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With Bucky the Bronco, the mascot for the University of Texas-Pan American, helping lead the cheers in June 2004, Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas was welcomed during a public ceremony on her first day as president by Rodolfo Arévalo, Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs. Citing health reasons, Cárdenas retired as president of one of the largest public universities in Texas effective Friday, January 30. Under her leadership, UT-Pan American continued its successful transformation into a research-oriented institution of higher education, with a top faculty and state-of-the-art facilities and resources. On Tuesday, January 27, Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, said he would work closely with new UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to inform and involve South Texans on the appointment, deliberations, and actions of a presidential search advisory committee which will undertake a national search for a successor to Cárdenas. "We will make sure the public is fully informed on how these major steps are taken, and how people from all walks of life from South Texas can participate in selecting the new leadership of our great university," Flores said. Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT-Permian Basin and former interim president of UT-Arlington, will serve as interim president effective February 23. See story later in this posting.

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Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT-Permian Basin and former interim president of UT- Arlington, will serve as interim president of the University of Texas-Pan American effective February 23 while a national search begins for a permanent successor to former president Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, the UT System announced on Tuesday, January 27. “Dr. Sorber’s expertise and vast background have earned him a rock-solid reputation of service in a variety of administrative positions, and we are extremely fortunate to have him help guide UT-Pan American in this important time of transition," said David B. Prior, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. "UT-Pan American is tremendously important to the region and to the UT System. We believe that the students, faculty and staff will enjoy getting to know Dr. Sorber as your combined efforts continue to move the institution to even greater distinction. The quick action by UT System administrators is crucial to maintaining stability at the university, said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "I am happy to see that the UT System is moving quickly to search for the best candidate to lead UT-Pan American," said Hinojosa. "Dr. Cárdenas set a high standard and I expect the presidential search advisory committee to seek out an outstanding academic and administrator to guide UT-Pan American." See story later in this posting.

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In an effort to rouse up funding and support for local projects in the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured left, on Monday, January 26, met with Congressman James Oberstar, D-MN, featured right, who is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Hinojosa, along with Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi (center), highlighted South Texas’ many infrastructure projects that are “shovel-ready” and needed for long-term growth. These projects include the Hidalgo County Loop, the Donna Bridge access road, North Rail Relocation project, and U.S. Highway 281 at Falfurrias and Ben Bolt. See story later in this posting.

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Former McAllen Mayor Othal E. Brand Sr., featured left, was recognized on Monday, January 26, for his years of service to the community, and he was presented a proclamation from Mayor Richard Cortéz, on behalf of the city commission. In 1973, Brand was elected city commissioner and in 1977 was elected mayor, where he served continuously for 20 years until 1997. Through his leadership and vision, he was instrumental in establishing the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of McAllen and planned for McAllen’s future by acquiring land for future growth. Brand served on numerous boards and committees both on the local and state levels. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg High School graduate Aurora Casas was already a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) when she started her college career at South Texas College. At the age of 58, she didn’t let a simple number keep her from her achieving her goals. “It was always my dream to be an office worker,” she said. “I would go to renew my driver’s license or to the bank and I would see the young ladies and gentlemen behind their desks; I always dreamt that I could be in their shoes one day. I wanted it to be me as the professional helping others.” But it took a pink slip to put her back on the college path. Prior to STC, she spent 30 of her years as a seamstress with Haggar Clothing Co. She took the job to help her family make ends meet, but ultimately wasn’t doing what she really hoped with her life. And in the end, the Haggar plant closed and her long-term commitment to her employer only earned her a pink slip. Now, the South Texas College alum Aurora Casas of Edinburg uses her college knowledge to help mature adults find work in a high-tech, fast-paced, global marketplace. See story later in this posting.

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The Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office on Thursday, January 22, presented a check totaling $2,500 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as part of their Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign to benefit local charitable organizations. The program allows department staff to wear jeans every Friday in exchange for a $5 donation. “I am extremely proud of our staff for their support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and their willingness to give back to their community. They are extremely elated to see their efforts going towards a cause that helps grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions,” said Hinojosa. Featured, first row, from left: María Barrera; Mary Alonzo; Prescilla López; Ava Sandlin, area Executive Director for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; María Elva Garza; Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa; and Nilda Van Hook. Back row, from left: Aída Ríos; Ángela García; Lonnie De León; Eric Rodríguez; Irene Casares; Ireneo Razo; Pedro Navarro; Josue Palomo, and Lorena De La Garza. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate for December remains at 5.5 percent, again best in the Valley, better than Texas and U.S. unemployment levels

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg posted a 5.5 percent unemployment rate in December 2008, the strongest showing in the Valley, and better than the Texas and U.S. unemployment rates, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

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

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

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

Edinburg’s December 2008 unemployment rate was the same as in November 2008.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose slightly to six percent, up from 5.7 percent in November, and 5.6 percent in October.

Also for December 2008, the U.S. economy reported a national unemployment rate of 7.2 percent.

The December and November 2008 rates for Edinburg compare with a 5.3 percent unemployment rate in October, which also was the best showing among the major Valley cities that month.

In December 2008, there were 28,729 persons employed in the three-time All-America City, while 1,674 were actively looking for work.

The December 2008 unemployment rate in Edinburg represents a growth of 2,593 jobs since December 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

For all of 2008, the city unemployment rate averaged slight above five percent.

In 2007, the city’s unemployment rate averaged 4.8 percent.

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

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

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

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

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

All cities in Hidalgo County for December 2008 had a combined 9.1 percent unemployment rate, compared with 8.3 percent in November, 7.7 percent in October, 7.9 percent in September, 7.8 percent in August, 7.7 percent in July, 7.2 percent in June, 6.1 percent in May, 5.7 percent in April, 6.4 percent in March, 6.6 percent in February, and 7.3 percent in January.

Also during 2008: in September, Edinburg’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, the same as in August. In July, Edinburg’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, 5.3 percent in June, 4.6 percent in May, 4.1 percent in April, 4.5 percent in March, 4.4 percent in February, and 4.9 percent in January.

For December 2008, McAllen posted a 5.7 percent unemployment rate, the same as in the previous month.

In December 2007, there were 27,832 people with jobs in the three-time All-America City. In December 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.7 percent.

In December 2006, there 27,772 people employed in Edinburg. In December 2006, the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent.

In December 2005, there were 26,136 people employed in Edinburg. In December 2005, the unemployment rate was 4.3 percent.

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

In December, there were 263,617 persons employed in Hidalgo County, with 26,266 actively looking for work.

