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Earlier this month, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst appointed Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, featured here reading to elementary school students, to the Select Committee on Redistricting. In her guest column, featured later in this posting, Zaffirini explains how the upcoming congressional redistricting battles in the Texas Legislature next spring will have a major impact on how much federal money comes for public school education. Zaffirini says South Texans can help funnel more federal funds for local school districts by fully participating in the final rounds of the U.S. Census. "An accurate census count is critical to fair representation for all Texans. Congressional seats are awarded to states based on population, and regions of Texas with greater population are given greater representation in the state legislature and board of education," she contends. "Census counts also will play a major role in determining how $4 trillion in federal funds will be spent over the next decade for critical needs including roads, hospitals, school lunch programs and senior centers."   

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Restoration Committee has undertaken the task of preserving the Southern Pacific Train Depot, a historic site constructed in 1927 that has served the community and the Valley for many decades, including housing the local chamber and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. The facility was presented with a historical designation by the Texas Historical Commission once the initial restoration project was completed in 1995. Volunteers of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Depot Restoration Committee, members of the Board of Directors and Chamber staff have united to restore one of the city’s jewels. Committee members gathered recently to plan the next phase of the ongoing restoration project. Featured, from left: Marty Martin, Rio Valley Realty; Flo Prater, Rio Valley Realty; Letty  González, President of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Elva Jackson Garza, Depot Restoration Committee Chair; Maggie Kent, General Dentistry Centers; and Johnny Rodríguez, Austin Personnel Services and Chairman-Elect of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. See story later in this posting.  

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On Tuesday, July 13, the Workforce Solutions (WFS)Board of Directors recognized Cellular One for their continued support and creation of jobs in South Texas by presenting the telecommunications company with an Employer Partnership Award. In April 2008, Cellular One approached WFS with the idea of creation a call center in McAllen – their first in Texas.

With an initial staff of 20 employees, the Cellular One call center now employes 79 staff members – who also receive excellent benefits packages – which were referred by WFS. Featured, from left: John Hershey, Workforce Solutions; Rosie Welborn, Cellular One; Sam Vale, Workforce Solutions Board Chairman; and Ryan Murphy, Cellular One.  

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Alexander Cantú, a graduate of Edinburg North High School, was one of four Edinburg area students who were recently honored for their academic achievements with public recognition and scholarships by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors Committee. The Ambassadors Committee last month held the 1st Annual Night Golf Tournament, which raised $4,000 for scholarship funds for Cantú and three other worthy students: Evan Brough, a graduate of the South Texas BETA Academy; Alexis García, a graduate of Edinburg High School; and Christian Henry, a graduate of Johnny G. Economedes High School. Those funds also were used for a restoration project for the Edinburg Depot, which currently houses the chamber of commerce and the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. Featured with Cantú is Celeste Cabrera, a Chamber Ambassador, who also co-chaired the Night Golf Tournament. 

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Evan Brough, a graduate of the South Texas BETA Academy, featured right, proudly accepts his Certificate of Accomplishment, which also brought an academic scholarship, during a recent ceremony hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. Bough, shown here receiving the public recognition from Martín Rivas, Director of Membership for the local chamber, was one of four Edinburg high school graduates who were awarded scholarships from proceeds of a June 11 golf tournament hosted by the chamber. In addition to Brough, the other accomplished area high school graduates who were honored and bestowed with scholarships were: Alexander Cantú, a graduate of Edinburg North High School; Alexis García, a graduate of Edinburg High School; and Christian Henry, a graduate of Johnny G. Economedes High School. The golf tournament, held on Friday, June 11 at the Ebony Municipal Golf Course, fielded teams whose entry fees help raise the crucial funds for the scholarships and the renovation work. From that competition, the follow teams placed accordingly: 1st Place: Jerry Salazar, Eric Cubriel, Víctor Prado, and Adolfo Cubriel; 2nd Place: Albert Ochoa, Chris Brasher, Eloy Alberete, and Mike Salinas; and 3rd Place: Guy Marroquín, Justin Esparza, and Rey Chavana. 

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Alexis García, featured right, a graduate of Edinburg High School, poses with Celeste Cabrera, a member of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Ambassadors Committee, after being honored by that group for the EHS student’s achievements in school, a ceremony which included García receiving a scholarship from the Ambassadors Committee. In addition to  García, the other accomplished area high school graduates who were honored and bestowed with scholarships were: Evan Brough, a graduate of the South Texas BETA Academy; Alexander Cantú, a graduate of Edinburg North High School; and  Christian Henry, a graduate of Johnny G. Economedes High School. The Ambassadors Committee also expressed their appreciation to the following sponsors for their commitment and support for: Allure Marketing Firm; Berton Auto Industrial; Beyamar Home Health & Hospice; Briggs Equipment; Budweiser; Convention + Expo Management Services LLC; Edinburg International Race Track; Edinburg Road Runners; Elsa State Bank; Gilbert Enríquez Enterprises; H20 Only; Home Depot Store #516; Klean Kits; Law Office of Roy Valdéz; ING/Rolando J. Guerra & Associates; Magic Valley Electric; Melden & Hunt; Lowes; Pro Nails II; Ramón’s BBQ; Rescue EMS; Sandia Depot; Security Depot;  Stepping Stones Rehabilitation; Tiger Rock Taekwondo; and Valley Grande Manor. 

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South Texas Health System has recently named Steven C. Foster as Chief Operating Officer for Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital. “I am pleased to announce the promotion of Steven Foster to the position of Chief Operating Officer at Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital,” said Douglas Matney, Vice President of the Acute Care Division and Group Director for South Texas Health System. “We extend congratulations to Steven on his promotion and wish him continued success.” As Chief Operating Officer, Foster will help lead Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital’s strategic, operational, and administrative activities with Linda Resendez, RN, CEO. See story later in this posting. 

