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Gilbert Enríquez, a former Edinburg school board president, also serves as executive vice-president of Enríquez Enterprises, Inc., one of the more renowned construction firms in the region. He said he is running for election to the school board on November 4 in order to continue helping the community which has helped shape his life. “I am here to help, to offer my leadership, skills, experience to everyone, to help everybody prosper, not one individual,” Mr. Enríquez pledged. “I never had any kind of ambition to be in politics or to be an elected official, but I felt I needed to give back to the district that provided me the education that got me to where I am today.” See lead story later in this posting.

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Former longtime Mayor Ronald Case, seen here on the right, passed away on Friday, September 19, Rep. Aaron Peña, a lifelong supporter of the popular city political leader, has announced. Case, who served as mayor from 1973 to 1981, was featured in this recent photo which included three other former Edinburg mayors with the state lawmaker.  Peña characterized the former mayor as being “the epitome of a gentleman public servant stepping forward to serve the community he loved. I am very proud to have been a friend and admirer of Mayor Case.”  From left are: former Mayor Richard Alamia; former Mayor Richard García; Rep. Peña; former Mayor Rudy De la Viña; and former Mayor Case.  See story later in this posting.

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Museum opens The Museum of South Texas History opened its newest exhibit, Edinburg: A Centennial Salute 1908 – 2008, on Wednesday, September 10. A ribbon cutting hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and a private viewing was held for Museum FRIENDS. Installed in the Upper Old Jail Gallery, this exhibit presents a sampling of photographs and artifacts from the museum’s collections and is organized into four themes: education;government; civic life; and commerce. One of the largest artifacts in the exhibit is a mural depicting Edinburg Junior College students and academic subjects.  This mural was painted by Joseph Brennan and Humberto Cavazos and was presented to the college by Emil Fossler, president of the sophomore class. The exhibit coincides with the Edinburg Centennial Committee’s city- wide celebration, October 5-10. Throughout the week, various organizations will host mini-celebrations, including Edinburg’s largest birthday cake, an essay contest, and a fireman’s parade. An open house will be held at the Museum of South Texas History on October 5, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. As a gift to the community, the museum will have free admission. Family activities include Edinburg Trivia, an Edinburg activity book, entertainment, refreshments, and, of course, a few shared words to commemorate the occasion. For a complete listing of the city wide celebrations, visit http://www.edinburg.com, or call 383-6911. Featured, from left: chamber board members Gus Casas; Cynthia Bocanegra; Maggie Kent; Shan Rankin, the museum’s executive director; Lee Cavazos; chairman-elect of the local chamber of commerce; and Willard Moon, chairman-elect of the board of directors for the museum.

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Dan Richards, son of former Gov. Ann Richards, featured left, celebrates with Dr. Shirley A. Reed, South Texas College president, and Othal Brand, Sr., former McAllen mayor, during the Tuesday, September 16 naming of the college’s Pecan Campus Administration Building in honor of the late state leader, who died on September 13, 2006.  The Democratic governor played a large role in the early 1990s in bringing the college to fruition, helping thousands of Hidalgo and Starr county residents realize their goals of attaining a higher education and a better quality of life.  See story later in this posting.

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Janet Escalante, Pedro de la Fuente and Lucio Torres are just three of the more than 22,000 students who have decided to continue their higher educations at South Texas College this fall. The landmark figure was reached at the two-county community college begins its 15th year anniversary.  See story later in this posting.

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Gilbert Enríquez, honored by Texas for integrity and public service, seeks return to ECISD board

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Gilbert Enríquez, a former Edinburg school board president and executive vice-president of a renowned local construction company, on Thursday, September 11, officially launched an election campaign that he hopes will allow him to continue his public service – once again –  on the seven-member ECISD board of trustees.

The election is on Tuesday, November 4.

When he first was elected in May 2000, he was the youngest trustee, at age 26, to have ever served on the local school board. His tenure was from May 2000 to May 2006, and he did not seek reelection after his final term to focus on his family, and professional and business ventures.

Addressing several hundred supporters gathered under a large tent outside Enríquez Enterprises, Inc., located at 3025 South Sugar Road, he outlined his accomplishments as a school board trustee, a résumé which included approving and overseeing the design and construction of tens of millions of dollars in new, badly-needed campuses, as well as renovating numerous other facilities.

Noting that a large majority of local voters last May approved a significant bond construction measure to build more schools for the rapidly-growing district, Mr. Enríquez said he has the professional expertise and track record to again help the school board make the right decisions on how to best implement the latest building projects.

“My forte is in construction. I have been in construction for 12 years. My degree is in accounting,” he said.  “The construction portion of this $112 million bond issue is very instrumental. We need schools to be built for our students. But it is one thing  to pass a bond issue, it is another thing to implement that bond issue, and make sure we don’t overspend, don’t overpay people for the work that is being done.”

Under the initiative approved by ECISD voters last spring, the local school district is authorized 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 each of the three existing high schools; construct additions/renovations at Brewster School; and buy land for the new schools.

Fiscal responsibilities

He said the school board could save millions of dollars if they choose to manage the bond construction projects with currently employed staff, led by the school board and top administrators.

“They have on the agenda to approve a project management team,” Mr. Enríquez noted. “We have, in my opinion, a very capable staff to implement that bond issue, if they have a plan, if they have leadership, if they have direction. I don’t believe the taxpayers of Edinburg deserve to have to pay $3 million for management of this bond issue. We pay our administrative staff, which handles construction in the school district, more than $350,000 a year in salaries. You look at $350,000 versus $3 million, and I know the taxpayers deserve to pay $350,000, not $3 million.”

On Monday, September 15, the Edinburg school board unanimously voted to begin negotiations with Broaddus and Associates, an Austin-based firm with an office in McAllen, to serve as the project manager for the $112 million school construction initiative.

However, Mr. Enríquez expressed confidence that school district could manage the bond program with seven professionals currently on ECISD’s payroll, including a knowledgeable and skilled Director of Operations, District Architect, District Engineer, and Facilities Project Manager.

“You will hear that our administration and staff is not capable of (handling) a $112 million bond issue. I say to them the only reason it is $112 million is because the cost of construction, materials, gasoline, have risen,” he said.  “You are still only building three elementary schools, one middle school.  The capacity, the size of the facilities are not different (from previous bond construction measures).  We have the staff that is capable, we just need the leadership to guide them. I believe that with my professional experiences, we can do that.”

In addition to his top management role at Enríquez Enterprises, Inc., where he also holds the title of chief financial officer, Mr. Enríquez is a president of a local Hungry Howie’s Pizza franchise.  He is a 1992 graduate of Edinburg High School, and earned a Bachelor of Business Administration in accounting from the University of Texas-Pan American in 1996.

Successfully oversaw $60 million bond issue

Mr. Enríquez and his fellow school board trustees during his tenure – which included a stretch in which he was president – had their own campus construction initiatives.

“We had just passed a $60 million bond issue. There was not enough money to do the things we needed to do, so we made a concerted effort to increase that amount by adding $10 million from our local funds” he recalled. “A lot of our schools were being neglected, not maintained. As a board, we decided to pump in $10 million in renovations to all the existing campuses that had not been touched.”

Mr. Enríquez said that improving schools that had been neglected before he was first elected was a top priority for him.

“I felt that needed to be done, even though it was going to cut into our fund balance,” he said of the school district’s savings account. “We said we were going to do it, and make it up from somewhere, and we did it while maintaining a 10 percent (surplus) in our operating budget, which is recommended by the Texas Education Agency.”

According to Suzanne Marchman, who works with the TEA’s public information division,  the state agency – whose mission is to provide leadership, guidance, and resources to help schools meet the educational needs of all students – recommends that school districts maintain a one-month surplus in its operating budget.

Other major achievements

He added that he and his colleagues on the board continued to improve facility conditions throughout the district “every single year while I was there, we operated with a balanced budget, not from a deficit.”

Some of the other major ECISD projects initiated during his time on the board included:

  • The design and construction of the $32.5 million Edinburg High School;
  • The renovation of the former Edinburg North Junior High School into the Administration Building;
  • The design and construction of Ávila, Esparza, and Magee elementary schools;
  • The approval of the Facility Needs Assessment plan for five and ten years growth;
  • The establishment of an after-school program with the Edinburg Boys and Girls Club to help students whose parents couldn’t leave their jobs to pick up their children – or who wound up staying at home alone until their parents returned from work. Instead of being left on their own, those students were able to  participate in educational and other meaningful programs offered by the local Boys and Girls Club; and
  • The implementation of the Teacher Laptop Program that allows teachers do their lesson plans at home on computers provided by the school district, as well as communicate with parents via the Internet, rather than keep those teachers after school to do their lesson plans.