For December 2008, all cities in Cameron County had a combined 8.2 percent unemployment rate, compared with 7.8 percent in November, 7.4 percent in October, 7.5 percent in September, 7.4 percent in August, seven percent in July, 6.8 percent in June, 5.9 percent in May, 5.4 percent in April, 5.8 percent in March, 5.9 percent in February, and 6.5 percent in January.

In December, there were 135,006 persons employed in Cameron County, with 12,072 actively looking for work.

McAllen, which usually has the lowest monthly unemployment rates in the Valley, had the second-best showing among major Valley cities in December 2008, with a 5.7 percent unemployment level, the same as in November, but up from 5.4 percent in October, 5.3 percent in September, 5.3 percent in August, 5.1 percent in July, 4.8 percent in June, 4.3 percent in May, 3.9 percent in April 4.3 percent in March, 4.5 percent in February, and 4.8 percent in January.

Harlingen had the third-lowest jobless rate among Valley cities in December at 6.4 percent, compared with 6.7 percent in November, 6.3 percent in October, 6.4 percent in September, 6.2 percent in August, six percent in July, 5.9 percent in June, 5.3 percent in May, 4.8 percent in April, five percent in March, 5.1 percent in February, and 5.4 percent in January.

Among the Valley’s largest cities in December 2008:

• Mission posted a 7.7 percent unemployment rate, compared with 7.2 percent in November, seven percent in October, seven percent in September, 6.8 percent in August, 6.7 percent in July, and 5.9 percent in June.

• Pharr reported a 7.5 percent unemployment rate, compared with seven percent in November, 6.8 percent in October, 7.2 percent in September, seven percent in August, 6.8 percent level in July and 6.4 percent in June.

• Brownsville posted an 8.5 percent unemployment rate, compared with 7.5 percent in November, 7.6 percent in October, 7.6 percent in September, 7.5 percent in August, 7.2 percent in July, and seven percent in June.

• Weslaco reported an 8.9 percent unemployment rate, compared with 8.3 percent in November, 7.6 percent in October, 8.2 percent in September, 8.1 percent in August, 7.9 percent in July, and 7.4 percent in June.

The breakdown of Edinburg’s unemployment rate for the past 24 months follows:

  • December 2008: 5.5 percent
  • November 2008: 5.5 percent
  • October 2008: 5.3 percent
  • September 2008: 5.4 percent.
  • August 2008: 5.4 percent.
  • July 2008: 5.3 percent.
  • June 2008: 5.3 percent.
  • May 2008: 4.6 percent.
  • April 2008: 4.1 percent.
  • March 2008: 4.5 percent.
  • February 2008: 4.4 percent.
  • January 2008: 4.9 percent.
  • December 2007: 4.7 percent.
  • November 2007: 3.7 percent.
  • October 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • September 2007: 5 percent.
  • August 2007: 4.9 percent.
  • July 2007: 5.8 percent.
  • June 2007: 5.5 percent.
  • May 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • April 2007: 4.3 percent.
  • March 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • February 2007: 4.8 percent.
  • January 2007: 4.9 percent.

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas’ unemployment rate has consistently remained well below the national rate for the past year.

The Texas unemployment rate for December is up from 5.7 percent in November and 4.2 percent a year ago. Texas’ seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment fell by 25,700 jobs in December.

Texas employers now have added 153,600 jobs in the past 12 months, compared with job losses of 2.6 million nationwide during the same period.

“Our state’s economy has been fairly resilient during these months of economic uncertainty, but the national economic storm has reached Texas,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Tom Pauken. “The challenge we face now is to minimize the impact of the national trends by continuing to promote our strong business climate and address the skills needs of Texas employers.”

Leisure and Hospitality gained 3,800 positions in December, for an industry gain of 31,800 jobs in the past year. Other Services, which include automotive, electronic, and commercial repair and maintenance, grew by 1,600 jobs this month, adding 4,400 jobs in the past 12 months.

Texas saw broad industry losses in December. Hardest hit were Trade, Transportation, and Utilities and Manufacturing, with losses of 8,100 and 8,000 jobs, respectively. Texas’ over-the-year figures fared better with nine of 11 industries posting positive job growth.

“The Texas unemployment rate continued to follow the national unemployment rate’s upward trend,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “For the first time since 2004, our state hit the 6.0 percent unemployment mark after record lows of 4.2 percent just a year ago.”

The Midland MSA experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.1 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Amarillo and Lubbock MSAs were second at 3.8 percent, followed by the Odessa MSA at 3.9 percent.

“Despite the loss of jobs in December, Texas employers have added a significant number of jobs in the past 12 months, while the United States has lost millions of jobs,” said TWC Commissioner Representing the Public Andrés Alcántara. “Our state leaders have laid a strong foundation for Texas as a business-friendly state with low taxes and less regulation, and that foundation will be crucial in the months ahead.”

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EEDC considers, but takes no action, on financial, other incentives to Santana Textiles, LLC

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation went behind closed doors on Tuesday, January 27, to consider possible incentives to Santana Textiles, LLC, the Texas arm of a major Brazilian company which last summer announced its plan to build a $180 million denim-manufacturing plant in Edinburg.

No action was taken by the governing board, according to EEDC Board President Richard García.

In addition to García, the five-member EEDC Board of Directors includes Mayor Joe Ochoa, Fred Palacios, Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D., and Elias Longoria, Jr.

Ochoa did not attend the session as he was excused on important business.

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

Santana Textiles Corporation of Ceara, Brazil, one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers, last July revealed its goal to construct – on a 23-acre site located in Edinburg’s North Industrial Park – a 300,000-square-foot plant which will turn cotton into denim fabric.

The 23-acre site was donated to the Santana Textiles Corporation by the EEDC.

The EEDC, which owns the Edinburg North Industrial Park, located north of the city along U.S. Expressway 281, also had been working on making key infrastructure improvements in order to ready the site.

The Brazilian company projects it will eventually create up to 800 new jobs with the Edinburg plant.

The January 29 EEDC meeting dealt with "deliberating the offer of financial or other incentives to Santana Textiles, L.L.L. regarding the real property known as a 23 acre track 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 track of land of out 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."

According to the Texas Secretary of State, Santana Textiles, L.L.C. has five managers, including Reymundo Delfino Nito, president the Ceara, Brazil-based firm, which is one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers.

