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Efraín N. Martínez of Edinburg, featured left, reviews strategies for hurricane preparedness and recovery with Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson on Monday, May 17, when both men appeared in McAllen at a public meeting of the House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness. Patterson, a retired U.S. Marine whose state agency’s responsibilities include oil spill prevention and response programs, also said he favors reviewing all state funds to help come up with money to build a Veterans Administration Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. Patterson, a Republican, is being challenged in the November general elections by former Sen. Hector Uribe, D-Brownsville. See lead story on the proposed VA Hospital in this posting.

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Numerous political and business leaders from McAllen on Thursday, May 20, pledged to work closely with its newest state legislator –  Rep.-elect Sergio Muñoz, Jr, D-Mission, featured left – during a public reception honoring the 28-year-old lawyer at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. “We have a real challenging legislative session coming up in January,” Muñoz said. “Ahead of us we face one of the most important budgetary debates in recent memory, combined with the issue of redistricting, and also to see how we can still bring back more funding and resources to our great communities.” He said since his election on March 4, he has been traveling to Austin and throughout House District 36, preparing himself for his legislative and constituent work “to learn first-hand what is important so we can focus our legislative ideas.” Featured, from left: Rep.-elect Muñoz; McAllen City Commissioner Marcus Barrera; McAllen Mayor Pro Tem Hilda Salinas; and McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz. See story later in this posting.

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Graduation day was held on Saturday, May 15, as South Texas College welcomed more than 18,000 community members to State Farm Arena to celebrate a major life milestone with friends and family members. During the college’s three ceremonies, more than 3,500 graduates were awarded certificates, associate degrees or bachelor degrees. STC also took the opportunity to celebrate its smallest graduates from its Mid-Valley Campus Child Care Development Center in Weslaco. Featured, from left, front: graduates Orlando Pardo and Baltazar Nuñez. From left, back: Juan Mejia, Vice President for Academic Affairs; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, who spoke at the college’s Division of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences commencement; STC President Shirley A. Reed; Margaretha Bischoff, STC Division Dean of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences; and William Serrata, Vice President for Student  Affairs and  Enrollment Management. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce on Friday, June 11, will host the 1st Annual Night Golf Tournament, four-person team scramble at the Ebony Golf Course, 300 West Palm Drive. The Golf Tournament committee is currently seeking teams at several sponsorship levels beginning at $250 and reaching the $5,000 level. Prizes from $1,000 to $2,000 will be awarded based on an 18-team field. “There will be door prizes, a dinner plus we are also awarding five scholarships to each of the Edinburg High schools,” said Celeste Cabrera, golf committee co-chair. “This will be the Ambassador’s First Annual Night Golf Tournament, and we feel the importance of continuing fundraisers such as this, and in turn giving back to our community and promoting further education.” More information on the event is available by contact the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974 or online at http://www.Edinburg.com. Featured, from left: JP Tilburg; René Deanda; Letty González; Robert McGurk; Jeremy Martin; and Glen Morgan.

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Continuing to be an advocate of small business, the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has become a satellite office to ACCIÓN Texas, a micro-loan lender for small business loans. ACCIÓN Texas is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the essential tools needed to grow a small business: credit and training. Many lenders do not offer loans to entrepreneurs without traditional collateral or sufficient credit history. That’s where ACCIÓN Texas is different. ACCIÓN Texas makes loans to small business owners with limited access to traditional sources of credit. Residents may be eligible for a variety of business loans between $500 to $100,000 or may be able to take advantage of one of their new products, such as the SBA 504 loans, which are loans from $200,000 to $4 million for commercial property and long term assets. ACCIÓN Texas will be at the McAllen Hispanic Chamber office on Thursday’s. To call and make an appointment call the MHCC office at 928-0060. Featured, from left: Dr. John Thomas, member, Small Business and Economic Development Advisory Board; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Marlene Rodríguez, loan officer, ACCIÓN Texas; and Lorena Silva, office manager, ACCIÓN Texas. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, featured left, during a Monday, May 17 legislative hearing in McAllen, asked Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson (not shown in this photograph) what that statewide elected leader can do to help rally state legislative support for the construction of a Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley. Patterson is the chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board, which works with the federal government on mutual construction projects involving Texas State Veterans Homes, which are skilled nursing homes exclusively for veterans. Martínez was a joint author of legislation in 2009 which put Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot last November. Proposition 8, which was passed overwhelmingly by Texas voters, for the first time authorizes the state government to invest resources and money into the construction, maintenance and operation of VA Hospitals statewide. Patterson pledged to support the region’s efforts to improve medical care for Valley veterans. “Whether we build something that is a VA Hospital or a VA medical center, or we contract with all the full-range of services at some location here in the Valley, the mission is to provide the care,” Patterson said. “Veterans should no longer have to travel to San Antonio. I don’t care whether we call it a VA Hospital, I don’t care if we call it a state hospital. It needs to be done.” Featured, from left: Rep. Martínez; Rep.-elect Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; and Rep. Tara Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island. See lead story in this posting.