“Indelible mark on his community”

Mr. Enríquez said he is committed to treating all school district employees, as well as all constituents, with justice and equality.

“I’m the type of person who is going to tell you what I feel,” he explained. “What you see is what you get – you are going to get honesty, you are going to get integrity. I am going to help everyone, from the bottom up, no matter where you come from.”

In the spring of 2005, Mr. Enríquez was honored by the Texas Legislature for making “an indelible mark on his community with his generosity and public service.”

While a school board member – Mr. Enríquez chose not to run for reelection in 2006 – the hometown product improved the lives of countless children through improvements to the district,” according to Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, the author of House Resolution 228.

The area legislator also credited  Mr. Enríquez for “working for high-quality educational opportunities for area students,” including volunteering his time with numerous organizations, such as the Edinburg Boys and Girls Club, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, the Edinburg Parks  and Recreation Department, and the Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and  Scholarships (VAMOS).”

The two term state lawmaker, in her resolution honoring him, noted that “Gilbert Enríquez  has made outstanding contributions to Edinburg; his devotion to his city has earned him the respect of his neighbors, and he is most deserving of special recognition.”

“Help everybody prosper, not one individual”

Mr. Enríquez, who along with his wife, the former Diana Vega, a classroom teacher who is also from Edinburg, have a young daughter and an infant son. He said he is running for office in order to continue giving back to the community which has helped shape his life.

“I am here to help, to offer my leadership, skills, experience to everyone, to help everybody prosper, not one individual,” he said.

The son of Lupe and Guadalupe Enríquez, he was raised in a strong, loving family that featured his parents and four brothers and four sisters.

Now, as he and his wife raise their family in the three-time All-America City, they want to make sure all Edinburg children have the same educational advantages afforded any Texas student.

“I have my six-year old daughter who just entered the first grade, and I want her to have the same opportunities that other kids had in our district before her,” Mr. Enríquez said. “I never had any kind of ambition to be in politics or to be an elected official, but I felt I need to give back to the district that provided me the education that got me to where I am today.”

Paid Political Announcement by the Candidate

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Former Edinburg Mayor Case passes away at 91

Former Edinburg Mayor Ronald Alfred Case, 91, died Friday, September 19, 2008, at Edinburg Regional Medical Center.

His passing caught many by surprise; he was a well-known and popular figure in the city which he led as mayor from 1973 to 1981. Even after the passing of his wife and a son several years earlier, Mayor Case continued to project a positive outlook, always encouraging his former constituents to carry on, and always promoting the image of his adopted hometown and its people.

Unfortunately, his health recently took a turn for the worse, said Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg, one of the former mayor’s many supporters.

“Mayor Case was in critical medical care and many of us hoped for a full recovery,” said Peña.  “Sadly, he passed away.”

Peña characterized the former mayor as being “the epitome of a gentleman public servant stepping forward to serve the community he loved. I am very proud to have been a friend and admirer of Mayor Case.”

Peña said he will introduce a resolution before the Texas Legislature to memorialize and honor the many contributions of the former longtime city leader.

“As we reflect on the 100 years of our city, let us each take a moment to recognize our dear friend and neighbor, Ronald Case,” Peña reflected. “May God speed.”

Mayor Case was born in England and had lived in Edinburg most of his life. He was a veteran of the U.S. Army, serving during World War II.

He was a member of American Legion Post 408 of Edinburg and VFW Texas Post 15045 of Austin.

Mayor Case served as Mayor of Edinburg from 1973 to 1981 and was the owner of Hidalgo/Starr County Abstract & Title Co. for 50 years.

He served on the Board of Directors of Edinburg Hospital and was on the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Red Coat Committee.

He is preceded in death by his wife, Lydia Ester Case and a son, Robert Vance Case.

Mayor Case is survived by his stepson, Jimmy (Miriam) Case of Port Isabel; daughter-in-law Lee Case of Utah; a sister, Audrey Phillips; his dear friend, María Del Carmen Rojas of Pharr, and her children, Rigoberto and Zeth Domínguez.

Visitation took place from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., with a 7 p.m. prayer service on Sunday, September 21 at Memorial Funeral Home, 208 E. Canton, in Edinburg.

Funeral service were scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday, September 22 at Memorial Funeral Home Chapel. Interment was scheduled to follow at Hillcrest Memorial Park in Edinburg.

Military honors were scheduled to be conducted by Sgt. Benito Alaniz, VFW Post #7473, Elsa, and America’s Last Patrol Post #3, RGV.

Funeral services were under the direction of Memorial Funeral Home in Edinburg.

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ECISD board favors using management firm to handle $112 million construction initiative

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

On a unanimous vote, Broaddus and Associates of Austin on Monday, September 15, was chosen by the Edinburg school board to serve as the management construction firm which will oversee the implementation of a $111.9 million bond issue that will pay for several new schools and key remodeling of existing facilities.

No fee was announced; the school board instructed Superintendent Gilbert Garza to wrap up negotiations on with the company, which has an office in McAllen, in the coming days.

On May 10, ECISD voters, by a 3 to 1 margin, approved two measures:

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 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; and

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.

The school board motion to negotiate a contract with Broaddus was made by trustee Robert Peña, Jr., with a second by Board Secretary Ciro Treviño. The motion passed with trustees Peña, Treviño, Board President Omar Palacios; Carmen  González, Jaime Chavana, and Board Vice President David Torres voting for the measure.

Trustee Gregorio “Greg” García was excused from the meeting because of other important business.

The September 15 special school board meeting was scheduled to take action on one of several major choices facing the school district on how to handle the construction portion of Proposition 1, Palacios explained during the public session.

“The best route we could take”

“The (school) board has looked through all these options for the past few months, trying to decide what was the best route for us to take,” Palacios noted. “We looked at three options: building the project ourselves; hiring extra people to do the work; and looking at project management services. After much review, we felt this was the best route we could take.”

Prior to Palacios’ comments – and before any vote was taken – ECISD superintendent Gilbert Garza told the board “it is (the) administration’s recommendation to award the contract to Broaddus and Associates, pending final negotiations with the firm and the school attorney and ourselves, and this will be done as soon as possible.”

According to its website (http://www.BroaddusAssociates.com), the firm describes itself accordingly:

“Broaddus and Associates provides innovative program management and consulting services for owners planning and developing design and construction projects. The firm was founded by James A. Broaddus, Ph.D., P.E., in 2000 in Austin, Texas. Since its inception, the company has grown to more than 85 talented individuals; is managing capital programs totaling more than $2.6 billion in project value; and has provided project management, planning and consulting services for more than 50 public and private sector clients throughout Texas and abroad.”

Broaddus and Associates has spearheaded construction projects for South Texas College in McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City: Texas Southmost College in Brownsville; and the Regional Academic Health Center in Harlingen, according to Gilbert Tagle, ECISD’s director of public information.

Palacios shared his contention that the school board has met its promise to undertake the bond issue and how to implement it in the open, for all to see.

“Our goal has always been transparency and doing things exactly how we said we would do them. I think that we have done that to this point, and we want to continue doing that,” he said. “I know some people have concerns about the cost of the project management services. But, I believe that anyone who has done construction projects with us during the past few years know that overages on costs, the time lines that need to be faced, the problems we have had getting answers from one or two individuals, it has been a real learning process.”

Top three firms interviewed

The Austin-based firm was not the only company which submitted its credentials for the contract.

Ten other companies also threw their proverbial hats into the ring, and of those 10, three made it to the list of finalists: Broaddus and Associates; Parsons and Associates of San Antonio; and Jacobs and Associates of Houston.

The statement of qualifications from the 10 firms were opened at the ECISD business office on July 29, said Tagle.

A nine-member Administration Committee had been appointed by the local superintendent to review the proposals submitted by those firms for the management consulting services.

The Administration Committee narrowed the field down to the top three companies, and those panel members interviewed the finalists on August 12, Tagle added.

The Administration Committee was comprised of three school board members, three ECISD administrators, and three members of the public, representing a group which calls itself the “Bond Oversight Committee.”