The other managers for Santana Textiles, L.L.C. are Roberto Cantú Cavazos, Marcos José Dos Santos, Mariana Rocha Silva Arqujo, Igor Rocha Perdigao, and Dacio Fabbri, according to state records.

In the legal documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State, more information on Santana Textiles, L.L.C. is available through Lawyers Aid Service, Inc., 408 W. 17th Street, Suite 101 in Austin (www.lawyersaidservice.com).

Santana Textiles, L.L.C. filed the appropriate paperwork to register with the state on June 24, 2008.

A couple of weeks later, on July 3, EEDC, city, county, and legislative leaders joined the Brazilian company’s top leadership and Gov. Rick Perry to announce the deal by Santana Textiles Corporation to build, at the city-owned Edinburg North Industrial Park, the 300,000-square-foot plant that will turn cotton into denim fabric.

Perry is providing a $1.65 million incentive to the company through the Texas Enterprise Fund, a special state fund that he controls.

Denim is the foundation of a huge worldwide industry that produces billions of dollars annually in affordable, comfortable clothes, such as long skirts, jackets, shirts, and – most famously – blue jeans, a staple fashion with deep roots in this nation’s history.

The first phase of the sprawling plant, which will be built in three stages, is slated to open in 2010.

When the three phases are completed in 2014, the foreign-owned enterprise, which will include a treatment plant, will eventually encompass about 400,000-square-feet of manufacturing space.

The manufacturing plant, which will utilize high-technology equipment for converting cotton into the finished product through spinning, weaving, and dyeing, also will bring high-paying jobs to the region, averaging more than $26,500 annually.

The announcement was made by the governor, who was joined by state and local leaders, during a news conference held in the International Trade and Technology Building, located at the University of Texas-Pan American.

With Perry at the public event were: the EEDC’s Ochoa, García, Martínez, and Longoria, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Delfino and his son, Raimundo “Neto” Delfino, Jr., the company’s general manager.

Also in attendance were Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Gene Espinoza; Councilmember Alma Garza; Councilmember Noé Garza; Ramiro Garza, EEDC Executive Director; Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; Rep. Aaron Peña, Jr., D-Edinburg; and Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen.

Alma Garza, Noé Garza, and Ramiro Garza are not related.

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Rep. Flores says he will help new UTPA interim president Sorber push legislative agenda at Capitol

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, on Tuesday, January 27, said he plans to work closely with the newly-appointed interim president of South Texas’ largest university to protect and promote the interests of the University of Texas-Pan American during the ongoing legislative session.

Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT Permian Basin and former interim president of UT Arlington, will serve as interim president effective February 23 while a national search begins for a permanent successor to former president Blandina Cárdenas, the UT System announced on January 27.

Cárdenas, 64, on Tuesday, January 20, announced her retirement effective January 31, citing health concerns.

David B. Prior, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, said a presidential search advisory committee will be formed soon to assist the UT System Board of Regents in finding a permanent successor to Cárdenas.

“Dr. Sorber’s expertise and vast background have earned him a rock-solid reputation of service in a variety of administrative positions, and we are extremely fortunate to have him help guide UT Pan American in this important time of transition," said Prior. "UT Pan American is tremendously important to the region and to the UT System. We believe that the students, faculty and staff will enjoy getting to know Dr. Sorber as your combined efforts continue to move the institution to even greater distinction,” Prior said.

Flores promises public input

Flores said he will work closely with new UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to inform and involve the public in the appointment, deliberations, and actions of the presidential search advisory committee.

"We will make sure the public is fully informed on how these major steps are taken, and how people from all walks of life from South Texas can participate in selecting the new leadership of our great university," Flores said.

In the meantime, Flores said the area’s lawmakers are already working on ways to help promote the best interests of UT-Pan American during the five month regular session of the Texas Legislature, which began work at the Texas Capitol in mid-January.

"My hope is that the Valley legislative delegation can meet with Dr. Sorber in the coming days to review the legislative agenda for UT-Pan American, and help him become a vital part of our joint efforts at the State Capitol on behalf of this great university," said Flores. "One of those goals is to help UT-Pan American extend its reach throughout South Texas, such as plans to establish a teaching center in McAllen to provide graduate-level courses to more professionals."

Flores, a 12-year legislative veteran and a former member of the House Appropriations Committee – which secured hundreds of millions of dollars for UT-Pan American – has been a strong supporter of Cárdenas’ efforts to bring a graduate school facility to McAllen.

Much of McAllen is in Flores’ House District 36.

"For some time now, the leadership of McAllen has been working on ways to continue bringing additional higher education opportunities for the people of South Texas," Flores said. "Under a state law I authored four years ago, the way has been paved for helping do just that."

One of her many achievements will be the establishment of graduate school programs in McAllen, Flores predicted.

A graduate course is an area of academic study for a student who already has received a bachelor’s degree. Successfully completing graduate courses can lead to a Master’s Degree of Ph.D.

In 2005, Flores authored a measure, carried in the Senate by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, which makes it possible for any university in Texas to offer graduate programs in McAllen – or in many other cities, for that matter. That measure was unanimously approved by lawmakers and became law on September 1, 2005.

The graduate programs can be offered in a facility, dubbed a "dual usage educational complex" under Flores’ House Bill 1737, by allowing a junior college district, such as South Texas College, to team up with a political entity, such as the City of McAllen, or an institution of higher education, to seek permission from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to set up a such a complex.

There are 50 community colleges in Texas.

100,000 square-foot McAllen complex envisioned

In early December, Cárdenas, during a work session with the Edinburg City Council at the campus, said that she wants to establish a presence for the university in McAllen.

"One of the things we will be doing is we are diversifying our locations for offering classes," she told the Edinburg city leadership. "If you are a teacher in San Juan, and you teach all day, with three kids at home, and you want to get a Master’s Degree, (at the end of the day,) traffic is so tight it is going to take you about an hour to get to UTPA."

As part of her strategy, UTPA wants to provide almost two dozen undergraduate and postgraduate programs in McAllen.

"We are looking at offering 10 to 20 sections of master’s and upper-division classes at some site in McAllen," Cárdenas said.

She did not identify the site or the time frame for the graduate course program, but raise her concerns that if UTPA did not build a presence in other parts of Hidalgo County, much is at stake for the local university.

"If we don’t offer the classes, somebody else will," she said. "That’s where we are."

Last November 11, Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, publicly announced plans by McAllen to build a 100,000 square-foot complex to provide Valley residents a new site to seek master’s and doctoral degrees currently not offered by the University of Texas-Pan American or South Texas College.