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Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson supports looking at all state funds for Valley VA Hospital

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a retired U.S. Marine whose first official act in 2003 as a statewide elected official was to vote to build a state veterans nursing home in McAllen, says all state funds – including the Texas Enterprise Fund – should be reviewed as possible revenue sources to help build a Veterans Affairs Hospital in the Valley.

Patterson leads the Texas General Land Office, and as such, he is the chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board, which provides hundreds of millions of dollars in low-interest home loans to veterans, and which works with the federal government on mutual construction projects involving Texas State Veterans Homes, which are skilled nursing homes exclusively for veterans.

The Texas Enterprise Fund – which has several hundred million dollars in its bank account – was created by state lawmakers in 2003 with an almost $300 million state appropriation. That fund’s goal is to help the legislative leadership – specifically the governor, lt. governor, and speaker of the house – provide multi-million dollar cash incentives to attract new businesses to Texas.

Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez plans to file legislation next spring that would allow the Texas Enterprise Fund, and a related state economic incentive resource, the Texas Emerging Technology Fund, to be used to help build a VA Hospital in the Valley.

Patterson – a Republican who is facing a challenge in November from former state Sen. Hector Uribe, D-Brownsville – also held out the option that the state government itself could establish a hospital to serve the unique needs of U.S. veterans in deep South Texas, even if the U.S. government fails to deliver a long sought-after federal VA Hospital.

“When he was state senator, Commissioner Patterson in 1997 authored and passed Senate Bill 1060, which created the Texas State Veterans Home program,” Martínez said. “This program allows a unique mix of federal and state partnerships on behalf of Texas veterans, where the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans Land Board share the  costs of constructing Texas State Veterans Homes. I want to look at how we can build on such a partnership in order to build a VA Hospital for deep South Texas.”

Martínez was a joint author of legislation in 2009 which put Proposition 8 on the statewide ballot last November. Proposition 8, which was passed overwhelmingly by Texas voters, for the first time authorizes the state government to invest resources and money into the construction, maintenance and operation of VA Hospitals statewide.

VA Hospital economic benefits

Patterson’s observations and his pledge to support the region’s efforts to improve medical care for Valley veterans came on Monday, May 17, when he was in McAllen testifying before the House Select Committee on Emergency Preparedness.

The positive impact of a VA Hospital in deep South Texas would be significant, not only in improving medical care, but by generating economic development, Patterson agreed.

“I think it is very positive. We talk about medical care providers, medical services, the equipment, and of course, we have the construction budget, all that is positive,” said Patterson. “It’s not just the medical care that is enhanced, the economy is enhanced.”

“Whether we build something that is a VA Hospital or a VA medical center, or we contract with all the full-range of services at some location here in the Valley, the mission is to provide the care,” Patterson said. “Veterans should no longer have to travel to San Antonio. I don’t care whether we call it a VA Hospital, I don’t care if we call it a state hospital. It needs to be done.”

The nearest VA Hospital to the four-county Rio Grande Valley is the Audie L. Murphy VA Hospital in San Antonio, about 250 miles away. But for thousands of Valley veterans and their families, that distance imposes financial and physical hardships.

State already builds, maintains veterans nursing homes

Following his remarks on emergency preparedness, Patterson was asked by Martínez about the role being played by the  in helping veterans.

“There have been a lot of questions regarding the passing of Proposition 8, and veterans hospitals, and what the next steps are,” the Weslaco lawmaker informed Patterson. “Would there be any way for you to give us some insights regarding VA Hospitals?”

Patterson said his state agency is currently focusing on helping build additional state veterans nursing homes in Texas, but is not involved with the construction of VA hospitals, which are controlled by the federal government.

“As to the VA Hospital in the Rio Grande Valley, we have really nothing to do with that. We provide long-term care through our veterans homes,” Patterson said.

