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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the City of Edinburg and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation have congratulated Memorial Funeral Home for their recent contribution to the 3rd Annual Texas Cook ‘Em: High Steaks in Edinburg.  Memorial Funeral Home will sponsor Edinburg’s Very Important Party (VIP) on Friday, July 4 at the Edinburg Municipal Park, located on 714 Raúl Longoria. The party kicks off at 6 p.m., and all competing cooks are automatically entered to participate and compete for the “Party of the Year” banner. Also featured at the Texas Cook ‘Em on July 4 will be John Conlee plus the Valley’s own Texas Heat. Doors open at 10:30 a.m., and admission is free with payment of a $5 parking fee per vehicle. The Texas Cook ‘Em is sanctioned by the International Barbeque Cookers Association (IBCA) and sponsored by Inter National Bank, The Edinburg Review, The Monitor, and H-E-B.  To participate log on to http://www.Edinburg.com.

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During the 19th annual Valley Proud Honors Banquet, which recognizes the top two graduates of every high school in the region, Mr. Bill Summers, president/CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, jokes that everyone can show thanks to H-E-B, the event sponsor, by buying bread there.  Watching on from far left that evening are Mr. and Mrs. Armando Sánchez with H-E-B; Mr. Bill Card, III, chairman of the Partnership board of directors; Mrs. Jo Summers; Ms. Marcy Martínez with KGBT Action 4 News; and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, who was the keynote speaker.

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Staff members from the office of the Texas Comptroller visited South Texas College’s Technology Campus on Wednesday, June 11 to learn about the college’s Institute for Advanced Manufacturing and the training it offers to support the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research & Education’s (NAAMREI) Wired Grant Initiative. Karen Hudgins and Karl Wolfson, writers for the comptroller’s newsletter, comptroller photographer Barbara Schlief and KVNO videographer Don Ramírez were given a presentation by STC regional manager Carlos Margo and met with other STC staffers. They discussed the college’s work with local manufacturing companies to train new and existing employees to meet the challenging demands of the manufacturing sector. The comptroller’s four-member team will use the knowledge and materials gained during their visit to shed light on the important role that South Texas College is playing in the long-term vision of NAAMREI to develop a sustainable advanced manufacturing sector in the Rio South Texas Region. For more information about NAAMREI visit http://www.naamrei.org.  Featured from left are Margo, Schlief,  Ramirez, STC training specialist Ron Merrill, Karen Hudgins, Karl Wolfson, and Keith Partridge,  president and CEO of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.

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Dr. Francisco Guajardo. featured here during a recent meeting of the Edinburg school board, is the chairman of the Bond Oversight Committee, a citizens advisory panel which is working with trustees and top administrators on the best ways to implement the construction plans for new campuses authorized by the May 10 passage of almost $112 million in bonds. On Tuesday, June 10, he gave an update to the community. Trustee Carmen González also provides her views on how the school board is approaching the major school construction projects that will be made possible by the bond issuance. Stories on González  and Guajardo are featured later in this posting.

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Edinburg school board, citizens panel begin joint work on $150 million school construction bonds

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

With the May 10 passage of two multi-million dollar school bond issues, Edinburg school board leaders and a citizens advisory group have begun meeting on a regular basis to make good on their promises to keep the public informed on the campus construction plans.

The bond election, which was overwhelmingly approved by Edinburg school district constituents, involved two propositions:

  • Proposition 1 authorizes the school district to: build four elementary schools; build two middle schools; convert Harwell Middle School into a fourth high school; add one multi-purpose fine arts center to the each of the three existing high schools; construct additions/renovations at Brewster School; and buy land for the new schools. The total projected cost is $111,920,000.
  • Proposition 2 authorizes the school district to refinance, at a lower interest rate, $37,675,000 of 1998 Lease Purchase Bonds, and convert them into Series 2008 voter authorized IFA supported bonds.  IFA means Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA), which is a state fund available to help qualified school districts such as Edinburg receive help in paying for construction of new campuses. IFA is distributed through grants, most of which go to districts with low property wealth.

Since the early May election, the school board, and through one of its committees, known as the Facilities Committee, has been working with a citizens advisory panel, whose members call themselves the Bond Oversight Committee, to provide a step-by-step accounting to the public on how the bond issues will be put into place.

“The purpose of the Facilities Committee is to have an opportunity to view, question, investigate, and clarify  projects dealing with school facilities that will eventually go for consideration before the full school board,” explained school board trustee Carmen González, who serves as chairwoman of that panel.

In addition to González, trustee Robert Peña, Jr., and board secretary Ciro Treviño serve on the Facilities Committee.

Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Ph.D., and Bryant Morrison, both faculty members at the University of Texas-Pan American, have been the leaders for the Bond Oversight Committee, which is comprised of a handful of school district constituents who have volunteered their time and expertise to help shape how the school construction projects will take place.

On Tuesday, June 3, the two groups met during a public session, held in the Administration Building.

González said that meeting, and the joint sessions to come, will help both groups get a better handle on the challenges that will face the school board and its constituents.

“The more we meet, we are getting a full understanding that one of the first decisions we need to make is what approach will the Edinburg school board and district take to build the facilities in the bond issue,” she said.

In addition, the spirit of cooperation and openness is also designed to calm lingering fears among many school district residents, who recall a tumultuous episode in school district history that came about following the passage of a school construction bond issue in 1998.

“Going back to the last bond issue used (in 1998), it created a lot of over-cost and negative perceptions of how things were done,” González said. “The one major goal of the committee and board is to avoid that negativism.  The board is trying to do things right, that we be transparent, that we involve as many citizens as possible.”

Soon after, public perception quickly soured when a multi-million dollar lawsuit was successfully filed by the school district to recover much of the financial damages incurred from fixing alleged structural problems at the Johnny Economedes High School, whose construction was funded as a result of the that bond election.

González said school board members this time were determined not to see a repeat of unpleasant history.

“There have been several meetings, including an official workshop (in late May) with the full board, to continue the dialogue regarding the direction the school district is going, and to keep each informed so the Bond Oversight Committee can also communicate with the community, to assure the people that the school board is keeping its promise to be transparent and open in every transaction involving the bond funds,” she said.

On Tuesday, June 10, Guajardo addressed the school board, saying that discussions between the Facilities Committee and the Bond Oversight Committee seem to be going well.

“My report to the community is that things are moving swiftly, I think,” Guajardo told the board, whose meeting is being broadcast on the school district’s television channel, KATS-TV, Time Warner Cable channel 17. “This kind of project, we cannot rush through it too fast, because it is too big, too much responsibility, we have to be thoughtful and cautious with our work.”

Guajardo noted that the Bond Oversight Committee has already made some suggestions on how they believe the construction projects can best be implemented.

“We know that the school district, the board, the Facilities Committee, and the administration have been looking at other options, such as bringing in somebody, and staffing the office of that somebody, who would be uniquely qualified to lead such an effort,” Guajardo said. “The Bond Oversight Committee is not completely convinced that is the most effective way to go, although we are certainly willing to listen to what that possibility would be like.”

He said the Bond Oversight Committee has encouraged the school board, the Facilities Committee, and the administration “to move on sending out a request for qualifications for a construction management firm.  The school district has done its due diligence, and actually has a draft proposal already that will be reviewed by the Facilities Committee, the rest of the board, and the Bond Oversight Committee.”

Guajardo said the McAllen school district passed a similar school bond construction measure in 2005, and said the work there has proceeded smoothly – offering Edinburg a good example on how it should approach the management of the its own $111.9 million construction plans.

“We know, from having studied the issue during the last couple of months, that there is the ‘McAllen Model’,” Guajardo reported. “McAllen, as you know, passed a very large bond issue several years ago, and hired a construction management firm. With a construction management firm, McAllen, in the end, will be on time and on budget. So, that is a model that is actually desirable, and the Bond

Oversight Committee has urged the board and the administration to look very carefully at that model as a way to go.”