Trustees González, Peña, and Treviño represented the school board on the Administration Committee. In addition to the three trustees, the six other individuals involved in interviewing the management firm finalists were: Rigoberto Abrego, Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operation; Robert Estrada, District Architect; Antonio V. Layton, Purchasing Director; Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Ph.D., Bond Oversight Committee; Norma Zamora Guerra; Bond Oversight Committee; and Bryant Morrison, Bond Oversight Committee.

Bond Oversight Committee

Guajardo, Guerra, and Morrison were part of a citizen group appointed last fall by the school board to help ensure citizen participation in what eventually turned out to be the recommendation for the two propositions that faced ECISD voters last May.

That group eventually renamed itself the Bond Oversight Committee, which served as an panel designed to be independent of the school board and school district.

Addressing the board before it took its vote, Guajardo, joined by several members of the bond oversight committee, urged trustees to go with outside, experienced help to help implement the construction plans.

“I don’t know how you are going to vote, because you haven’t voted yet, but our recommendation of the Bond Oversight Committee has always been to go with a management firm,” Guajardo said. “You may recall one of the very first things we did is we did an assessment: does the school district have the kind of capacity to be able to deal with this kind of big project? We were told, in very clear terms, that the school district does not.

Guajardo, who also was one of the leaders of Edinburg Yes4Kids, a political action committee created last spring to rally support for passage of the two propositions, continued:

“What are the alternatives, then? We explored alternatives. We thought, based on recent history, what McAllen (school district) did, what South Texas College did, was to go with a management firm,” Guajardo explained.

Guajardo was satisfied that the community has been well-served in the series of public meetings, stemming from the creation of the first citizens panel on the bond issue to its eventual passage to the selection of the consulting firm.

“I think I speak for the (Bond Oversight) Committee: the process that we all have undertaken has been very honest. It has had a fair amount of transparency. There are some things (such as) the negotiations (with prospective management firms) that have to be done privately. We understand those kinds of things,” said Guajardo. “But we think we have been privy to the goings-on, and we think there has been some very honest work, very honest brokering, and for that we do appreciate the school board, especially Mr. (ECISD board trustee Ciro) Treviño for having done some good work, Mr. Peña, and Mrs. González.”

“New experience for all of us”

Prior to the brief presentation by Guajardo and several other members of the Bond Oversight Committee, González emphasized the care taken by the school board to arrive at their decisions.

“It was a real new experience for all of us. First of all, we have never had the opportunity to be making such a major decision for this community.  I think we took the time – even though some people may disagree and say we took too long – but until we felt that we were comfortable with the decision, because it is a major decision,” she said. “We are departing from tradition in terms of how other bond issues have been handled.  I think that $112 million on the table, the urgency that we have — we already are behind – the only way, and the most effective way to have done this is what we are recommending we do tonight.”

Peña also shared his perspectives.

“The Bond Oversight Committee came to us not only with their suggestions, good suggestions for the bonds, but also as well as for the projects management company,” Peña recalled. “You participated with us throughout that process. I know it was a long, arduous process.  The board can agree that we looked at three, four, five good companies; all of them were very good companies, very competitive. No doubt that any of them could probably do this.

In the end, Peña added, “We were also looking out for the best interests of our local taxpayers. Just like the Bond Oversight Committee has expressed all along, we hope that us as a committee and as a board, have made that good  selection to continue the oversight for our taxpayers.”

Firm may save money for ECISD

Morrison, also representing the Bond Oversight Committee, predicted the use of a management firm will pay big dividends for ECISD taxpayers.

“At the next public hearing, (during the) public comments (section), I will be giving some costs analysis for the public to see,” Morrison told the board. “Even though, at first appearances, the project management team, up front, might cost the district money, the returns are there, in the savings of time, efficiency, and transparency. They can actually save the district money. That is what they have done in the past. We hope it continues in the future. I am glad to see the board taking this action.”

Guerra, also a member of the Bond Oversight Committee, said the management firm option is the best one to meet the demands of the public.

“I see this as a response to what the voters told us. When we were going out and telling voters that this was critical, it was something that the district needed because the kids needed it, and the staff needed it, they told us what their concerns were,” she said. “Their concerns were that they wanted transparency, they wanted trust, they wanted above-board bidding practices, they wanted good, solid construction. That’s exactly what a management company brings to the table. It means that we will be able to see the buildings that are constructed are done right, and they are built to last.

“I think that’s a very important thing to say – that we are talking about building something – hopefully, any management company, what they are telling us, they can save enough money save enough money to more than pay for itself (management consulting),” Guerra added. “Thank you for listening to our concerns, and for supporting what we are saying.”

Abrego said the Broaddus firm has an extensive record in managing complex major capital construction programs. He said Broaddus utilizes a proven project management approach combined with innovative “Best Practice” applications.

Broaddus has managed projects ranging from health research facilities and bio-containment laboratories to criminal justice complexes, convention centers and resort condominiums, said Abrego.

“Broaddus and Associates has effectively controlled budgets, compressed schedules and garnered an industry reputation for delivering projects within the budget, ahead of schedule and quality demands of its clients,” Abrego noted.

In the area of education, Abrego said Broaddus has extensive experience in managing construction projects for kindergarten through 12th grade. He said the firm’s efficient management practices have proven to be very cost effective for school districts which have built new educational facilities with bond monies.

According to ECISD, the firms that submitted applications for the management consulting duties were, in order of ranking by the nine-member committee):

  1. Parsons and Associates of San Antonio;
  2. Broaddus and Associates of Austin;
  3. Jacobs and Associates of Houston;
  4. Facility Program Management, Inc. of Smyrna, Georgia;
  5. Schmidt Strategies of Indianapolis, Indiana;
  6. Garza Program Management of Dallas;
  7. Milnet Architectural Services of McAllen;
  8. AG/CM, Inc. of Corpus Christi;
  9. Childress Engineering Services, Inc.; and
  10. Julio César Salinas of Dalton, Georgia.

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Transcript highlights of the Monday, September 15 ECISD board meeting leading to selection of school bond construction management firm

Superintendent Gilbert Garza:

Mr. President, board members, it is Administration’s recommendation to award the contract to Broaddus and Associates, pending final negotiations with the firm and the school attorney and ourselves, and this will be done as soon as possible.

ECISD Board President Omar Palacios:

Motion by Mr. Peña.

Second by Mr. Treviño.

For discussion purposes, first of all, I would like to thank the (school board’s three-member) facilities committee for assisting. I know it was difficult, it was a lot of work, but you did a great job.  I also want to thank Mrs. Carmen González and Mr. Robert Peña for sitting in during the better part of the negotiations.  I think they kept the board informed and asked many pertinent questions.

I also want to thank the Bond Oversight Committee for the job they did. You hit a home run for us. Thank you very much for your efforts.  We couldn’t have done this without you. We still have a ways to go, but we are treading very nicely.

For my myself, personally, the board has looked through all these options for the past few months, trying to decide what was the best route for us to take.  We looked at three options: building the project ourselves; hiring extra people to do the work; and looking at project management services. After much review, we felt this was the best route we could take.

Our goal has always been transparency and doing things exactly how we said we would do them.  I think that we have done that to this point, and we want to continue doing that.

I know some people have concerns about the cost of the project management services. But, I believe that anyone who has done construction projects with us during the past few years know that overages on costs, the time lines that need to be faced, the problems we have had getting answers from one or two individuals, it has been a real learning process.

At this point, I will ask any board members if they have any more comments or discussion with us.

Carmen González :

It was a real new experience for all of us.  First of all, we have never had the opportunity to be making such a major decision for this community. I think we took the time – even though some people may disagree and say we took too long – but until we felt that we were comfortable with the decision, because it is a major decision.  We are departing from tradition in terms of how other bond issues have been handled.  I think that $112 million on the table, the urgency that we have — we already are behind – the only way, and the most effective way to have done this is what we are recommending we do tonight.

I want to thank the community for giving us the opportunity to serve them and having the faith that we would do the right thing. We will be transparent. I want to thank the facilities oversight committee for having been very, very active in making sure we were doing the right thing. We appreciate that. We want you to continue helping us make decisions about how fast we can get the job done.

