Select Page

 

Sergio Muñoz, Jr. – a successful attorney,  area municipal court judge, and South Texas native son – on Thursday, November 12, launched his campaign for state representative, House District 36, vowing to think big, fight hard, and open the corridors of power to people from all walks of life. "I am running because I believe that my years in professional and community services, and my experience as a defender of the people, combined with my vision and commitment for all of us to have a better life, are positive qualifications to serve the good people of District 36," said Muñoz, who is seeking the March 2010 Democratic Party primary nomination. House District 36 includes Granjeno, Hidalgo, southern McAllen, most of Mission, Palmview, Peñitas, and Pharr. "We all want what’s best for our families," Muñoz told his many supporters at the Corinthian Banquet and Special Event Center in Mission. "Working as an attorney in this region, I know what it takes to fight for people every day." See lead story later in this posting. 

•••••• 

Douglas Matney, featured left, Vice President of Acute Care and Group Vice President for South Texas Health System, congratulates Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, for the lawmaker’s leadership in the advancement of health care in the Rio Grande Valley. Top officials with South Texas Health System presented Martínez with the “Community Leader Appreciation Award” in appreciation for his contributions to health care. In his professional life, Martínez plays direct roles in public safety and medical care as a firefighter, licensed paramedic, critical care flight paramedic, and Texas Department of Health instructor and coordinator. Hospital system officials noted Martínez’ important work on promoting and protecting Medicaid and indigent health care. In addition, the veteran lawmaker in 2009 was a key House author of legislation designed to bring a Veterans Administration Hospital to the Valley, and was a key House sponsor of legislation that will result in the  construction of a University of Texas Health Science Center – including a full-fledged medical school – in deep South Texas.  The South Texas Health Systems includes seven major facilities in Hidalgo County, including Cornerstone Regional Hospital in Edinburg,  South Texas Behavioral Health Center in Edinburg, Edinburg Children’s Hospital, Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Edinburg Regional Rehab Center, McAllen Heart Hospital, and McAllen Medical Center. 

•••••• 

Rep. Aaron Peña  – joined by longtime former Congressman Kika de la Garza, D-Mission, and his wife, Lucille de la Garza –  during a Tuesday, October 27 fundraiser in Edinburg announced that he will seek a fifth two-year term to the Texas House of Representatives. “It has been a wonderful opportunity to serve my community these past eight years,” said Peña. “Our early optimism, hard work and willingness to build bi-partisan coalitions have paid off with a succession of several strong sessions and we need to build on that momentum. Success next session will be measured by our ability to wrestle for additional congressional and legislative seats for South Texas. When that monumental battle occurs, I want to be there alongside my colleagues fighting for this community.” See story later in this posting. 

•••••• 

South Texas College students donated time and labor in partnerships with TXU Energy to give the Sepulveda family of McAllen a home energy makeover. STC students celebrate the completion of the project with instructors and the home owner. Featured, front row, from left:  STC Electrician’s Assistant Program students José Guerrero; José Lara; Pete Hinojosa; and Santiago Torres. Featured, back row, from left: STC HVACR Program Chair Guadalupe Hernández; STC HVACR students Robert Vallejo and Isaac Vázquez; homeowner Florencia Sepulveda; STC HVACR Students Brian Sweeten, Julio Villarreal, and Jorge Villasenor; and STC Electrician’s Assistant Program Chair Arnulfo Flores.  See story later in this posting. 

•••••• 

On April 19 and 20, 2010, the Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau will join forces with the Regional 4 5/A Golf Tournament to be held at Los Lagos Golf Course in Edinburg.  Schools from across Texas, including Corpus Christi, Victoria, Del Rio, San Antonio and the Valley will be participating in the two-day golf event.  Almost 70 teams and 96 players and coaches will participate. For further information please contact the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974. Featured promoting the event are, first row, from left: Joey Zamora; Héctor Zamora; Celso Gonzáles, Óscar Cárdenas; and Randy Spivey. Second row, from left: Noé Rico; Antonio Ocaña, III; Joe Peña; Anita Sinjlawi; Frank L. Garza; Joe Filoteo; John Haley; Imelda Rodríguez; Héctor González; Lisa Puente; José Luis Zarato. Third row, from left: Larry Kruse; Mike Smith; Orlando Garza; Ralph Wedgeworth; and Chico Jiménez. 

••••••

The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, November 14, held their 3rd annual Medical Awards Banquet, honoring seven individuals/organizations. “We are extremely excited to recognize and honor the medical community as it plays a very important part in our daily lives” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and chief executive officer. "The nominations have been increasing every year, thus making it harder for the Judging Committee from Austin to make their determination as to the annual winners.” Featured, from left: Hari Namboodiri, Las Palmas HealthCare Center, Nursing Home of the Year; Dr. Juan Campos, Physician of the Year; Sandra Tovar, Nurse Practitioner; Elisa Gutiérrez, Nurse of the Year; Rolando Velasquez, Physicians Assistant; Dr. Filiberto Rodríguez, Specialty Physician; and Greg Seiler, CEO of Rio Grande Regional Hospital. See story later in this posting. 

•••••• 

From a new generation of leadership comes Sergio Muñoz, Jr., a defender of the people

"Let the word go forth from this time and place…that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans…" 

                – President John F. Kennedy

                Inaugural Address, 1960 

By DAVID A. DÍAZ 

Before a packed house featuring an estimated 1,500 supporters, Sergio Muñoz, Jr. – a successful attorney,  area municipal court judge, and South Texas native son – on Thursday, November 12, launched his campaign for state representative, House District 36, vowing to think big, fight hard, and open the corridors of power to people from all walks of life. 

"I am running because I believe that my years in professional and community services, and my experience as a defender of the people, combined with my vision and commitment for all of us to have a better life, are positive qualifications to serve the good people of District 36," said Muñoz, who is seeking the March 2010 Democratic Party primary nomination. 