That complex envisioned by McAllen leaders fits well into the law created by Flores and Zaffirini.

Flores said part of his strategy in passing the law was to encourage the wealthier state universities to build a presence in the rapidly-growing – and legislatively important – Texas border region.

"UT-Austin, Texas A&M, Rice, these are the flagship universities in the state, the ones with the national reputations, the biggest financial endowments, the most research-oriented," Flores noted. "Under this law, they can set up graduate programs in the Valley and the rest of the border region that otherwise could take years to materialize."

The wording of the law is such that any university, with approval by the Coordinating Board – which is the state agency that governs higher education in Texas – can team up with South Texas College and McAllen to bring additional graduate courses to the Rio Grande Valley.

According to the bill analysis of the measure, the legislative intent of Flores’ HB 1737 is to establish guidelines for a junior college district to create an educational facility within its district and, in order to maximize and fully utilize the new facility, to open it to usage by other entities within the district or by educational partners throughout the region.

The University of Texas – Pan American is one of nine academic universities and six health institutions that comprise the University of Texas System, the state’s largest public higher education system. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $11.5 billion (FY 2009), including $2.5 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Student enrollment exceeded 194,000 in the 2007 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s healthcare professionals annually. With more than 81,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

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Sen. Hinojosa says it is important for UT System to move quickly on new leader for UT-Pan American

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS

The University of Texas System named Charles A. Sorber as the interim president of The University of Texas-Pan American. Sorber’s term as interim president begins February 23 while a national search for a permanent successor to outgoing Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas is completed.

UT-Pan American is located in Edinburg, which is part of Hinojosa’s senate legislative district.

Paul Sale, UT-Pan American’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, will continue to serve as the campus’ chief administrative officer until Sorber takes the reins in February. A presidential search advisory committee is expected to be formed to assist the UT System Board of Regents in finding a new president at UT-Pan American.

"I am happy to see that the UT System is moving quickly to search for the best candidate to lead UT-Pan American," said Hinojosa. "Dr. Cárdenas set a high standard and I expect the presidential search advisory committee to seek out an outstanding academic and administrator to guide UT-Pan American."

Sorber is professor emeritus in the department of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at UT Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering. His distinguished career in academia spans three decades. Among his previous faculty and administrative posts are dean of the School of Engineering at The University of Pittsburgh; director of UT-San Antonio’s Center for Applied Research and Technology; associate dean of UT Austin’s College of Engineering; vice chancellor for special engineering programs in the UT System; and interim director of student financial services at UT-Austin.

Sorber earned three degrees in engineering; bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Pennsylvania State University and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin. He is a member of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, has been active in the American Association for Engineering Education, and is a former president of the Water Environment Federation.

Sorber is professor emeritus in the department of civil, architectural and environmental engineering at UT-Austin’s Cockrell School of Engineering. His distinguished career in academia spans three decades. Among his previous faculty and administrative posts are dean of the School of Engineering at The University of Pittsburgh; director of UT-San Antonio’s Center for Applied Research and Technology; associate dean of UT-Austin’s College of Engineering; vice chancellor for special engineering programs in the UT System; and interim director of student financial services at UT-Austin.

Sorber earned three degrees in engineering; bachelor’s and master’s degrees from The Pennsylvania State University and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin. He is a member of the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, has been active in the American Association for Engineering Education, and is a former president of the Water Environment Federation.

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Sen. Hinojosa promoted by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to Vice Chair of powerful Senate Finance Committee, which writes Senate version of Texas two-year state budget

By ARTURO BALLESTEROS

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Friday, January 30, released Senate committee appointments for the 81st Legislative Session, with Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, being promoted to serve as the Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Finance.

In addition, Hinojosa was appointed to the Senate’s Criminal Justice, Jurisprudence, and Natural Resources committees.

Hinojosa, a longtime state representative who is last month began his third term as a state senator whose legislative district includes Edinburg, expressed his appreciation for Dewhurst’s confidence in his the McAllen lawmaker’s desire to serve Texas.

"I value Gov. Dewhurst’s trust in my commitment to Texas and the Senate. Anyone will tell you, Texas faces serious challenges during this budget cycle. People are losing their homes, their jobs, and economic forecasts offer few upsides to 2009. The Finance Committee will be making some tough decisions during this legislative session. We need to maintain and create economic momentum in the marketplace and we need to make sure Texans can access basic services," Hinojosa said.

Hinojosa’s other appointments allow him to continue years of work toward reforming the Texas criminal justice system, particularly the Texas Youth Commission. Hinojosa returns to the Criminal Justice Committee where his institutional knowledge – knowledge bolstered by his seat on the Sunset Advisory Commission – will shape reform policy in 2009.

Hinojosa is also happy to keep his place on the Natural Resources Committee. After an extensive series of hearings throughout Texas in 2008, Senator Hinojosa acquired a better understanding of how Texas can best manage its water resources and keep its air clean for a growing population.

"With these appointments, the Senate can begin earnest discussions on policy and get back to basics. Now is the time to get to work, to share ideas for solutions, and to work as a legislative body of partners," Hinojosa concluded.

Hinojosa maintains a Senate website at http://www.hinojosa.senate.state.tx.us

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Sen. Lucio retains chair of International Relations and Trade (IRT) Committee, remains on powerful Senate Finance Committee

By DORIS SÁNCHEZ

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, was reappointed on Friday, January 30, as chair of the International Relations and Trade Committee, and kept on as a member of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, which writes the Senate’s version the the state’s two year operating budget.

The appointments were announced late Friday, January 30, by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.

"I am grateful that Lt. Gov. Dewhurst has entrusted me to continue serving Senate District 27 and the people of Texas with these critical committee assignments," said Lucio. "Working with my fellow colleagues, I have been fortunate to build a meaningful record of accomplishments with these committee appointments, especially as Chair of the International Relations and Trade (IRT) Committee and as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, and look forward to furthering these efforts."

Besides Finance and IRT, Lucio will continue serving on the State Affairs and Business and Commerce Committees. He was newly appointed to the Government Organization Committee that studies the function, structure, funding and operations of the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), among other issues.

"As a member of Finance, I will work with other budget writers to ensure that the needs of South Texas and of growing rural populations across the state will be better addressed by our agencies and programs. As mentioned in the governor’s State of the State address, Texas needs to invest strategically to ensure better guided growth within our economy," noted Lucio. "With this effort, we must be certain that populations in need, like the elderly, disabled and low-income families, are not left behind.”