But Patterson added that he is “a proponent that there should be medical care available for veterans in the Valley. They should not have to travel to Audie Murphy (VA) hospital in San Antonio. In whatever form that takes, whatever can provide the care at the local area, that needs to be done.”

After wrapping up his testimony before the legislative panel, Patterson again addressed the Valley VA Hospital issue with the area news media.

Highlights of that interview follow:

Question:

Commissioner, you mentioned your strong support – both in the legislature and as commissioner for veterans statewide – the veterans nursing homes and bonds to help veterans afford to buy homes. As a leader of the Texas Republican Party as state commissioner,  would you advocate or support the state issuing bonds, whether next session or two years later, as the economy gets better, to help in the construction and maintenance of VA Hospital, particularly here in the Valley?

Commissioner Patterson:

We have to take a close look at that. Bonded indebtedness is retired not by tax dollars, but by veterans making payments on their home loans and their land loans. So, if we go into debt to do something else, and we have no revenue source for it, then we will be squeezing veterans who are paying on their homes (and land).

We provide a discount. Our interest rate is lower than the VA’s. It’s at least half a point at least lower than VA, we subsidize that. So if we end up spending money on any other program, then we start hurting the veterans home program and the veterans land program. If the (home and land purchase) bonds are issued, we have to find a way to retire the debt, and I don’t want veterans paying for that.  Some other source of revenue would have to be channeled.

Question:

Rep. Armando Martínez has identified a couple of possible revenue sources – tapping into the Texas Enterprise Fund and the Texas Emerging Technology Fund – which are funds controlled by the governor, the lt. governor, and the speaker of the house. Would you support looking at tapping into those funds.

Commissioner Patterson:

I would support looking at any kind of fund to help.

The most important thing is the mission to eliminate the necessity for veterans to go to Audie Murphy Hospital in San Antonio. That’s the mission. Whether we build something that is a VA Hospital or a VA medical center, or we contract with all the full-range of services at some location here in the Valley, the mission is to provide the care.

Veterans should no longer have to travel to San Antonio. I don’t care whether we call it a VA Hospital, I don’t care if we call it a state hospital, it needs to be done. Sometimes we get too concerned with what we call it. The care needs to be provided, whether it is a VA Hospital or anything, it needs to be provided.

Question:

Any other ideas or strategies you may have that we have discussed.

Commissioner Patterson:

The strategy is working. The level of interest among both state legislators and members of Congress is at the highest level that I have ever seen. They have to make that turn into action.

The first thing I did as Land Commissioner, within 24 hours of being sworn in when I was elected in 2002, was to pick the Freddy González Veterans Home in McAllen, and the other one we picked for El Paso.

This is an important part of Texas. There are substantial numbers of veterans down here, and they need to be served. A veteran does not have to back up and say, “Well, this is a hand-out”. No, this is something they earned for their honorable service in armed forces of the United States. I’m a retired Marine. This is a big deal to me.

Question:

What would be the economic impact of a VA Hospital for a region like the Rio Grande Valley?

Commissioner Patterson:

I think it is very positive. We talk about medical care providers, medical services, the equipment, and of course, we have the construction budget, all that is positive. It’s not just the medical care that is enhanced, the economy is enhanced.

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McAllen lays groundwork for legislation with event honoring Rep.-elect Sergio Muñoz, Jr.

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Numerous political and business leaders from McAllen on Thursday, May 20, pledged to work closely with its newest state legislator – Rep.-elect Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission – during a public reception honoring the 28-year-old lawyer at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce.

Muñoz, who has a law firm in Edinburg along with key public service experience as Palmview Municipal Court Judge, in March won the Democratic Party primary nomination to succeed longtime Rep. Ismael “Kino” Flores, D-Palmview.

Flores, who did not seek reelection, will have successfully served House District 36 –  which includes southern McAllen, Granjeno, Hidalgo, most of Mission, Palmview, Peñitas, and Pharr – for 14 years when his current two-year term ends in early January.

By the second week of January, Muñoz, who has no Republican opponent in the November general elections, will be sworn into office – his first public service as an elected official.

The event marked the first time that the city’s top political figures openly gathered for Muñoz.

During his almost five-month long campaign, Muñoz drew the public endorsements from elected officials with all the other communities in House District 36, but McAllen’s political leadership was not heard from – at least not in the form of campaign endorsements for the University of Texas at Austin business school graduate.

