Select Page

Alonzo and Yoli Cantú, with Alonzo’s mother Elida Cantú  and sister Elvia Sáenz, established two family endowments at the University of Texas-Pan American in memory of Hilda Cantú Garza and Guadalupe Cantú. Funds from The Hilda Cantú Garza Endowed Scholarship at the College of Education go to assist education majors, while The Guadalupe Cantú Endowed Scholarship at the College of Business Administration goes to help business majors. Featured at a recent luncheon joining scholarship recipients with the donors are, from left: Saúl Tamez of Edinburg, Guadalupe Cantú Endowed Scholar; Zachary Manuel of Edinburg, Hilda Cantú Garza Endowed Scholar; Cantú family members Elvia Sáenz, Yoli Cantú, Alonzo Cantú, and Elida Cantú; and Guadalupe Cantú Endowed Scholars Alheli González of Edinburg, Rebecca Velasquez of Pharr and Alejandra Borrego of Alamo. See story later in this posting.

•••••• 

Mike Allen, 72, whose extensive credentials and achievements included serving as the District 3 representative on South Texas College’s Board of Trustees, passed away in McAllen on Wednesday, August 25. Allen, featured here during a recent graduation ceremony at STC, lived a remarkable life of service, according to area leaders. Hidalgo County Judge René A. Ramírez credited Allen for doing "so many positive things for the residents of Hidalgo County, the Rio Grande Valley and the entire border region. He spent his entire life advocating for the education, transportation and economic development needs of our region." Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, who was a founding member of STC’s Board of Directors in the early 1990s, also publicly shared his sentiments regarding Allen. “I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend, Mike Allen," said Hinojosa. "I have known Mike for many years. I knew him when he was a priest who was always looking for ways to help people in the community. He was a tireless advocate for economic development and higher education." See story later in this posting.  

••••••  

"You guys need a hospital, you really do" Mrs. Dolia González of Edinburg, the mother of Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. Alfredo "Freddy" González, recently rallied members of the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley during that group’s meeting on Sunday, August 22, at the ECHO in Edinburg. Mrs. González, featured seated, second from left, is a longtime champion for veterans issues in deep South Texas, and she promised to continue supporting the effort to bring a Veterans Administration Hospital to the Rio Grande Valley "as long as my health allows it." Posing with Mrs. González are some of the members of the Veterans Alliance. Seated, from left: Arturo Treto Garza, co-chair of the Veterans Alliance; Mrs. González; Irene T. Garza, historian for the Veterans Alliance; and Udelia Cortéz. Standing, from left: Mike Escobedo; Adelaido Cantú; Homer Gallegos, chair of the Veterans Alliance; Joe Ibarra; and Rey Molano. More information on the Veterans Alliance is available online at ValleyVets.ning.com. See story later in this posting.  

••••••  

Armed with a $50 gift card, a volunteer chaperone, and two hours to make selections; 100 club members from the Boys & Girls Club stormed JC Penney Edinburg on Monday morning, August 30, shopping for clothes for the new school year. Thanks to volunteer shopping buddies from Edinburg Rotary Club, First National Bank, and Azteca Millings, it was easy for club members to pair the right shoes, shirts and pants for the right price. “The kids learn from shopping buddies what things are acceptable for school and what’s not, and they learn to budget,” according to Sabrina Walker-Hernández, Chief Professional Officer. “Also it’s a great way for the kids to spend time with a caring adult.” In this photograph, Edinburg Rotarian Elias Longoria helps club members select the right shoes as a part of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV Shopping Spree and Back to School Education Rally. See story later in this posting.

•••••• 

The 2010 Edinburg Home Buyers and Business Expo, set for Saturday, October 2 at the ECHO, will have a new twist as the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the Expo Committee. All Edinburg chamber members are invited to join the revamped event, which will include services and education for home buyers as well as the perfect opportunity for local businesses to capture a large group of shoppers at one location. The Edinburg Home Buyers & Business Expo committee met recently to begin strategizing and planning details for upcoming event. Featured in this photograph are several Expo Committee members. Seated, from left: Letty González, the president of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Elva Jackson Garza, Vice President/Marketing Officer with Edwards Abstract and Title Co. who is serving as chairwoman of the Expo Committee; and Flo Prater, Rio Valley Realty. Standing, from left: Imelda Rodríguez with the Edinburg Convention & Visitors Bureau; Verónica Guerrero with the City of Edinburg; Marty Martin with Rio Valley Realty; and Edna Peña with Horizon Properties. See story later in this posting.  

••••••  

Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated from September 15 through October 15 in the United States. The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce traditionally celebrates this occasion with a Student Art Contest for middle school and high school students enrolled in 37 school districts and 24 charter school campuses in Hidalgo, Cameron, Starr, Web, Willacy, Zapata, and Jim Hogg counties. Students must draw a rendition of how they interpret Mi Cultura or “My Culture” on any medium of their choice. A panel of professional art judges will review the art work and judge in both categories of Beginning and Advanced art students. Prizes will awarded in the Best in Show, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Place at a reception on October 14. Entries are judged on creativity and talent. The winning art work is displayed in Washington, D.C. in the Capitol offices of Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen. The deadline to submit entries is Thursday, October 7. Details on the competition are available by contacting the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at 956/ 928-0060. Featured, from left, displaying some of the previously submitted art work, are: MHCC board member Yoli González; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president and CEO; and MHCC board members Armando Garza; Roxanna Godínez; and Ronnie Bernal. 