"Serving on the Business and Commerce Committee allows me to help protect consumer interests, since we have oversight of the state’s public utilities that include electricity, natural gas, water, sewage and even telephone services," he explained. "We also oversee all types of insurance programs and pass laws affecting this industry."

Lucio also committed to helping "distressed areas along the border and in rural areas to address their housing, economic development, and workforce needs so that we can build self-sustaining communities to a level that better resembles the more prosperous regions of our state."

The senator will be filing bills that include housing and economic development initiatives, and has already filed numerous bills that will impact nutrition and wellness, state schools, public schools and another to establish a medical school in South Texas.

"I appreciate the confidence placed in me through these continued assignments, as well as the new appointment to Government Organization," concluded Lucio. "I am ready to get down to business, keeping the well-being of everyday Texans in mind."

••••••

Gov. Perry delivers State of the State; Houston Sen. Ellis files bill air quality issues take center stage

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

Gov. Rick Perry delivered his biannual State of the State Address before the House and Senate at the Texas Capitol on Tuesday, January 27, saying the state’s position remains strong, in spite of a nationwide economic crisis.

Perry, who delivered his remarks in the chamber of the House of Representatives, said Texas is doing well because of past policies of fiscal conservatism.

" It was only six years ago when the 78th Legislature kicked off with a $10 billion budget shortfall," he said. "To our shared credit, we didn’t raise taxes like so many other states did then and are again contemplating today."

Instead, he said, the Legislature cut spending, reformed tort laws, and created pro-business development funds, which he asserts have maintained a unique business friendly atmosphere in Texas. It is this atmosphere, if maintained, Perry told lawmakers, that will attract businesses from other states where governments raise taxes or tighten regulation to get a handle on their own budget problems.

Perry also focused on education, energy and security in his speech.

He proposed a law to keep tuition at the same rate for an incoming freshman for his or her entire college career, provided he or she graduates in four years. He advocated more money for the Texas Grants program, and in-state tuition rates for military veterans from any state. Energy-wise, Perry said he wants to continue expanding the state’s energy portfolio, especially nuclear and wind power, and wants to increase transmission capacity to move electricity across Texas. Perry also proposed a $32 million increase in funds to border law enforcement efforts, to help officers cope with increased gang violence in the area, and the creation of a state hurricane relief fund, to reduce Texas’ reliance on federal aid to feed and shelter hurricane victims.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, on Monday, January 26, filed Senate Bill 119 that would have Texas adopt California’s vehicle emissions standards. States have a choice, under the federal Clean Air Act, of using California’s or the laxer federal emissions standards, and Ellis wants Texas to join with 12 other states in adopting the stricter standard.

"It makes it incumbent on us in Texas, to be leaders in having a greener economy and doing as much as we can to reduce the number of greenhouse emissions that go into the air," he said.

Under a new California standard, if approved by the EPA, new vehicles sold in Texas would have to emit nearly a third less carbon dioxide by 2016.

On Thursday, January 29, the Capitol hosted events that highlighted public health and environmental issues.

Proponents of a public smoking ban held a rally on the Capitol grounds, in support of legislation to make it illegal to smoke in any public place, including bars and restaurants. Senate Health and Human Services Committee Chair Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, wants Texas to join 24 other states in passing such a ban.

"If Texans want to smoke," she said, "they can do so. But the rest of us should have the freedom to breathe in oxygen without inhaling secondhand smoke."

Legislators were joined at the rally by famous cyclist and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong.

Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, held a press conference to announce the filing of a comprehensive bill to improve air quality in Texas.

Averitt, who chairs the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said the state has made progress in improving air quality, but tightening federal air standards mean more work has to be done. His bill would create a grant program to encourage the private sector to develop new efficient and environmentally sound technology, especially for stationary emission sources, such as power plants.

It would also create a grant program to encourage businesses to install energy efficient appliances, and would offer a $4000 tax credit to those who buy a plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Averitt said the cost of this bill is already covered by fund balances in the Texas Emission Reduction Plan, and in expected appropriations for this biennium.

The Senate was scheduled to reconvene on Monday, February 2, at 1:30 p.m.

••••••

Plan promoted by President Obama would create jobs, boost economy, says Congressman Hinojosa

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

Rep. Rubén Hinojosa on Wednesday, January 28, joined a majority in the House of Representatives to support critical legislation that would create and save three to four million American jobs. Developed with the Obama Administration, this job creation package is designed to rebuild America’s infrastructure, make the nation more competitive, and transform the economy for long-term growth. In addition, it would give 95 percent of American workers an immediate tax cut and quickly infuse the economy with money.

“I believe that this plan has the potential to give the Coastal Bend region a real shot in the arm through infrastructure projects, school modernization, and job training programs that will put our residents back to work,” Hinojosa said. “We know it will take time for our economy to recover, but I am confident that this package will make our region stronger and more competitive in the long term.”

This jobs and recovery plan will create an estimated 300,000 jobs in Texas by the end of 2010 and reduce the unemployment rate by 1.6 percent, according to leading economist Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com. To ensure that these job creation goals are met, the Obama Administration has pledged that 75 percent of these job-creating investments will get into the economy in the next 18 months.

In particular, this jobs and economic recovery plan:

  • Invests $3 billion in Texas to modernize roads, bridges, transit and waterways to create jobs;
  • Supports $22 billion in direct loans and loan guarantees to help rural families and individuals buy homes during the credit crunch.
  • Invests in education for the 21st Century, including an increased Pell Grant for 500,000 students in Texas; Invests $2.9 billion in Texas to modernize public schools and universities and help disabled and low-income students
  • Invests $4 billion in job training to help prepare laid-off, adult, and younger workers prepare for jobs in emerging industries including green jobs;
  • Provides $6 billion for extending broadband and wireless services to underserved communities across the country, including rural businesses, so they can compete with any company in the world;
  • Implements the new “Make Work Pay” tax credit of up to $500 per person, or $1,000 per working family;
  • Invests in clean, efficient, American energy and technology that will create more than 1 million jobs;
  • Broadens health care coverage by helping those who cannot afford health care in these tough times;

“America is facing an economic crisis greater than any since the Great Depression, with a staggering 2.6 million American jobs lost in the last year,” Hinojosa said. “Congress must come together now to act swiftly and finish the job of sending this job creation and economic recovery package to the President.”