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South Texas College expansion could cost $134.5 million, according to draft report

By DAVID A. DÍAZ   

Plans by South Texas College to expand its existing campuses in McAllen, Rio Grande City, and Weslaco to meet soaring student enrollment growth over the next 10 years could cost more than $134 million, and that price tag doesn’t include the cost to build a potential new campus, either in Edinburg, Alamo/Donna, or the Alton areas.  

Those elements, along with other detailed academic, financial and construction strategies, are contained in a draft of the 2010 District-Wide Campus Expansion Master Plan, commissioned by the STC Board of Trustees in 2008, according to Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco.  

No action has yet been taken by the STC Board of Trustees, although in April, a presentation by the plan’s consultants had been scheduled, but it was postponed.  

Freese & Nichols, Inc., based in Ft. Worth, was hired in 2008 by the STC Board of Trustees for a reported $557,802 fee to develop the process, planning principles, and recommendations that could lead to what would be major growth of STC’s campuses.  

It would be up to the STC Board of Trustees to come up with the financing mechanisms to pay for the expansion plans. Bonds, property taxes, student tuition and fees, federal and state revenues, grants, and financial contributions from public and private entities are some of the major sources of revenue for such construction projects.  

Noting that the draft report could change before it makes it before the STC Board of Trustees, Martínez said it is important for the public to have as much advance insight as possible.  

"The draft report is very detailed and informative, and lays out a remarkable vision of the challenges and opportunities facing STC in the near future," said the veteran lawmaker, whose legislative district includes STC’s Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco. "This expansion plan, if approved in its current form, could have as much of an impact on the social, economic and academic development of South Texas as our current efforts to bring in a Veterans Administration Hospital and to build a University of Texas medical school complex."  

STC leaders project that student enrollment in its system will reach 30,000 this fall, and by 2020, that enrollment will reach 45,000.  

Projected costs by existing campuses  

According to the Executive Cost Summary contained in the draft:  

• The Pecan Campus in McAllen would see three new buildings constructed, along with the expansion of the  Student Services Building, and the related site work, for almost $50 million. Located at 3201 West Pecan, this higher education complex is the flagship campus for the two-county community college system. STC serves Hidalgo and Starr counties;  

• The Dr. Ramiro Casso Nursing and Allied Health Campus, also in McAllen, would be expanded, and coupled with the cost of the site work, represent $28.6 million in public investments. This campus, which is surrounded by the city’s main hospitals and health care centers, helps prepare students for nursing and allied health professions;  

• The Mid-Valley Campus in Weslaco would see the construction of a $13.8 million Health Professions & Science Center, along with smaller, but still multi-million dollar expansions of the Student Services and Technology and Workforce Center. Adding an almost $2 million cost for the site work, the Weslaco campus new construction and expansions would cost about $20.4 million. The Mid-Valley Campus was built to bring higher education opportunities closer to eastern Hidalgo County;  

• The Technology Campus, which is located in the McAllen Foreign Trade Zone on West Military Highway, would see an $18 million infusion, including a $12.5 million expansion of the Technology Campus and Institute for Advanced Manufacturing, and a $2.2 million expansion of the Logistical Support Center. The Technology Campus provides a wide range of electronic training labs, technical machinery labs and classrooms to prepare students for careers in business administration, precision manufacturing, computer science, diesel technology, and computer aided drafting and design; and  

• The Starr County Campus, located in Rio Grande City, would see a $17.6 million upgrade, with expansions of the Library and Cultural Arts Center ($4.2 million), Technology and Workforce Center ($3.8 million), Student Services ($1.6 million), Health Professions and Science Center ($5.6 million); and site work ($2.3 million).  

Potential new campus   

According to the report, the planning team organized by the consultants, which also included STC leaders and other officials, conducted a preliminary study on possible locations for the new campus.  

Originally, there were six locations selected in general high areas of growth in Hidalgo County, according to the draft report. After discussions with STC’s Board of Trustees, potential new campus locations were narrowed to three: the Alamo/Donna area; the Edinburg/North Interstate-69 area; and the Alton area.  

The new campus would be needed in Hidalgo County because of the rapid student growth over the last several years, the draft report noted.  

Also from the draft report:   

• The Technology Campus will reach land capacity in 2012, with Pecan Campus reaching its land capacity in 2014/2015. Between these two campuses, after they reach their capacity there will be a deficit of approximately 270,000 GSF (gross square footage). The Dr. Ramiro Casso Nursing and Allied Health Campus will reach capacity in 2011. However, STC is working with the City of McAllen for a potential purchase of additional land adjacent to the campus that would eliminate the space deficit at the Nursing and Allied Health Campus; 

• The planning team did not rank potential campus locations, but suggested that a detailed engineering study be done using similar criteria (ranging from proximity to existing infrastructure, such as utilities and roads, to the nearby presence of a high school) to assist in future selection process; and 

• Capacity deficits of Technology, Pecan and Dr. Ramiro Casso Nursing and Allied Health campuses could also be accommodated at Mid-Valley and Starr County campuses until a new campus becomes economically feasible.  

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Regents approve stripping names of Ku Klux Klan supporters from UT-Austin building, park

By ANTHONY P. DE BRUYN 

Acting on the recommendation of The University of Texas at Austin President William Powers, Jr., the UT System Board of Regents on Thursday, July 15, approved the new name of a residence hall and park on the UT Austin campus. 

Creekside Residence Hall and Creekside Park will replace the current names of Simkins Hall and Simkins Park, respectively. The residence hall, which was built in the 1950s to house male law students and graduate students, was named for William Stewart Simkins, who taught at the UT Austin School of Law from 1899 until his death in 1929. 