•••••• 

When Valente Rodríguez (featured third from right) graduated from high school, one of his teachers encouraged him to start college right away. But Rodríguez gave his teacher many excuses, including that he did not have the money to enroll in classes. That’s when his teacher helped find him a $100 scholarship from a community organization from Rodríguez’ hometown of Edcouch. "That $100 scholarship introduced me to this whole other world and was the opening of the door that led me to where I am now," said Rodríguez, an alumnus of The University of Texas-Pan American and a Hollywood actor best known for his role as Ernie in the George López Show. He also has appeared in many films including Erin Brokovich and It’s Complicated. He credits UTPA and its faculty with his success and several years ago decided to pay it forward to help university students just like him. Rodríguez, who was back in the Rio Grande Valley this summer working on his master’s degree in theatre and film at UTPA as well as some film projects, recently contributed $10,000 to the university’s Theatre Special Account to help its theatre/TV/film program. Featured, from left: Tom Grabowski, associate professor of communication; Janice Odom, vice president for University Advancement; Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities; Dr. Marian Monta, professor emeritus of theatre; and Dr. Timothy Mottet, professor of communication and chair of the Department of Communication. See story later in this posting.

•••••• 

Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP has recovered almost $3.3 million in back taxes for City of McAllen in past two years  

By DAVID A. DÍAZ  

McAllen’s city budget, which provides police and fire protection, public health, transportation, and other key responsibilities of local government, has recovered almost $3.3 million in delinquent property taxes and related penalties and interest since October 2008 to help pay for those essential public services, according to Lilia Ledesma, a local attorney and partner with the law firm of Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP.  

Since last fall –  between October 2009 and June 2010 – the Austin-based law firm, which has offices in Edinburg and Brownsville, had collected more than $1.7 million in delinquent property taxes and related interest and penalties for the City of Palms, she noted during her recent presentation before the McAllen City Commission.  

McAllen is one of numerous local governments in the Valley, including South Texas College and the City of Edinburg – and dozens more statewide and nationally – which contracts with Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP to collect on delinquent property taxes.  

From its inception more than 30 years ago, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP has been a major player in public-sector collections, serving more than 1,900 clients from offices in a dozen states, including Texas, said Lucy Canales, a local attorney who, as a general partner in the organization, leads the Valley offices in Edinburg and Brownsville.  

"We know that governments at all levels, especially now during a national economic recession, face major challenges when it comes to the collection of their delinquent receivables, such as unpaid property taxes," Ledesma explained. "So we make this process easier and more cost-effective for our clients, and in doing so, help make sure that we all pay our fair share for the public services that protect and benefit all of us."  

In McAllen, property taxes account for about 31 percent of the city’s revenue.  

According to the Texas Municipal League, a lobbying group for more than 1,000 cities statewide, the local property tax accounts for about 34.8 percent of the budgets of local governments in the Lone Star State.  

Collecting back taxes fair for all residents  

McAllen Mayor Richard Cortéz said Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP has been an effective advocate for all citizens in his hometown.  

"The way we fund the operations of the city is with financial resources, and every year, we have to prioritize how we spend that money," the mayor said. "So when we are able to find an extra million dollars, that goes a long way in funding or expanding services that we otherwise couldn’t have provided because of the lack of funds."  

According to the McAllen Tax Office, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP collected $1,347,401.26 in delinquent property taxes and $392,281.30 in penalties and interest – a total of $1,739,682.56 – between October 2009 and June 2010.   

Also, the city tax office reports, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP collected $1,194,693.80 in delinquent property taxes and $354,495.70 in related penalties and interest – a total of $1,549,189.50 – between October 2008 and June 2009.  

"We are always very happy to see our delinquent tax attorneys do their job, and here in McAllen, I can safely say that they have been doing their job," Cortéz added.  

Proven track record of effectiveness  

Ledesma said the services by her firm on behalf of McAllen and all other clients emphasize on working with individual taxpayers to collect taxes owed in order to avoid legal action.  

"Timely mailings to all delinquent taxpayers and property inspection visits are aimed at informing taxpayers of their delinquency and to let them know of all their options to pay," she said. "We have an extensive program that notifies people who have not paid their city taxes, and we make sure to let them know whether they qualify for tax breaks, such as homestead exemptions and property tax freezes."  

Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP has a proven track record of effectiveness on behalf of its clients that is based on expertly and ethically utilizing all the resources at their command, she explained.  

"By using personal visits, mailings, special notices and demand letters, litigation, tax sales and tax warrants, we provide a complete collection program for the City of McAllen, keeping in mind what we will maximize collections for the city," Ledesma said.  