House District 36 includes Granjeno, Hidalgo, southern McAllen, most of Mission, Palmview, Peñitas, and Pharr. 

"We all want what’s best for our families," Muñoz told his many supporters at the Corinthian Banquet and Special Event Center in Mission. "Working as an attorney in this region, I know what it takes to fight for people every day." 

By making his first bid for elected office, Muñoz, 27, is the latest powerful symbol of the Valley who has the energy, determination, ideas, and achievements needed to endure – and succeed – in the fast-paced, high-stakes, no-holds-barred world of the Texas Legislature. 

"I believe that it’s my time to lead," said Muñoz. "It’s time for our generation to step up and begin to make a difference, and begin building our own legacies. This is the time we’ve been waiting for."

Summarizing his legislative goals, Muñoz proclaimed, "It’s time for everyone to have the education they want, the health care they need, and the jobs they deserve." 

Area leaders show up in force 

Muñoz, a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and Thurgood Marshal School of Law in Houston, also shared his goals with almost 50 area elected leaders from throughout House District 36 who showed up for his political rally. 

Among the dozens of prominent officials in attendance were: Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas; McAllen Mayor Pro Tem Aída Ramírez; Palmhurst Mayor Ramiro Rodríguez; Palmview Mayor Jorge García; Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview; former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García; Mission School Board President James E. Olivarez; Pharr City Commissioner Arturo Cortéz; Pharr City Commissioner Óscar Elizondo, Jr.; Pharr City Commissioner Bobby Carrillo; Pharr City Commissioner Eddie Cantú; Mission Mayor Pro Tem Leo Olivarez; Mission Councilmember Rubén Plata; McAllen School Board Trustee Javier Farias; Alton Municipal Court Judge Carlos Ortegón; Mission School Board Trustee Óscar Martínez; Mission School Board Trustee J.D. Villarreal; Palmhurst City Commissioner Irma García; Palmview City Commissioner Geraldo Pérez; 13th Court of Appeals Justice Linda Reyna Yáñez; 13th Court of Appeals Justice Gina Benavides; Hidalgo City Commissioner Guillermo Ramírez; Sharyland School Board President Guillermo Reyna; Alton Mayor Pro Tem Arturo Galván, Jr.; and Alton City Commissioner Emilio Cantú, Jr. 

"Leadership, integrity, compassion, hard work and faith" 

Equally important, in presenting his candidacy to voters, Muñoz is holding himself up to the highest standards of professional and personal conduct. 

"It’s about having strong core values that matter: leadership, integrity, compassion, hard work and faith," he told voters. "I won’t forget where I came from and who I serve." 

He said his decision to run "is not one that I take lightly. I don’t want anything just given to me. I would rather have life provide me with an opportunity and then earn it." 

Muñoz said he would continue the Valley legislative delegation’s strategies of always rallying behind the major issues of the day. 

"If we want more jobs, more resources, and more funding for our community, we all need to work together, cooperatively, both here locally, and in Austin," said Muñoz. "As long as we can work together, plan together and agree on the right projects that help our community, we can attract the right funding and resources we need to have a better education system, a healthier and safer community, and to have the jobs of which we can be proud." 

He said he would be accessible to all constituents, both during the campaign and as an elected official. 

"Over the next several months, I intend to walk our neighborhoods, knock on doors, and visit as many people as possible. You deserve this," Muñoz said. 

"Call me and let’s visit. I hope that you and your family will vote for me on March 2," Muñoz concluded his campaign speech. "Thank you for being here. May God bless our families, our troops, and our great community!"   

http://www.SergioforSouthTexas.com

More on his biographical background and legislative initiatives are featured on his web site – www.Sergiofor SouthTexas.com – along with contact telephone numbers for him and his campaign leadership. 

Among Muñoz’ key legislative priorities are: 

• Sparking economic development and jobs creation through legislative and state agency policies that result in the the recruitment of new, and expansion of existing, large and small businesses in deep South Texas through state tax incentives, with improvements of the state highway and roadway systems; 

• Passing legislation that promotes the development of small businesses in the Valley – "the backbone of our local economy," as he characterized them – while opposing a state personal income tax, which he said would hurt both employers and employees; 

• Promoting reforms in the state’s legal and tax systems that will help homeowners better protect their most valuable investment, while making it more affordable for Texans to buy and hold on to their homes; 

• Developing the planning and funding of the University of Texas Health Science Center, which will include a full-fledged medical school, and the construction of a Veterans Affairs Hospital in deep South Texas, as well as expanding the academic programs at The University of Texas-Pan American and South Texas College; 

• Boosting public safety with a strong border security system in partnership with local, state and federal agencies, and passing laws that protect crime victims while cracking down on violent criminals and sexual predators; 

• Increasing funding for public education in South Texas, including pay raises for classroom teachers and for state employees, while protecting the pensions and health insurance coverage for retired educators and state professionals; and 

• Expanding health care coverage for South Texans by making it easier for thousands of Valley families and individuals to protect their families by expanding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and improving access to Medicaid – advances that would result in millions of additional federal matching dollars coming into the South Texas economies. 

According to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission: 

Texas families with uninsured children may be able to get health insurance through Children’s Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Both programs offer health care benefits, including regular checkups and dental care; and 

Medicaid in Texas is a program to provide health insurance coverage to low income families, disabled persons, and poverty level seniors. It is a joint program of the federal government and the state (Texas), where the federal government provides most of funding and sets the eligibilty standards, and the Texas government provides the specific care to all eligible persons and families. Medicaid covers hospital stays, doctor visits, emergency room visits, prenatal care, prescription drugs, and other treatments. 

Political announcement paid for by Sergio Muñoz, Jr.,  – Óscar Elizondo, Jr., Treasurer – 1110 South Closner Boulevard, Edinburg, Texas 78539. 