Regardless of the final decision on how to manage the construction projects, both the school district leadership and the citizens group pledge to get their respective messages to the people.

“The Bond Oversight Committee feels it has its own communications,” González said. “We, as the school district, will continue to communicate with our constituents in our own ways, but they feel that in addition to our efforts, they want to carry the message, independently, to the community.”

On June 10, Guajardo provided more insight into how the Bond Oversight Committee will inform the public.

“There will be other communications methods that we will be employing, such as a web page within the school district’s web site, and so that is in the process of development,” he said. “We also will be publishing a story in the next Educationally Speaking newsletter published by the school district, and we also will be having an ad in the local newspaper sometime soon.”

And if the two groups began to send out conflicting message?

“Hopefully that won’t happen,” González said. “I believe they are going to be as transparent as we are, and if that becomes a problem, I am sure we would address it.”

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ECISD trustee Carmen González provides overview of what happens next following $112M bond election

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

On May 10, the voters in the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District overwhelmingly approved two resolutions, including one that allows the issuance of almost $112 million for key new school building construction projects.

Leading up to the election was a decision last fall by the school board to appoint citizens to an advisory committee, which was designed to help provide input from community leaders on the size and scope of any bond election.  The citizen advisory panel also was created to help assure the public that there would be independent oversight of the issues revolving around the probable bond election.

In addition, the school board decided that if the school construction bonds were approved – which they were – the citizen advisory panel would remain in existence, and work with the school board and administration to continue providing insight, ideas, even criticisms of the process.

Detailed information on the bond election are available online through the school district’s website by logging on to:

http://www.ecisd.us/users/Bond/

Former Edinburg school board president Carmen González is the leader of the school board’s Facilities Committee, which will do much of the legwork for the full board on the school construction projects.  The Facilities Committee’s responsibilities range from recommending whether to have the school district oversee all portions of the construction projects to working with a citizens advisory panel and reporting to the public.

There are three members on the Facilities Committee.  In addition to González, board secretary Ciro Treviño and board trustee Robert Peña, Jr., serve on that group.

Their recommendations will then be forward to the full seven-member Edinburg school board, which is being led by recently-appointed board president Omar Palacios.

Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Ph.D., a faculty member at the University of Texas-Pan American, is the chairman of the citizens advisory panel, whose members have named it the Bond Oversight Committee.

On Tuesday, June 3, the School Facilities Committee and the Bond Oversight Committee held a joint session at the school district’s Administration Building, located at 411 North 8th Street.  The meeting was posted in advance in front of the Administration Building, and an audio-tape recording was made of the discussion, as required by the Texas Open Meetings Act.

A copy of that recording is available by contacting Gilbert Tagle, public information officer for the Edinburg school district, at 956/289-2300.

Following the meeting, González answered questions regarding the highlights of the June 3 joint session between the School Facilities Committee and the Bond Oversight Committee.

Question:

Mrs. González, you are the chairwoman of the Facilities Committee.  What is the purpose of the Facilities Committee?

Carmen González:

The purpose of the Facilities Committee is to have an opportunity to view, question, investigate, clarify and projects dealing with school facilities that will eventually go for consideration before the full school board.

The members of the Facilities Committee are appointed by the president of the school board.

Question:

The Facilities Committee today had a meeting with representatives of the Bond Oversight Committee.  This meeting comes soon after school district voters on May 10 approved two resolutions authorizing about $112 million in bonds for major construction projects and refinancing bonds from a previous bond issuance so taxpayers can pay at a lower interest rate, thus saving money on that debt.  What has happened since the passage of the May 12 bond issue.

Carmen González:

There have been several meetings, including an official workshop last week with the full board, to continue the dialogue regarding the direction the school district is going, and to keep each informed so the Bond Oversight Committee can also communicate with the community, to assure the people that the school board is keeping its promise to be transparent and open in every transaction involving the bond funds.

(The bond election issues involve the following measures:

Proposition 1 includes building four (4) elementary schools, two (2) middle schools; converting Harwell Middle School into a fourth high school; three (3) multi-purpose fine arts centers at each of the existing high schools; Brewster School addition/renovations, and land acquisition for a total of $111,920,000.

Proposition II includes $37,675,000 of 1998 Lease Purchase Bonds to be converted into Series 2008 voter authorized IFA supported bonds.

IFA means Instructional Facilities Allotment (IFA), which is a state fund available to help qualified school districts such as Edinburg receive help in paying for construction of new campuses. IFA is distributed through grants, most of which go to districts with low property wealth.)

Question:

Who came up with the name  “Bond Oversight Committee”?

Carmen González:

That is what they are calling themselves.  These individuals were part of a larger group of constituents who were appointed last year by the school board.

(The original advisory panel was called the Citizens Facility Committee, a 15-member advisory board that included Guajardo as chairman; Bryant Morrison as vice-chairman; Ludivina Leal as secretary; Veronica Sáenz as treasurer; Romeo Díaz; Edna Peña, Dr. Michael A. Sánchez; Ana Salinas, O.D.; Dr. Lucas Hinojosa; Roel Zamora; Leonel Guerrero; Nelda Requeñez; Antonio Mercado; Amancio Garza; and Fern McClaughty.)

Each school board member was given two people to appoint to the Citizens Facility Committee to represent them. As a result, the school board’s Facilities Committee reorganized within itself after the successful bond issue to see which citizens wanted to continue being actively involved in this process.

Question:

A number of ideas were exchanged here. What transpired today (June 3)?

Carmen González:

The more we meet, we are getting a full understanding that one of the first decisions we need to make is what approach will the Edinburg school board and district take to build the facilities in the bond issue.  Going back to the last bond issue used, it created a lot of over-cost and negative perceptions of how things were done.  The one major goal of the committee and board is to avoid that negativism.  The board is trying to do things right, that we be transparent, that we involve as many citizens as possible.

Question:

Today, there were suggestions that the school district contract with a separate entity to manage these planned construction projects. Can you elaborate on this?

Carmen González:

The first option we discussed tonight is doing these projects like in the previous years, where the school district hires individuals and firms to do a certain project. The second option, which was discussed more in-depth today, is utilize a new approach, which is done in McAllen: we contract with a firm, set an established fee, and they literally take care of all the projects for us.

Question:

Is it because the school district doesn’t have the staff to handle new projects of this size?

Carmen González:

I don’t believe that is what we have concluded.  We have not had $112 million to build new facilities, we are not currently equipped for that. So, the other option is what will it take to do it in-house, which involves contracting out for architects, engineers, and project managers to handle the projects.

Question:

There was discussion about refinancing the old bonds, through Proposition 2, at a lower interest rate, which saves the school district money on that old debt.  What has happened there?

Carmen González:

Dr. Miguel De los Santos is working on that.

(De los Santos, an Edinburg resident and former Edinburg school district superintendent, is serving as a financial advisor to the school district in this matter.  He is a senior vice-president for Estrada Hinojosa, a Dallas-based firm, and represents that entity in South Texas.  He is helping the school district refinance, at lower interest rates, the remaining $37.6 million in debt from a 1998 bond issuance authorized by the Edinburg school board for other construction projects.  He calculates that the school district, as a result of refinancing the old bond debt, will save about $2.1 million over the next 12 years – money that can be applied for any qualified school district expenditure.)

Question:

So there has not been any decision made regarding which construction option the school district will employ in building the new facilities?

Carmen González:

That decision cannot be made, and will not be made, until we explore both options.

One of the options is called contract management.  That would involve us contracting with a firm to be responsible for all phases of the projects, for a fee.

Question:

Is there a timeline for the construction of these new facilities?

Carmen González:

We are not anywhere close to that, I will be very honest about that.  Hopefully, before a year from now.

Question:

How do you plan to keep getting information out to the public about what is going on with the bond issue?