In general, strategies employed by Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP feature:  

• The Notification Program, which includes an extensive mailing system from which delinquent notices are sent through the year to residents who owe back taxes;  

• Collections, which features a work plan that includes the constant monitoring of collection figures in order to adjust resources and enforce the collections of back taxes, and working closely with the McAllen City Commission and top administrative staff;  

• Litigation, in which a decision is made to file suit. A property title search is conducted, with the taxable property is further identified and all interested parties, including all lien holders, are served with notice of the lawsuit;  

• Tax Sales Program, which occurs when a delinquent taxpayer makes no final effort to pay the amount that is due. Under those circumstances, Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP inspects all properties targeted for foreclosure and post them for auction by the sheriff. As future judgments are taken, the firm posts additional properties for sale;  

 • Tax Resale Program, which is designed to market and sell properties that been been struck-off to the taxing entities. In general, properties that went to sheriff sale and were not sold are called struck-off property. The owner of the property is now the taxing unit(s). When the property is bid, or struck-off to the entity, the deed will be made out to the taxing entities. The deed will be filed with the county clerk’s office. Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP markets these properties through it own website, through newspaper advertising, and through a mailing list maintained by Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP. There is no charge to the city, to taxpayers, and to the buyers for these marketing expenses; and  

• Bankruptcy: Proofs of Claim, in which Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP represents the City of McAllen in all bankruptcies involving delinquent taxpayers. This representation includes filing claims, monitoring the bankruptcy process, attending hearings, and engaging in active litigation in order to protect and maximize the City of McAllen’s tax interest.  

••••••  

Mike Allen, 72, member of South Texas College Board of Trustees, mourned after his untimely passing, praised for his many contributions  

By HELEN J. ESCOBAR  

Mike Allen, 72, whose extensive credentials and achievements included serving as the District 3 representative on South Texas College’s Board of Trustees, passed away in McAllen on Wednesday, August 25.  

Serving on the board since May 2004, Allen represented the interests of the constituents of south McAllen, southwest Pharr, Hidalgo, Sharyland, southeast Mission and Granjeno. 

“STC has lost a great friend, relentless advocate and admirer of our many accomplishments,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president. “He admired STC and recognized the contribution the college is making to the economic development and future prosperity of the region. He was a beloved friend of the college, City of McAllen, and the entire deep South Texas border region of Texas. Rest assured, he will continue to watch over us and admire all that we do for the people in the Rio Grande Valley.”      

Hidalgo County Judge René  A. Ramírez credited Allen for doing "so many positive things for the residents of Hidalgo County, the Rio Grande Valley and the entire border region. He spent his entire life advocating for the education, transportation and economic development needs of our region. 

“In his mission to grow a vibrant region, Mike fought hard for our community. I’m honored to have worked with him over the years. He not only served on the South Texas College Board of Trustees for several years, but also led the formation of the Texas Border Coalition and most recently was awarded the Road Hand Award by the Texas Department of Transportation in recognition of his many efforts to get historic funding for improving Highway 83," Ramírez added. "We have lost a relentless leader."  

Ramírez said he and his wife, Laura, "extend our most sincere condolences and prayers to his family, friends and colleagues across Texas."  

Allen recently completed a term as chairman of the college’s board, and won reelection to his seat in May 2010. 

“I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to continue my service on the board,” Allen said following his reelection. “I am a strong believer that when you connect business and industry with the college, job growth and development will be the outcome. I plan to continue focusing on developing innovative workforce training programs to develop the skilled business and industry leaders of tomorrow.” 

STC, Valley growth influenced by Allen  

During his tenure on the board, Allen contributed to the accomplishment of milestones that have helped the college grow to serve more than 27,000 students across Hidalgo and Starr counties. Under his leadership, STC has grown to offer more than 100 degree and certificate program options from its five state-of-the-art campuses. 

“Of the many responsibilities Mr. Allen and his fellow board members have had, none have been as demanding as the construction program implemented by the college, which saw 16 buildings completed in 16 months at five locations, and completed on time and within budget,” said Reed.  

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, who was a founding member of STC’s Board of Directors in the early 1990s, also publicly shared his sentiments regarding Allen.   

“I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of my friend, Mike Allen," said Hinojosa. "I have known Mike for many years. I knew him when he was a priest who was always looking for ways to help people in the community. He was a tireless advocate for economic development and higher education."   

Allen played a major role in helping reduce the longtime double-digit unemployment rates in the Valley, Hinojosa recalled.  

"He was a tireless and energetic force of nature who gave so much to the Rio Grande Valley and to the people he loved," the congressman said. "My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Theresa, their children, and the family. Mike was a good friend. I will miss him.”  

Allen’s shared vision has allowed STC to become a thriving intellectual and community center, hosting art lectures, business luncheons, congressional briefings, visiting authors, and many other events enriching the lives of community members. 

Because of his leadership in regional economic development, Allen spent much of his time on STC’s board pushing for new, innovative workforce training programs. He played an integral role in helping the college secure the necessary approvals to offer the Bachelor of Applied Technology Degree in Technology Management, and in Computer and Information Technologies. He oversaw the expansion of the college’s business and industry training programs to include precision manufacturing, engineering, import and export logistics, welding and diesel technology, to name a few. 

Additionally, Allen worked closely with college administrators to secure grant funding for workforce training in key industrial jobs needed to recruit new companies to the area including welding, industrial maintenance and computer maintenance. He was instrumental in helping the college establish the North American Advanced Manufacturing Research & Education Initiative (NAAMREI) to develop the nation’s only advanced, rapid response manufacturing industry. With his assistance, the project received more than $5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Labor and $3 million in funding from the Texas Workforce Commission.  

Holding the highest standards  

“Mike has been my friend and mentor for more than 20 years,” said Wanda Garza, executive director of NAAMREI. “I admired his intolerance for mediocrity. If you knew him, the last thing he ever wanted to hear from his team was ‘that can’t be done.’ His legacy will be lived through his family and friends. He is a giant in our community and will be the voice in my head telling me to be a leader and advocate for the families in our community. He would tell me to ‘stay focused and get the job done. He will be remembered for his commitment and drive to make South Texas College a world-class institution.’” 