The adjacent park was named for his brother and former UT System Regent Eldred J. Simkins.  

Both Simkins brothers had ties to the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) after the Civil War. 

Powers brought forward the recommendation of a 21-member campus advisory committee charged with making recommendations on the naming issue. The new names are effective immediately and the campus will install new signage as soon as possible.   

On Friday, July 9, Powers said he would propose to the UT System regents the removal of the name from the university’s Simkins Residence Hall. 

"I accept and endorse the recommendation of the 21-member campus advisory group, and I will seek the approval of the Board of Regents for removal of the name from the residence hall," said Powers. "I value and appreciate the consultative process that led to this decision and the engagement of the community, students, faculty, staff and alumni in this issue." 

The advisory group deliberated during a series of four meetings held in June and gathered input through an e-mail address and two public forums co-sponsored by the Student Government. 

"The university’s current naming policy addresses renaming in cases when the name compromises public trust and the university’s reputation," said Dr. Gregory J. Vincent, vice president for diversity and engagement, who formed the advisory group at Powers’ request. "In light of these guidelines, the advisory group strongly believes that renaming is the proper course of action. By his own admission, Simkins engaged in violent behavior against African Americans. These were actions taken outside of the law. Furthermore, Simkins wrote and spoke freely about these activities during his 30-year tenure at the university, promoting the Klan to students and others on campus. 

"The group also believed that having a residence hall honorifically named for a founder of the Florida KKK is inconsistent with the core values of this university and with President Powers’ strategic goal to increase diversity on campus. During the past four years, we have made significant progress diversifying the faculty, staff and student body and creating an inclusive campus climate." 

"An institution like ours is shaped by its history, but it need not be encumbered by it," Powers said. "While reflecting on the past and learning from it, it is important to focus on the future. The University of Texas at Austin is now among the most diverse institutions of higher education in the nation, and we will continue to invest in ensuring this is a place of opportunity for young people from all racial, ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds." 

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Former Hidalgo County Commissioner Handy sentenced to 30 months in federal prison

By ANGELA DODGE 

Former County Commissioner Sylvia Sue Handy-Espronceda, 52, on Friday, July 9, was sentenced to prison, fined and ordered to pay restitution to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by Chief U.S. District Judge Ricardo H. Hinojosa, United States Attorney José Ángel Moreno announced. 

Previously convicted of conspiracy to harboring an illegal alien and of making a false statement on her 2005 tax return regarding a child care credit after pleading guilty, Handy was sentenced this afternoon. Finding that Handy had occupied a leadership role in the conspiracy, had abused her position of trust as a County Commissioner for Precinct 1 and obstructed justice, Hinojosa sentenced Handy to 30 months imprisonment, without parole, to be followed by a two-year-term of supervised release, fined her $7,500 and further ordered Handy to pay $3,357 in restitution to the IRS for unlawful tax credits she received. 

Handy orchestrated the fraudulent hiring and employment of an illegal alien from Mexico under assumed identities at Precinct 1, in McAllen from 2001 to 2007. The illegal alien also provided housekeeping and childcare services to Handy at the county’s expense. Handy also lied on her 2005 tax return when she claimed a childcare credit for monies paid to an individual who had never worked for her and whom she had never paid. 

Handy has been ordered to surrender to the federal authorities to begin serving her prison sentence on August 20, 2010. 

Two of Handy’s co-defendants, María de los Ángeles Landa de Hernández and Eloisa Andrade Uriegas, have also been convicted after pleading guilty are awaiting sentencing.  

This investigation leading to the charges against Handy and her co-defendants was conducted by the FBI, IRS-Criminal Investigations, Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations and the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Daniel C. Rodríguez and F. Andino Reynal prosecuted the case. 

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Rep. Martínez appointed chairman of Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Subcommittee on Redistricting

By SCOTT JENKINES 

Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has been appointed Chairman of the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence Subcommittee on Redistricting by Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio. 

As part of those duties, Martinez was responsible for conducting hearings in McAllen – which was held on Monday, July 19, 2010  atthe McAllen Convention Center – and later in the week in Laredo in Corpus Christi. 

The purpose of the hearings is to gather testimony and feedback from South Texans on issues relating to the upcoming debate next spring by the Texas Legislature on the redrawing of the boundaries of congressional, state senate, state representative, and state board of education districts districts.  

The sessions are open to the public, not just invited guests. 

State legislators are responsible for redrawing congressional district lines every ten years based upon the new Census data. Because of the population growth in Texas and the Rio Grande Valley, Texas is expected to gain a minimum of three new congressional seats, with the Rio Grande Valley gaining one of these seats. 

In addition to Martínez, other state lawmakers serving with him on the subcommittee include Rep. Tyron Lewis, R-Odessa, and Rep. Jim Jackson, R-Carrollton. The House Committee on Redistricting also will participate in the McAllen, Laredo and Corpus Christi hearings. 

The Laredo hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, July 20.  That hearing will begin at 10 a.m. and will be held at Texas A & M University, Center for Fine and Performing Arts-Recital Hall, 5201 University Blvd. 

The Corpus Christi hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, July 21, 2010.  The hearing will begin at 10 a.m. and will held at Corpus Christi City Hall, City Council Chambers, 1201 Leopard. 

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Census important to representation and funding for South Texas 

By SEN. JUDITH ZAFFIRINI 

Earlier this monthy, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst appointed me to the Select Senate Committee on Redistricting. While this is a great opportunity, it also is a great responsibility. To draw new congressional, legislative and State Board of Education districts, our committee will rely heavily on feedback from Texans and the 2010 census data slated to be released in early 2011. 

An accurate census count is critical to fair representation for all Texans. Congressional seats are awarded to states based on population, and regions of Texas with greater population are given greater representation in the state legislature and board of education.  