Carmen González:

As an example, look at what happened today. The Bond Oversight Committee probably will publish a notice to the community about the meetings we have had to this point, and review what has been accomplished.  The Bond Oversight Committee feels it has its own communications. We, as the school district, will continue to communicate with our constituents in our own ways, but they feel that in addition to our efforts, they want to carry the message, independently, to the community.

Question:

What happens if there is any disagreement between the school board’s Facilities Committee and the Bond Oversight Committee?

Carmen González:

Hopefully that won’t happen.  I believe they are going to be as transparent as we are, and if that becomes a problem, I am sure we would address it.

Question:

Is the Bond Oversight Committee required to report their expenditures and contributions to the school district?

Carmen González:

I do not know.

Question:

All these meetings with the Bond Oversight Committee are open to the public?

Carmen González:

They are posted (on the large bulletin board outside the Administration Building, but no on-line), and they are audio-taped by the school district. They are official meetings of the school district.

Question:

Any other points that need to be noted to the public?

Carmen González:

We are working with the Bond Oversight Committee, like we said we would, and together, we are going to make it happen.

Question:

The Bond Oversight Committee members mentioned the $98 million bond issue passed for South Texas College several years ago, and how the community college came up with the way to build the new campuses.  During that bond issue, voters were told there would be a $5 million satellite campus built somewhere in Hidalgo County, in addition to three new campuses they did build in McAllen, Weslaco, and Rio Grande City.  But that still hasn’t happened.  The costs evidently went up, and the promised satellite campus never materialized.

By voting for these new Edinburg school district projects in Edinburg, is it possible that, if unforeseen costs pr circumstances were to develop, that the school district would scale back, or even eliminate, some of these building projects?

Carmen González:

We went out with a measurement of $112 million to build certain projects.  But what will drive how many of those projects will be completed will be determined by the costs. We hope to do everything that the bond addressed, but to stay here and tell you it is guaranteed to happen, that would not be correct. We projected certain costs for the elementary schools, and so on.  But what if the costs are more?  That is why it is so important that we become transparent, so the community knows what is happening every step of the way.  So, in the end, if we run out of money, everyone will know what happened.

Question:

There is a lot of growth going on in the areas served by the Edinburg school district.  Are you hopeful that the continuing growth will mean there will be enough taxes generated to cover any unforeseen expenses in getting the construction projects completed?

Carmen González:

Yes, we are counting on that, too.

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Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Ph.D., chairman of Bond Oversight Committee, provides June 10 update

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Dr. Francisco Guajardo is the chairman of the Bond Oversight Committee, a citizens advisory panel which is working with the Edinburg School Board on the best ways to implement the construction plans for new campuses authorized by the May 10 passage of almost $112 million in bonds.

His remarks, which follow, were delivered before the Edinburg school board during its public comment forum at the beginning of the Tuesday, June 10 regular meeting of the school board.

Francisco Guajardo:

I would like to give a quick report to the community about the recent goings-on with the Bond Oversight Committee.

We have engaged in one workshop with this board, where we had a very good discussion on the plan of action and the timeline that we have done to develop.

We also did a workshop, with certain people on the Bond Oversight Committee, at Region One on bond construction, and everything that is involved in that. What I have to report to the community is that the Bond Oversight Committee is becoming more and more educated about this.

I am also happy to report the school board and the school district administration have been good listeners, to us, as we have encouraged the board and the administration to pursue certain options.

What I mean by that, specifically, is that we are now at a point where the school district needs to decide how all these projects of more than $111 million will be managed.

The conversations have been about whether the school district has the capacity, internally, to undertake such a big project of $111,900,000?  We have been studying that.  We are not sure that the school district has the capacity to do that.

If the school district does not have that capacity, what alternative paths do we take?

We know, from having studied the issue during the last couple of months, that there is the “McAllen Model”.  McAllen, as you know, passed a very large bond issue several years ago, and hired a construction management firm. With a construction management firm, McAllen, in the end, will be on time and on budget.  So, that is a model that is actually desirable, and the Bond Oversight Committee has urged the board and the administration to look very carefully at that model as a way to go.

We know that he school district, the board, the Facilities Committee, and the administration has been looking at other options, such as bring in somebody, and staffing the office of that somebody, who would be uniquely qualified to lead such an effort.  The Bond Oversight Committee is not completely convinced that is the the most effective way to go, although we are certainly willing to listen to what that possibility would be like.

That is where we are at the moment.  We did encourage the school board, the Facilities Committee, and the administration to move on sending out a request for qualifications for a construction management firm.  The school district has done its due diligence, and actually has a draft proposal already that will be reviewed by the Facilities Committee, the rest of the board, and the Bond Oversight Committee.

There will be other communications methods that will be employing, such as a web page within the school district’s web site, and so that is in the process of development.

We also will be publishing a story in the next Educationally Speaking newsletter published by the school district, and we also be having an ad in the local newspaper sometime soon.

My report to the community is that things are moving swiftly, I think. This kind of project, we cannot rush through it too fast, because it is too big, too much responsibility, we have to be thoughtful and cautious with our work.

We will be posting when we meet, the Bond Oversight Committee. The next meeting that we have will be on June 25, and we will meet here in this room (Board Room, Administration Building).

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EEDC may make a final decision in late June on fate of 20-acre prime site valued at about $4.5 million

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

A decision could come by the end of June regarding who will receive the approval of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation to buy and develop more than 20 acres of prime real estate it owns that is located just south of Business Highway 281 along Trenton Road.

On Tuesday, June 3, the EEDC board of directors met behind closed doors to deliberate what offers had been submitted to the government organization, which wants to sell the public property, recently independently valued at about $4.5 million.

State law allows governmental entities to go behind closed doors – known as an executive session – for certain issues, including discussing potential litigation, personnel, and real estate transactions.

Although the issue, and several others, were considered behind closed doors, the EEDC did post an advance agenda notice of the date, time, and location of the meeting in compliance with the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The EEDC, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council, held it’s governing board’s closed-door session in the Executive Room of the International Trade and Technology Building,  which is located on the campus of the University of Texas-Pan American.

The EEDC’s five-member board of directors 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.

In recent months, the Texas Department of Public Safety has expressed a public interest in the EEDC-owned land. That state agency’s officials say they have $43.8 million to build a regional DPS headquarters in Hidalgo County, and have been looking for a suitable site.

The issue of what to do with the public property first publicly surfaced during an EEDC board meeting on January 22, when Garza confirmed that the DPS was actively considering building its proposed $43.8 million regional headquarters on that site.

Currently, the DPS maintains an overburdened regional headquarters in McAllen.

But EEDC leaders have also wanted to hear from private investors, and after several months of soliciting bids from the DPS and others, momentum is evidently building towards a final resolution.

“The EEDC board asked us to proceed with negotiations on that tract,” Ramiro Garza, Jr., EEDC executive director, said following the EEDC special meeting. “There is one particular entity with which we are in negotiations, but the process is still open – the board is still accepting proposals.”

Garza acknowledged that since the EEDC in January made public its desire to sell the site – which is currently vacant grassland with trees, and fronts the south side of Trenton Road and the east side of Professional Drive – they have received numerous inquiries.

“The main thing is there continues to be interest in the property, and the board continues to assess the different possibilities – there are very good possibilities right now on the property, but there are timelines involved in some of these projects,” Garza said.

He said the hopes to have a concrete proposal for the EEDC board members to review when they next meet, probably in the last week of June.

The site is legally defined as a 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.

In previous meetings, a small delegation of DPS officials from McAllen and Austin had shown up to the EEDC board sessions, but were not asked to meet with EEDC board members when they were in executive session. Rather, Garza would provide the small group with updates on the direction of the board of directors.

This time, no delegation from the DPS showed up for the June 3 EEDC meeting, but City Councilmember Noe Garza (no relation to Ramiro Garza) did attend.