Robert Peña:

As a member of the (Administration) Facilities Committee, I also want to thank the Bond Oversight Committee for assisting us throughout the process, and your suggestions as well. The Bond Oversight Committee came to us not only with their suggestions, good suggestions for the bonds, but also as well as for the projects management company.  You participated with us throughout that process. I know it was a long, arduous process.  The board can agree that we looked at three, four, five good companies; all of them were very good companies, very competitive. No doubt that any of them could probably do this.  In the end, we were also looking out for the best interests of our local taxpayers. Just like the Bond Oversight Committee has expressed all along, we hope that us as a (school board facilities) committee and as a board, have made that good  selection to continue the oversight for our taxpayers. So, thanks again.

Omar Palacios:

I would like to invite some of the members of the Bond Oversight Committee to make any comments, if they have any comments.

Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Ph.D.:

I don’t know how you are going to vote, because you haven’t voted yet, but our recommendation of the Bond Oversight Committee has always been to go with a management firm. You may recall one of the very first things we did is we did an assessment: does the school district have the kind of capacity to be able to deal with this kind of big project? We were told, in very clear terms, that the school district does not.

What are the alternatives, then? We explored alternatives. We thought, based on recent history, what McAllen (school district) did, what South Texas College did, was to go with a management firm.

I think I speak for the committee. The process that we all have undertaken has been very honest. It has had a fair amount of transparency. There are some things (such as) the negotiations (with prospective management firms) that have to be done privately. We understand those kinds of things.  But we think we have been privy to the goings-on, and we think there has been some very honest work, very honest brokering, and for that we do appreciate the school board, especially Mr. (ECISD board trustee Ciro) Treviño for having done some good work, Mr. Peña, and Mrs. González.

Then, I have to thank (ECISD district architect) Robert Estrada from the school district for being there, Mr. (ECISD Director of Finances Tony) Layton as well, and Mr. (ECISD Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Operations Rigoberto) Abrego.

Bryant Morrison:

At the next public hearing, (during the) public comments (section), I will be giving some costs analysis the public to see. Even though, at first appearances, the project management team,  up front, might cost the district money, the returns are there, in the savings of time, efficiency, and transparency. They can actually save the district money. That is what they have done in the past. We hope it continues in the future.  I am glad to see the board taking this action.

Norma Zamora Guerra:

I see this as a response to what the voters told us. When we were going out and telling voters that this was critical, it was something that the district needed because the kids needed it, and the staff needed it, they told us what their concerns were.  Their concerns were that they wanted transparency, they wanted trust, they wanted above-board bidding practices, they wanted good, solid construction.

That’s exactly what a management company brings to the table. It means that we will be able to see the buildings that are constructed are done right, and they are built to last. I think that’s a very important thing to say – that we are talking about building something – hopefully, any management company, what they are telling us, they can save enough money save enough money to more than pay for itself (management consulting).  Thank you for listening to our concerns, and for supporting what we are saying.

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Edinburg construction activities jump to almost $24 million for August 2008

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Total construction activities in Edinburg in August 2008 was more than $23.6 million, almost three times more than the same month in 2007, bringing to year-to-date total to more than $86 million, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

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 A. 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.

Most valuable projects

JW Edinburg LLC received a building permit for the most valuable construction in August.  The work, valued at $9 million, was for a commercial facility located at 7135 N. Highway 281 in the JW Edinburg Subdivision.

Two additions/repairs undertaken by the South Texas Independent School District came in as the second- and third-most valuable construction projects in August.

STISD received a building permit for an addition/repair of a non-taxable facility, located at 510 South Sugar Road, valued at $2,781,296.

STISD also received a building permit for an addition/repair of a non-taxable facility, lcoated at 510 South Sugar Road, valued at $2,505,872.

Francisco González received a building permit for the fourth most valuable project in August – a commercial facility, valued at $1,712,000, located at 1000 South Jackson Road in the Vista De Las Colonas Subdivision.

Doctors Hospital at Renaissance received a building permit for the fifth most valuable project in August – a commercial facility, valued at $1,500,000, located at 5501 South McColl Road in the Doctors Center Pedi Tower Subdivision.

The South Texas Independent School District received a building permit for the sixth-most valuable project in August – an addition/repair, valued at $960,000, located at 510 South Sugar Road.

Rolando Ramos received a building permit for the seventh most valuable project in August – a commercial facility, valued at $700,000, located 4716 South Jackson Road in the Stoneworks Plaza Subdivision.

The most valuable home approved for construction in August was worth $535,000. A building permit for that single-family residence, located at 3406 Monserat Street in the Spanish Oaks Subdivision, was issued to Southern Vintage Homes.

Year-to-date, Edinburg has reported $86,165,300 in total construction, compared with $131,753,475 from January through August 2007.

In August, total construction in Edinburg was reported at $23,607,238, compared with $8,810,255 in August 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.

Single-family new homes

In August 2008, building permits were issued for the construction of 27 single-family homes, valued at $2,800,000, compared with 65 single-family homes, valued at $5,818,000, during the same period in 2007.

Year-to-date, building permits have been issued for the construction of 204 new single-family residences, valued at $19,037,829, compared with 464 single-family residences, valued at $43,234,909 from January through August 2007.

Ten homes, each valued at $100,000 or more, were  authorized for construction in August 2008:

  • Southern Vintage Homes, 3406 Moserat Street ($535,000);
  • Eddie Garza, 3304 Crystal Fall Avenue, ($160,000);
  • Marcos Herrera, 423 Padre Lane ($150,000);
  • Francisco Yzaguirre, 3619 Ida Street ($150,000);
  • Mario Peña, 1902 Rochester Avenue ($140,000);
  • Orlando Tijerina, 1315 Poblana Lane ($135,000);
  • Myra Medina, 1813 Woods Drive East ($120,000);
  • Óscar Cantú, 619 Oregano Street ($110,000);
  • Óscar Cantú, 721 Oregano Street ($110,000); and
  • Elezar Nuique, 1732 Kavia Avenue ($102,000).

Commercial new construction

In August 2008, the value of new commercial construction – not counting government facilities or churches – reached $13,744,525 compared with $1,873,500 in August 2007.

Year-to-date, new commercial construction reached $41,174,675, compared with $59,666,725 during the first eight months of 2007.

In August 2008, building permits were issued for new construction of six commercial facilities, each valued at $100,000 or more:

  • Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, 2821 Michael Angelo Ste 401 ($9,000,000);
  • Franscisco González, 4716 South Jackson Road ($1,712,000);
  • JW Edinburg LLC, 7135 N. Highway 281 ($1,500,000);
  • Rolando Ramos, 4716 S. Jackson Road ($700,000);
  • Félix Chávez, Jr., 3469 North Business 281 ($428,000); and
  • Francisco González, 1000 South Jackson Road ($150,000).

Multi-family new homes

No building permits were issued in August 2008 for multi-family homes, compared with seven permits issued in August 2007 (all duplexes) for construction valued at $536,000.

Year-to-date, building permits have been issued for 10 new multi-family homes (all duplexes), valued at $920,000, compared with 106 new multi-family homes during the first eight months of 2007 (102 duplexes, three complexes of three or four units, and one complex of five or more units), valued at $9,842,500.

Residential repairs

Also in August 2008, work was authorized for alterations, valued at $225,580, on single-family residences, compared with alterations, valued at $328,345 on single-family homes in August 2007.

Year-to-date, alterations on single-family residences were valued at $2,976,846, compared with $3,734,502 between January and August 2007.

Commercial repairs

Also in August 2008, work was authorized for alterations, valued at $564,965, on commercial structures, compared with alterations, valued at $254,410, on commercial structures in August 2007.

Year-to-date, repairs/alterations on commercial structures total $5,911,411, compared with $2,762,339 from January through August 2007.

Non-taxable structures

There were building permits issued for work valued at $6,272,168 for alterations/repairs on non-taxable structures in August 2008, compared with $0 in August 2007.

Year-to-date, building permits for work valued at $16,144,539 were issued for repairs/alterations on non-taxable structures, compared with $12,501,500 during the first eight months of 2007.

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ECISD announces 16 polling places for school board races set for Tuesday, November 4 election

By GILBERT TAGLE

The Edinburg school district will have 16 polling places where school voters will cast their votes for school trustees on Election Day, Tuesday, November 4, announced Mario Salinas, secretary ex-officio for elections.

Salinas said school voters should note that changes have been made in some polling places where they customarily vote during school elections on Election Day. This year, the polling places for school elections correspond with the polling places being used by the County of Hidalgo in this year’s county, state and presidential elections on November 4, said Salinas.