Allen was a true believer that college begins in kindergarten. As such, he was a proponent of the college’s elementary school adoption programs. He also pushed for a innovative approach to dual enrollment, allowing high school students from the two counties served by STC to take college courses tuition-free.  To date, more than 9,000 students take advantage of the program to earn college credit in critical subject areas like history, math and science, as well as in technical trades like precision manufacturing and automotive technology. 

The 2006 Border Texan of the Year, Allen supported the growth of the college’s scholars program by designating STC’s Valley Scholars Program as the beneficiary of the $46,689 raised from the award celebration dinner. 

“He was always a generous man with his time and in raising funds to help us meet our needs,” added Reed. “This contribution helped several students earn a college education that may not have otherwise been possible.” 

Key player in Valley economic, political successes  

Allen retired as the executive vice president of external affairs and strategic projects for the McAllen Economic Development Corporation in 2006. He was the founder and chairman of the Texas Border Infrastructure Coalition, which was formed to develop, advocate and coordinate solutions to economic development needs in a 19-county region along the Texas-Mexico border. 

He also served as a member of numerous organizations including the American Economic Development Council; the Mexican Chamber of Commerce; the American Chamber of Commerce; the Reynosa Maquila Association; the Texas Good Roads and Transportation Association; the Lower RGV Development Corp.; the Texas Marketing Team; CoreNet; the McAllen Citizens League; and the RGV Chamber of Commerce.  In addition, he has served as a director of the Rio Grande Valley Council of Governments and as a member of the Governor’s Task Force on Management and Labor Relations.  

“Mike Allen’s passing is a great loss for South Texas College,” said Gary Gurwitz, who currently serves as president of the college’s Board of Trustees.  “His expertise, especially in the areas of workforce development and job training, was invaluable. He was a dedicated and hardworking member of the board and always did what he believed to be in the best interest of the students.  The college and the community have lost a much respected and highly regarded advocate for a better quality of life and greater personal dignity for all of us. We will miss him. Our prayers are with his family and friends.” 

Services for Allen included a rosary that was held on Friday, August 27 at noon at Sacred Heart Parish in McAllen and a funeral mass that was held on Saturday, August 28 at 10 a.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Mission.  

In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations be made to the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church Building Fund. 

••••••   

Hidalgo County continues to work on bringing budget, which goes into effect October 1, to $156.4 million 

By CARI LAMBRECHT

With the September 28 deadline looming to adopt the 2011 budget, the Hidalgo County Commissioners’  Court continues to examine proposed options to address a $4.6 million shortfall. 

As of this week, the overall general fund proposed level is $161 million, while estimated revenues total almost $156.4 million.

On Monday, August 31, at a workshop, Raul Silguero, the county’s budget officer, informed the court that he and his staff continue to work with departments to trim their budgets by approximately four percent to six percent.  This week, the county budget office will be proposing additional reductions from departments.  

Silguero presented the proposed salaries for elected officials, which will be publicly advertised on September 4 as per Texas Local Government Code 152.013(b).  The commissioners court is proposing to leave salaries at their current level, with the possibility of revising salary levels before the budget adoption on September 28. 

The county commissioners court instructed Silguero to present three recommendations at the next workshop, without the option of dipping into the County’s fund balance. 

The next workshop is scheduled for 11 a.m. on Tuesday, September 7, 2010. 

Subsequent workshops will be held at the same time on Tuesday, September 14, 2010 and Tuesday, September 21, 2010 at 100 E. Cano in Edinburg.

All workshops are open to the public.

••••••  

Alonzo Cantú  and family set up funds to help UT-Pan American students find success

By AMANDA PÉREZ

It was a heartfelt afternoon for scholarship recipients and donors who met for the first time and shared their stories of hardships and success during a luncheon held at The University of Texas-Pan American on behalf of the Cantú family.

"I got so emotional while thanking them. The more the Cantú family talked about their story, the more it reminded me of my grandparents and parents," said Alejandra Borrego, sophomore kinesiology major and scholarship recipient. "It’s nice knowing that there are other people who have gone through what I am going through and are trying to help people like me."

Alonzo and Yoli Cantú, with Alonzo’s mother Elida Cantú and sister Elvia Sáenz, established two family endowments in memory of Hilda Cantú Garza and Guadalupe Cantú. Funds from The Hilda Cantú Garza Endowed Scholarship at the College of Education go to assist education majors, while The Guadalupe Cantú Endowed Scholarship at the College of Business Administration goes to help business majors.

"This endowment is in memory of my father and sister, and since the whole family feels so strong about education we want to help students graduate and further their careers and lives," said Alonzo Cantú. "South Texas has been good to our family and we want to give back."

The Cantú family hopes that through these scholarships they are able to change someone’s quality of life. They believe there is no better way of changing the lives of future generations than through education.

"It’s great hearing and seeing the students who are trying to improve themselves through education," Alonzo Cantú said. "I’m glad I got to meet them and I hope that I can see them again in the future as graduates and helping someone else."

Elida Cantú said she believes that education is the path to achievement and the goal for her children was to obtain an education, pursue a career and be successful. She feels everything her children have accomplished is a blessing. She has the same dreams for the scholarship recipients and is glad that her family has the opportunity to help students work toward their future success.