However, Noe Garza did not participate in the closed door session.

Other issues discussed in the June 3 EEDC board of directors executive session – but for which no action was taken – involved the following agenda items:

• Deliberate the offers of financial or other incentives to business prospects;

• Deliberate the real property known as a 23 acre tract of land out of Lots 33, 34, and 35 and out of Lot 4, Block 49, Santa Cruz Gardens Unit No. 1, according to the plat thereof recorded in Volume 7, Page 45, Hidalgo County Map Records, and a 10 acre tract of land out of Lots 33, 34, and 35, Santa Cruz Gardens Unit No. 1, according to the plat thereof recorded in Volume 7, Page 45, Hidalgo County Map Records.

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Sen. Hinojosa announces TxDOT will use existing highways rather than push for massive toll system

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced the focus of the proposed I-69 Trans Texas Corridor project will focus on utilizing existing highway infrastructure.  The suspension of this massive highway construction plan comes as TxDOT continues to endure increasing scrutiny by state legislators and the public.

Most recently, the Texas Sunset Commission, a state entity responsible for monitoring state agency efficiency, recommended TxDOT’s five-member commission be replaced by a single commissioner.  TxDOT officials have been accused of assuming a legislative role and setting their own policies without legislative oversight.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, a member of the Sunset Commission and a vocal critic of TxDOT’s policy-setting agenda, on Wednesday, June 11, expressed praise for TxDOT’s decision. “This is the first step towards restoring the image of the Texas Department of Transportation, but we still have more work to do.”

Today, for the first time in a long time, TxDOT is responding appropriately to public sentiment concerning the role TxDOT should play in fulfilling their mission.  TxDOT is an executive agency – that is, they implement policy as determined by the Texas Legislature.  The public and their elected officials have expressed serious concerns about the legal and financial impacts of the Trans-Texas Corridor.  TxDOT’s move to shut this project down is a welcomed decision,” Hinojosa said.

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Sen. Hutchison: TxDOT decision to pursue I-69 through existing right-of-way a “major victory”

By MATT MACKOWIAK

U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Wednesday, June 11, called an announcement by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to utilize existing right-of-way for the Texas portion of the planned I-69 highway a “major victory” for landowners, farmers, and private property rights.

“Over 28,000 Texans expressed serious concerns over TxDOT’s plan to utilize eminent domain for new routes in the construction of I-69 and how that would affect private property rights, businesses, and agricultural land,” said Sen. Hutchison. “TxDOT’s announcement that they will instead pursue existing right-of-way is a major victory for Texas private property owners, businesses, farmers and ranchers. I have long supported building I-69 in Texas on existing right-of-way because we have a significant need for added Interstate highway capacity in response to the rapid growth in our state. By using existing right-of-way, TxDOT will more efficiently utilize taxpayer dollars while also limiting the negative impact on farm land and businesses.”

On March 19, Sen. Hutchison sent a letter to the Texas Turnpike Authority Division and the Texas Division of the Federal Highway Administration urging that additional time be allowed for sufficient public comment. A 30-day extension of the public comment period was granted. Sen. Hutchison also expressed concern about the use of eminent domain and their limited analysis of existing right-of-way under the original plan for this project.

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Rep. Zerwas, strong opponent of Trans-Texas Corridor – Interstate 69, praises decision to scrap controversial plan favored by Gov. Perry

By BRAD WESTMORELAND

Rep. John Zerwas, R-Houston, with much joy on Wednesday, June 11, welcomed the announcement by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) on its formal change in direction of state transportation planning.

On June 11, TxDOT formally scraped the original Trans-Texas Corridor I-69 (TTC I-69) route which would have cut huge swaths through House District 28 and other parts of Texas. TxDOT will now focus its attention to upgrading the existing footprint of US Highway 59 to create the long awaited Interstate 69 in order to meet the current and future demands of our transportation infrastructure.

Zerwas stated: “I am excited to hear of this great news for Waller, Wharton, and Fort Bend Counties. I’ve been working diligently with local officials and grassroots organizations to stop the TTC since being sworn in as State Representative. This is a huge victory for private property rights. I thank everyone in my district who made their voices heard and aggressively took a stand for their rights as Texans.”

This announcement comes in a series of positive changes at TxDOT in response to an overwhelming amount of public concern and disapproval of the massive Trans-Texas Corridor which was approved in 2003 with little public input or legislative debate. After dozens of public hearings and town hall meetings across the state, TxDOT received over 28,000 public comments opposing the TTC.

Zerwas concluded, “I look forward to the challenging task ahead and stand encouraged by the new cooperation between TxDOT and the Legislature. While this announcement brings great relief, be assured I will remain vigilant in the important challenge of creating a transportation policy that meets the needs of the people of Texas and respects private property rights.”

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TxDOT explains its recommendations for narrowing study area for Texas portion of I-69

By MARK CROSS

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) on Wednesday, June 11, announced that it will recommend that the I-69/Trans-Texas Corridor (TTC) Project be developed using existing highway facilities wherever possible. If additional travel lanes are added to existing highways, only the new lanes would have tolls.

“After a dozen town hall meetings, nearly 50 public hearings, and countless one-on-one conversations, it is clear to us that Texans want us to use existing roadways to start building the Texas portion of Interstate 69,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Ted Houghton. “TxDOT’s recommendation would effectively shrink our environmental study down to roads such as U.S. Highways 77 and 281 in South Texas, State Highway 44 and U.S. Highway 59 along the Coastal Bend and U.S. Highways 84 and 59 in East Texas. We are dropping consideration of new corridors that would run west of Houston in addition to other proposals for new highway footprint in other parts of the state.”

TxDOT Executive Director Amadeo Sáenz, in a letter to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), wrote “The preliminary basis for this decision centers on the review of nearly 28,000 public comments made on the Tier One DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact statement). The overwhelming sentiment of these comments focused on the need to improve the existing transportation network” rather than building a new corridor for the project.

TxDOT’s stated intention has been to focus on making needed improvements to existing and planned transportation facilities within the I-69/TTC study area. Such upgrades may fully satisfy the project’s need to improve the international, interstate, and intrastate movement of people and goods for many decades.

In May, the Texas Transportation Commission adopted guiding principles and policies that will govern the development, construction and operation of toll road projects on the state highway system and the Trans-Texas Corridor. In addition to reaffirming that only new lanes added to an existing highway will be tolled and that there will be no reduction in the number of non-tolled lanes, the Commission stated that wherever possible, existing right-of-way would be considered for the development of new projects.

“The Commission made it clear that they wanted their newly-adopted principles applied to the development of important projects like I-69 and a parallel corridor to I-35,” said Sáenz. “We are closer than ever to realizing the promise and the potential of I-69, and we will move forward with this important Transportation Commission policy in the front of our minds.”

Sáenz said that TxDOT would continue to talk to the public about I-69/TTC, and he encouraged Texans to ask questions and share their ideas at the department’s “Keep Texas Moving” website (http://www.keeptexasmoving.com). He noted that the recently-named I-69 Corridor Advisory Committee will help guide TxDOT’s work on the project. Sáenz said he looked forward to the appointment of Segment Advisory Committees comprised of local leaders who will help further develop I-69/TTC.

“We also want to keep working with our Congressional delegation and the Texas Legislature,” added Transportation Commissioner Houghton. “Legislative leadership, public involvement and local commitment will all be essential if we are going build this long-awaited highway.”

TxDOT is preparing its report for FHWA following completion of the public involvement process for the environmental review of I-69/TTC. If the June 11 recommendation is approved by FHWA, plans for a separate new corridor would be dropped from future environmental reviews, and the existing infrastructure would serve as the study area for future environmental review.

TxDOT is expected to submit its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for public review prior to federal approval late in 2008 or early in 2009. FHWA approval of the FEIS does not authorize property acquisition or construction.