•••••• 

Rep. Peña announces reelection bid for fifth term as Edinburg area state representative

By ORLANDO SALINAS 

Rep. Aaron Peña recently announced that he will seek a 5th term to the Texas House at a gathering of business and community leaders on Tuesday, October 27, at Edwards Abstract and Title Co. in Edinburg. 

Peña’s reelection would make him the senior member of Hidalgo County’s House delegation.

“It has been a wonderful opportunity to serve my community these past eight years,” said Peña.  “Our early optimism, hard work and willingness to build bi-partisan coalitions have paid off with a succession of several strong sessions and we need to build on that momentum.  Success next session will be measured by our ability to wrestle for additional congressional and legislative seats for South Texas. When that monumental battle occurs, I want to be there alongside my colleagues fighting for this community.”

Peña has marked his legislative career by fighting for strong public schools and raises for teachers and retirees. He has defended the interests of the Texas taxpayer, supporting tax relief for property owners and small business.  

He has demonstrated a strong commitment to fighting drug abuse, crime and drug violence. For that work he was recognized with the Law and Order Award from the Texas District and County Attorneys Association and the Century Council’s State Legislative Award.    

Peña has been a strong advocate for protecting individual property rights from excessive government abuse by eminent domain.

“I want to thank the community for their continued support and for sharing our vision of a stronger, safer and more prosperous South Texas,” said Peña.

Peña is Vice Chairman of the Elections Committee and serves on the powerful tax writing House Ways and Means Committee. He additionally serves on the Redistricting Committee which will play a critical role in re-drawing congressional and legislative boundaries following the census.   

He was recently selected to serve on the Redistricting Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures. Peña serves as a Major in the Texas State Guard.

Peña was first elected to the Texas House in 2002.  He represents District 40 which includes the communities of Edinburg, Edcouch, Elsa, La Villa, McAllen, Sullivan City, La Joya and the ranch country in northern Hidalgo County.   

He and his wife, Mónica, live in Edinburg where they are involved in their community.  They have five children and five grandchildren. 

•••••• 

For fifth straight month, Edinburg’s retail economy down from same period in 2008

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg’s retail economy during September 2009, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was down almost 10 percent over the same month in 2008, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts.

The latest figure represents the fifth consecutive decrease when comparing monthly figures between this year and during 2008.  

For the month of  September 2009, Edinburg generated $1,268,786.61 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,409,055.33 in September 2008 – a decrease of 9.95 percent.  

In August 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 7.77 percent lower than the same month in 2008.  

In July 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 5.39 percent lower than the same month in 2008. 

In June 2009, Edinburg’s monthly sales tax figure was 2.46 percent lower than the same month in 2008.  

In May 2009,  Edinburg’s  monthly sales tax figure was almost five percent lower than the same month in 2008.  

However, year-to-date –  from January 2009 through September 2009 – Edinburg was holding on to a positive showing, with the local retail economy during the that period up 3.97 percent over the same nine months last year.  

Between January and September 2009, Edinburg’s retail economy generated $13,488,117.26 in local sales taxes, compared with $12,972,915.38 during the same period in 2008.  

The report represents the latest figures compiled by the state, and announced on Friday, November 6. 

The state and local sales tax figures mostly represent money generated in September, reported to the Texas Comptroller in October, and distributed back in early November to local governments by the comptroller’s office in the form of rebates.  

Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The state government then sends the local share of the sales taxes to the communities in which they originated.    

The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.    

Local sales taxes in Edinburg are generated by the city’s 1 1/2 cent local sales tax, and the 1/2 cent economic development sales tax that is administered by the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.   

The EEDC, which is a city government entity, is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It sits on a public treasury of millions of dollars.  

McAllen reports double-digit drop 

McAllen – the largest economic engine in South Texas – continued to show double-digit decreases in its  retail economic woes.

For September 2009, McAllen generated more than $4.3 million in local sales taxes, compared with almost $5.1 million in September 2008 – a drop of more than 14.5 percent. 

In August 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was almost 10 percent lower than the same month in 2008.  

In July 2009, McAllen’s  monthly sales tax figure was almost five percent lower than the same month in 2008.  

In June 2009, McAllen’s monthly sales tax figure was more than 11 percent lower than the same month in 2008. 

Year-to-date, McAllen’s retail economy continued to remain sluggish.  

From January through September 2009, McAllen generated almost $50 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $54.6 million during the same period in 2008 –  a decrease of more than nine percent.  

For the month of September 2009, all cities in Hidalgo County generated almost $9.8 million in local sales taxes, compared with almost $11 million in September 2008, a drop of more than 10.6 percent.  

Year-to-date, all cities in Hidalgo County have generated more than $110.6 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $115.4 million during the same nine months in 2008, a decrease of 4.15 percent. 

The county itself does not collect a local sales tax.  

Comparable cities in Hidalgo County also posted negative numbers for September 2009.  

• Pharr’s latest monthly retail sales activities dropped more than 11.6 percent, generating $853,469.19 in September 2009, compared with $966,453.60 in September 2008. 

• Mission registered a 5.28 percent drop, generating $1,043,386.42 in September 2009, compared with $1,101,625.21 in September 2008; 

• Weslaco generated more than $750,880.77 in local sales tax activities in September 2009, compared with $818,383.73 in September 2008, a drop of 7.02 percent. 

Also posting decreases were the two key communities in Cameron County.  

Brownsville, the Valley’s most populated city, saw its retail economy in September  2009 generate less local sales tax revenue than during the same month in 2008.  

In September 2009, Brownsville generated $2,543,548.47 in local sales taxes, compared with $2,922,810.34 in September 2008 – a drop of 12.97 percent.  

Harlingen also posted a double-digit drop in its latest monthly retail activity report.  

In September 2009, Harlingen registered more than $1,606,605.86 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,799,219.37  in September 2008, a decrease of 10.70 percent.  

All cities in Cameron County generated a total of almost $5 million in local sales taxes in September 2009, compared with more than $5.6 million in September 2008, a drop of 12.08 percent.  

