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program, which is administered by the K–16 Education Center within the university’s Division of Continuing Education.

Castaño attended the St. Edward’s University Graduation Enhancement Program for Secondary Migrant Students last summer. She earned credit in two university migrant student program courses—U.S. Government and Economics—with grades of 91 and 97. Other academic achievements include the U.S. Border Patrol “Head of Class” Award, the “E” Award and the Superintendent’s Academic Excellence Award.

Castaño works two jobs but that has not limited her involvement in extracurricular activities. She is a member of Ready Set Teach, Business Professionals of America and captain of the junior varsity soccer team, among other activities. In addition, Castaño was inducted into the National Honor Society and the Spanish National Honor Society. Through the Med Ed organization, she has volunteered more than 125 hours to her community. Castaño has applied to The University of Texas-Pan American and also will apply to South Texas College.

“My ideal is to change a life and assist the people in my community,” Castaño said.

This year, ExxonMobil increased its annual gift from $4,000 to $10,000, which allowed the program to award a $2,000 scholarship to each of the top five exemplary migrant students. The recipients in addition to Castaño and Gómez were Rolando González, Leonardo Chávez and Isai Pruneda.

González and Chávez are seniors at La Joya High School. Pruneda is from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School. Students were selected on the basis of obstacles overcome, overall academic achievements, participation and leadership in extracurricular activities and their performance in distance learning courses in the university’s Migrant Student Program.

“This ceremony was especially meaningful because it was held on the birthday of César Chávez and near the newly erected statue of César Chávez,” said Dr. Felipe Alanís, associate dean of continuing education and K–16 education. “As one of the most heroic figures of our time and the strongest advocate for migrant farm workers in the 20th century, César Chávez is an inspiration to our migrant students. Having the statue on the university campus strengthens our message to migrant students that there is a place for them on a college campus.”

Gómez is among the top-ranking students at C.C. Winn High School in Eagle Pass, Texas. He is the son of Atanacio and María Gómez and will graduate in the top five percent of his class.

“Atanacio had to work hard to achieve and excel academically,” said his migrant counselor, Raquel Rodríguez. “Every year they would arrive to school late in the year, and Atanacio had to pick up on the same page as everyone else as well as make up weeks of education he had missed while he was working in the fields with his family.”

Gómez has been recognized as a National Society of High School Scholar and a Venture Scholar. He has earned an Honor Roll Award and an Academic All-District Award, as well as a Certificate of Academic Excellence.

Gómez is a role model in school and his community. He has volunteered annually in the Feast of Sharing, the Relay for Life, church and city cleanups, and more. In addition, Gómez has played on the varsity basketball team for four years and was team captain this year. On weekends, he works with his father as a carpenter’s assistant.

“A couple of years ago, I established that when choosing my career, my ultimate deciding factor would be whether the career would provide me with an opportunity to have an impact on the lives of others in addition to my own,” Gómez said.

He plans to major in biomedical science and become a pediatrician. He already has been accepted to Baylor University and has applied to The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University.

Texas has the second-largest migrant education program and the largest interstate migrant student population in the nation. Students and their families migrate annually from Texas to 48 other states to work in agricultural and other seasonal jobs.

Since it was begun more than two decades ago, the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program has enrolled more than 21,000 students in its mission to increase the graduation rate of high school migrant students in Texas. With funding from the Texas Education Agency and gifts from the Beaumont Foundation of America, ExxonMobil, the John G. and Marie Stella Kenedy Memorial Foundation and the Microsoft Corporation, the program helps Texas migrant students earn high school credits through distance learning courses that meet Texas curriculum requirements.

For more information, contact: Robert Meckel, Office of Public Affairs, 512-475-7847; Peggy Wimberley, K-16 Education Center, Continuing and Innovative Education, 512-471-6037; Kevin Wier, Continuing and Innovative Education, 512-471-2731.

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Texas prison officials report on reform progress

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

Officials from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice briefed the Senate Criminal Justice committee Wednesday, April 2, on the status of several prison reforms mandated by legislation passed last session. Facing new capacity and health care problems in the state’s prisons, legislators passed Senate Bill 909, which required reforms of prisons and treatment facilities, focusing on new policies for parole and improved medical care.

The General Appropriations Act from last session also put millions more into offender substance abuse programs and local intervention programs and facilities.

TDCJ Executive Director Ron Livingston testified that virtually all of the mandated reforms are proceeding according to schedule. With respect to prisoner health-care, officials have cut costs by using federal programs that provide money for prescriptions, and have increased efficiency by moving to electronic records.

Parole reforms are also proceeding apace. Bed-ridden, comatose, or terminal inmates that pose no threat to society are considered for early parole, in order to move expensive treatment to a better facility that provides cheaper, more efficient care.

The committee will continue to monitor the progress of reforms, but witnesses were confident that TDCJ will be ready for its Sunset agency review late in the year, and subsequent approval by the 81st Legislature.

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

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