In the future, the northern and southern portions of I-69/TTC could be linked in the Houston area. Houston’s connection to I-69/TTC, including access to the Port of Houston, will be determined in coordination with elected leaders and transportation planners in the area.

A copy of Sáenz’ letter to FHWA and a new map reflecting TxDOT’s recommendation are available on the internet at http://www.keeptexasmoving.com.

The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining nearly 80,000 miles of road and for supporting aviation, rail and public transportation across the state. TxDOT and its 15,000 employees strive to empower local leaders to solve local transportation problems, and to use new financial tools, including tolling and public-private partnerships, to reduce congestion and pave the way for future economic growth while enhancing safety, improving air quality and increasing the value of the state’s transportation assets. Find out more at http://www.txdot.gov.

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Many testify before legislative panels to express urgency of building medical school in South Texas

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

D-Brownsville

Compelling testimony by leading health experts impressed upon members of two legislative committees that the time is ripe for a medical school in South Texas.

The International Relations and Trade Committee I chair and the Health and Human Services Committee chaired by Sen. Jane Nelson recently held a joint hearing in Austin on how Texas can address the shortage of health care professionals in medically underserved regions.

Health experts testifying told us repeatedly that a medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley was a critical part of the solution for South Texas.

In fact, Dr. Joe Stafford, Assistant Commissioner for Academic Affairs and Research Division at the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, emphatically stated, “The population base in the Valley certainly is large enough to fully justify the establishment of a new medical school.”

This key assessment was echoed by the President of the University of Texas Health Science Center-San Antonio, Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, who agreed with Dr. Stafford’s conclusion. He said, “My belief is consistent with the Coordinating Board’s finding that the population of South Texas not only where it is today but also through the projections given by our state demographer basically legitimately justify the need for a new school of medicine in the south Texas region.”

Population projections for the border region offered by State Demographer Karl Eschbach, Ph.D., illustrated that although the population increase of 14 percent since the 2000 census is relatively similar for the border as for the rest of the state, the changes are for different reasons. While the border has an over-representation of children and elderly compared to the rest of the state, the high birth rate is a main contributor to growth in this area.  This type of population increase, along with poverty, lack of health insurance at a rate of 37.1 percent of the population with 18 percent reliant on Medicaid, high levels of chronic illnesses like diabetes, and its geographically remote location have made it difficult to recruit and retain physicians in the Rio Grande Valley.

Our medically underserved area should begin to improve upon establishment of our own medical school and expansion of our residency programs.  Nationally, there are 196 physicians per 100,000 residents, and in Texas that ratio is 158 but in the Rio Grande Valley it is a dismal 106.

While testifying on the need for increased efforts that will strengthen our residency programs, President and CEO of the Valley Baptist Health System, Jim Springfield, noted, “The Rio Grande Valley is an ideal situation for investment in Graduate Medical Education (GME) by the state in primary care disciplines as a way to reduce physician workforce shortages and improve access to health care resulting in improved disease management through primary care.”

Mr. Springfield explained how the Valley Baptist Health System historically has funded and supported two residency programs.  He then reminded our committees that funding for Graduate Medical Education programs is a critical component of alleviating the health care professional shortage because medical students predominantly remain in areas where they undergo their residency training.

Historically we have begun the necessary groundwork to establish a medical school in our region.  In 1997, I authored Senate Bill 606 to establish the Regional Academic Health Center in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  Based on the testimony that our joint committees heard at this hearing, I am committed to build on the efforts of our RAHC and establish a medical school in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.  By comprehensively strengthening our medical education infrastructure and increasing funding for critical GME programs, we will greatly expand our capacity and resources to address the health care professional shortage.

Dean of the School of Health Science at the University of Texas-Brownsville, Eldon Nelson, Ph.D., said to all of us with urgency, “It is time our leaders commit to provide a full-service Health Science Center and four-year Medical School for the deserving people of the Lower Rio Grande Valley!”

Brownsville Private Practice Physician Dr. Lorenzo Pelly said, “Senators, you can be part of the solution by bringing a complete medical school to the Rio Grande Valley.”

The members of both committees thank everyone who joined us at this hearing.  The testimonies and personal stories provided a clear picture of the unique challenges we face in the Rio Grande Valley.  Participation from health leaders and professionals, especially from South Texas, will prove most valuable in helping us pass the necessary initiatives to address our health care professional shortage.

Clearly, establishing a medical school and increasing resources for GME programs will be part of the solution that my committee will recommend as we address these problems in the upcoming legislative session.

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Capitol Annex asks: Where were Valley and El Paso bloggers during Texas Democratic Party convention?

By VINCE LEIBOWITZ

Believe it or not, more than 40 blogs–exclusive of “mainstream media” blogs–were credentialed to cover this weekend’s Texas Democratic Party convention. From Amarillo to Pittsburg and from Houston to Waco, the TDP convention was covered from every direction by a wide range of blogs ranging from old standards like Off the Kuff, BOR, Brains and Eggs, Texas Kaos, and Capitol Annex to blogs with national scopes like MOMocrats and the Asian American Action Fund Blog. Plus, we were joined by blogs new to many of us like Mean Rachel and So Sioux Me. We even had a record-number of Panhandle bloggers including Job’s Anger and Panhandle Truth Squad.

But, one thing was missing: bloggers from the Rio Grande Valley and El Paso.

We, as Texas bloggers, know there are progressive bloggers in El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley.

What we’d like to do, however, is connect with progressive political bloggers in these two areas.

If you are a Democratic or Progressive blogging about politics in El Paso or the Rio Grande Valley, please email me at vince.leibowitz@gmail.com or leave a comment in this post. We’d like to identify as many Progressive bloggers across Texas as we can.

Even if you aren’t  a progressive blogger from El Paso or the Valley, we’d like to know about your blog (Waco, Lubbock, Marshall, Tyler, wherever!). Email us, drop us a comment–something–so we can continue to increase our inventory of Texas progressive bloggers.

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Texas prisons lacking adequate security measures

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

Texas prisons are short thousands of prison guards, causing security issues and hurting staff morale, according to testimony offered at a meeting of the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee held on Wednesday, June 4.

There are two state prisons – the López and Segovia units – located next to each other about 10 miles north of Edinburg, off U.S. Expressway 281 and near the Hidalgo County Adult Detention Center on Cibolo Road.

Texas Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingstone testified that his agency has about 3400 vacant staff positions, spread unevenly around various state facilities. TDCJ has hired approximately 500 new staff since late 2007.

Livingstone said the agency is using a number of incentives to increase new applications and decrease turnover, including higher salaries for new applicants, bonuses for applicants with bachelor’s degrees or who were honorably discharged from the military, and streamlining the advancement process. He added that TDCJ will submit an “ambitious” funding request to the Legislature, including more pay for staff, later this year.

Several current correctional officers offered testimony at the June 4 hearing, revealing a common theme: prison guards are overworked and underpaid. “I got eleven and a half years in the system. Is it worth continuing? I’m seriously looking at that, because it gets worse everyday, instead of better,” said Ray Stewart, a corrections officer based in Beaumont, who nets $1900 a month from his job. He added that critical equipment, such as radios and cameras, are often broken or simply missing from facilities, in some cases for longer than a year.

Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, said staffing issues should be the Legislature’s top priority in prison reform. “We have a window of opportunity. The capacity issue seems to be under control, we have a rehabilitation tier that’s being implemented,” he said. “Now we need to really scrutinize operations.”

The Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee is chaired by Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, and consists of Whitmire, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Debbie Riddle, R-Houston, and Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston.

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Sen. Cornyn says Democratic leadership’s plan to cut gasoline prices would not work

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, made the following statement on Tuesday, June 10, regarding the Democrat leadership’s plan to further increase gas prices and America’s dependence on foreign oil. This legislation, S.3044 which focused on raising taxes and suing OPEC, was defeated in the Senate Tuesday morning.