But the May 20 reception by the City of Palms – it was sponsored by the McAllen City Commissioner, the McAllen Chamber of Commerce, and the McAllen Economic Development Corporation – provided that community’s powers-that-be the chance to build an alliance with Muñoz.

The McAllen City Commission, which is very active in the Texas Legislature with a governmental affairs specialist on the city payroll as well as with an independent lobbyist on contract, plans to work closely with Muñoz.

“Our jobs are serious jobs. We, as municipalities, have to work with other governments –  state and federal governments – to help us do things together,” said McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz. “So, it is extremely important for community leaders to have very solid communications with our representatives in Austin and Washington.”

For his part, Muñoz praised the city’s strategy, noting that “at the end of the day, it’s not one person, it’s really a team effort when it comes to anything we do.”

Muñoz, who earned his law degree from Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston, said he has already been hard at work preparing for the upcoming five-month legislative regular session.

“We have a real challenging legislative session,” Muñoz said. “Ahead of us we face one of the most important budgetary debates in recent memory, combined with the issue of redistricting, and also to see how we can still bring back more funding and resources to our great communities.”

He said since his election on March 4, he has been traveling to Austin and throughout House District 36, preparing himself for his legislative and constituent work “to learn first-hand what is important so we can focus our legislative ideas.

During my campaign, I made education, economic development, health care, and public safety my top legislative priorities,” Muñoz continued. “While we may not get all that we want, but I still have a vision for what I believe that we need for our communities to be competitive, sustainable, and prosperous.”

Several McAllen leaders noted that Muñoz will be bringing two advantages to his legislative job – his youth and his unlimited access to trusted, proven advice.

“It always pleases me when we have a young guy taking over a political seat, because that means the dividends are going to be for very long,” said Cortéz. “The fact that his father is going to give him all this good advice, because he has been there, he will learn from that.”

Sergio Muñoz, Sr., who owns Hosanna Home Health in Mission and is active in national, state and local politics, served as House District 36 state representative from January 1993 to January 1997.

McAllen City Commissioner Marcus Barrera seized on the mayor’s reference to father-son legislative bond.

“He’s a legacy because his father used to be a representative for House District 36,” Barrera noted.

But Barrera also echoed the mayor’s acknowledgment of a new generation of leadership taking its place in the corridors of power.

“Younger views, with time, become mainstream views, and they create change, they create things for the better, and I think that’s what we are going to see with District 36 and with Sergio Muñoz, Jr.,” Barrera observed. “McAllen has a lot of issues, and we want you to be part of McAllen, and we want you to help us, and we want to help you.”

In addition to Barrera, other city leaders at the reception included Mayor Pro Tem Hilda Salinas, City Commissioner Scott Crain, City Commissioner John Ingram, and former longtime Congressman Kika de la Garza and his wife, Lucille.

Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Rio Grande City, also dropped by for the Muñoz reception to help honor his new legislative colleague.

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It’s never too early to prepare for a hurricane

By JUDGE RENÉ  A. RAMÍREZ

Nearly two years ago, Hurricane Dolly brought devastation and destruction to our community.

Heavy rain caused flooding that damaged streets, businesses and homes. Dolly caused more than $200 million in damage across the county, but the aftermath of this Category One hurricane also caused a great emotional toll on our people. Residents continue to ask themselves, “Could I have done more to be better prepared?”

Hurricane Season starts June 1, and experts are predicting it to be busier-than-usual. But with the lessons learned from Dolly under our belt, we can face the 2010 season with greater certainty of what to expect and how best to prepare. May 23 marked the first day of National Hurricane Preparedness Week, and I’m pleased to report that at the county we have already begun to take the necessary steps to prepare for a catastrophic weather event.

Mitigating future flooding

Since Hurricane Dolly, the county has pumped a combined $24 million into upgrading drainage plans in all four precincts. In conjunction with Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1, the precincts have trenched new holding ponds and have widened and deepened drainage ditches to make way for the waters that could come. The irrigation ditches — once abandoned, overgrown and filled with trash — are being acquired through agreements by the drainage district, cleaned and converted into useful infrastructure.

Some of these improvements have already been completed, while others will require additional time because of the large-scale nature of the projects. In the end, we at the county are confident that these upgrades will make our community better prepared for this year’s hurricane season by allowing for more water flow capacity and improved runoff.