Zachary Manuel, a sophomore majoring in computer information systems and a Cantú Scholarship recipient, said it was a great experience meeting the people who are helping him and his family.

"Honestly, my family did not have enough money to pay for college, so with this scholarship I can further my education," Manuel said. "It was so great meeting the people who didn’t know me, but believed enough in me to give me this money."

Manuel hopes the donor and recipient meetings will continue.

"Meeting the donors makes this scholarship more meaningful, so UTPA should continue to set these meetings up," Manuel said. "I am going to give my 100 percent and not let the people who have helped me down and I hope someday, once I am done with my education, I can set up scholarships for students and give back to my community also."

Five students were named Cantú Scholarships recipients: Alheli González, Saúl Tamez, Rebecca Velásquez and Alejandra Borrego are Guadalupe Cantú Endowed Scholars and Zachary Manuel is a Hilda Cantú Garza Endowed Scholar.

All the scholarship recipients joined UTPA President Robert S. Nelsen, Janice Odom, vice president for University Advancement, Lydia Alemán, associate vice president for University Advancement, and Yvette Padilla, director of Stewardship and Annual Giving, at the luncheon held on Monday, August 24 with the Cantú family.

Nelsen said that scholarships coming from donors like the Cantú family show that they care for the students of South Texas and are creating a legacy of educational opportunity. He said with these funds a student’s chance of bettering their life becomes a reality not just a dream.

"These scholarships mean that wonderful, giving members of our community believe in The University of Texas-Pan American to make a difference in the lives of students who want to work hard to better themselves and their families," Nelsen said. "And when donors can actually see the students they are helping, it helps them to understand how valuable a role their contribution plays in making a positive real difference in South Texas."

•••••• 

Mrs. Dolia González, mother of Edinburg war hero, urges South Texans to keep seeking Veterans Administration Hospital 

By TRETO GARZA  

A familiar and symbolic voice has been added to the regional effort to bring a Veterans Administration Hospital to deep South Texas, as an area veterans organization has received the endorsement and blessings for that effort from an Edinburg mother of a national war hero.

"You guys need a hospital, you really do" says Mrs. Dolia González, mother of Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. Alfredo "Freddy" González, recently told members of the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley.

A VA Hospital is operated at federal government expense and administered by the Veterans Administration for care of veterans of U.S. wars and retired military personnel.

Her encouraging remarks came during that group’s meeting on Sunday, August 22, at the ECHO in Edinburg.  

Mrs. González, a longtime champion for veterans issues in deep South Texas, said she would continue supporting the effort to bring a Veterans Administration Hospital "as long as my health allows it."  

The Edinburg woman, who has become as much of an icon for courage as her late son, a U.S. Marine who was killed in Vietnam while defending troops under his command, was asked to play a public role in the long struggle to bring a VA Hospital to the Rio Grande Valley. The nearest VA Hospital is in San Antonio, more than 250 miles away, which makes it prohibitive for thousands of Valley veterans to receive medical care promised to them by the U.S. government. 

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.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates only nine in-patient veterans’ hospitals in Texas – in Amarillo, Big Spring, Bonham, Dallas, Houston, Kerville, San Antonio, Temple, and Waco – but none in the Rio Grande Valley, which, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, is one of the fastest growing regions in Texas, with more than one million residents (Hidalgo County, 726,200; Cameron County, 392,746; Starr County, 62,249; and Willacy County, 20,600).

Mrs. González and her sister showed the veterans the photos on the walls showing Sgt. González’ photos of his tours in Vietnam. Also, there is another wall at the ECHO which has photos of the christening of the USS Alfredo González DDG 66, U.S. Navy vessel.  The photos are available for public viewing at the ECHO. 

In reflecting about her son with the veterans group, Mrs.González remembered when he was born, growing as a child and his joining of the Marines. She said she was and has remained very proud of her son.  

According to a concurrent resolution unanimously approved by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry in 2007:  

Alfredo "Freddy" González was born May 23, 1946 in Edinburg and was a graduate of Edinburg High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in May 1965, and after his first tour of duty in Vietnam, he was chosen to train new marines for guerilla warfare;  

A few months later, González learned of an ambush in which men who had served under him had been killed; impelled by a strong sense of duty to his fellow marines and to his country, he volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam.  

When, at the end of January 1968, North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops launched the massive Tet Offensive, González and his platoon were ordered to Hue to relieve the pressure on that city. En route to Hue, the platoon’s convoy was hit by heavy fire on several occasions. During one such encounter, González saw an injured marine lying in the road ahead and ran through enemy fire to carry the man to cover, receiving fragmentation wounds in the rescue.  

With the column halted by withering fire from a fortified machine-gun bunker, González proceeded to guide his men to a protective dike; he then moved out onto a road being raked by the gun and destroyed the bunker with hand grenades. Later, on February 3, González was seriously wounded but continued to refuse medical treatment and to lead his men in their attack.  

During fighting in Hue on February 4, his platoon of some 35 troops was again pinned down by a ferocious barrage. Telling his unit to stay behind shelter, González moved forward aggressively with hand grenades and small antitank rockets, firing numerous rounds against enemy emplacements.  