“Voters need to study the polling places for the November 4 election,” said Salinas. “There are some polling precincts that will be directly affected by the changes and these voters will need to know where they will be voting.”

Salinas said that voters who normally vote at Edinburg City Hall, the Fountain Center, Freddy González Elementary, Lee Elementary and Brewster School will be affected by the change in polling places.

“In order to avoid any confusion and frustration on Election Day, we are urging all voters to study where this year’s polling places will be before going to vote on Election Day,” said Salinas.

Salinas said the key changes in polling places are:

  • Precincts 13 and 107 will move from Lee School to South Middle School;
  • Precinct 54 will move from Lee School to Cavazos Elementary;
  • Precinct 30 will move from the Firemen’s Training Room to Edinburg North High School;
  • Precinct 105 will move from the Firemen’s Training Room to B.L. Garza Middle School;
  • Precinct 109 will remain at the Firemen’s Training Room;
  • Precincts 52 and 106 will move from Freddy González to Canterbury Elementary;
  • Precinct 31 will move from the Fountain Center to Memorial Middle School;
  • Precinct 69 will move from the Fountain Center to Camp Loma de Vida;
  • Precinct 108 will move from the Fountain Center to Lincoln Elementary; and
  • Precinct 19 will move from Brewster School to St. Anne Church in San Manuel.

November 4 school election ballot

The November 4 school election ballot will see voters voting for trustees for Place 6 and 7.

On the ballot for the Place 6 trustee seat are Carmen González, incumbent trustee and a longtime retired educator, and Gilbert Enríquez, former ECISD board member and part of a renowned local construction firm.

On the ballot for Place 7 trustee seat are Ciro Treviño, incumbent trustee and longtime retired Hidalgo County tax assessor-collector; Carlos Ramos, a former ECISD police officer; and Roger C. Bunch, a teacher at the Edinburg Alternative Education Academy.

Early Voting: October 20 through October 31

Early voting by personal appearance in the November 4 school election begins Monday, October 20 and runs through Friday, October 31, said Salinas.

Salinas said the early voting locations for the November 4 school election are:

  • Hidalgo County Elections Office, 101 S. 10th Avenue;
  • UT Pan American Library, 1201 W. University Drive; and
  • Old Hidalgo County Administration Building, 100 N. Closner Boulevard.

There will be early weekend voting by personal appearance at the same three locations on Saturday, October 25 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and on Sunday, October 26  from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., said Salinas.

Salinas said requests for mail ballot applications should be sent to Early Voting Clerk, P.O. Box 659, Edinburg, Texas 78540. Disabled voters on Election Day can request assistance at their designated polling place.

Voters and early voters voting by personal appearance will use ADA iVotronic voting machines. Paper ballots will be provided to votes voting early by mail.

On Election Day, the designated polling places will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The November 4 polling places are as follows:

Precinct(s)

  • 107 and 13 vote at South Middle School, 601 W. Freddy González;
  • 14 votes at Jefferson Elementary, 904 South 13th Street;
  • 18 votes at Hargill Elementary, 11 Mi. North 281;
  • 19 votes at St. Anne Church, San Manuel;
  • 24 and 76 vote at McCook Building, Hwy. 281-20 Mi. West 490;
  • 30 votes at Edinburg North High School, 3101 N. Closner Blvd.;
  • 31 votes at Memorial Middle School, 3105 N. Doolittle Road;
  • 43 and 104 vote at San Carlos Elementary, Third Street;
  • 53 and 110 vote at Barrientes Middle School, 1100 E. Ebony Street;
  • 54 votes at Cavazos Elementary, 1501 W. Freddy González;
  • 68 votes at Lull-Capilla de San Jose, 4401 Flores Street;
  • 69 votes at Camp Loma de Vida    , 12505 N. Hwy. 281;
  • 105 votes at B.L. Garza Middle School, 1202 N. MonMack Pérez;
  • 106 and 52 vote at Canterbury Elementary, 2821 W. Canton Road;
  • 108 votes at Lincoln Elementary, 1319 Lovett Street; and
  • 109 votes at Edinburg Fire Station, 212 W. McIntyre Street.

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Congressman Hinojosa announces $1 million FEMA grant for Edinburg to transform old City Hall into emergency operations center

By DESIRÉE MÉNDEZ-CALTZONTZINT

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, September 16, announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has awarded the City of Edinburg a grant in the amount of $1,000,000 under FEMA’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) program.

The City of Edinburg plans to transform its old city hall facilities into the new Edinburg Emergency Operations Center. The city currently does not have an emergency center but the city is prepared to use the former city hall building as a newly renovated and fully functional stand-alone center. The EOC will be located within the general vicinity of the central fire station, one block from the new city hall and two blocks from the Hidalgo County administration office. The center will be under the direction of Fire Chief Shawn Snider and the city management team.

“The City of Edinburg and the Edinburg Fire Department provide vital services that readily assist the surrounding communities, county and our local university in their time of need,” said Hinojosa. “I was pleased to assist the city in securing this critical funding. I have full confidence that this Emergency Operations Center will help our community meet the needs of a future crisis.”

Edinburg was one of two cities in  Texas and one of 22 nationwide that was awarded this grant. The Department of Homeland Security’s FEMA- FY 2008 Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Grant Program is intended to improve emergency management and preparedness capabilities by supporting flexible, sustainable, secure, and interoperable EOCs with a focus on addressing identified deficiencies and needs. For more information on the program view the following website: http://www.fema.gov/government/grant/eoc/index.shtm

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South Texas College posthumously honors former Gov. Ann Richards’ dedication to the Valley

By HELEN ESCOBAR

South Texas College named its Pecan Campus Administration Building in honor of former Gov. Ann Richards on Tuesday, September 16. Richards played a large role in bringing the college to fruition, helping thousands of Hidalgo and Starr county residents realize their goals of attaining a higher education and a better quality of life.

“Before STC was founded in 1993, the unemployment rate was 24.1 percent in Hidalgo County and more than 40 percent in Starr County,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC founding president. “Ann Richards knew creating the college was the right thing to do for the almost 700,000 residents of the area. Thanks to Ann Richards and many others, STC is here and we are changing lives and transforming communities. She was a great lady with a passion for equal access and opportunity for all.”

Dan Richards, Ann Richards’ son, was in attendance to represent his family and help honor his mother.

“You could always count on my mom to take the road less traveled because she had no fear and knew that to make a real difference, you had to listen to the people and address their needs, not the wants of politicians,” said Richards. “As I look around this campus and learn more about STC, it’s apparent that she was listening loud and clear to the people of this community, who have embraced education and made the college an integral part of the region. This college is a major part of her legacy to the state and higher education and I know she would be very proud to see how far your have come and to know how many South Texans are getting a chance at a better life.”

STC, which is currently celebrating its 15th anniversary, serves more than 22,000 students, helping to drive the economic vitality of Hidalgo and Starr counties. The college offers five state-of-the-art campuses and more than 100 degree and certificate program options, including two bachelor’s degrees through its Bachelor of Applied Technology Program. Additionally, the college boasts one of the largest Dual Enrollment Programs in the state, providing more than 7,000 high school students in 32 high schools the opportunity to earn free college credits.

Also, more than 35,000 displaced or existing workers have been trained for new jobs or upgraded their skill sets through the college’s Partnership for Business and Industry Training. The partnership offers grant-funded customized training programs to meet the needs of the local workforce.

For additional information about South Texas College call 956/872-8311 or visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu.

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STC’s fall 2008 enrollment tops 22,000

By HELEN ESCOBAR

South Texas College’s fall 2008 enrollment has topped 22,000 students, with 22,066 students registered, a 10.5 percent increase over fall 2007 figures.

“We are all about student access and success and so we are incredibly pleased to see more and more students choosing to attend our college because they know we can help put them on the path to opportunity and prosperity,” said William Serrata, STC vice president for student affairs and enrollment management. “These students have trusted us to help guide their futures and we are totally committed to doing everything in our power to ensure that these students have the tools they need to reach their goals. We are providing a great education at an affordable tuition and we know it is changing lives and transforming communities.”

In addition to its record total enrollment, the college also saw significant increases in enrollment in specific areas. The college’s Dual Enrollment Program, which allows qualifying high school students to earn free college credit, saw an enrollment increase of 20 percent. More than 7,000 high schoolers from 32 schools across Hidalgo and Starr counties took advantage of the opportunity to get a jump start on their college educations. Also, more than 5,300 students are taking advantage of the college’s online class offerings, which is an increase in online class enrollment of 17 percent from fall 2008.