The number of voices South Texas has in these important elected bodies in the coming decade will depend greatly on our region’s participation in the census. What’s more, census data also are used to determine the boundaries of judicial and city council districts and of precincts for county commissioners, constables and other local officials. If you care about what happens at these levels of government, it is in your interest to promote participation in the census. Whether you consider yourself a Democrat, Republican or Independent, regardless of where you live, you deserve to be heard.  

Census counts also will play a major role in determining how $4 trillion in federal funds will be spent over the next decade for critical needs including roads, hospitals, school lunch programs and senior centers. 

These funds are imperative for many important projects in Senate District 21 counties, namely, Atascosa, Bee, northeast Bexar, Dimmit, Duval, Frio, Jim Hogg, Karnes, La Salle, Live Oak, McMullen, San Patricio, Starr, Webb, Wilson, Zapata and Zavala. The smaller our census counts, the smaller the proportion of funding that will be directed to these counties.  

Having served on the select redistricting committee three times since 1987, I am delighted to return as the ranking member. In previous decades South Texas did not receive its fair share of representation and funding because its residents were undercounted in the census. This time we must do better.  

Census workers across the country are completing their door-to-door check at households whose residents did not return census forms. When that phase is completed, census workers will make verification phone calls through mid-August. These efforts should enhance accuracy and ensure that persons not previously counted are included.  

It is my hope that all South Texans participate in the census, open their doors to census workers and answer verification phone calls. Additional information regarding how you can help ensure a complete and accurate census can be obtained via http://www.Census2010.gov.  

Sen. Zaffirini, a Democrat, is from Laredo 

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Hidalgo, Cameron and Webb counties to share in $500,000 to fight mosquito infestation

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

The Texas Department of State Health Services announced on Friday, July 16, that after receiving a letter from U.S. Congressmen Henry Cuellar, Rubén Hinojosa and Solomon Ortiz, the state will expedite funding for mosquito abatement in several counties affected by Hurricane Alex.  

The $500,000 approved late Thursday, July 15, was requested by Webb, Hidalgo and Cameron  counties for ground spraying chemicals and briquettes, which are placed in standing water to kill mosquito larvae.  

“This will ensure important relief to our local communities in the wake of recent flooding in South Texas. From Laredo to the Valley, this will help abate the infestation of mosquitoes affecting our local families,” said Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen. “This is good news we can use in the midst of these floods.” 

Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, said he grew up in the Valley, and knows first-hand how bad a mosquito infestation can get.   

“We all know that right after a hurricane or even a heavy rain, we get swarmed by mosquitoes," he said. "Knowing that mosquitoes carry dengue fever and the West Nile virus, we must not waste any time in getting rid of the problem. This is why we felt the need to write the letter asking for immediate assistance.” 

Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, added:  “We will continue to look out for the people in South Texas and do all we can to ensure we continue to offer mosquito abatement in South  Texas.”  

The letter sent by the three South Texas congressmen also requested financial assistance for aerial spraying. The state determined that aerial spraying assistance cannot be granted until a total of $27 million in damages is reached by all the counties affected. Aerial spraying also requires approval by other federal agencies including the EPA and the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service.  

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Attorney General Greg Abbott defends the Texas Open Meetings Act

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, July 12, fought to protect transparency and openness in government when he filed a brief defending the constitutionality of the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA). A number of Texas cities and local officials are working to avoid compliance with the law by challenging its constitutionality in federal court. 

As Abbott’s brief explains, TOMA promotes the fundamental principle of democratic government by requiring that members of governmental boards and commissions conduct the taxpayers’ business in a manner that is open and accessible to the public. Thus, when a quorum of officials on a local city council or county commission want to meet and discuss public business, they must post public notice first and hold their meetings in open sessions that members of the public are free to attend. Though TOMA has exceptions that allow closed sessions in special circumstances, such as when officials need to discuss confidential personnel matters, it is otherwise a criminal offense for a quorum of governmental officials to discuss official business outside the setting of an open meeting. 

The plaintiffs in City of Alpine, et al. v. Greg Abbott and the State of Texas, et al. are asking the federal district court in Pecos to overturn TOMA because they claim the Act’s criminal provisions violate the First Amendment. The same arguments were presented by the plaintiffs in Rangra v. Brown, but were rejected by the federal district court. Later, Abbott defeated their legal attack on procedural grounds after successfully convincing a 16-1 majority of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit that the plaintiffs’ case was moot. Solicitor General James Ho, who authored the brief asking the Court to dismiss the City of Alpine complaint, is serving as the State’s lead counsel in this case, as in Rangra. 

The state’s legal brief explains that the plaintiffs’ constitutional attack on open government turns the First Amendment on its head. “The First Amendment protects citizens against government oppression – not government against citizen oversight,” the brief explains. “Open government laws are based on the same premise: that public officials work for the people.” 

“Openness in government is a First Amendment virtue, not a First Amendment violation,” the brief states. “The fundamental purpose of the First Amendment is to enable and empower people to engage in free, robust discourse about their government, its officials, and the policies they adopt on their behalf. Open meetings laws thus further, rather than frustrate, fundamental First Amendment values, by educating the public about the conduct and content of public business. Indeed, courts have frequently invoked the First Amendment itself to require public access to certain government proceedings.” 

The brief observes that every state has enacted an open meetings law and that every court to have confronted a First Amendment challenge to such laws has rejected the challenge and upheld the law – including the same federal district court that will hear the City of Alpine case. 

In addition, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld disclosure requirements against First Amendment attack, including two rulings issued just this year. Invoking those rulings, the brief concludes that the “Plaintiffs’ constitutional attack is about protecting not free speech, but secret speech.” As the brief observes, “TOMA does not prohibit anyone from speaking. It merely provides that, when a quorum of public officials discusses public business under their supervision or control, they must do so openly, and not in secret.” 