••••••

South Texas leaders meet with Transportation Committee chair Oberstar to advocate for projects

By ELIZABETH ESFAHANI

In an effort to rouse up funding and support for local projects in the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Monday, January 26, met with Congressman James Oberstar, D-MN, the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to highlight the area’s many infrastructure projects that are “shovel-ready” and needed for long-term growth.

These projects include the Hidalgo County Loop, the Donna Bridge access road, North Rail Relocation project, and US 281 at Falfurrias and Ben Bolt.

Hinojosa was joined by Congressmen Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, and Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, as well as a group of 30 South Texas leaders who had traveled up to Washington to present their case and wish list. The group included the Hidalgo, Cameron, and Webb County judges, Hidalgo and Cameron County commissioners, and Amadeo Sáenz, the Director of the Texas Department of Transportation.

The group conveyed to Oberstar that despite the high growth South Texas has enjoyed over the last decade, its infrastructure lags sorely behind and cannot properly accommodate the enormous amount of commercial traffic coming off its international bridges

“We had a very productive meeting with Chairman Oberstar, who was receptive to our plans and our coordinated effort to get these shovel-ready projects funded and built,” Hinojosa said. “South Texas is growing by leaps and bounds and needs a modern infrastructure that will not only create jobs but facilitate our continued economic development. Congressmen Ortiz, Cuellar, and I will continue to do all we can so that our area finally receives the types of investments it needs and deserves.”

“South Texas has grown from a rural, agricultural-based economy to a major center of international trade. In order for our region to continue to grow and compete, we must have stronger investment in our highways, transit systems, and port facilities,” said Congressman Ortiz. “We are prioritizing projects that will increase trade, put people to work, and improve our regional infrastructure. I appreciate our local officials’ efforts and thank Chairman Oberstar for his continued work on behalf of our communities.”

“We were pleased to participate in this one of a kind opportunity to present a unified request on behalf of South Texas to Chairman Oberstar, who will have great influence on infrastructure development,” said Cuellar.

Later this year, Oberstar’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee will reauthorize of the country’s primary federal transportation programs that are due to expire in September. This bill, in addition to the economic stimulus funding, will contain billions of dollars for infrastructure projects and is expected to greatly impact the condition of the country’s transportation system.

••••••

Hidalgo County’s Judge Salinas, Commissioner Palacios, RMA Chairman Burleson present area’s transportation priorities in Washington, D.C.

By CARI LAMBRECHT

An Hidalgo County delegation on Monday, January 26, met with Congressman Jim Oberstar, D-Minn., Chairman of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, in Washington D.C. to discuss priorities for deep South Texas, especially funding for U.S. Highway 281 improvements and the Hidalgo County Loop.

Oberstar is an influential congressman, having served for 34 years. He is considered, according to his biography, “the (congressional) body’s leading expert on transportation policy.”

Oberstar has stated that he would work to pass the “the largest transportation investment package since the creation of the Interstate Highway system in the 1950s.” The current House version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (also known as the economic stimulus bill) allots $30 billion for highway and bridge construction projects.

The bill contains no earmarks, which means money for Hidalgo County projects would flow via the Texas Department of Transportation.

The local delegation, comprised of Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, Commissioners Hector “Tito” Palacios and Regional Mobility Authority Chairman Dennis Burleson, stressed the need for funding U.S. Highway 281 improvements at $276 million, including $122.1 million under the “shovel ready” category of the economic stimulus package, and the planned county loop, estimated to cost about $700 million.

While drainage issues were not specifically addressed, Hidalgo County was praised for its long-range drainage planning and tying it to pending road improvements.

“This is an incredible time in history, this expansion of our nation’s roads, bridges and infrastructure,” said Salinas. “What Congress has done is committed to getting people back to work and helping those regions like ours that have experienced a population explosion in the past decade to handle and to continue to grow economically. Without adequate infrastructure, our best efforts to enhance quality of life would be stalled. I have no doubt that these investments in our infrastructure are also investments in our people. It will help boost our local economy and help those most affected by the current economic crisis.”

The county judge reported that Oberstar "was direct and up-front about what types of projects would be funded through the economic stimulus package — those that are shovel ready. Some of our projects are shovel ready while others will likely take longer to complete. However, the congressman showed great and sincere enthusiasm for what we are doing, and we invited him to South Texas to view the projects up close and personal. He also pointed us in the direction of other funding in the form of long-term infrastructure planning grants the Senate is considering and other assistance."

Funneling federal monies through the state has always been a challenge for Hidalgo County when it is based on formulas, the county judge added.

“That is why we are working closely with our Washington delegation to make sure our projects are considered. We have shared these sentiments with TxDOT as well, and in fact, Mr. Amadeo Saenz an influential figure at our meetings today," Salinas said. "We spoke specifically about reducing TxDOT administrative costs and having the money go directly to the projects.”

Palacios, whose precinct where U.S. Highway 281 begins, said infrastructure improvements would translate into economic development for the state.

"Making those improvements will bring more trade and, better yet, more efficient trade and truck traffic through our Ports of Entry," Palacios said. "The Rio Grande Valley is the only major metropolitan area without an interstate within 100 miles, and it makes no sense. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has led to goods entering our country at a more rapid rate."

In general, NAFTA is the 1994 agreement reached by the United States, Canada, and Mexico that instituted a schedule for the phasing out of tariffs and eliminated a variety of fees and other hindrances to encourage free trade between the three North American countries.

Some opponents of NAFTA contend that it has led to a loss of thousands of jobs from the Midwest to overseas destinations. But for Texas, NAFTA has led to remarkable economic growth, according to the its supporters, including many along the Texas-Mexico border region.

"U.S. 281 is in the top three NAFTA corridors for the state and we feel if we bring U.S. 281 up to interstate standards, we can be number one," Palacios said. "That benefits us by expanding our economic opportunities, and that benefits all the places where the goods are headed.”

For more information, visit http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us

••••••

Hidalgo County Commissioners Court issues burn ban for up to 90 days; declares state of emergency as a result of dry conditions to prevent major fires

By CARI LAMBRECHT

Effective immediately, on Wednesday, January 28, the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court issued a burn ban which may last for up to 90 days, and declared a state of emergency.

“Extremely dry conditions have led to two major fires above 1,000 acres and between 20 and 30 smaller fires since January 1, 2009. With the burn ban, we hope to raise awareness about safe burning practices and prevent the large out-of-control fires that plagued our area last year. In 2008, about 90,000 acres burned in Hidalgo County. Declaring a state of emergency will allow us to initiate a faster response to mitigate wildfires,” said Tony Peña, Hidalgo County Emergency Management Coordinator and Fire Marshal.