“Family by family, student by student, the message is getting out and the Valley is succeeding in creating a college-going college, where going to college is the expectation for all, not the exception to the rule,” added Serrata. “I congratulate each of our students on their decision to continue their educations and look forward to an outstanding academic year.”

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Border officials ask Senate panel, chaired by Sen. Lucio, for more resources to increase security

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

Mayors, police chiefs, and sheriffs from all along the Texas-Mexico border were in Austin on Thursday, September 18, to ask senators for more money, personnel, and equipment to meet growing security needs. The International Relations and Trade Committee hosted the hearing to address its interim charge to look at illegal immigration, drug trafficking and human smuggling. According to testimony offered at the Thursday meeting, current funding levels are not getting the job done.

Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores’ testimony was characteristic of remarks submitted at the meeting. Flores said that his county, the sixth largest in Texas, is completely traversable by drug and human traffickers, and he lacks the funding and personnel to catch them. His department is 60 to 70 deputies short of necessary staffing levels, and his staff lacks the resources to cope with increasing levels of illegal cross border activity. He asked for money for equipment, like seismic sensors to detect tunneling, and manned and unmanned aircraft to patrol his region.

Sheriff Arvin West from Hudspeth County reported that the current system of checkpoints along Interstate 10 is inadequate to catch smugglers. Checkpoints are dangerous, he said; accidents occur as traffic is slowed down and forced into one lane. He added that too many tractor-trailers are waved through without being checked, and asked for funding to create special stations dedicated to checking semis along I-10. West went on to say that incarceration of border criminals often falls to county jails. Increasing enforcement and apprehension also means more money to house and feed inmates and less space to hold them.

Eric Nichols of the Attorney General’s office appeared to brief the committee about a recent report compiled by his agency relating to human smuggling. The report states that the Texas-Mexico border is used to bring people into the country against their will to be put into virtual slavery in sweatshops, on farms and into the commercial sex trade. According to U.S. State Department estimates, one in five people illegally smuggled into the country cross over the Texas border. A recent AG report showed that the state lacks a systematic procedure to track and record statistics relating to human trafficking in Texas. The report recommends the creation of a special task force dedicated to catching human traffickers and harsher penalties for smugglers. Additionally, it calls for better education for law enforcement officials to identify victims of human smuggling and funding for state-based social services to help those victims.

The International Relations and Trade Committee is chaired by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville and vice-chaired by Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston.  The committee also include: Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; Sen. Carlos Uresti, D-San Antonio, Sen. Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo; Sen. Troy Fraser, R-Horseshoe Bay; and Sen. Mario Gallegos, Jr, D-Houston.

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Sen. Zaffirini, Joint Senate Committee hears testimony on increased Medicaid payments, higher wages for personal care attendants, and Cancer Fund

By CELESTE VILLARREAL

Texas health providers advocated for increased Medicaid payments, higher wages for personal care attendants and funding for a new institute to expedite innovation in cancer research at the State Capitol on Tuesday, September 16.

They addressed a joint hearing of the Senate Finance Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee that focused on interim charges issued by Lt. Governor David Dewhurst.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, vice chair of the Senate Finance Committee and member of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, applauded testimony from representatives of  the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), Legislative Budget Board (LBB), Texas Cancer Institute, Texas Medical Association (TMA), Texas Association on Homecare (TAHC) and Texas Healthcare Association (THCA).

HHSC prepared charts that illustrate the 2003 $10 billion shortfall’s impact on Medicaid rates by listing the change for each biennium between 2002-03 and 2008-09. In spite of progress, today’s rates average only 73 percent of Medicare rates. Witnesses offered evidence indicating that the Medicaid payment increases have improved Medicaid participation by physicians.

“The Medicaid rate disparity among doctors who treat children and doctors who treat adults is troubling,” Zaffirini said. “Pediatric providers do not provide young persons with referrals to adult providers because of their unavailability caused by rate disparity. We must ensure that there are enough physicians who accept Medicaid to meet the needs of Texans who require Medicaid-funded services.”

••••••

Sen. Cornyn to South Texas veterans: “I won’t give up the fight for a South Texas VA hospital”

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Thursday, September 18, hosted a video teleconference with several Veterans Service Organization (VSO) leaders from South Texas to voice his disappointment with the Senate Majority Leader’s refusal this week to allow a vote on his amendment to pave the way for a full-service VA hospital facility in South Texas.

Cornyn reiterated his commitment to the veterans of South Texas and the fight for a VA hospital:

“I was glad to have the chance to speak directly this morning with the veterans who know firsthand the challenges that result from not having a VA hospital in South Texas. I’ve relied heavily on their input as I’ve sought to pass legislation to meet the inpatient needs of rural South Texas veterans,”  Cornyn said.

“We received an unfortunate setback yesterday, as the Majority Leader of the Senate refused to allow even a vote on my amendment that would have paved the way for a new full-service VA facility in South Texas,” Cornyn said. “But in talking with several veterans today, we agreed this temporary setback only encourages us to double-up our efforts to bring this hospital to fruition.

The GOP senator added “I will not give up the fight for a VA hospital facility in South Texas. Thousands of veterans are looking to Congress to lay the groundwork for this facility and I intend on doing my part to make this facility a reality.”

South Texas has one of the highest per capita levels of veterans in the nation. The estimated 100,000 veterans in South Texas are sometimes forced to drive up to 250 miles for inpatient medical care.

Cornyn’s legislation, the South Texas Veterans Access to Care Act of 2007, is a companion to legislation introduced in the U.S. House by U.S. Reps. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi; Ruben Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin;  and Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen.

The bill would require the VA Secretary to consider the following three options for meeting the inpatient needs of our veterans in far South Texas:

  • A project for a public-private venture to provide inpatient services and long-term care to veterans in an existing facility in deep South Texas; or
  • A project for construction of a new full-service, 50-bed hospital with a 125-bed nursing home in deep South Texas; or
  • A sharing agreement with a military treatment facility in deep South Texas

Then, within 180 days of enactment, the VA Secretary would be required to notify Congress which one of these options is most appropriate and then execute that option. If the VA Secretary decides the construction of a new VA hospital is the most appropriate option, Cornyn’s amendment would authorize appropriations in the amount of $175 million for the project.

Cornyn’s bill, S.1838, the South Texas Veterans Access to Care Act, has had solid bipartisan support with four senators cosponsoring: Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison, John Kerry, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama. Cornyn is hopeful the Democrat co-sponsors of his bill will work with the Majority Leader to move this bill forward.

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Edinburg Centennial Group searching for eldest, youngest Edinburg resident

As Edinburg celebrates the milestone of 100 years of the founding of the community, it is only fitting to honor and recognize Edinburg’s eldest citizen.  The youngest citizen will be determined on who is born first on Sunday, October 5, the day of the Centennial Celebration kickoff.

The eldest and youngest Edinburg resident will be honored at the reception hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce on Friday, October 10.  The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, City of Edinburg, Edinburg C.I.S.D. and the citizens of Edinburg will take part in the locomotive ribbon cutting at the Southern Pacific Train Depot (Chamber office) located on 602 W. University Drive.

A wide range of activities will be held on October 5-11 throughout the city of Edinburg.  The Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department, Museum of South Texas History and the Dustin Sekula Memorial Library will host several events in honor of Edinburg’s Centennial Celebration.

Nominations for the title of oldest and youngest Edinburg resident may be submitted by contact Elva Jackson Garza, vice president/marketing manager for Edwards Abstract and Title Co. at 383-4951.  The goal is to have these special individuals take part is this historic celebration.

“We want to encourage anyone that is 90 years old or older  to contact us.  These individuals deserve special recognition for the gift of their long life in our community,” said Jackson Garza. “The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce looks forward to honoring these individuals.”

Any expectant mothers who have a due date for delivery of October 5 should notify Jackson Garza or the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974.

“It would be so exciting to welcome the youngest resident of Edinburg as we kickoff the Edinburg Centennial Celebration,” said Evana Vleck, chair of the Centennial Committee and Marketing Director of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.

For more information in this historic event, please contact the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 602 W. University Drive or the website http://www.edinburg.com.