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New federal rules to help veterans get Veterans Administration help for post-traumatic stress

By ASHLEY PATTERSON 

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on

Monday, July 12, applauded the Department of Veterans Affairs for simplifying the application process for veterans filing for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) benefits and health care services.  

The new procedures, effective this week, will significantly reduce the information a veteran needs to submit when claiming PTSD. 

“This is a significant leap forward in supporting our nation’s veterans,” said Cuellar. “With these new rules, we help our service men and women get the health care and benefits they need and deserve, and we uphold our obligation to those who have so honorably served our nation.”  

The new rules will make it easier for veterans to get treatment and financial support for PTSD. Previously, veterans had to attribute a specific combat experience with their PTSD symptoms. Now, veterans are only required to provide evidence that they served in a war zone where conditions contributed to their post-traumatic stress. 

“Nearly one in five veterans suffer from PTSD or major depression, and many veterans in Texas have been silently suffering without the care they need and have earned,” said Hinojosa.  “Finally, veterans of both current and past wars will receive the VA health care and disability compensation they deserve.” 

The VA expects that the new rule will reduce the amount of time it takes for a PTSD-related claim to be processed. More than 400,000 veterans currently receiving VA compensation benefits have service-connected PTSD. PTSD is a medically recognized anxiety disorder that is connected and developed by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event such as possible death or serious injury. 

“This nation has a solemn obligation to the men and women who have honorably served this country and suffer from the often devastating emotional wounds of war,” said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki.  “This final regulation goes a long way to ensure that Veterans receive the benefits and services they need.”  

To learn more about this new benefit for veterans, please visit:  

www1.va.gov/opa/pressrel/pressrelease.cfm?id=1922 

Patricia Guillermo contributed to this article.  

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Price gouging and contractor ploys common in aftermath of big storms, such as recent deluges in the Valley, warns Attorney General Abbott

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Wednesday, July 14, warned South Texas residents to be wary of price gouging and fraudulent attempts to defraud homeowners and other residents in the aftermath of recent flooding from tropical storms. 

Heavy rainfall from Hurricane Alex and Tropical Depression Two continued to cause severe flooding along the Rio Grande. Gov. Rick Perry’s June 27 disaster declaration, which covers 19 South Texas counties, remains in effect. Under Texas law, a disaster declaration triggers the provision of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act which makes it unlawful to sell or offer to sell fuel, food, medicine or other necessities at exorbitant or excessive prices. 

Texas law prohibits vendors from artificially raising prices and profiteering from natural disasters,” Abbott said.  

“As South Texas communities begin their repair and recovery efforts in the wake of these storms, local authorities and affected residents should be on the lookout from unlawful price gouging – and report any wrongdoing to the Texas Attorney General’s Office," the attorney general advised. "We will keep the residents of affected communities in our thoughts and prayers as we carefully monitor this situation along the Rio Grande River.” 

When Texans turn to repairmen to help in the clean-up and rebuilding process, they should consider these tips: 

  • Deal only with licensed or bonded contractors or builders;
  • Contact an insurance adjuster to get an estimate of the damage and repair cost;
  • Be wary of contractors who solicit services door-to-door, especially those that are unfamiliar or from out of town;
  • Get the salesperson’s license plate number;
  • Don’t rush into signing a contract, and never pay up-front for promised work;
  • Secure the terms of any warranty work in writing; and
  • Ask for references, or rely on recommendations from friends or relatives who have had experience with honest contractors. 

Although Texas’  price gouging law prohibits vendors from illegally raising prices to reap exorbitant profits during a disaster, it does allow retailers to pass along wholesale price increases to customers. Thus, in some cases, increased prices may not necessarily signal illegal price gouging. 

Additional information to help South Texas residents protect themselves against these and other disaster-related scams is available on the Attorney General’s website at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov, or by calling (800) 252-8011. Information is available in English and Spanish. 

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$12.5 million HUD federal grant awarded to Hidalgo County, says Congressman Hinojosa 

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, July 13, announced a grant for $12,484,068 was awarded to Hidalgo County by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money will be divided into three divisions which will provide housing, for low to moderate income families.  

“These programs are so very important to our families who are suffering the most at this time,” said Hinojosa. “We very well know how important it is to have a safe home and emergency shelters to protect our families from hurricanes and high water. This funding will go a long way to help our residents.”   

The funds will be distributed to several programs: 

  • The Community Development Block Grants program for Hidalgo County will receive $9,139,948.00. These funds will be used to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low and moderate-income persons.  
  • Under the Emergency Shelter Grants, Hidalgo  County will receive $370,738.00. These funds will be used to improve the quality and number of emergency homeless shelters.  
  • The third program, HOME, will receive $2,973,382.00 to expand the supply of decent, affordable housing to low and very low-income families in order to meet the needs and priorities of the community and it’s residents.  

“Programs like these serve to help our communities thrive and grow”, said Hinojosa.”  “I am looking forward to working on making sure District 15 remains in the forefront of securing federal grants like these.”  

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Annual rankings reaffirm South Texas College’s position in top 10 percent nationally  

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR 

National education journal Community College Week’s annual community college rankings released in June continue to rank South Texas College as one of the top 100 community colleges in the nation. STC ranks in the top 100, out of more than 1,100 community colleges, in awarding associate degrees. The college also ranks third overall in awarding associate degrees to Hispanic students.  

“It is a great day to be at South Texas College because every day is full of achievements focused on student access and success,” said Juan Mejia, STC chief academic officer. “This May we graduated a record 3,200+ students and educated more than 27,000. In fall 2010 we expect that more than 30,000 students will entrust their educations, and thus futures, in our hands. We are so fortunate to be in the Rio Grande Valley, which has helped us through its support and belief in our abilities, once again, to reach this very important milestone.”  