Despite these improvements, however, flooding problems may still occur, particularly if a storm dumps a lot of rain into a concentrated area over a short period of time. Hidalgo County communities formed on a river delta, and all the drainage improvements in the world can’t change our geography. Families must take precautionary measures to prepare for the worst case scenario.

Protecting your family

At the county level, full-scale evacuation plans are in place should we face a Category 3, 4 or 5 hurricane. These preparations are coordinated between city, county, state and national officials. However, families need to have individualized evacuation plans or sheltering plans in place, especially those that know they live in low-lying areas that flood frequently. Know the evacuation routes, know where you want to go — perhaps to a friend’s house or a hotel — and have a meeting point in case family members are separated from the group. And don’t forget the pets!

If you cannot self-evacuate and need transportation assistance, register in advance with the 2-1-1 or contact the county’s Emergency Management Office and register directly. You will still need to get yourself to a pickup point, which will be announced if an evacuation order is issued. If you or your family member requires special medical attention, it’s important to alert those providing assistance of the situation. Planning for special medical needs patients is an elaborate task, so please register sooner rather than later.

Local shelters will be opened for a category 1 or 2 Hurricane. Shelter locations will be announced prior to a hurricane’s landfall, but know that most will be located at schools. Bedding, clothing, food, water, important documents, and medications are all items that should be brought to the shelter. But firearms are not allowed in any shelter location, even if you have a concealed handgun license. Alcoholic beverages and illegal drugs are also prohibited. Pets may be allowed in select shelters, but in order to bring your pet, it must be on a leash and be up-to-date on its vaccinations. Local shelters will accept any rule-abiding person. Plan for a five- to seven-day stay.

Other important things to consider this hurricane season:

• Always keep your vehicle fueled – most gas pumps cannot operate with electricity, which could be knocked out after a storm;

• Have an emergency supply of cash – without electricity, stores will likely be unable to accept credit or debit cards; and

• Stock up on water and non-perishable food items – have at least one gallon of drinking water per person per day. Don’t forget special items for babies, infants and the elderly.

After a hurricane, residents may rely heavily on organizations such as the Salvation Army and the RGV Food Bank. Consider donating non-perishable food items to the RGV Food Bank today so we can stockpile supplies to meet the increase demand for emergency food supplies after a storm.

Hidalgo County works year-round to plan for hurricanes. We train with these plans and we exercise these plans regularly. However, each of us must take individual responsibility to create and execute our own hurricane emergency plan. We are in this together. I encourage each of you to talk to your family members and your neighbors about the importance of getting ready for a storm. If we come together as a community, we stand a chance to weather the storm.

To learn more about hurricane preparedness, call 956/318-2615 or visit http://www.co.hidalgo.tx.us.

René  A. Ramírez is Hidalgo County Judge.

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Congressman Cuellar briefed on federal drone planes expected to patrol border region this fall

By ASHLEY PATTERSON

On Wednesday, May 19, officials from Customs and Border Protection (CBP) briefed Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on the unmanned aircraft system expected to patrol the Texas-Mexico border by this fall. The technical briefing reviewed the operational capacities of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), in anticipation of an impending flight approval from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Also on May 19, Cuellar and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison were scheduled to meet with FAA Administrator Randy Babbitt to review the status of the pending Certification of Authorization (COA) for UAV flight along the Texas-Mexico border between El Paso and Corpus Christi, Texas, in addition to the Texas coastline along the Gulf of Mexico.

“This is a homeland security priority and we need to know where FAA is in the approval process,” said Cuellar. “Last week, FAA gave CBP approval to fly from Arizona to West Texas, and now we need clearance for the remaining 1,200 miles of the Texas southern border.”

Pending FAA approval, the remotely-piloted aircraft could provide CBP with air, land and marine intelligence to combat illegal activity along the Rio Grande and Texas coastal waters along the Gulf of Mexico. If the flight track is approved by the FAA, CBP would have the operational capability to deploy a Predator B land-based aircraft or a dual purpose land-marine Guardian Maritime aircraft to the Texas-Mexico border this year.

The CBP-operated UAV would provide real-time actionable information to border patrol agents on the ground. This would allow border patrol agents to immediately deploy response vehicles, boats, helicopters or other aircraft to security situations along the border, as is border security practice in other southern border states where UAVs operate.