Cameron County does not collect a county sales tax.  

Texas down almost 13 percent 

At the statewide level, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts Susan Combs offered her assessments:

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs says the state collected $1.52 billion in sales tax revenue in October, down 12.8 percent compared to October 2008. 

“Declining sales tax collections, which began in February, have continued with October’s collections,” Combs said. “Tax collections are down in major sectors of the economy, including retail trade, oil and natural gas and construction.” 

On Friday, November 6, Combs distributed $500.7 million in November sales tax rebates to cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts. Local sales tax allocations are down 8.7 percent compared to November 2008. 

Combs sent Texas cities $342.6 million in sales tax allocations, down 8.3 percent compared to November 2008. So far this calendar year, city sales tax allocations are down 4.2 percent compared to the same time period last year. Texas counties received November sales tax allocations of $28.2 million, down 14.5 percent compared to one year ago. For the calendar year-to-date, county sales tax allocations are running 3.7 percent below 2008 revenues. 

The 153 special purpose taxing districts around the state received $19.4 million in sales tax, down 5.2 percent compared to last November. Ten local transit systems received $110.4 million in November sales tax rebates, down 8.7 percent compared to a year ago. 

November sales tax allocations to local governments represent September sales reported to the Comptroller in October by monthly tax filers and July, August and September sales reported to the Comptroller in October by quarterly tax filers. 

For details of November sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales and Use Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the Comptroller’s Web site at: 

http://www.window.state.tx.us/taxinfo/allocsum/compsum.html

The comptroller’s next local sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, December 11. 

•••••• 

Freedom Communications, Inc., owner of McAllen Monitor and other Valley papers, files reorganization plan in its bankruptcy

Freedom Communications, a national privately owned information and entertainment company of print publications, broadcast television stations and interactive businesses, announced on Monday, November 2, that it has filed its proposed Plan of Reorganization and related Disclosure Statement with the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware in Wilmington. 

Freedom Communications, headquartered in Irvine, California, owns the McAllen Monitor, the Valley Morning Star in Harlingen, the Brownsville Herald, El Nuevo Heraldo, and the Mid-Valley Town Crier in Weslaco, among other area publications.  

It recently shut down operations of La Frontera, a Spanish-language daily that was circulated by the McAllen Monitor in Hidalgo County and Starr County. 

Chapter 11 bankruptcy is generally defined as a type of bankruptcy that allows a business to retain control of its operations while it plans how to reorganize its debts. Chapter 11 is the most common type of bankruptcy. Creditors are prevented from pursuing a company that is in a Chapter 11 proceeding. The debtor and creditors meet to draw up an agreement for repaying some of the debt. In a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, in contrast, the company closes its doors and liquidates its business.  

“The filing of the Plan of Reorganization and Disclosure Statement represents an important milestone in our Chapter 11 case. We are especially pleased that we were able to reach this key step in our restructuring process in just two months,” Freedom Chief Executive Officer, Burl Osborne said. “It brings us closer to successfully completing our debt restructuring and positioning the company for future opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in the rapidly changing media industry.” 

As previously announced, on September 1, 2009, Freedom and its subsidiaries filed voluntary petitions for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code to implement a restructuring agreement reached with a steering committee of Freedom’s lenders. 

The company will seek court approval of the Disclosure Statement and related voting solicitation procedures. Court approval, if granted, will permit the company to solicit acceptances for the proposed plan and seek confirmation of the proposed plan by the bankruptcy court. 

This release is not intended to be, and should not be in any way construed as, a solicitation of votes on any plan. 

The Chapter 11 petitions were filed in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, in Wilmington. The case number is 09-13046. The Company has also established a restructuring information line at 800/299-1960. Additional information regarding the filings, including the Company’s plan of reorganization and disclosure statement can also be found at http://www.loganandco.com

Freedom Communications is a national privately owned information and entertainment company of print publications, broadcast television stations and interactive businesses. The company’s print portfolio includes approximately 90 daily and weekly publications, including approximately 30 daily newspapers, plus ancillary magazines and other specialty publications. The broadcast company’s stations – five CBS, two ABC network affiliates and one CW affiliate – reach more than 3 million households across the country. The company’s news, information and entertainment websites complement its print and broadcast properties. 

•••••• 

Texas Municipal League, which represents cities, seeks to undermine the Texas Open Meetings Act

By FRED HARTMAN 

Open government is fundamental to our democratic system, and essential for elected officials to be responsible and accountable to the people they serve. 

Otherwise, politicians would be able to conduct business in secret and our government would be more rife with corruption, cronyism and scandals. 

Yet the Texas Municipal League, a lobbying organization funded by taxpayer dollars from its 1,100 member cities, is continually trying to chip away at the public’s right to know. 

On October 23, the organization passed a resolution offered by the City of Sugar Land that seeks to pass a law that provides "less restrictive penalties that balance the First Amendment right of government officials" who violate the Texas Open Meetings Act. Simply put, the group wants to take the teeth out of the Open Meetings Act and make it ineffective. 

The Open Meetings Act states that it’s illegal if a member or members of a governmental body conspire to circumvent the law "by meeting in numbers less than a quorum for the purpose of secret deliberations." An offense is punishable by a fine of $100 to $500 and/or confinement in the county jail for one to six months. 

The law’s intent is to prevent government decisions from being made in secret. The penalties are necessary to prevent rogue elected officials from thumbing their nose at the statute. The reality is that there have been only a handful of prosecutions under the statute, but the unspoken message is that it makes public officials mind their P’s and Q’s. If there is nothing to hide, why disrupt the status quo? 

The league’s resolution is disingenuous and duplicitous. It starts off by saying Texas cities support the Open Meetings Act, but its criminal penalties create an "unreasonable and possibly unconstitutional constraint on the ability of public officials to communicate with their colleagues regarding public matters outside of governmental meetings." It has never been a problem, so why the sudden heartburn? 