According to the publication’s annual report Top 100 Associate Degree Producers, STC also ranks in the top 50 in the nation for awarding degrees in the fields of criminal justice; multi/interdisciplinary studies; parks, recreation, leisure and fitness studies; and security and protective services.  

Community College Week ranks colleges based on the number of degrees granted annually. The data is collected from the U.S. Department of Education.  

For additional information about the publication and its national rankings visit http://www.ccweek.com.  

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

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Fundraising efforts continue by Chamber of Commerce to protect historic Edinburg Depot  

By EVANA VLECK 

Edinburg is a community filled with historical events and a focus on preserving the history of the city and South Texas. The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce operates in the Southern Pacific Railroad Depot, one of the most beautiful and historic buildings in the region.            

The Southern Pacific Railroad Depot was purchased by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce in 1993. At that time, the Depot was in desperate need of renovation, so local businesses and chamber investors came together to raise more than $1 million to purchase and renovate the facility to it’s past grandeur.           

As with many historic buildings, regular upkeep and maintenance is necessary to ensure the preservation of the facility. The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Restoration Committee has undertaken the task of preserving the historic site and overseeing the details of various areas in the exterior and interior work that currently need to be upgraded.            

The Depot was constructed in 1927 and served the community and the Valley for many decades.   The facility was presented with a historical designation by the Texas Historical Commission once the initial restoration project was completed in 1995.   

“The Edinburg Chamber Depot Restoration Committee takes pride in our role as the overseers of the preservation of one of Edinburg’s most prestigious and visited sites in our city,” said Elva Jackson Garza, Vice President and Marketing Manager with Edwards Abstract and Title Co. and committee chair. “The number of visitors that walk through the doors of the Depot is amazing as they do business with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, the Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau and of course the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.”           

One of the original architects who worked on the design and restoration project has teamed up with the committee.  Rubén Escobar of Diseno, Inc. has developed the projected plan and has been instrumental in outlining the various phases of concentration on the ongoing repair project.            

This year alone, the Depot Restoration Committee has raised several thousand dollars in cooperation with the Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District Silver Campaign. Those funds were invested in the first phase of the restoration project that focused on roof repairs.  The committee is also working on a dual project that involves the construction of a new patio area that will enhance the exterior of the Edinburg Chamber Depot.   

Maggie Kent of General Dentistry Centers has been working with local contractors who have graciously provided in-kind services and materials for this project.           

Donations are being accepted from interested citizens who want to make a difference in preserving one of Edinburg’s significant and historic buildings. For more information, contact Letty González, President of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce, at 383-4974. 

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Congressman Hinojosa votes "to rein in Wall Street", protect consumers 

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO 

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, earlier this month voted "to rein in Wall Street, end taxpayer bailouts of big banks, and create a consumer financial protection bureau that finally puts consumers first.   

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act will end the era of abuses by “too big to fail” banks that have cost the American people eight million jobs and $17 trillion in retirement savings and net worth. It creates a systemic risk council, a robust method for handling the failure of large institutions, closes gaps in regulatory oversight, and enhances consumer protection.  

“Working families in Texas and across the country have lost their homes, their jobs, and their retirement savings as a result of Wall Street’s recklessness and greed,” said Hinojosa said of his July 1 vote.  “I’ve been working in Congress to restore common sense and empower consumers – and this bill is a step in the right direction.”  

The Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act will help prevent the risky financial practices that led to the financial meltdown and stop large financial firms from gambling with Americans’ retirement and college savings and home values. In addition, taxpayers will no longer pay the price for Wall Street’s irresponsibility. The bill creates a process to shut down large, failing firms whose collapse would put the entire economy at risk. After exhausting all of the company’s assets, additional costs would be covered by a “dissolution fund,” to which all large financial firms would contribute.  

The bill will create the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a new consumer watchdog devoted to protecting Americans from unfair and abusive financial practices. This independent bureau will provide clear and accurate information to families and small businesses to ensure that bank loans, mortgages, and credit cards are fair and affordable.  Just like the FDA does for medical safety, the CFPA will set safety standards to prevent practices such as hidden credit card fees, deceptive “fine print,” and other financial abuses that have escaped oversight so far. So, instead of creating a new, independent agency to run the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the conference report houses the Bureau in the Federal Reserve and exempts community banks with $10 billion in assets or less from primary examinations and enforcement by the new Bureau.  

“I’m on the side of working families – protecting consumers from fraud and providing Texans with financial security, said Hinojosa.  I believe there is more work to be done, particularly in the area of Financial Literacy but I believe this bill shows our commitment and our continuing effort to help our families and our small businesses”.  

The Act also alters the deposit insurance assessment by basing it on assets, not deposits, which will save community banks an aggregate $4.5 billion in premiums over the next three years. It also excludes small publicly traded companies from the Sarbanes Oxley 404 Auditor Attestation Requirements, and it preserves the thrift charter. In addition, the Act will make permanent the increase in the deposit insurance coverage to $250,000 effective upon enactment of the bill and retroactive to January 2008.  

The bill has been called the “strongest set of Wall Street reforms in three generations”  by Elizabeth Warren, Chair of the nonpartisan Congressional Oversight Panel, and has been endorsed by the AARP, Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, Council of Institutional Investors, National Fair Housing Alliance, National Restaurant Association, Public Citizen, SEIU, and US PIRG, among other organizations. The bill was publicly debated for more than 50 hours, and includes over 70 Republican and bipartisan amendments.   

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Six Valley mayors among 27 leaders who endorse Attorney General Abbott for reelection

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, July 12, announced support from 27 South Texas leaders for his 2010 general election campaign, including from the mayors of Mission, Pharr, Harlingen, La Feria, Elsa, and Laguna Vista. 