“Congress can pass or change many laws, but it cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. With soaring demand in countries like China and India, and an insufficient amount of oil worldwide, we need to do more to encourage American energy solutions. That means more energy production in America, sensible conservation, and the pursuit of more efficient energy sources.

“Senate Democrats acknowledged as much when they voted last month to put a temporary hold on the government’s filling of our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. So it is astonishing that they would continue to oppose a common-sense plan to strengthen energy production here at home. Using our own energy resources could provide roughly three million barrels of oil per day. That is more than 42 times as many barrels as we can save by ceasing to fill the Strategic Petroleum Reserves.

“In contrast, I challenge my Democratic colleagues, and those who support this tax-and-sue bill, to tell families in my home State of Texas just how their plan to tax, regulate and sue would produce just one more drop of oil. The reality is that it will not. Rather, it would drive gas prices even higher and make America even more dependent on foreign oil.

“The basic laws of economics tell us that when you tax something you get less of it. History is also our guide. In 1980, Congress implemented a windfall profits tax on oil companies, as this bill seeks to do, and it only made the situation worse. The Congressional Research Service found that the tax reduced domestic oil production by between 3 percent and 6 percent and increased oil imports from OPEC by between 8 percent and 16 percent.

“While some of my colleagues may be content to demand Saudi Arabia fix our supply problems, I would much rather we take our future in our own hands, and start producing our own energy here at home.

“American families are struggling with high gas prices and certain industries, including in Texas, are starting to lay off workers. Opponents of domestic production are running out of excuses. It’s time for Congress to act and act now.”

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Democratic Senate nominee Noriega says Sen. Cornyn refusing to take “real action” on high gas prices

By HOLLY SHULMAN

Senator John Cornyn has refused to take real action to help Texas families, said the Rick Noriega campaign today as for the first time on record, gas prices hit a national average of $4/gallon on Sunday and continue to rise, his Democratic opponent said on Monday, June 9.

The national average for a gallon of regular gas hit $4.023 today. Texas gas prices also soared to an unprecedented level today, hitting $3.901.  [AAA Fuel Gauge report, 6/3/08]

Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, who is on active duty this week with the Texas Army National Guard, has urged Congressional action to stop price gouging.

Noriega said Corny, who has voted for billions of dollars in “giveaways” to the multinational oil and gas industry, is one of the top three recipients of oil and gas funds in the U.S. Senate. He has accepted over $1 million from the industry according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In a scathing editorial this weekend the Dallas Morning News blasted Senate Republicans for using “obstructionist tactics” and “unnecessary political ploys” to block debate on the Climate Security Act.  Along with his GOP allies, John Cornyn forced a “nine-hour dramatic reading” of the Climate Security Act – and then didn’t even show up to vote on Friday.

“Again and again John Cornyn fails to take action to help Texas families facing skyrocketing energy costs. Recently Cornyn was MIA at a hearing on gas prices – failing to show up to question the head honchos of big oil and gas about soaring prices, despite making the time to do a TV interview defending the multinational oil and gas industry. Then last week he was a no show on a climate security vote that called for billions of dollars in tax relief for families facing high energy costs,” said Tony Gray of the Rick Noriega for Senate campaign.

“Rather than furthering the debate about the energy crisis, gas prices and climate change, John Cornyn has been all talk and no action – except when it comes to bailing out his buddies at the multinational oil and gas companies. Meanwhile Texas families face ever higher gas prices, day after day after day,” said Gray. “Instead of looking out for his friends in Big Oil and Gas who have donated more to Cornyn than almost any other Senator on record, it’s time Texas families had a real advocate for them in the U.S. Senate.”

Oil prices have quadrupled and gas prices have more than doubled during Cornyn’s time in the Senate. The impact of the increased gas prices is making headlines as it forces up the price of many goods and services across the spectrum and forcing companies to close plants, lay off workers and cut their hours. And Texas Prison Guards in rural counties testified recently before the Texas Senate Committee on Criminal Justice that they cannot afford to drive to work.

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UT-Pan American revises, expands summer H-E-B Planetarium presentation schedule

By GAIL FAGAN

The University of Texas-Pan American on Tuesday, June 10, announced a change to its summer schedule of full-dome video presentations at the recently upgraded H-E-B Planetarium on campus.

The original 45-minute format for Friday evenings and Saturdays has been expanded to one hour to allow for a 15-minute night sky tour in the planetarium prior to each video presentation. The Friday schedule will now include presentations at 6, 7 and 8 p.m. while Saturday presentations will start at noon and be held hourly until 9 p.m.

A weekly night sky outdoor observation session using two 10-inch telescopes and conducted by UTPA astronomer Dr. Nicholas Pereyra will continue its previously announced schedule – Tuesday nights from 7-10 p.m. just north of the UTPA Physical Science Building. Night sky observers can also attend a presentation of one of the videos that same evening in the planetarium at 6, 7, 8 or 9 p.m.

Recently equipped with a digital projection system and surround sound, the H-E-B Planetarium will allow viewers to travel through space in three dimensions. The new full-dome videos, which will rotate weekly, include “Oasis in Space,” “Hubble Vision 2,” and “Sky Quest.”

Reservations for planetarium presentations to student groups from pre-K-12th can also be made for Monday through Friday (except holidays), 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Reservations can be made by contacting Lisa Smith, planetarium receptionist, at 956/316-7088 or via e-mail at planetarium@utpa.edu.

The planetarium is located in the Science Building Courtyard which can be located on a campus map at http://www.utpa.edu/mapmenu.cfm. A weekly schedule of H-E-B Planetarium events and videos being presented is available at http://www.utpa.edu/dept/physci/planetarium.htm.

For more information, call 956/316-7088 or e-mail planetarium@utpa.edu.

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Border Patrol agent from Harlingen arrested in drug smuggling conspiracy

A United States Border Patrol (BP) agent has been arrested along with two others for conspiracy to distribute cocaine, United States Attorney Don DeGabrielle announced on Monday June 9.

BP agent Reynaldo Zuñiga, 34, of Harlingen was arrested for conspiring to distribute cocaine in the United States with two civilian co-conspirators, Luis Alfredo Cruz, 29, and José Luis Arteaga, 24, both of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The illegal smuggling venture crossing the Rio Grande River west of the Hidalgo Port of Entry was revealed upon surveillance by law enforcement of the three alleged suspects on June 6, 2008.

After the arrest, Arteaga provided a statement outlining the smuggling scheme. Arteaga stated that a friend, “Ramón,” requested he smuggle a backpack containing cocaine across the Rio Grande for an agreed fee of $2000 in cash. He met a BP agent named “Rey” along the banks of the Rio Grande, who drove him to a Whataburger in Hidalgo. Arteaga then contacted Cruz, who was to receive $400 to drive him to Pharr. Arteaga stated that “Rey” assisted him on at least six prior occasions in the smuggling of narcotics and aliens.

Zuñiga revealed that he received $1,200, found in his shirt pocket, to transport an illegal alien from the Rio Grande River to Hidalgo, while Cruz admitted he received $400 to transport Arteaga to Pharr. Cruz said he suspected the backpack contained drugs, though he did not know for sure.

Agents recovered 11 bricks of suspected cocaine of which at least one kilogram tested positive for cocaine. The punishment range for conspiracy to possess more than five kilograms of cocaine is a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, with a fine of up to $4 million.

The defendants made initial appearances before United States Magistrate Judge Peter Ormsby  on Monday, June 9, at which time the United States moved for detention. The detention hearings are scheduled for Thursday, June 12, 2008, at 9:00 a.m.

The prosecution is the result of a continuing investigation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), ICE Office of Professional Responsibility and the Department of Homeland Security – Office of Inspector General with the full cooperation of the United States Border Patrol.