The resolution encourages "less restrictive penalties" that would preserve the integrity of the act and "recognize the fundamental right of city officials to free speech." 

Stripping away the enforcement mechanism crucifies the integrity of the law. The league is saying we need more government secrecy to protect free speech. What tortured logic. 

In the meantime, the cities of Alpine, Rockport and Pflugerville aren’t waiting on the Legislature. They’re planning to file a lawsuit that seeks to declare the criminal penalties of the Open Meetings Act unconstitutional, and seeking other league member cities to join in. This lawsuit is being paid for by taxpayer dollars as well — outrageous. 

It stems from another lawsuit brought earlier this year, Rangra v. Brown, in which the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of appeals dismissed a challenge to the Open Meetings Act. 

Passed in 1973 after the infamous Sharpstown scandal, the Open Meetings Act has been successful in allowing more sun to shine on state and local government. 

It would be a giant step backward for the courts or Legislature to weaken the act. What are the people at the Texas Municipal League afraid of, anyway? 

A government of the people, for the people and by the people must do business in the open, not under the cover of darkness. 

Hartman is vice chairman at Hartman Newspapers and chairman of the Texas Daily Newspaper Association’s Legislative Advisory Committee. 

•••••• 

Congressman Hinojosa announces $1.7 million grant for South Texas International Airport

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Monday, November 16, announced that the Texas Department of Transportation, acting on behalf of the Federal Aviation Administration, has offered an airport improvement grant in the amount of $1,724,500 to the City of Edinburg for the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg.  

The federal funds will be used for pavement and lighting improvements. The federal funds have been approved for 95 percent of the estimated project costs and the city will be responsible for the remaining five percent. 

“I am very pleased to assist in bringing funding for this much needed air transportation project. The City of Edinburg is moving forward in their economic development efforts by improving their aviation facilities and bringing jobs to the community," said Hinojosa. 

The city has been developing the South Texas International Airport to become a regional staging site for state and federal emergency response. 

••••••

McAllen, Pharr and Mission to share in $4.5 million in federal housing funds, says Congressman Cuellar

By EDDIE ZAVALA 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, November 12, announced that $4,417,648 in combined federal funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development are headed to McAllen, Pharr, and Mission to support housing initiatives. 

McAllen will receive $2,453,428, Pharr will get $1,121,900, and Mission will receive $842,320. 

“Ensuring that our residents have access to adequate housing is an issue I take very seriously. There is no reason why citizens should be exposed to substandard living conditions if the opportunities to promote a healthy lifestyle are available,” said Cuellar. “I congratulate McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz, Pharr Mayor Leopoldo "Polo" Palacios and Mission Mayor Norberto Salinas for obtaining these grants and putting them to use where they are mostly needed.” 

The City of McAllen will use $666,689 for its HOME Investment Partnerships Program for the construction of several homes throughout the city. The remaining $1,786,739 awarded through the Community Development Block Grant Program will be used for storm water improvements on 21st Street, to design a storm sewer line in the Retiree Haven Subdivision, and for the rehabilitation or reconstruction of homes throughout the city. 

Meanwhile, the City of Pharr will use the money for the planning and administration of CDBG programs, for street improvements, youth services, and to repay a Section 108 Loan. 

Among other projects, the City of Mission will use the funds to rehabilitate two and three-bedroom homes currently not adequate to live in, personnel costs, and operations and maintenance of the overall CDBG program. 

•••••• 

Former Vice President Cheney endorses Sen. Hutchison for Texas governor

Texas has no stronger or more effective advocate than Kay Bailey Hutchison. Anybody who’s ever worked with Kay, been around her for more than a few minutes, knows that Texas is her number one priority. She’s a fighter for Texas. She’s gotten results.” – Vice President Dick Cheney 

By JEFF BECHDEL 

Former Vice President Dick Cheney on Tuesday, November 17, in Houston announced his endorsement of Kay Bailey Hutchison to be the next governor of Texas. Calling Hutchison the “real deal” and “a fighter for Texas,” Vice President Cheney said, “I’m proud to announce my support for Kay Bailey Hutchison, the next governor of the State of Texas.” 

Cheney listed several of Hutchison’s many accomplishments, including her work on issues of specific importance to the Rio Grande Valley. 

“She’s been a tireless fighter for resources to increase border security. She’s quadrupled the number of border patrol agents, voted against sanctuary cities, voted to require a photo ID to vote, and allowed the construction of a border fence and cracked down on illegal guns headed to Mexico," Cheney noted. 

Thanking the Vice President for his support, Hutchison said, “I will build Texas for the next 20 years. I want the greatness to be there for our children. We have grown up in the greatest state in America. Our children deserve the same. We can do no less.”

•••••• 

Gov. Perry urges HUD to end delays on Texas hurricane recovery funding to Dolly victims

Gov. Rick Perry sent a letter on Monday, November 16, to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan urging the expedited approval of Texas’ disaster recovery funding.  HUD claimed a week earlier that “there is no compelling need to immediately approve” Texas’ application for continued recovery funding for hurricanes Ike and Dolly. 

“HUDs comment is an insult to every Texan whose home or business was destroyed or damaged by hurricanes Ike or Dolly,” Perry said. “Hurricane Ike was the costliest storm in history to strike Texas, and this process should not stand in the way of assistance for disaster victims.” 

The governor’s letter addresses claims made in a letter from Assistant HUD Secretary Mercedes Marquez rejecting the state’s application for the second round of funding for hurricanes Ike and Dolly recovery. Texas received $1.3 billion in Round One funding and was slated to receive $1.7 billion in Round Two. 

“Unless this is resolved soon, it will be Texans who will ultimately bear the brunt of the costs for recovery. Therefore, I also urge our Congressional delegation to make it clear to HUD that we will not stand for weeks and months of further delay,” Perry said. 