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South Texas College’s NIMS Center sets standard for Valley manufacturing, machining

By HELEN ESCOBAR

South Texas College recently opened its new National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS) Center to prepare Rio Grande Valley students, workers, businesses, colleges and universities to adhere to the NIMS standards and accreditation.

Initially funded by a $237,000 grant from the Texas Workforce Commission, the center will educate students and workers about NIMS standards, which focuses heavily on standard approaches to precision manufacturing and machining, as well as work place safety. The center will also promote the benefits and long-term career rewards of the precision manufacturing and machining industry.

Ultimately, the center’s goal is to help students and area employees earn certifications through NIMS. STC is the only college in the state of Texas to carry NIMS accreditation, meaning that the college has met and exceeded NIMS standards and can teach students and area employees to NIMS standards.

“We have worked closely with local businesses and trade groups to develop a program to meet the needs of their members for next-generation employees and this center will facilitate a gold standard for highly-skilled workers that can produce standard results across all machines and operating centers in the Valley,” said Gerald Stinson, manager of STC’s NIMS Center. “We look forward to helping students and area employees earn and maintain NIMS certifications, but also to helping area companies, schools and other colleges learn and implement these standards and earn accreditation for their organizations.”

STC’s NIMS Center will help companies become NIMS accredited by assisting with employee certification, identifying improvements in workplace systems and procedures, as well as offering leadership and management training to help employees conform to NIMS standards. Similar methodologies will be used to assist colleges, universities and high school machine shops learn and adhere to NIMS standards and ultimately earn accreditation.

For additional information about STC’s NIMS Center call Stinson at 956-872-6428.

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Efforts to improve state schools for persons with intellectual disabilities are focus of Senate hearing

BY CELESTE VILLARREAL

Improving state schools and increasing community care options for persons with intellectual disabilities were the main focus of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee at the State Capitol Wednesday, September 17. Witnesses addressed the committee’s interim charges from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, relating to monitoring the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services’ improvement plan for the system of care for persons with intellectual disabilities.

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, the senior member of the committee, raised questions about funding priorities and strategies for eliminating waiting lists for health and human services. Witnesses included representatives of the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services, State Auditor’s Office, Texas Council of Community Mental Health and Mental Retardation Centers, Private Providers Association of Texas, Arc of Texas, Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities and Texans Supporting State Schools.

“The state must strengthen the system that serves persons with intellectual, physical and emotional disabilities,”  Zaffirini said. “The full range of services must be available, including community living options in the least restrictive settings, for persons with special needs. Promoting independence is our moral obligation.”

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Congressman Hinojosa backs historic comprehensive energy legislation

By DESIRÉE MÉNDEZ-CALTZONTZINT

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercede, on Thursday, September 18, voted in favor of comprehensive energy legislation that will help bring down energy costs, invest in renewable energy sources to create jobs in South Texas, expand domestic drilling offshore and on land and increase our security by freeing America from the grip of foreign oil. The Comprehensive American Energy Security & Consumer Protection Act was approved by a vote of 236-189.

“I was proud to cast my vote in favor of one of the most comprehensive pieces of energy legislation in two decades,” said Hinojosa. “Our legislation will produce more energy here in Texas and invest in renewable energy technologies that will diversify our nation’s energy supply. It’s the right plan to bring prices down now and give us the energy strategy we need in the future.”

The Comprehensive American Energy Security & Consumer Protection Act will roll back tax breaks for Big Oil in a time of record oil company profits and require oil companies to pay royalties already owed to taxpayers. The legislation permits offshore drilling in waters between 50 and 100 miles offshore if the state allows leasing off its coastline by enacting a state law.

The legislation also invests in wind, solar, clean coal and natural gas, 21st century energy sources with the potential to create hundreds of jobs in South Texas. The bill requires utility companies to generate 15 percent of electricity from renewable sources – such as wind power, biomass, wave, tidal, geothermal and solar – by 2020, which will save consumers $13 to 18 billion cumulatively by 2020 and reduce dangerous global warming emissions.

The Act also takes steps to immediately bring down the price of gasoline by temporarily releasing nearly 10 percent of the oil from the government’s stockpile – the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) – and replacing it later with heavier, cheaper crude oil.

“If Republicans like George Bush and John McCain have their way, we’ll be left with a policy that gives Big Oil  more land, more oil, more taxpayer dollars, and all the record profits, while American families and businesses suffer,” added Hinojosa. “I was proud to stand up for a plan for change that will help end – not prolong – our addiction to oil.

Congress has taken critical steps to address our nation’s energy independence.  Last year, Congress passed and the President signed historic energy legislation with provisions to combat oil market manipulation, increase vehicle fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon in 2020 – the first Congressional increase in more than three decades – and promote the use of more affordable American biofuels.

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Hispanics see their situation in U.S. deteriorating; oppose key immigration enforcement measures

By MARY SEABORN

Half (50 percent) of all Latinos say that the situation of Latinos in this country is worse now than it was a year ago, according to a new nationwide survey of 2,015 Hispanic adults conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center.

These increasingly downbeat assessments come at a time when the Hispanic community in this country has been hit hard by rising unemployment and stepped-up immigration enforcement.

In the survey, nearly one-in-ten Hispanic adults report that in the past year the police or other authorities have stopped them and asked them about their immigration status. Latinos say they are experiencing other difficulties because of their ethnicity. One-in-seven (15 percent) say that they have had trouble in the past year finding or keeping a job because they are Latino. One-in-ten (10 percent) report the same about finding or keeping housing.

On the question of immigration enforcement, Latinos disapprove of five key enforcement measures asked about in this survey–and generally do so by lopsided margins.

The report also explores how Latinos rate the political parties and their presidential candidates on immigration and Hispanic concerns.

The report, 2008 National Survey of Latinos: Hispanics See Their Situation in U.S. Deteriorating; Oppose Key Immigration Enforcement Measures, is available on the center’s website, http://www.pewhispanic.org.

Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center, is a non-partisan, non-advocacy research organization based in Washington, D.C. and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

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Edwards Abstract Company to offer October 7 continuing education seminar on title insurance

By ELVA JACKSON GARZA

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. is partnering with national title insurance underwriter, Alamo Title Insurance/Fidelity National Title Insurance Company, and will offer local realtors, lenders and real estate attorneys an opportunity to learn first hand what title insurance in Texas and the commercial contract are all about.

Michael S. Karger, vice president and underwriting counsel and Teresa Frost, agency consultant and director of training and education with Alamo/Fidelity will be in the Rio Grande Valley on Tuesday, October 7 at the Edwards Abstract and Title Co. corporate office in Edinburg from 9:00 to 11:30 a.m.

“Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has many resources available to provide training and education for real estate industry professionals. We leverage those opportunities with our underwriters and make training available locally which ultimately makes all our jobs easier when things are done correctly,” stated Byron Jay Lewis, president of Edwards Abstract and Title Co.  “I want to encourage anyone who is interested in attending to register early as there is limited space available,” he added.

Teresa Frost travels throughout the state of Texas offering training and education to title company personnel on issues affecting title insurance.  During the MCE course, she will communicate the importance of title insurance when purchasing residential or commercial property.  Michael Karger was in private practice until 1980 and in 1992, he made the move to work with a national underwriter.  As commercial development continues to grow in the Rio Grande Valley, Karger will share details on how to take the mystery out of filling out the commercial contract.

Participants will earn two hours of MCE credit and the cost is $10 payable to EducateRE.  Reservations are being handled by Elva Jackson Garza, vice president/marketing manager for Edwards Abstract and Title Co. at 383-4951 or elva.garza@edwards-titleco.com

Edwards Abstract and Title Co. has a long tradition of serving the Rio Grande Valley’s title insurance needs. Founded in 1880, the company offers four convenient locations in Edinburg, McAllen, Mission/Sharyland and Weslaco.  For more information regarding their experienced personnel, products and services, log on to /http://www.edwards-titleco.com

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Rep. García  calls on state insurance commission to enforce policies protecting coastal homeowners from storm surge of Hurricane Ike

By ELIZABETH PEARSALL LIPPINCOTT

Rep. Juan M. García, III, D-Corpus Christi, on Thursday, September 18,  called on Texas Insurance Commissioner Mike Geeslin to direct the taxpayer-supported Texas Windstorm Insurance Association (TWIA) to cover storm surge damage from Hurricane Ike.