A criminal complaint is an accusation of criminal conduct. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

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Rio Grande Valley partnership hosts 19th annual Valley Proud Honors Banquet

By ELIZABETH WALKER

Every day, the Rio Grande Valley educates nearly a quarter-million of tomorrow’s leaders.  On Tuesday, May 20, the Rio Grande Valley Partnership recognized 104 of the best of them at the Valley Proud Honors Banquet, a dinner dedicated to the top two graduating seniors of every high school, public and private, in the four south-most counties of Texas.

“The Valley Proud Honors Banquet is a magical night,” said Bill Summers, president/CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the regional chamber of commerce. “This is an extraordinary occasion to acknowledge these students, with their proud parents and teachers, congratulating them on their high school accomplishment and inspiring them towards greater achievement.”

During this 19th annual event, about 300 people shared dinner at the Victoria Palms Resort, including the valedictorians, salutatorians, and their proud parents, even some teachers, counselors, and superintendents, from across Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, and Willacy counties.  Following some words of best wishes by Armando Sánchez with H-E-B, whose generous sponsorship underwrites the cost of the meals for students and their families, Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, delivered the keynote address.

Later, Marcy Martínez with KGBT-TV Action 4 News called every student to the stage to receive a certificate and pose for a photograph to be televised in a series of public service announcements this summer.

“We hope each graduate present this evening will further his or her education, whether it be at a technical school, a university, or the armed services; whether it be in the Valley or away from here,” said former Harlingen Mayor Bill Card, III, chairman of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership board of directors, when addressing the students that night.

“But we hope, sooner rather than later, your journey brings you back home.  We are counting on you, as the next generation of leaders for the Rio Grande Valley, to bring home your skills and abilities and to give back your time and talent to make this an even better place to live and work,” Card added.

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Corpus Christi Rep. García says he again is providing personnel, office documents requested by Nueces County GOP chairman

By ELIZABETH PEARSALL LIPPINCOTT

Rep. Juan M. García, III, D-Corpus Christi, on Monday, June 9, provided personnel and office documents from his Capitol and district offices in response to an open records request by Nueces County GOP chair Michael Bertuzzi.

Bertuzzi’s request largely duplicates a request made by Joel Yowell, former Nueces County GOP chair, to the House Business Office in January 2008, said García. The House Business Office and García responded to Yowell’s request this winter with more than 1,000 pages of financial records, emails, correspondence, telephone records, employee records and district office records.

Yowell returned his set of the documents to García shortly after receiving them, the Coastal Bend Democrat reported.

“My state offices are busy helping constituents with veterans benefits, advocating for our local communities and meeting with constituents in each of the four counties in my district,” said García. “We’re staying focused on the work that District 32 voters elected us to do.”

A complete copy of the documents that García provided to Bertuzzi is being provided to major media outlets in District 32.  A set of the documents, along with those provided to Yowell last winter, will also be available for review by media and the public in García’s district office at 703 Moore Ave., Portland.

Several of Bertuzzi’s requests concern campaign documents.  No campaign documents are kept in García’s state offices.  In accordance with state law, all campaigns are required to file periodic reports with the Texas Ethics Commission.   Those reports can be accessed online at http://www.ethics.state.tx.us.

García has made open government a centerpiece of his legislative agenda.  As a freshman legislator he co-authored Proposition 11, which won overwhelming statewide voter approval in November for a new constitutional requirement that the Texas House and Senate must record all final votes and publish them for free on the Internet.

García won his first victory for open government in January 2007 with passage of the his amendment to the Texas House rules, which required record votes on passage of all final measures in the House.  With passage of Proposition 11,  García said that a result of his legislation is that the Texas Constitution ensures that no new law can change the lives of Texans without public accountability for the legislative vote.

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Sen. Clinton suspends presidential bid, endorses Sen. Obama for President

Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-New York, on Saturday, June 7, delivered the following speech in Washington, D.C., announcing that she had suspended her presidential campaign, and urged her supporters to help Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, who is now the presumptive Democratic Party presidential nominee.

The 2008 Democratic National Convention will be held August 25-28 in Denver.

Clinton’s speech follows:

Thank you so much. Thank you all.

Well, this isn’t exactly the party I’d planned, but I sure like the company.

I want to start today by saying how grateful I am to all of you – to everyone who poured your hearts and your hopes into this campaign, who drove for miles and lined the streets waving homemade signs, who scrimped and saved to raise money, who knocked on doors and made calls, who talked and sometimes argued with your friends and neighbors, who emailed and contributed online, who invested so much in our common enterprise, to the moms and dads who came to our events, who lifted their little girls and little boys on their shoulders and whispered in their ears, “See, you can be anything you want to be.”

To the young people like 13 year-old Ann Riddle from Mayfield, Ohio who had been saving for two years to go to Disney World, and decided to use her savings instead to travel to Pennsylvania with her Mom and volunteer there as well. To the veterans and the childhood friends, to New Yorkers and Arkansans who traveled across the country and telling anyone who would listen why you supported me.

To all those women in their 80s and their 90s born before women could vote who cast their votes for our campaign. I’ve told you before about Florence Steen of South Dakota, who was 88 years old, and insisted that her daughter bring an absentee ballot to her hospice bedside. Her daughter and a friend put an American flag behind her bed and helped her fill out the ballot. She passed away soon after, and under state law, her ballot didn’t count. But her daughter later told a reporter, “My dad’s an ornery old cowboy, and he didn’t like it when he heard mom’s vote wouldn’t be counted. I don’t think he had voted in 20 years. But he voted in place of my mom.”

To all those who voted for me, and to whom I pledged my utmost, my commitment to you and to the progress we seek is unyielding. You have inspired and touched me with the stories of the joys and sorrows that make up the fabric of our lives and you have humbled me with your commitment to our country.

18 million of you from all walks of life – women and men, young and old, Latino and Asian, African-American and Caucasian, rich, poor and middle class, gay and straight – you have stood strong with me. And I will continue to stand strong with you, every time, every place, and every way that I can. The dreams we share are worth fighting for.

Remember – we fought for the single mom with a young daughter, juggling work and school, who told me, “I’m doing it all to better myself for her.” We fought for the woman who grabbed my hand, and asked me, “What are you going to do to make sure I have health care?” and began to cry because even though she works three jobs, she can’t afford insurance. We fought for the young man in the Marine Corps t-shirt who waited months for medical care and said, “Take care of my buddies over there and then, will you please help take care of me?” We fought for all those who’ve lost jobs and health care, who can’t afford gas or groceries or college, who have felt invisible to their president these last seven years.

I entered this race because I have an old-fashioned conviction: that public service is about helping people solve their problems and live their dreams. I’ve had every opportunity and blessing in my own life – and I want the same for all Americans. Until that day comes, you will always find me on the front lines of democracy – fighting for the future.

The way to continue our fight now – to accomplish the goals for which we stand – is to take our energy, our passion, our strength and do all we can to help elect Barack Obama the next President of the United States.

Today, as I suspend my campaign, I congratulate him on the victory he has won and the extraordinary race he has run. I endorse him, and throw my full support behind him. And I ask all of you to join me in working as hard for Barack Obama as you have for me.

I have served in the Senate with him for four years. I have been in this campaign with him for 16 months. I have stood on the stage and gone toe-to-toe with him in 22 debates. I have had a front row seat to his candidacy, and I have seen his strength and determination, his grace and his grit.

In his own life, Barack Obama has lived the American Dream. As a community organizer, in the state senate, as a United States Senator – he has dedicated himself to ensuring the dream is realized. And in this campaign, he has inspired so many to become involved in the democratic process and invested in our common future.

Now when I started this race, I intended to win back the White House, and make sure we have a president who puts our country back on the path to peace, prosperity, and progress. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do by ensuring that Barack Obama walks through the doors of the Oval Office on January 20, 2009.

I understand that we all know this has been a tough fight. The Democratic Party is a family, and it’s now time to restore the ties that bind us together and to come together around the ideals we share, the values we cherish, and the country we love.