•••••• 

Let’s keep our kids healthy by promoting easier access to Children’s Health Insurance Program

By TOM SCHIEFFER 

The Children’s Health Insurance Program, commonly known as CHIP, is a government initiative often described in terms of large numbers and regulations. At its heart, however, it is about small numbers, and its purpose is simple – to keep kids healthy. 

For Bonita, the number is one, her son Maricell, a juvenile diabetic who depends on CHIP for his daily dose of Insulin. Without CHIP, Bonita is not sure what she and Maricell would do. 

“I’m so grateful for this insurance being in our lives. Thank you, CHIP, from the bottom of my heart,” she wrote in a letter to her health plan administrator. 

Thousands of Texas parents are grateful for CHIP, but regrettably about 1.4 million Texas children – about one in every five – still don’t have health coverage. This is the largest number of uninsured children of any state. It’s a tragic disgrace, and state government can do something about it by expanding the CHIP program. Thousands of these youngsters – citizens of the United States – are eligible for coverage but aren’t enrolled. 

CHIP isn’t a freebie. Families pay for coverage for their children on a sliding scale based on their ability to pay. These are working families who don’t earn enough to afford private health insurance. For them, CHIP is a lifeline. 

Making affordable health care more accessible for Texas children is the right thing to do, and it also is the smart thing to do because keeping children healthy saves tax dollars in the long run. 

For every dollar that state government invests in CHIP, the federal government contributes $2.57. Texas should be taking maximum advantage of the federal dollars available to us. Instead, state leaders have let almost one billion dollars that should have been spent on Texas kids go to other states. Remember, those federal dollars include contributions from Texas taxpayers. There was an effort during this year’s legislative session to expand the CHIP program to an additional 80,000 youngsters, but Gov. Rick Perry led the opposition that killed the bill. 

When uninsured children get sick, they wind up in county hospital emergency rooms, where they receive the most expensive treatment the hospital has to offer. The tab for their treatment gets picked up by local taxpayers and Texans who already have health insurance. According to Families USA, a health care advocacy group, the average family with health insurance pays $1,017 a year in extra premiums to subsidize health care costs of  the uninsured. 

Keeping kids healthy produces additional benefits. Parents don’t have to miss work to take them to hospitals. And healthy kids spend more time in school, learning the things that will make them good, productive citizens of Texas. 

Health care for our children makes sense for Bonita and Maricell, and it also makes sense for every Texan. It is time for state government to recognize that.  

Schieffer, a Fort Worth business leader and former U.S. Ambassador to Australia and Japan, is a Democratic gubernatorial candidate. 

•••••• 

Multi-state agreement with Vonage results in refunds for Texas consumers, says AG Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, November 16, reached an agreement with Vonage Holdings Corp. that will provide numerous benefits for the telecommunication firm’s customers. Thirty-one other states are parties to the assurance of voluntary compliance, which requires Vonage to implement several customer service improvements. 

Since 2002, Vonage has offered a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) service, which allows for telephone voice transmission over a high-speed Internet connection. In its newspapers, TV, direct mail and Internet advertising, Vonage failed to clearly communicate to prospective customers that they must be equipped with high-speed Internet in order to use its services. Many customers, particularly senior citizens, were not clearly informed of this requirement and were unable to use the service. Yet Vonage required them to pay activation/cancellation and return shipping fees for computer-related equipment. The November 16 agreement makes full and clear disclosures a priority requirement. 

Similarly, Vonage’s  “free trial” or “risk free” offers put many at a disadvantage when they attempted to cancel their service at the close of the trial period. Customers who chose to cancel had to do so by telephone and receive a “return authorization number” before returning Vonage’s VoIP computer device. Many customers reported unreasonably long wait times before reaching a company representative. 

Customers who thought they had cancelled the service complained that they continued to receive monthly bills from the company. Others asserted that Vonage debited funds from their checking accounts, even after the customers attempted to cancel their Vonage service. The assurance of voluntary compliance prohibits Vonage from billing any customers after they have cancelled within the free trial period. 

Further, the states’  investigation found that Vonage’s use of the phrase “free trial”  was deceptive. Despite free service offers, Vonage charged many customers activation fees, shipping and handling fees, taxes, universal service fees, regulatory recovery fees and emergency 911 fees, none of which were clearly disclosed in advance. 

The November 16 agreement prohibits future misrepresentations of service by Vonage and requires the company to fully and clearly disclose all terms associated with promotional offers. Vonage must also ensure that customers who accept the free trial offer receive the VoIP computer adapter within the promised seven to 10 days. Many complained of not receiving the device until near the end of the trial period, which restricted their ability to try out the service over time. 

Under the November 16 agreement, Vonage is also paying refunds to eligible customers who experienced problems and have not already received refunds. Texans who believe they are entitled to a refund should have previously filed, or file within 120 days, a complaint with the Texas Attorney General’s Office. Customers may accomplish this online by accessing the Office of the Attorney General’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or call toll-free at (800) 252-8011. 

The state of Wisconsin initiated the Vonage investigation in November 2007. Texas joined the multi-state inquiry in June 2008 and served on the seven-state executive committee. Vonage will pay the states $3 million to cover the costs of the investigation. Texas receives approximately $300,000 of that amount. 

•••••• 

Gov. Perry announces $1 million state investment in robotics education programs

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday, November 16, was joined by Texas Workforce commissioners Andres Alcantar and Ronnie Congleton, Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott and business leaders to announce a $1 million investment from the Texas Workforce Commission to expand statewide student participation in robotics education programs. The governor emphasized the importance of preparing young Texans to work in an increasingly competitive global economy by promoting programs that integrate science, technology, engineering and math into Texas classrooms. 

“Exposing more young Texans to science, technology, engineering and math, and continuing to emphasize these core subjects in our schools, will help accelerate the pace of our high-tech education in Texas,” Perry said. “This investment will strengthen our state’s future workforce and contribute to making Texas even more competitive.” 

The FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge are supported by businesses throughout Texas, and immerse students in science and technology through competitions to design, build and program robots using engineering principles and a sports model of teamwork and competition. Currently, 133 Texas teams have registered to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition and FIRST Tech Challenge in the upcoming tournament season. This investment will increase participation in the next year by supporting up to 250 new teams and more than 2,500 more students. 

“It is important to inspire the future workforce to be science and technology leaders,” Texas Workforce Commissioner Andrés Alcantar said. “This investment in robotics combines the excitement of sport with the acquisition of science, engineering and technology skills that will help to mold our future innovators.” 

“The FIRST Robotics Competition and the FIRST Tech Challenge enable students to apply their learning and build their problem solving skills in a hands-on manner that is exciting and fun for them,” Education Commissioner Robert Scott said. “Today’s announcement marks yet another highlight in Texas’ ongoing commitment to high-quality STEM education.”  

Ensuring that Texas remains a leader in job creation depends on the development of our workforce and is imperative to Texas’ future prosperity. Last month, the governor announced a $160 million initiative to expand the number and scope of Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (T-STEM) academies, an initiative he established in 2005, as well as fund STEM scholarships. Building on successful initiatives like T-STEM academies and legislation such as House Bill 3 of the 81st Legislative Session, which holds schools accountable for graduating college- and career-ready students, helps ensure future generations of Texans have the educational foundation necessary to compete and win in the increasingly competitive global economy. 

•••••• 

South Texas College students use skills to make McAllen home owner more comfortable

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

Nine South Texas College students volunteered four hours each away from family and friends on a bright November morning to help Florencia Sepulveda of McAllen make her home more energy efficient. The students partnered with TXU Energy Company to give the Sepulveda home a makeover. 

“The family was selected by the RGV Food Bank and we worked with South Texas College instructors to review the home and see where improvements could be made to make life better and bills more manageable for the family,” said Sophia Stoller, TXU Energy representative. “It was clear that the Sepulveda’s would benefit greatly from our knowledge and abilities.” 

The STC students, who study in the college’s Electrician’s Assistant and Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration programs, were keen to put their skills and knowledge to use. 

“We have learned a lot in the classroom, but there is nothing like field experience like this where you get to know what to expect physically and understand the expectations of the customer, and get put in different scenarios,” said STC HVACR Student Brian Sweeten. “It feels good to come out and solve their problems.” 

Some of the tasks performed by the team include replacing the coil in the air conditioning unit, installing seven new flushmount lighting fixtures, installing switch and outlet insulation to seal the air pocket behind wall plates, installing two fire detectors and a carbon monoxide detector, repairing the aired bathroom exhaust fan and light, repairing several loose and damaged electrical outlets, and installing a programmable thermostat for the air conditioning unit. 

“It’s has been a great learning experience for our students because not everything is in the text books and the students can learn some of the tricks of the trade that I bring to the table from my years as a service tech,” said Guadalupe Hernández, STC HVACR Program chair. “We also got them caught up on some of the little things that normally we don’t even do in the classroom. But most importantly, they get to learn what’s it’s like in the real world.” 

Between the generous donation of materials and time by TXU Energy valued at well over $1,000 and the donation of time and labor by STC students, the Sepulveda family benefited from more than $2,500 in material and labor costs to outfit their home. The makeover will save the family much more in future energy costs as well. But the real winners were the students. 

“What we teach in the classroom is that when you learn the trade, it’s always good to give a little of what you know to the community and so we feel it’s very important to participate in projects like this to help others in need,” said Arnulfo Flores, STC Electrician’s Assistant Program chair, who helped oversee the students during the makeover. 

For more information about STC’s Electrician’s Assistant Program call 956/872-6112 or for more information about STC’s Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Program call 956/872-6111. 

•••••• 

Attorney General Abbott defends medical malpractice reform law’s constitutionality

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott took legal action on Tuesday, November 17, to defend the state’s recently enacted medical malpractice reform laws. 

In 2003, the Texas Legislature responded to a lack of physicians and doctors’ rising medical malpractice insurance premiums by imposing a 10-year statute of repose on medical malpractice lawsuits. That provision prohibits plaintiffs from filing medical malpractice lawsuits more than a decade after the act that forms the basis of their lawsuit. In the state’s brief to the Supreme Court, Solicitor General James Ho explained that the 2003 law was enacted because “the Legislature concluded that indeterminate and unpredictable liability regimes drive up the cost of healthcare and reduce access to physicians. 

The state’s brief further explains that House Bill 4’s 10-year statute of repose does not interfere with an individual’s common law right to commence a medical malpractice lawsuit. Rather, the brief argues, “the Legislature struck a fair balance between the rights of plaintiffs to obtain redress for injuries and the rights of physicians and other health care providers from having to litigate stale claims. The balance struck by the Legislature was reasonable – and constitutional.” 

As the brief explains, Texas has a long history of imposing limitations periods: “The enforcement of rules governing the timing of the suit is a centuries-old tradition under our legal system. This tradition exists because our legal system does not remedy injuries in perpetuity. Evidence grows stale; eyewitnesses move; records become lost; and parties receive assurances that courts will not reexamine acts from the distant past that have long since faded from memory. The rule of law is served by clear rules – and that includes traditional rules governing the timing of suit.” 

The state’s brief, which was filed in a case styled Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio v. Rankin, stems from a lawsuit that Emmalene Rankin filed against two physicians and the Methodist Healthcare System of San Antonio 11 years after a surgical sponge was allegedly left in her body. Rankin argued that the statute of repose violated the Texas Constitution’s Open Courts provision, which provides that “all courts shall be open, and every person for an injury done to him, in his lands, goods, person or reputation, shall have remedy by due course of law.” Although the district court found that Rankin’s lawsuit exceeded the repose period, the Fourth Court of Appeals reversed the trial judge and struck down the statute of repose under the Open Courts provision. 