“These aircraft will increasingly become a familiar means for providing homeland security,” said Cuellar. “The real time intelligence they provide will benefit our domestic security strategy and give us a new tool to meet the evolving threats of the 21st century. CBP has a vision to expand this border security program and Texas is a part of that plan.”

The May 19 meeting between Cuellar and CBP officials from the Office of Air and Marine, was in advance of a May 20 meeting with the FAA Administrator to review the status of the pending certification of authorization. Cuellar, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism, will relay to FAA how this certification is a homeland security priority and critically important to securing 1,200 miles of the nation’s southern border.

“I still expect that we could see a UAV flying in Texas by this fall,” said Cuellar. “CBP has relayed to me logistical preparations for a UAV program specific to Texas and those preparations are a good sign as we wait for FAA approval.”

Currently, CBP Air and Marine operate several Predator B unmanned aircraft systems along the northern and southern borders of the United States. These remotely piloted aircraft have a long duration of flight, up to 20-30 hours, and have provided to the Department of Homeland Security critical national intelligence information to secure the nation’s land borders.

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Let’s properly honor our nation’s heroes on Memorial Day, which falls on Monday, May 31

By SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.

For me Memorial Day is one of the most poignant holidays this country observes.

Although we celebrate it by taking a day off from work or school, if we take the time to read the stories of bravery, patriotism and sacrifice by our men and women in uniform throughout our history, this day can take on a whole new meaning – its true meaning.

Memorial Day, celebrated the last Monday in May, started in response to the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War in which we lost over 200,000 soldiers on both sides.

While figures may vary, for the five major wars our country has fought that include the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict, and the Vietnam War, there have been close to 600,000 combat deaths. Others also died as part of war but not directly in combat. Although they didn’t die in combat, they served heroically in combat support.

For the War on Terrorism that includes warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have lost over 4,000 soldiers already.

These numbers represent lives that impacted spouses, children, parents, families and entire communities.

I recall the sorrowful look on my father’s face, a now deceased World War II veteran, when he remembered the hardships and sacrifices made by him and his brothers- in-arms, many of whom didn’t return home. From my Dad I understood not just the horrors of war, but the price that our men and women in uniform pay on our behalf.

Let’s make Memorial Day the proper holiday it was intended to be: celebrating our freedom while honoring the heroes who died to protect it.

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Congressman Hinojosa votes for key bank incentives to help provide more business loans

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, May 20, announced that the House Committee on Financial Services Committee approved key legislation designed to create jobs by providing incentives to community banks to increase lending to small businesses struggling to gain access to credit due to the financial crisis.

Hinojosa is a senior member of that House legislative panel.

House Resolution 5297, the Small Business Lending Fund Act, would create a $30 billion Small Business Lending Fund in Treasury to boost small business lending by injecting capital into the community banks with assets of $10 billion or less.

H.R. 5297 was approved by a vote of 42-23 and now moves to the House floor for consideration.

Under the program, community banks that receive funding would be rewarded for increasing small business lending, and penalized if they fail to increase small business access to credit.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Even as larger businesses have begun to increase staff, small business continues to decline, as credit from banks remain unavailable. We must support effective efforts to promote small business lending, so these companies can grow and hire,” said Hinojosa.

The program is unrelated to the Troubled Asset Relief Program and mandates accountability and oversight by Congress, the GAO, and the Treasury Department’s Inspector General. The committee also adopted several bipartisan amendments on May 20 to strengthen the bill, including one by Hinojosa in his capacity as Chairman of the Congressional Rural Housing Caucus, to ensure that banks, small businesses and residents in rural America benefit from the legislation.

The bill calls for the capital to be repaid by community banks over time.

“This legislation is going to make it easier for small businesses in Rio Grande Valley and across the country to access the resources they need to survive, develop and thrive to help our great country continue on the path toward recovery,” Hinojosa added.

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More than 3,500 students graduate from South Texas College for Spring 2010

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR

Graduation day was truly a family affair on Saturday, May 15, as South Texas College welcomed more than 18,000 community members to State Farm Arena to celebrate a major life milestone with friends and family members. During the college’s three ceremonies, more than 3,500 graduates were awarded certificates, associate degrees or bachelor degrees.

“Graduation from college is a major accomplishment that few achieve and we are all very proud of you for making it to this day,” said STC President Shirley A. Reed.

After each graduation service, friends and family greeted their new graduates outside the arena, some with balloons and others with special gifts of renewal and rebirth.