Abbott, the Republican Party nominee, is facing Barbara Ann Radnofsky’s, a Houston attorney and Democratic Party nominee, in the November general election. 

“We are pleased with the efforts of Attorney General Greg Abbott to combat criminal activity, especially child abuse cases. We appreciate his prompt, fast attention to the needs of law enforcement and South Texas,” said Leo Longoria, Chief of the Mission Police Department. 

Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas praised Abbott, saying, “Greg Abbott looks out for the best interests of the Valley.” 

“Attorney General Greg Abbott is a true public servant who has worked hard to protect the rights of all Texans” says Harlingen Mayor Chris Boswell, adding “it is an honor to support him in his re-election.” 

Abbott recently met with South Texas leaders in Edinburg, where he was praised for his efforts to limit federal government health care overreaches, protect Texas families from child predators, secure child support dollars, and defend the Ten Commandments monument on Capitol grounds. 

“I am honored to have the support of so many leaders from this vital area of the state. I will continue to work side by side with South Texas community leaders to protect and defend South Texas families and fight against federal regulations and policies that stifle small business development and job growth,” said Abbott. 

South Texas leaders endorsing Abbott include:  

  • Leo “Polo” Palacios, Jr., Mayor, City of Pharr;
  • Norberto “Beto” Salinas, Mayor, City of Mission;
  • Chris Boswell, Mayor, City of Harlingen;
  • Senovio Castillo, Mayor, City of Elsa;
  • Steve Brewer, Mayor, City of La Feria;
  • Susie Houston, Mayor, City of Laguna Vista;
  • Rick Morales, former mayor, City of Donna;
  • C. Connie de la Garza, former mayor, City of Harlingen;
  • Richard Rodríguez, former mayor, City of Harlingen;
  • Buddy de la Rosa, former mayor, City of Weslaco;
  • Guadalupe Castillo III, Councilman, City of Donna;
  • Rubén Plata, Commissioner, City of Mission;
  • Roberto Carrillo, Commissioner, City of Pharr;
  • Artuno Cortéz, Commissioner, City of Pharr;
  • Eduardo “Eddie” Cantú, Commissioner, City of Pharr;
  • Óscar Elizondo, Jr., Commissioner, City of Pharr;
  • Leonardo García, Sr., Commissioner, City of Mercedes;
  • Roberto Jackson, former councilman, City of La Joya;
  • Leo Longoria, Chief, Mission Police Department;
  • James E. Olivarez, Board President, Mission CISD;
  • Óscar Martínez, Trustee, Mission CISD;
  • Patty Bazaldua, Trustee, Mission CISD;
  • Juan Zúñiga, Trustee, Sharyland ISD;
  • Ernest Lugo, Jr., Trustee, Donna ISD;
  • Guillermo Reyna, former trustee, Sharyland ISD;
  • Gilbert Guerrero, former trustee, Donna ISD; and
  • Raymond Longoria, Raymond Longoria Insurance. 

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Rep. Gonzáles endorsed in her reelection bid by Texas State Teachers Association

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA 

Rep. Verónica Gonzáles’  list of supporters continues to grow as the Texas State Teachers Association (TSTA) on Wednesday, July 8, announced its endorsement for her re-election campaign to the Texas House of Representatives. 

Gonzáles, an attorney whose House District 41 includes much of McAllen, southwest Edinburg and east Mission, is facing a challenge in November from businesswoman Rebecca Cervera, the Republican Party nominee, who also is from McAllen.   

Gonzáles is serving her third two-year term in the Texas House of Representative. 

She is the first and only woman elected to the Texas Legislature to represent a House seat in Hidalgo County.   

“I am extremely honored to receive the support of the men and women who have dedicated their careers to educating our children,” Gonzáles said. “Receiving an education made all the difference in my own life, and I am committed to ensuring the state provides the tools and resources teachers need in order to give our children increased opportunities for success.”   

TSTA is comprised of educators committed to excellence in public schools and is the Texas affiliate of the National Education Association.  

Gonzáles has also been endorsed by the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas RN/APC political action committee (PAC) which includes the Texas Nurses Association, the Texas Association of Nurse Anesthetists, Coalition for Nurses in Advanced Practice and the Texas Nurse Practitioners.   

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Sen. Lucio among four individuals and two organizations recognized nationally for serving autism community during 2010 

By CARIN YAVORCIK 

Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Friday, July 9, was among four individuals and two organizations honored in Dallas by The Autism Society for making extraordinary contributions to serving the autism community around the world. 

Lucio and the five other honorees were bestowed the prestigious "Autism Champion" award during a special dinner by The Autism Society, the nation’s leading grassroots autism organization, which exists to improve the lives of all affected by autism.  

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disability that typically appears during the first two years of life and affects a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is defined by a certain set of behaviors and is a “spectrum disorder” that affects individuals differently and to varying degrees. There is no known single cause for autism, but increased awareness and funding can help families today.  

The awards were presented during the Autism Society’s major gathering at the Hyatt Regency in Dallas.  

This year’s honorees have helped improve the lives of people with autism through their work in state and federal government, education, public awareness and environmental health:  

The Honorable Eddie Lucio, Jr. 

Lucio’s leadership and tireless efforts to expanded health coverage for children with autism through Senate Bill 419 has dramatically helped improve the lives of children and families affected by autism throughout the state of Texas. Moreover, the Texas insurance reform legislation which he spearheaded now serves as a model for advocates in other states who strive to attain appropriate insurance coverage for this medical condition. Lucio has been a leader in his efforts to give every family in the Texas community access to crucial therapies, and for your message of hope and empowerment. 