Upon entering a church, where the North Vietnamese were heavily fortified, he succeeded in suppressing virtually all of their fire. Before the last of it could be silenced, however, he was mortally wounded.  

Because he succeeded in destroying so many North Vietnamese positions, González was credited with saving the lives of the men in his platoon. The following year, in consequence of his extraordinary and selfless action, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, becoming the only marine in combat during the Tet Offensive to receive that award. 

David A. Díaz contributed to this article. 

••••••  

Forbes ranks UT-Pan American fifth in Texas public colleges on Best Colleges list  

By SANDRA QUINTANILLA   

The University of Texas-Pan American again this year made the list of Forbes "America’s Best Colleges", which was released on August 11 by that national magazine and the Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP).  

The list, which includes 610 public and private not-for-profit universities and colleges nationwide, shows UTPA rated fifth this year among the 12 Texas public universities on the list. UTPA remains the top ranked public Hispanic Serving Institution in the state and the least expensive of all 23 Texas colleges and universities – both public and private – on the list.  

Among the 221 public universities on the "America’s Best Colleges" list, UTPA ranked No. 114. On the overall list of 610, UTPA ranked No. 436.  

According to Forbes, just nine percent of the 6,600 accredited postsecondary institutions in the United States are reviewed, so appearing on the list is an indication that the school meets a high standard and is among the best in the country.   

Williams College, a small private not-for-profit college in Massachusetts, held the No. 1 overall spot on the 2010 list. The United States Military Academy was the highest ranked public university and rated No. 4 on the overall list.  

Other public Texas higher education institutions on the list and their ranking among the 221 public institutions listed include The University of Texas at Austin (18), Texas A&M University, College Station (33), The University of Texas-Dallas (68), Texas Tech University (90), The University of Texas-Arlington (132), The University of Texas-El Paso (153), Texas State University, San Marcos (172), University of Houston (180), University of North Texas (192), Sam Houston State University (209), and The University of Texas-San Antonio (216).  

Considered in the Forbes/CCAP rankings are student evaluations from RateMyProfessor.com; salary of alumni from payscale.com; listings of alumni in Who’s Who in America; four-year debt load for the typical student borrower; actual four-year graduation rate and predicted vs. actual four-year graduation rate; and student nationally competitive awards received.  

New variables considered in the methodology of the rankings for the 2010 list included freshman to sophomore retention rates, student loan default rates, an alumni corporate officers database, and student and alumni evaluations from the website myplan.com. Dropped from variables considered this year were awards received by faculty. Also, the weight given to the amount of student debt was reduced.  

Based on previous methodology, UTPA ranked third among Texas’ public universities on the 2009 list of “America’s Best Public Colleges”. 

To see the complete list or to read more about the Forbes/CCAP “America’s Best Colleges” rankings and methodology, go to:  

http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/11/best-colleges-universities-rating-ranking-opinions-best-colleges-10_land.html?boxes=Homepagelighttop.  

••••••  

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) begins patrolling Texas-Mexico border to combat illegal activities that threaten U.S. residents  

By LESLIE LÓPEZ  

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, has announced that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) on Wednesday, September 1, began operating an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) along the Texas-Mexico border in an effort to help deter illegal activity. 

This UAS will be housed out of the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, TX, which Cuellar visited the previous week. 

“Today marks a critical next step in securing the Texas-Mexico border. By positioning this aircraft in Texas, CBP can further combat illegal activity along our southern border,” said Cuellar, who serves as chairman of the U.S. House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Border, Maritime and Global Counterterrorism. 

For six months, Cuellar, along with several other Texas lawmakers from both parties, has worked in coordination with CBP and Federal Aviation Administration to bring the UAV program to Texas. 

The UAS will fly over the Texas-Mexico border between El Paso and Brownsville along the Rio Grande. In addition, CBP will patrol the state’s coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. The remotely-piloted aircraft, known as a Predator B, can fly for up to 20 hours and provide BP with real-time critical intelligence information from attached cameras, sensors and radar systems. 

According to CBP, since 2005, Predator Bs have flown more than 1,500 hours in support of border security missions and have assisted in the apprehension of more than 4,000 illegal aliens, in addition to the seizure of more than 15,000 pounds of marijuana. 

“These aircrafts are a force multiplier for our border law enforcement,” said Cuellar. “They have the endurance and flexibility required to patrol our border and they collect critical information that will protect our communities.” 

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also praised the  start of Predator B drone flights along the Texas-Mexico border.

“This is a step in the right direction," said Cornyn. "If this Administration is serious about securing our southern border, it will take further tangible steps to demonstrate that commitment to the men and women who live and work along the border."

Cornyn said “Texans have had it with speeches and empty promises – we want immediate resources and attention to the growing security crisis along our southern border. I will continue to press the Department of Homeland Security to devote additional Predators to cover the Texas border, and pursue additional ways to achieve real border security.”

There will be a formal announcement at the UAS hanger in Corpus Christi on Wednesday, September 8. Alan D. Bersin, the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Cuellar, and other political and community leaders are scheduled to participate in that event.  

Additional details on the CBP UAV program are available online at:  

http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/border_security/air_marine/uas_program/uasoverview.xml 

David A. Díaz contributed to this article. 

••••••  

FEMA grant secured by Congressman Cuellar to help McAllen deal with flooding issues

By EDDIE ZAVALA

Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Friday, September 3, announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded the City of McAllen more than $1.35 million to help alleviate flooding by providing necessary drainage improvements. 