“We are releasing doves as part of the celebration as a gift to all graduates, but in particular for my wife Laura Singleterry, who is earning her nursing degree today,” said  proud husband Freddie Singleterry.

Others, like Grace Kariuki and Helen Nelson, took the opportunity to introduce their families to celebrate their accomplishments and their new friendship.

“We met on campus and now we have been good friends for a long time,” said Grace, who earned her associate degree in nursing. “Even though we were in different classes, we would study together. She got to meet my family and now I consider her family.”

Of the 3,500+ graduates, 99 earned bachelor degrees from the college and 82 were high school students earning associate degrees through the college’s Dual Enrollment Engineering and Dual Enrollment Medical Science academies.

The college also took the opportunity to congratulate its smallest graduates from its Mid-Valley Campus Child Care Development Center. Twenty-four students graduated on to preschool and kindergarten from the facility, and six of those graduates were on hand to celebrate and see what a college-bound life has in store for them.

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

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Palmview man sentenced to 15 months for jury tampering during 2008 trial of drug traffickers

By ANGELA DODGE

A former federal juror who served on the jury of the 2008 trial of two brothers charged with drug trafficking which ended in a mistrial has been sentenced for jury tampering, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno and Ralph G. Díaz, special agent in charge of the FBI – San Antonio Division, announced on Monday, May 17.

Máximo  González, aka Max, 36, of Palmview, pleaded guilty before United States District Judge Vanessa Gilmore to obstructing and impeding a jury trial pending in the McAllen division of the Southern District of Texas. Gilmore on May 17 sentenced González to 15 months to be followed by three years of supervised release. González has been in custody since his January 2010 arrest and will remain in federal custody to serve his sentence.

“Our system of justice is rooted in a fair and impartial jury who will evaluate the evidence and render a true verdict,” said Moreno. “When a juror violates his oath, justice suffers and both the accused and the public are victims. This office will continue to strictly enforce violations that disrupt the administration of justice.”

On November 5, 2008, González participated in jury selection and was selected as a juror in the case ofUnited States v. Guadalupe Hernández, et. al., Case No. M-07-CR-144, then pending before United States District Judge Randy Crane in the McAllen Division of the Southern District of Texas, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Patricia Profit.

During the trial and after listening to witness testimony, Gonzalez contacted an unindicted drug dealer implicated by trial testimony. González also contacted and met with Guadalupe and Abraham Hernández, defendants in the trial in which he was sitting as a juror, to discuss the trial testimony.

According to fellow jurors, González offered to convict the two remaining defendants (Mariano Alvarez and Eden Flores) in exchange for the acquittal of the Hernández brothers. During jury deliberations, González met with and told the Hernández brothers that the jury had questions about the availability of obtaining United Parcel Service (UPS) labels, a matter raised during trial. González accompanied the Hernández brothers to a UPS drop box and obtained several UPS labels. That evening, Guadalupe Hernández instructed González to “make every effort” to get them off.

The following day, González discussed his venture and how easily he obtained UPS labels with his fellow jurors during deliberations. On December 5, 2008, González was removed from the jury by  Crane. On December 8, 2008, Crane declared a mistrial.

Between his dismissal from jury service and July 2009, González met with an un-indicted co-conspirator and asked for a $1,500 “loan” based upon his (González) having helped the Hernandez brothers in the case and also met with an associate of Guadalupe Hernández about Hernández’ upcoming trial.

In July 2009, González voluntarily provided a three-page hand-written signed statement to FBI agents admitting his illegal conduct. In his statement, González said, among other things, “I knew that it was wrong to meet with Lupe or any other person related to the case, but it was already too late because I was already there. I decided not to report it because I know that I had done wrong.” González was indicted in January 2010.

“Public corruption is one of the FBI’s top investigative priorities because of its potential to undermine our democracy,” said Díaz. “Jury tampering is a serious threat to the proper functioning of our justice system. The FBI will aggressively pursue all jury tampering allegations and ensure that those involved are held accountable.”

The underlying narcotics case,United States v. Guadalupe Hernández, et. al., was re-tried in Houston before  Crane. That trial resulted in the conviction of both brothers and their two co-defendants. Guadalupe Hernández has been sentenced to 30 years imprisonment, his brother, Abraham Hernández, was sentenced to 21 years and the two remaining defendants received life sentences.

The prosecution of this case was handled by Assistant United States Attorney Michael Wright. The investigation leading to the charges was conducted by agents of the McAllen Office of the FBI with the assistance of the McAllen Office of the Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation Division, the United States Postal Service – Office of Inspector General and the Drug Enforcement Administration.