•••••• 

Five area medical professionals, two local medical facilities, named tops in their field by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce

The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on Saturday, November 14, held their 3rd annual Medical Awards Banquet, honoring seven individuals/organizations.   

“We are extremely excited to recognize and honor the medical community as it plays a very important part in our daily lives” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and chief executive officer. "The nominations have been increasing every year, thus making it harder for the Judging Committee from Austin to make their determination as to the annual winners.” 

Being honored this year were: 

• Elisa Gutiérrez, Nurse of the Year;

• Sandra Tovar, Nurse Practitioner;

• Rolando Velasquez, Physician Assistant;

• Dr. Juan Campos, General Physician of the Year;

• Dr. Filiberto Rodríguez, Specialty Physician of the Year;

• Las Palmas HealthCare Center, Nursing Home of the Year; and

• Rio Grande Regional Hospital, Hospital of the Year. 

A synopsis of the accomplishments of the five individuals and two facilities that were honored follows: 

Nurse of the Year, Elisa Gutiérrez, for her passion to work at the bedside with patients more than sitting in an office setting. She is well known for her calm demeanor and positive outlook. She is very interactive in her work setting and is team-oriented and has contributed to many positive outcomes for quality care. She has been in the nursing profession for more than 28 years within the South Texas Health System. Started began her career in 1981 at McAllen Medical Center as a nursing assistant in the oncology unit while going to school to obtain her nursing degree, which she earned in 1982. She has since moved up the ranks and currently is the Performance Improvement Coordinator. 

For Nurse Practitioner, the honoree was Ms. Sandra Tovar for her untiring commitment to promote her profession to the highest level. She is a 1981 graduate from the University of Texas with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. In 1998, she earned a Master of Science in Nursing from the Corpus Christi State University with a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She is a recognized advocate and health care provider for children in the Rio Grande Valley and has extensive experience working with children and families on Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Her compassion coupled with her excellent bilingual skills paved the way for her flourishing career and participation in local, state and federal committees. She was instrumental for obtaining privileges for nurse practitioners to prescribe medication in the state of Texas. 

The Physician Assistant honored was Rolando Velasquez. This quiet, low-key leader is very dedicated to his profession, having worked for nine years with Dr. Enrique Griego at the Guajira Family Clinic & Diabetes Care Clinic. Not only is he very involved in his profession but in his spare time he is a member of the La Sara School Board and has also served as the Fire Chief of La Sara for the past 10 years. His excellent bedside manner and gentle caring personality makes him very popular amongst his patients. He is a great listener and strives to help his patients, community and profession. 

The General Physician of the Year was awarded to Dr. Juan Campos for his outstanding example to his friends, patients and fellow physicians. Campos received his Medical Degree from Baylor College of Medicine and completed his Family Practice Residency from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. He also completed his Master’s in Business Administration from the University of Texas-Pan American. His love for education kept him on path with another Master’s in Public Health from Texas A&M University, School of Rural Public Health. He has been extremely active in the community and local, state and national organizations. He was a Major for the United States Army Medical Corps, and during his off-time, this physician enjoys gardening so much that he graduated as a Master Gardener from the Texas A&M Extension office. Many people recognize him as a leader for public advocacy and is well-respected amongst his physician peers. He has traveled to Austin and Washington, D.C. lobbying for the improvement of quality of life and health issues predominant to the border area. 

Specialty Physician of the Year was awarded to Dr. Filiberto Rodríguez. His compassion for his patients and respect from the medial community puts him at the forefront of medicine. This honoree commenced his postgraduate education in Monterrey, Mexico at the University of Monterrey and the Straight Surgery Washington Hospital Center in Washington, DC. He finished his residency in Washington, DC, Toledo, Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio, and Rochester, Minnesota at the Mayo Clinic Foundation in his specialized background of Cardiovascular & Thoracic Surgery. He has been in McAllen for more than 27 years. He initiated and developed the first cardiac surgery program in the Valley at the McAllen Methodist Hospital, now known as the McAllen Medical Center. When the McAllen Heart Hospital opened as the first heart hospital in the nation, he was the leading surgeon to develop the cardiac surgery program. His clinical outcomes have been renowned as top-notch. 

Las Palmas HealthCare Center again this year was honored as the Nursing Home of the Year. This medical service service prides itself for being a true family residential institution. It provides extraordinary care and quality of life to their residents and stand above all long term care facilities.  The employees are not just diligent at their jobs, but they volunteer and support the El Milagro Clinic, which is the main community clinic for the uninsured in the Valley. The nursing home also actively participates in several campaigns, including working with the associations on issues critical to the nursing home industry, such as tort reform, and most recently in the campaign to increase Medicaid funding in Texas.  The “Respect Program” of the home recognizes positive accomplishments, as well as personal milestones for residents and employees. 

The final highlight of the evening was the naming of the Hospital of the Year, with the honor bestowed upon Rio Grande Regional Hospital. This institution is committed to providing quality health care and serving the needs of its patients and the community.  The 320-bed facility is a full service, acute-care medical facility that serves the Valley. It offers services in 35 specialties including: intensive care for adults, pediatric and neonatal care; surgical services; radiology; women’s services; diabetes management; physical occupational therapy; speech therapy; and level IV trauma services. Rio Grande Regional Hospital was the first health care facility in the Valley to be recognized by HealthGrades, the nation’s leading source for healthcare quality information. In 2009, the hospital experienced many “firsts”. Their staff performed the area’s first pediatraic open heart surgery on a three-year-old boy. On June 22, the first Cochlear implant surgeries in Hidalgo County was also performed there. Two days later, the first pediatric electro physiology procedure was performed on a 14-year-old patient to correct the abnormal arrhythmia in has heart. On June 25, the first pediatric cardiac interventional procedure was also performed. For its excellent commitment to its patients and the community, the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce acknowledged Rio Grande Regional Hospital as the 2009 Hospital of the Year.

Share This

Share this post with your friends!