We may have started on separate journeys – but today, our paths have merged. And we are all heading toward the same destination, united and more ready than ever to win in November and to turn our country around because so much is at stake.

We all want an economy that sustains the American Dream, the opportunity to work hard and have that work rewarded, to save for college, a home and retirement, to afford that gas and those groceries and still have a little left over at the end of the month. An economy that lifts all of our people and ensures that our prosperity is broadly distributed and shared.

We all want a health care system that is universal, high quality, and affordable so that parents no longer have to choose between care for themselves or their children or be stuck in dead end jobs simply to keep their insurance. This isn’t just an issue for me – it is a passion and a cause – and it is a fight I will continue until every single American is insured – no exceptions, no excuses.

We all want an America defined by deep and meaningful equality – from civil rights to labor rights, from women’s rights to gay rights, from ending discrimination to promoting unionization to providing help for the most important job there is: caring for our families.

We all want to restore America’s standing in the world, to end the war in Iraq and once again lead by the power of our values, and to join with our allies to confront our shared challenges from poverty and genocide to terrorism and global warming.

You know, I’ve been involved in politics and public life in one way or another for four decades. During those forty years, our country has voted ten times for President. Democrats won only three of those times. And the man who won two of those elections is with us today.

We made tremendous progress during the 90s under a Democratic President, with a flourishing economy, and our leadership for peace and security respected around the world. Just think how much more progress we could have made over the past 40 years if we had a Democratic president. Think about the lost opportunities of these past seven years – on the environment and the economy, on health care and civil rights, on education, foreign policy and the Supreme Court. Imagine how far we could’ve come, how much we could’ve achieved if we had just had a Democrat in the White House.

We cannot let this moment slip away. We have come too far and accomplished too much.

Now the journey ahead will not be easy. Some will say we can’t do it. That it’s too hard. That we’re just not up to the task. But for as long as America has existed, it has been the American way to reject “can’t do” claims, and to choose instead to stretch the boundaries of the possible through hard work, determination, and a pioneering spirit.

It is this belief, this optimism, that Senator Obama and I share, and that has inspired so many millions of our supporters to make their voices heard.

So today, I am standing with Senator Obama to say: Yes we can.

Together we will work. We’ll have to work hard to get universal health care. But on the day we live in an America where no child, no man, and no woman is without health insurance, we will live in a stronger America. That’s why we need to help elect Barack Obama our President.

We’ll have to work hard to get back to fiscal responsibility and a strong middle class. But on the day we live in an America whose middle class is thriving and growing again, where all Americans, no matter where they live or where their ancestors came from, can earn a decent living, we will live in a stronger America and that is why we must elect Barack Obama our President.

We’ll have to work hard to foster the innovation that makes us energy independent and lift the threat of global warming from our children’s future. But on the day we live in an America fueled by renewable energy, we will live in a stronger America. That’s why we have to help elect Barack Obama our President.

We’ll have to work hard to bring our troops home from Iraq, and get them the support they’ve earned by their service. But on the day we live in an America that’s as loyal to our troops as they have been to us, we will live in a stronger America and that is why we must help elect Barack Obama our President.

This election is a turning point election and it is critical that we all understand what our choice really is. Will we go forward together or will we stall and slip backwards. Think how much progress we have already made. When we first started, people everywhere asked the same questions:

Could a woman really serve as Commander-in-Chief? Well, I think we answered that one.

And could an African American really be our President? Senator Obama has answered that one.

Together Senator Obama and I achieved milestones essential to our progress as a nation, part of our perpetual duty to form a more perfect union.

Now, on a personal note – when I was asked what it means to be a woman running for President, I always gave the same answer: that I was proud to be running as a woman but I was running because I thought I’d be the best President. But I am a woman, and like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious.

I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.

I ran as a daughter who benefited from opportunities my mother never dreamed of. I ran as a mother who worries about my daughter’s future and a mother who wants to lead all children to brighter tomorrows. To build that future I see, we must make sure that women and men alike understand the struggles of their grandmothers and mothers, and that women enjoy equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal respect. Let us resolve and work toward achieving some very simple propositions: There are no acceptable limits and there are no acceptable prejudices in the twenty-first century.

You can be so proud that, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the President of the United States. And that is truly remarkable.

To those who are disappointed that we couldn’t go all the way – especially the young people who put so much into this campaign – it would break my heart if, in falling short of my goal, I in any way discouraged any of you from pursuing yours. Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. When you stumble, keep faith. When you’re knocked down, get right back up. And never listen to anyone who says you can’t or shouldn’t go on.

As we gather here today in this historic magnificent building, the 50th woman to leave this Earth is orbiting overhead. If we can blast 50 women into space, we will someday launch a woman into the White House.

Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it. And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time. That has always been the history of progress in America.

Think of the suffragists who gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848 and those who kept fighting until women could cast their votes. Think of the abolitionists who struggled and died to see the end of slavery. Think of the civil rights heroes and foot-soldiers who marched, protested and risked their lives to bring about the end to segregation and Jim Crow.

Because of them, I grew up taking for granted that women could vote. Because of them, my daughter grew up taking for granted that children of all colors could go to school together. Because of them, Barack Obama and I could wage a hard fought campaign for the Democratic nomination. Because of them, and because of you, children today will grow up taking for granted that an African American or a woman can yes, become President of the United States.

When that day arrives and a woman takes the oath of office as our President, we will all stand taller, proud of the values of our nation, proud that every little girl can dream and that her dreams can come true in America. And all of you will know that because of your passion and hard work you helped pave the way for that day.

So I want to say to my supporters, when you hear people saying – or think to yourself – “if only” or “what if,” I say, “please don’t go there.” Every moment wasted looking back keeps us from moving forward.

Life is too short, time is too precious, and the stakes are too high to dwell on what might have been. We have to work together for what still can be. And that is why I will work my heart out to make sure that Senator Obama is our next President and I hope and pray that all of you will join me in that effort.

To my supporters and colleagues in Congress, to the governors and mayors, elected officials who stood with me, in good times and in bad, thank you for your strength and leadership. To my friends in our labor unions who stood strong every step of the way – I thank you and pledge my support to you. To my friends, from every stage of my life – your love and ongoing commitments sustain me every single day. To my family – especially Bill and Chelsea and my mother, you mean the world to me and I thank you for all you have done. And to my extraordinary staff, volunteers and supporters, thank you for working those long, hard hours. Thank you for dropping everything – leaving work or school – traveling to places you’d never been, sometimes for months on end. And thanks to your families as well because your sacrifice was theirs too.

All of you were there for me every step of the way. Being human, we are imperfect. That’s why we need each other. To catch each other when we falter. To encourage each other when we lose heart. Some may lead; others may follow; but none of us can go it alone. The changes we’re working for are changes that we can only accomplish together. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights that belong to each of us as individuals. But our lives, our freedom, our happiness, are best enjoyed, best protected, and best advanced when we do work together.

That is what we will do now as we join forces with Senator Obama and his campaign. We will make history together as we write the next chapter in America’s story. We will stand united for the values we hold dear, for the vision of progress we share, and for the country we love. There is nothing more American than that.

And looking out at you today, I have never felt so blessed. The challenges that I have faced in this campaign are nothing compared to those that millions of Americans face every day in their own lives. So today, I’m going to count my blessings and keep on going. I’m going to keep doing what I was doing long before the cameras ever showed up and what I’ll be doing long after they’re gone: Working to give every American the same opportunities I had, and working to ensure that every child has the chance to grow up and achieve his or her God-given potential.

I will do it with a heart filled with gratitude, with a deep and abiding love for our country – and with nothing but optimism and confidence for the days ahead. This is now our time to do all that we can to make sure that in this election we add another Democratic president to that very small list of the last 40 years and that we take back our country and once again move with progress and commitment to the future.

Thank you all and God bless you and God bless America.

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