The total of the project will be $1.8 million, with FEMA funneling in 75 percent of the cost.  

“We all know the serious flooding issues this part of the Rio Grande Valley encounters every time the area receives a significant amount of rain. This is why these federal dollars are extremely important,” said Cuellar. “I applaud Mayor Richard Cortéz and McAllen City Commission members for actively seeking these funds that will greatly benefit area residents.” 

The project consists of the construction of curb and gutter, a storm sewer network, a stormwater detention pond with pumping station, and an outfall force main system.   

Drainage in the McAllen area is limited due to lack of topographic relief, slow draining soils, and the absence of natural watercourses. Due to these natural restrictions, manmade channels and/or storm water pump stations are the only potential means of stormwater conveyance, thus resulting in slow floodwater receding rates.

“We appreciate Congressman Cuellar’s efforts because approval of this $1.8 million FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program project, and the award of the associated 75 percent matching funds of approximately $1.35 million, will greatly assist the City of McAllen in addressing the infrastructure needs of the Retiree Haven Subdivision," said Cortéz.

The Retiree Haven Subdivision is located off of South 10th Street, just south of Military Highway. He added   

“Implementation of these funds will improve the quality of life for our residents," the mayor added. 

•••••• 

McAllen, Harlingen to share in more than 

$3 million in federal grants to extend key hike and bike trails, says Congressman Hinojosa 

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO   

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, August 18, announced McAllen and Harlingen will be receiving grants totaling more than $3 million for Hike and Bike Trail extensions.  

The grants were awarded by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) under the Texas Transportation Enhancement Program.  

McAllen will be receiving $913,069 to expand the Bicentennial Boulevard Hike & Bike Trail while Harlingen will be receiving $2,099,049 for an extension of four miles to that community’s Hike & Bike Trail. 

“Both cities are doing a great job in expanding and enhancing their efforts to provide citizens, visitors, and businesses with safer and greener communities,” said Hinojosa. “Residents will be able to fully enjoy a beautiful and safe environment to walk or cycle to and from their homes, schools, churches, parks and cultural centers.” 

The current Bicentennial Boulevard Hike & Bike Trail in McAllen currently terminates at Nolana Avenue. The proposed Bicentennial Boulevard Hike & Bike Trail Extension will extend the current trail north by 2.4 miles. The future trail will end four-tenths of a mile north of Trenton Road. 

Phase One of the Hike & Bike Trail in Harlingen will begin at the Hugh Ramsey Nature Park by the Arroyo Colorado and end at Texas State Technical College, making it a three-mile path.  

Phase Two of the Harlingen project will run from Bonham Elementary through Jackson Avenue and 25th Street, ending at Vernon and Memorial Middle Schools near Boggus Football Stadium, adding another mile to the trail extension plan. Benches and trash cans will be placed along the way as well. For more information on the Harlingen grant you may call the Harlingen Parks and Recreation Department at 956/216-5950.  

•••••• 

Sierra Club endorses Rep. Gonzáles reelection bid for her commitment to the environment   

By RICARDO LÓPEZ-GUERRA   

The Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club is the latest in a growing list of supporters backing Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, in her reelection bid. The Sierra Club praised her commitment to environmental protection and proper management of Texas’ natural resources.  

Gonzáles, a McAllen attorney, is facing a challenge in November from Rebecca Cervera, a McAllen business leader who is the Republican nominee for the House District 41 House seat.  

House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, all but southwest McAllen, the northeastern and central portions of Mission, all of Palmhurst, Sharyland, Alton, and western portions of Hidalgo County. 

“Texas has one of the most diverse and riches environmental landscapes in the nation – from beaches to deserts to forests to hills – and a vast amount of wildlife as well. As lawmakers, we must ensure we are good stewards of our natural treasures,” Gonzáles said. “Protecting our environment is a sound investment for the future generations of Texans.” 

Her strong environmental record has also received the support of another top environmental group, the Texas League of Conservation Voters, who gave Gonzáles a 100 percent favorable environmental voting record during the 2009 legislative session. 

To view the Sierra Club’s endorsement, visit:  

http://www.sierravote.com.                                                                                                                                                                                           

David A. Díaz contributed to this article.  

••••••  

Valente  Rodríguez contributes $10,000 to help UT-Pan American’s theatre/TV/film program

By JENNIFER BERGHOM

When Valente Rodríguez graduated from high school, one of his teachers encouraged him to start college right away.

But Rodríguez gave his teacher many excuses, including that he did not have the money to enroll in classes. That’s when his teacher helped find him a $100 scholarship from a community organization from Rodríguez’ hometown of Edcouch.

"That $100 scholarship introduced me to this whole other world and was the opening of the door that led me to where I am now," said Rodríguez, an alumnus of The University of Texas-Pan American and a Hollywood actor best known for his role as Ernie in the George López Show. He also has appeared in many films including Erin Brokovich and It’s Complicated.

He credits UTPA and its faculty with his success and several years ago decided to pay it forward to help University students just like him. 

Rodríguez, who was back in the Rio Grande Valley this summer working on his master’s degree in theatre and film at UTPA as well as some film projects, recently contributed $10,000 to the University’s Theatre Special Account to help its theatre/TV/film program.