Rupert Isaacson 

Isaacson’s book, The Horse Boy,and its accompanying film give families of children with autism a powerful message that their hopes do not have to end with a diagnosis, that autism brings a different lens from which potential springs. In addition, his work connecting horse therapy programs with the autism community has resulted in greater awareness and opportunity for children with autism to experience riding and the recreational benefits that naturally follow. Isaacson’s message of hope is truly global, and the impact that he has made on the autism community and on families around the world has been tremendous.   

Gary Mesibov, Ph.D. 

Mesibov, a professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, led the university’s Treatment and Education of Autistic and related Communication-handicapped Children (TEACCH). Through his work, Dr. Mesibov has helped serve individuals and families affected by autism with innovative diagnostic and supportive services that are now used throughout North Carolina and around the world. He has touched many lives and changed many people’s destinies, and for that, the Autism Society is pleased to present Dr. Mesibov with our prestigious Founders Award.  

The Honorable George Miller 

Congressman George Miller (D-CA), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, has been a leader in authoring and successfully pushing for the passage of the Keeping All Students Safe Act (H.R. 4247) in the House, which will ensure that all children, including those with autism, will receive the most basic human protections in their schools. His work to assure that students on the spectrum will no longer be subjected to restraints and dangerous seclusions has elevated the national discussion on this important issue, and will give every family with a child with autism a sense of safety and support. Chairman Miller has been inspiring in his message of hope, empowerment and respect for basic human rights in the educational setting.   

Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative (LDDI) 

The Learning and Developmental Disabilities Initiative (LDDI) has been instrumental in creating awareness of the critical role of environmental factors in neurodevelopment and in galvanizing advocates to demand change in the way toxins are regulated. Elise Miller, M.Ed., director of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, served as founding coordinator of LDDI, which is comprised of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Learning Disabilities Association of America, National Association for the Dually Diagnosed and Autism Society. The efforts of LDDI members have helped achieve what a few years ago people thought impossible: bringing the Toxic Substances Control Act up for a consideration in order to better protect public health and reduce environmental contributors to chronic diseases and disabilities, including autism. In our community, where for decades families have seen first-hand the impact of the environment on the health and well-being of their loved ones with autism, LDDI’s inspiring efforts to educate a far wider range of constituencies about environmental health science and leverage chemical policy reform gives us hope that we can attain a healthier future for all our children, families and communities. Dr. Ted Schettler, science director of the Collaborative on Health and the Environment and science advisor to LDDI, will be accepting the award.  

Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence (OCALI) 

OCALI has played a critical role in creating top quality programs in technical assistance, training and support to children with autism in Ohio – service that is emulated around the country thanks to this organization’s example. Through OCALI’s long-time support of the Network of Autism Training and Technical Assistance Programs (NATTAP) over the years, members of NATTAP were able to convene, share best practices and develop leading edge educational programming that would not have been possible without the organization’s support and participation. OCALI has been a leader committed to bringing the educational standards and practices for those affected by autism to the highest level. Shawn Henry, OCALI executive director, accepted the award.  

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Deadline approaching for applicants who want to be part of Leadership Edinburg Class XXII  

By EVANA VLECK 

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is currently accepting applications for Leadership Edinburg Class XXII.   

Leadership Edinburg is a growing organization that strives to encourage a better Edinburg through strong leadership skills focusing on politics, education, and quality of life.  It’s a nine-month program that encourages local business/civic leaders to become involved in their community.  

There are more than 500 graduates who have taken the challenge and completed each program of work with pride and great accomplishment. Graduates of Leadership Edinburg typically continue to apply what they learned and demonstrate it by showing interest in community involvement including serving on committees and times in politics.   

Class XXII will kick off their day-and-a-half retreat in September.  Tuition is only $400; deadline to submit an application is in August.   

For more information on Leadership Edinburg or to register please call Letty González at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974. 

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Steven C. Foster named CEO for Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital

By DALINDA GUILLEN 

South Texas Health System has recently named Steven C. Foster as Chief Operating Officer for Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital.  

“I am pleased to announce the promotion of Steven Foster to the position of Chief Operating Officer at Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital,” said Douglas Matney, Vice President of the Acute Care Division and Group Director for South Texas Health System. “We extend congratulations to Steven on his promotion and wish him continued success.”  

As Chief Operating Officer, Foster will help lead Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital’s strategic, operational, and administrative activities with Linda Resendez, RN, CEO.  

“Steven’s result-oriented style of management and commitment to quality outcomes assures that our hospitals will continue to grow successfully,” said Resendez. “He is a man who has a great sense of commitment to improving the healthcare of our community.”  

Foster most recently held the position of Associate Administrator at McAllen Medical Center, where he successfully led negotiations that increased income, streamlined contract services, served as a certified Service Excellence Facilitator, and helped restructure care processes for South Texas Health System.   

“I feel very honored and privileged to work at Edinburg Regional Medical Center and Edinburg Children’s Hospital,” said Foster. “I look forward to working with the amazing physicians, nurses and professionals who contribute to the overall success of our hospitals. I also hope to compliment the team by providing sound operational experience to improve efficiencies that result in a lower cost for offering first-class care to our patients in the Rio Grande Valley.”   

Prior to joining South Texas Health System in 2009, he worked with International Hospital Corporation and served as the Interim CEO in Hermosillo, Mexico, and COO in San José, Costa Rica.  Foster’s professional background also includes a 10-year progressive career in administration positions within the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. He is a Green Belt in Six Sigma and a Fellow of the American College of Healthcare Executives.   

Foster earned a Masters degree in Healthcare Administration and Business Administration from the University of Houston in Clear Lake, Texas. He also holds a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Chemistry from Sam Houston State University.   

Foster resides in the Rio Grande Valley with his wife Florencia and their two young sons.

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