According to the County Judge’s Office Emergency Services Division, outdoor burning is restricted in the unincorporated areas of Hidalgo County, including incorporated cities that do not have their own fire suppression resources. The outdoor burn ban, however, does not prohibit burning activities related to public health and safety that are authorized by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for:

  • Firefighter training;
  • Public utility, natural gas pipeline or mining operations;
  • Planting or harvesting of agricultural crops; or
  • Burns that are conducted by a prescribed burn manager under Section 153.047, Natural Resources Code.

Residential trash burning will be permitted, but only with a burn permit issued the County Fire Marshal’s Office, located at 2814 S. Business 281 in Edinburg. Burn permits are free of charge, but must be obtained in order to burn trash. Residents with questions may call the Hidalgo County Fire Marshal’s Office at (956) 318-2656, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The restriction does not ban outdoor cooking that take place within a cooking apparatus — grill, pit, etc. Outdoor burning of any kind is prohibited on any day when a “fire watch” or “red-flag warning” weather advisory is issued by the National Weather Service. This burn ban can be revoked at any time should conditions improve.

A violation of this order is a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.

For more information, visit http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us

••••••

Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office presents $2,500 check to Make-A-Wish Foundation

By RICARDO CONTRERAS

The Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office on Thursday, January 22, presented a check totaling $2,500 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as part of their Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign to benefit local charitable organizations. The program allows department staff to wear jeans every Friday in exchange for a $5 donation.

“I am extremely proud of our staff for their support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and their willingness to give back to their community. They are extremely elated to see their efforts going towards a cause that helps grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions,” said Hinojosa.

The District Clerk’s Office kicked off their charitable efforts in 2008 as part of the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women campaign. The office has since then expanded their efforts through the creation of a “charitable organizations list” of which staff randomly selects a recipient every six months.

“Right now in our Rio Grande Valley, there are dozens of children who are battling life-threatening medical conditions. They have had to put their childhoods on hold and deal daily with more painand fear than any child should experience," said Hinojosa. "That is why, when we can, we invite them to close their eyes and Make-A-Wish! Then we use a bit of magic, a little hard work, some help from our friends, and a lot of love to make their wish come true."

The District Clerk and her staff have been "an exemplary example of true compassion for our community in their support for these very special children of the Make-A-Wish Foundation," said Ava Sandlim, executive director for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. "Their commendable efforts will help turn a very deserving child’s fondest dream into reality. I admire each of them for going above and beyond their very hectic schedules to reach out, lending a helping hand to our children who really need this love and magic in their lives. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for sharing in the power of a wish."

For more information on volunteer opportunities or making a contribution to the Make-A-Wish Foundation, log on to http://www.riograndevally.wish.org or contact Sandlim in the McAllen office at (956)686-9474.

••••••

STC alum Aurora Casas of Edinburg sees symmetry in life with AARP career, achieving professional status

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

Edinburg High School graduate Aurora Casas was already a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) when she started her college career at South Texas College. At the age of 58, she didn’t let a simple number keep her from her achieving her goals.

“It was always my dream to be an office worker,” she said. “I would go to renew my driver’s license or to the bank and I would see the young ladies and gentlemen behind their desks; I always dreamt that I could be in their shoes one day. I wanted it to be me as the professional helping others.”

But it took a pink slip to put her back on the college path. Prior to STC, she spent 30 of her years as a seamstress with Haggar Clothing Co. She took the job to help her family make ends meet, but ultimately wasn’t doing what she really hoped with her life. And in the end, the Haggar plant closed and her long-term commitment to her employer only earned her a pink slip.

“In the midst of what could have been a bad situation, I saw a light,” she said. “I took the road less traveled for people my age and enrolled in college. I was a good student some 42 years ago so I knew it was possible. The plant closing was actually a blessing.”

Just a few years after enrolling, Casas graduated in 2004, earning an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Accounting. She even managed to earn membership in the college’s Phi Theta Kappa Honors Program.

“I can remember my father was at graduation and he was tremendously proud,” she said. “The look of pride on his face has kept me going all these years. He passed away in 2005, but I know he is still with me.”

During her time at STC, Cases became a participant with AARP’s Senior Employment Program, which placed her in a paid internship with the Social Security Administration.

“Through the job I was able to brush up on all the new technologies that make an office run effectively,” she said. “I got a great experience, which lead to AARP offering me a part-time job and now I am working full-time and doing something I really love and am passionate about.”

As the office manager of AARP’s local Senior Employment Branch, Casas helps other mature adults find a way back into the workforce.

“There is a real symmetry in all this because I am helping people who are just like me – they have worked in jobs for a long time, but luck has dealt them a bad hand and now they are having a tough time adjusting to the demands of a high-tech, global job market,” she said. “It’s very easy to get depressed in these situations, but there is only one direction to go and that is forward. I help my clients find out what they really want to do and we make a plan to help them get there.”

In addition to placing clients in internships with hundreds of businesses across the Rio Grande Valley, Casas also promotes program participants to continue their educations.

“I remind my clients that age isn’t a barrier to anything and really it’s just a number; it’s up to you how important you make that number in the scheme of your life,” she said.

Beyond serving as a role model for others in similar circumstances, Casas has inspired two younger generations of students to follow her lead into higher education.

“My son, who is in his 40’s, was recently laid off and so he is going back to college this spring and so is my grandson,” she said. “They are both starting off their college educations at STC and hope to pursue nursing in the future. I couldn’t be more proud.”

As for herself, she says that retirement isn’t in her near future.

“I didn’t go to all that effort and hard work to earn my degree to retire now,” she said. “I plan on working for many years to come and look forward to continuing to learn new skills to stay competitive in the job market. I love my job, I love working for AARP and I am truly, very happy.”

••••••

McAllen City Commission honors former longtime Mayor Othal Brand, Sr. for decades of public service

Former McAllen Mayor Othal E. Brand Sr. was recognized for his years of service to the community and received a proclamation at the regularly slated city commission meeting, held on Monday January 26 in the City Commission Chambers.