García represents a House district which is represented in the Texas Senate by Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

Many coastal homeowners in District 32, as well as in the areas hit hardest by Hurricane Ike, have windstorm insurance coverage from TWIA. In fact, according to the Texas Department of Insurance, TWIA provides windstorm insurance to 60% of coastal Texans.  TWIA spokesman Jerry Johns announced Monday that TWIA will consider storm surge-related losses from Hurricane Ike as flood losses not covered by windstorm insurance.

“The insurance industry members who dominate the TWIA board have either failed to learn the lessons of the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, or have chosen to ignore them,” said García. “This is not the way we treat our fellow Texans.  Here on the Coastal Bend, we know that but for a passing low-pressure system, we would have felt the full wrath of the storm.  We stand with our neighbors all along the Texas coast to see that TWIA honors its promise to protect them.  Commissioner Geeslin needs to stand up to the insurance industry and demand that TWIA provide the protection coastal residents have paid for.”

García’s letter to Commissioner Geeslin and other state leaders asked Geeslin to:  (1) call an emergency meeting of the TWIA Board and instruct them to provide all funding necessary to pay claims from Hurricane Ike; and (2) clearly state that storm surge damage caused by the 100-mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Ike will be covered by windstorm insurance.

“The havoc wreaked by the Hurricane Ike storm surge is a function of the winds from that storm, not a flood brought on by heavy rains,” García wrote to Commissioner Geeslin.

“The damage caused by the storm surge is directly attributable to the sustained 100-mile-per-hour winds of Hurricane Ike,” the lawmaker noted. “As such, some unscrupulous insurance companies should not be allowed to dodge their responsibilities to citizens who have faithfully paid their premiums, by hiding behind arbitrary definitions of wind vs. flood damage. They got away with it in Mississippi and Louisiana. That’s not how we do business in Texas.”

TWIA was created by the Texas Legislature in 1971 to provide windstorm and hail coverage to those who are unable to obtain insurance from the voluntary insurance market.  TWIA was created in response to market conditions along the coast after Corpus Christi was hit by Hurricane Celia in 1970, causing $500 million in losses.

Recently, some private insurers have stopped writing wind insurance policies along the coast. This has caused coastal property owners to turn to TWIA for windstorm insurance.  More policies have increased TWIA’s potential liability in the event of a major hurricane like Ike. TWIA now provides windstorm insurance to about 60 percent of coastal homeowners.

According to the Texas Department of Insurance, as of June 30, 2008, 20 percent of TWIA’s total exposure (direct insurance in force) was in Nueces Co. Including an additional seven percent in Aransas, Calhoun and San Patricio counties, TWIA policies in the Coastal Bend totaled $16.2 billion, or  27 percent of TWIA exposure. Galveston County alone accounted for $18.6 billion or 32 percent of TWIA exposure, and Harris County accounted for an additional $705 million.

García represents the 32nd District in the Texas House of Representatives, which includes Aransas, Calhoun, and San Patricio counties and part of Nueces County. Elected in 2006, he is an attorney and second-generation naval aviator. García lives in Corpus Christi with his wife Denise and their four children.

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Hurricane consumer alert: Give wisely after Hurricane Ike, says Attorney General Abbott

When disaster strikes, many Texans want to make generous donations to charitable organizations. Before reaching for their wallets, Texans should ask questions and check the facts to make sure they are not about to hand their money over to a scam artist posing as a charitable cause.

Door-to-door, telephone and e-mail solicitations should be treated cautiously and should be fully researched. When an individual knocks on the door or calls asking for a charitable donation to help in the relief effort, Texans should keep the following tips in mind:

  • Ask for credentials, including the exact name and telephone number of the organization, particularly if the charity is unfamiliar;
  • Call the charity directly and confirm that the solicitor is actually associated with it;
  • Look out for questionable charities using names that closely resemble those of well-known charities;
  • Find out how the donation will be used;
  • Be wary of appeals that are long on emotion and short on descriptions about providing help to those in need;
  • Don’t succumb to high-pressure tactics and demands for an immediate decision. A legitimate charity welcomes background checks on their operations;
  • Never give a credit card or bank account number to a telephone solicitor;
  • Never give cash and never agree to give money to a courier. Write a check in the name of the charity, not the individual doing the asking, and get a receipt.

Texans who wish to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office regarding suspicious charities may call the Consumer Complaint Hotline at (800) 252-8011 or file a complaint online at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov.

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Award-winning investigative, feature, Spanish-language stories show journalism will survive tough times, says Hispanic journalist group

By IVÁN ROMÁN

Amid tough times in the news industry, attendees said they were inspired by attending National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ) 23rd Annual Noche de Triunfos Gala inside the National Press Club on Friday, September 12.

NAHJ awarded work in 16 categories and also picked the winners of the five  ñ Awards – the association’s highest honors. As in previous years, some of the work focused on immigration, yet it also included stories of heroes, survivors, injustice, culture and environmental crusaders.

The stories ranged from a documentary hosted by Maria Hinojosa that told of the plight of child brides around the world to a photo essay by Lara Solt of The Dallas Morning News about a gravely injured Marine facing a grueling recovery. Also honored was a feature story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that followed teenager Johanna Orozco after she was shot in the face at close range by her former boyfriend.

During his acceptance speech, Jim Ávila  of  ABC News said he’s glad to see more Latino journalists on air, but argued for greater diversity behind the scenes  – in the editorial and management levels.  Ávila, senior justice correspondent for ABC News, was awarded the  ñ Broadcast Journalist of the Year award.

Ávila also won for his breaking news story of how undocumented farmworkers fared during last year’s wildfires in San Diego.

“One of the important things that we want to note is how important it is for Hispanics to be inside the rooms where the decisions are made,” Ávila said, adding that it was because Latinos were in the room during the coverage of the wildfires that his winning story made it to air.

Spanish-language media also got a nod with the winning breaking news entry, Elvira Arellano Saldrá del Santuario by Leticia Espinosa  of HOY Chicago. Espinosa said that English-language news outlets are increasingly citing and relying on Spanish-language media to keep them informed about the Latino community.

Such was the case with her story about undocumented immigrant Elvira Arellano, who announced in an exclusive interview with Espinosa that she would leave the sanctuary of the church she’d been living in for a year.

Other Spanish-language winners included the Videography Feature award to Mario Barraza of Univision for his footage of children trying to cross the border alone; the group from El Nuevo Día for their story about 24 hours in Puerto Rico’s largest trauma center, which won the Online Award; and Eva Sanchis of El Diario-La Prensa for her story about illegal logging in Honduras and the environmentalists risking their lives to fight it. The story won the Guillermo Martínez-Márquez Award for Latin American Reporting.

In the emotional acceptance speech, reporter Dunia Elvir said the parents of the newborn shared their story with viewers to try to save the lives of others, and they predicted the story would win an award.

The awards gala ended with the prestigious ñ Awards , which featured María Hinojosa who won the Leadership Award for the strength she shows in giving voice to all through stories on television, radio, online, print and books.

“There was a time when I was not such a happy television journalist,” Hinojosa said. “But right now I’m a happy television journalist.” Hinojosa received the award from Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada .

In her acceptance speech, she said this is not the time for journalists to give up, but rather to fight harder.

“If I had fire in the belly” when starting out, she said, “there is a volcano erupting now.”

The  Emerging Journalist Award  went to  Fernando Díaz of The Chicago Reporter, who thanked, among others, the waiters serving dinner at the gala. Díaz said that like his own parents, they were probably working late to give their children a better life. He also thanked his muse, the City of Chicago.

Rubén Navarrette, an editorial columnist at The San Diego Union-Tribune and syndicated columnist with The Washington Post Writers Group, presented the Frank del Olmo Print Journalist Award, stopping to thank del Olmo for being a mentor that got him started in the news industry years ago.

Del Olmo himself, Navarrette said, started his career with the Los Angeles Times during the Watergate scandal, when he was dispatched by the newspaper to Washington to help cover the story because of his Spanish. He lasted 35 years at the paper.

“This was a veterano, if there ever was a veterano,” Navarrette said.

He handed the Frank del Olmo Print Journalist Award to Diana Washington Valdéz of El Paso Times for her courage in writing about the murders of hundreds of women in the Mexican border town of Ciudad Júarez.

The Photojournalist of the Year Award was given to Ray Chávez of the Oakland Tribune for his stunning photography, leadership in the newsroom, teamwork, mentorship of young journalists and willingness to serve as a bridge with his newspaper’s Latino community.

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