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ACCIÓN Texas teams up with McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to offer accessible, affordable loans to business owners

Continuing to be an advocate of small business, the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has become a satellite office to ACCIÓN Texas, a micro-loan lender for small business loans.

ACCIÓN Texas is a statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to providing the essential tools needed to grow a small business: credit and training. Many lenders do not offer loans to entrepreneurs without traditional collateral or sufficient credit history. That’s where ACCIÓN Texas is different.

ACCIÓN Texas makes loans to small business owners with limited access to traditional sources of credit. Residents may be eligible for a variety of business loans between $500 to $100,000 or may be able to take advantage of one of their new products, such as the SBA 504 loans, which are loans from $200,000 to $4 million for commercial property and long term assets.

Common loans are made to businesses such as restaurant owners, consulting firms, beauty salon operators, graphic designers, construction contractors, daycare providers and many more types of businesses. Loan approvals can be as soon as two to three weeks. Loans from ACCIÓN Texas can also business owners the opportunity to establish or rebuild their credit history.

“We encourage small business owners who have a low credit score and are not able to get a loan through their conventional bank to come in and apply with ACCIÓN Texas,” said Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. “In addition, if you are a Star-Up business and don’t have enough collateral, this is also a perfect way to get started.”

ACCIÓN Texas officials will be available every Thursday at the McAllen Hispanic chamber’s office. To make an appointment, residents should contact the MHCC office at 928-0060.

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Attorney General Abbott charges Webb County developer with violating colonias prevention laws

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Friday, May 21, charged the developer of land in Tanquesitos South Acres in Webb County with violating state colonia prevention laws.

The state’s enforcement action, which was filed jointly with Webb County Attorney Anna L. Cavazos Ramírez, charged developer Alfonso Ruíz and property title holder Margaret Palacios with unlawfully subdividing property and leasing residential lots without installing or bonding legally mandated water and wastewater facilities. The state also charged the defendants with failing to obtain plat approval from local officials.

“Today’s enforcement action charges the defendants with failing to comply with Texas’ colonias-prevention laws,” Abbott said. “Texas law provides specific protections that prevent border-area developments from being sold without a guarantee of basic infrastructure such as sewer lines. The enforcement action filed today reflects a joint effort between the state Attorney General’s Office and Webb County Attorney Ramírez’ Office to protect the health and safety of border-area residents.”

According to court documents, Ruíz entered into a contract for deed to obtain legal possession of Lot 60 in the subdivision. Then, he subdivided the lot into 11 smaller lots and erected buildings, many of them trailer homes. Later, he leased the subdivided lots but failed to install or bond water and wastewater facilities. As a result, untreated wastewater has been discharged into a nearby creek by Lot 60 tenants. State colonia investigators also found that Ruíz tenants’ drinking water is distributed in an unsanitary manner – creating a public health nuisance for residents.

The state’s enforcement action seeks an injunction compelling the defendants to comply with anti-colonia laws and provide water and wastewater services to lots being leased or sold. The state also seeks an injunction prohibiting Ruíz and Palacios from marketing additional Tanquesitos South Acres sales or leases until lots are provided with the minimum required water and wastewater services or financial guarantees for installation. Additionally, the state seeks civil penalties of up to $15,000 for each unlawful lot.

Under Texas law, unincorporated residential subdivisions near the U.S.-Mexico border that lack adequate water and sewage services are commonly referred to as colonias. Most colonias lie outside city limits or in isolated areas of a county and lack even basic infrastructure and utilities. Residents often must haul water, go without electricity and risk higher incidence of disease.

Before purchasing residential property outside city limits, border area purchasers should check with county officials to confirm the property was legally subdivided and that the developer has made necessary arrangements to supply required infrastructure.

Texans can file complaints with the Office of the Attorney General against developers or sellers who fail to provide water and wastewater services or who subdivide land without first obtaining necessary county approval. Complaints can be filed on the attorney general’s website at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or by calling (800) 252-8011.

The OAG also maintains the state’s Colonia Geographic Database, which offers geographic and descriptive data on more than 2000 colonias in 29 border area counties where this agency has enforcement responsibilities. To access the database, or for more information regarding Attorney General Abbott’s colonias-prevention efforts, visit the Colonia’s page on the attorney general’s website.

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