The proclamation read:

Whereas, Othal E. Brand Sr. (Mayor Brand) was the eldest of six children born to Homer and Ilee Brand (both deceased) on August 12, 1919 in Grayson, Georgia. Mayor Brand was raised in Atlanta where he was exposed to the fruit and vegetable industry at an early age following his father’s footsteps. Mayor Brand and his brother Bill, began peddling produce at an early age and with hard work and determination, established their produce business as Brand Brothers Produce of Atlanta, Georgia; and

Whereas, in 1941, Mayor Brand enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps and served during World War II. Upon his return from the war in the early 1950’s, Mayor Brand rebuilt the produce business and later partnered with Jack Griffin to establish Griffin & Brand of McAllen, a major refrigeration, packing and distribution center. Mayor Brand became a leading figure in the Texas vegetable industry and one of the nation’s largest vegetable producers, processors and shippers and in 2004, he was inducted into the Texas Heritage Hall of Honor for his significant contributions to agriculture and ranching in Texas; and

Whereas, in 1973, Mayor Brand was elected City Commissioner of the City of McAllen and in 1977 was elected Mayor, where he served continuously for 20 years until 1997. Through his leadership and vision, he was instrumental in establishing the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of McAllen and planned for McAllen’s future by acquiring land for future growth. Mayor Brand served on numerous boards and committees both on the local and state levels; and

Whereas, citizens of McAllen give credit to some of the city’s evolution to Mayor Brand as during his tenure in office, the city flourished economically as seen in infrastructure and placed McAllen on the map as a thriving city; and

Whereas, Mayor Brand has been married to Kathryn Louise since 1945 and they have four children: Lynn, Karyn, Cynthia, and Othal Jr. They also have numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren; and

Whereas, the City of McAllen hereby extends their most sincere gratitude to Othal Brand Sr. for his leadership and commitment toward the betterment of this great city;

Now therefore, I, Richard Cortéz, Mayor of the City of McAllen, Texas by virtue of the authority vested in me and on behalf of the Mayor and the City Commission, do hereby proclaim January 26, 2009 as “Mayor Othal Brand Day”

••••••

Identity Theft and Financial Fraud Protection Seminar for Businesses to be hosted by McAllen Chamber of Commerce and Women’s Business Center

By MATT Z. RUSZCZAK

The McAllen Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Business Center of Edinburg on Thursday, February 5, will be hosting a series of presentations, featuring FBI, U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Social Security Administration, and U.S. Attorney General representatives, to help residents, particularly business owners, protect themselves from identify theft.

The event, which carries a $35 fee to cover materials and lunch, will be held at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, located at 1200 Ash Avenue in McAllen. The seminar, which will be conducted from 8:30 a.m. until 1 p.m., is being sponsored by IBC Bank.

Entitled Identity Theft Dangers & Strategies for Businesses, the law enforcement professionals will inform attendees on how to avoid scams, safeguard sensitive records, minimize litigation exposure, protect business assets, comply with laws and regulations, and identify counterfeit currency and credit cards.

For additional information on the seminar, or to register for the event, please contact the Women’s Business Center at 618-2828 or 630-3331. As seating is limited, timely registration is encouraged.

For additional information, please contact the McAllen Chamber of Commerce at 682-2874.

••••••

McAllen woman convicted in kidnapping conspiracy involving Federal Judge Ricardo Hinojosa

Aracely González, 53, of McAllen, has been convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson has announced. After two days of testimony from a government witness, González changed her plea from not guilty to guilty in Houston on Tuesday, January 27.

During the trial, the evidence established that a confidential FBI informant was approached by González’ co-defendant, Joel López, Sr., in July 2007 regarding the murder and/or kidnapping of U.S. Judge Ricardo Hinojosa in the Southern District of Texas and a woman from Roma, who owed López money for prior drug dealing activities.

At this time, both López and the informant were incarcerated in the Federal Detention Center in Houston. López instructed the confidential informant to contact his wife, Aracely González, when he was released from FDC.

According to the evidence, from September 2007 through March 2008, González and the confidential informant spoke numerous times in recorded conversations regarding the kidnapping and murder for hire plot. Specifically, Gonzalez agreed with the confidential informant and López to kidnap the woman from Roma and seek approximately $100,000 in ransom money.

During this period of time, González visited López on two occasions at a federal prison in Pollock, La., and discussed the kidnapping plot.

In March 2008, the FBI staged the kidnapping of the Roma woman. González accepted approximately $50,000 from the confidential informant, which was represented to be the proceeds of the kidnapping, and was subsequently arrested.

As a result of her conviction, she faces a sentence up to life imprisonment and a $250,000 fine or both. Sentencing has been set for May 15, 2009, at 10 a.m. before Judge Melinda Harmon in Houston.

The trial of González’ co-defendant, Joel López, Sr., is set for March 16, 2009.

This case was investigated by the FBI and was tried by Assistant United States Attorneys Jay Hileman and Ryan D. McConnell.

••••••

U.S. Border Patrol agent Ruiz, 34, of McAllen pleads guilty in bribery case involving narcotics transports

U.S. Border Patrol agent Salomon Ruiz, 34, of McAllen, on Friday, January 30, pleaded guilty to accusations of accepting bribes in exchange for escorting narcotics loads, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson has announced.

Ruiz pleaded guilty to count one of the four-count indictment charging that from on or about October 2006 and continuing until on or about September 11, 2008, Ruiz did directly and indirectly corruptly demand, receive and accept $14,000 for escorting a narcotics load. Employed as a public official, Ruiz was in violation of the lawful official duty of a U.S. Border Patrol agent, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §201.

“Border Patrol agents are entrusted with tremendous authority and the enormous responsibility of securing our nation’s borders, making it a world-class law enforcement agency,” said Ronald D. Vitiello, Chief Patrol Agent, Rio Grande Valley Sector. “Border Patrol agents who violate the trust of the citizens they swore to protect will be held accountable.”

The facts read at the re-arraignment included that during the period of the indictment, Ruiz accepted $14,000 in bribes in exchange for escorting 25 kilograms of cocaine. Ruiz also aided and abetted his cousin, former Border Patrol agent Leonel Morales who escorted a 20-kilogram load of cocaine in exchange for $9,000 in bribes.

A federal conviction for bribery carries a penalty of imprisonment of not more than 15 years and/or a fine not more than three times the monetary equivalent of the bribe. The sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday, April 28, 2009, at 2 p.m. before Judge Randy Crane in McAllen. The defendant remains incarcerated pending sentencing.

In a companion case, Morales pleaded guilty to bribery, in Laredo on January 6, 2009. His sentencing is scheduled for March 18, 2009, at 2 p.m.

This allegation was investigated by agents with the Laredo and McAllen Offices of the FBI, U.S. Customs and Border Protection Internal Affairs, the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General, U.S. Border Patrol and the DEA. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Michael Wright of the Public Corruption Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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