"To think that $100 can change the whole life of a student, and not just change, but provide an opportunity that they would not have had otherwise been able to do so, (and) for me to think I could provide something that’s going to change one young person’s life … really excites me, and it’s the least that I can do to pay back those people who changed my life and who helped me move forward with what I wanted to do," Rodríguez said.

The contribution will help the University’s Department of Communication on many levels, said Dr. Timothy Mottet, the department’s chair.

"One thing I like about Valente is his generosity, his kindness," said Mottet. "He’s genuine and I think he also helps our students look at Hollywood differently. I think sometimes we look at Hollywood as being very selfish and he’s very selfless. I think he’s a very good role model for successful actors. I think it is important for our students to be able to visualize their own success through him."

Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, said Rodríguez is a role model for UTPA students.

"It is extremely exciting just to see Valente and his success and to know that we had something to do with his training," she said. "The fact that he’s back home with us is incredible. He’s a role model for our students and it’s exciting to be able to show our students this is the potential. Valente is a dream come true." The contribution will help students and the University greatly, she said.

"But it’s not just the money it’s his spirit, it’s his enthusiasm and his love for the region. At the same time he’s giving the Valley life. In so many ways he’s giving back to us," Guerra added.

•••••• 

2010 Edinburg Home Buyers & Business Expo set for Saturday, October 2 at the ECHO  

By EVANA VLECK  

The 2010 Edinburg Home Buyers and Business Expo will have a new twist as the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce has partnered with the Expo Committee. All Edinburg Chamber of Commerce members are invited to join the revamped event that includes services and education for home buyers as well as the perfect opportunity for local businesses to capture a large group of shoppers at one location.   

The event is scheduled for Saturday, October 2 at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center in Edinburg.  

“The Expo has grown since the inception of the event in 2008. The Expo committee has focused on offering quality programs and making the overall Expo experience for attendees one where they will come back year after year," said said Elva Jackson Garza, Expo Committee Chair. "The collaboration with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will add an exciting dimension to the event.” 

The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is promoting all business owners who support the I Shop Edinburg campaign.   

“The Edinburg Home Buyers and Business Expo will offer local businesses the opportunity to promote their services and products just before the busy holiday season,” said Letty González, President of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. “The Expo will be a perfect venue to showcase their business, connect with customers and to be a part of a wonderful community-wide event.” 

Vendors will be available throughout the day starting from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Programs and presentations on various home buyer and business related topics will run concurrently. Vendor applications are being accepted. The booth fee is only $100 and includes professionally designed pipe and drape and table cover.  

The Edinburg Home Buyer and Business Expo is being supported by several leading businesses.  International Bank of Commerce; Gateway Printing and Office Supply; Edinburg Chamber of Commerce; Edwards Abstract and Title Co.; Rio Valley Realty; Horizon Properties; and Lone Star National Bank are Gold Level sponsors.  

ICF International –  AEP Texas Energy Star Program has committed as a Silver Nail Sponsor and the Brass Key sponsor is the City of Edinburg C.D.B.G. program.  

Sponsorships are still available and range from $500 (Gold); $300 (Silver Nail) and $200 (Brass Key).  

For more information contact Elva Jackson Garza at  elva.garza@edwards-titleco.com or Letty González at  chamber@edinburg.com

•••••• 

Business community unites to help Edinburg Youth Gear Up for the upcoming school year 

Armed with a $50 gift card, a volunteer chaperone, and two hours to make selections; 100 club members from the Boys & Girls Club stormed JCPenney Edinburg on Monday morning, August 30, shopping for clothes for the new school year. 

Thanks to volunteer shopping buddies from Edinburg Rotary Club, First National Bank, and Azteca Millings, it was easy for club members to pair the right shoes, shirts and pants for the right price. 

“The kids learn from shopping buddies what things are acceptable for school and what’s not, and they learn to budget,” according to Sabrina Walker-Hernández, Chief Professional Officer. “Also it’s a great way for the kids to spend time with a caring adult.” 

Gearing up for the academic school year did not stop at shopping. Courtesy of Staples Edinburg, each club member received a backpack with school supplies and took the I Can Achieve Pledge.     

The I Can Achieve Pledge follows:

I will attend school and strive not to miss a day.  I will be on time for class.  I will listen to my teachers. I will ask questions when I do not know the answer. I will raise my hand when I do know the answers.  I will write down my homework assignments each day. I will complete all of my homework. I will turn in my homework daily.  I will talk to an adult about school each day.  I will do my very best each day. I can achieve in school. I will achieve in school. 

About the Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV 

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV has played an integral role in the Edinburg community for 39 years, providing daily programs and services to more than 16,000 young people.  During the School year the Club is open Monday – Friday, 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. During the summer, the hours are 7:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. 

The Club offers programs that emphasize character and leadership development, education and career development, health and life skills, the arts, and sport, fitness and recreation.

More information about joining the club, its education initiatives, or other youth programs is available by calling 956/383-2582, or by going online at http://www.EdinburgKids.com.

Contributions to the organization may be made by contacting  Walker-Hernández at 383-2582, by e-mail at swalker@edinburgkids.com, or by texting  you “CLUB” to 20222 to donate five dollars.  

The Boys and Girls Clubs of Edinburg Rio Grande Valley is a proud City of Edinburg partner and Hidalgo County United Way Agency. 

•••••• 

Comptroller Combs announces scholarships for South Texas students; recognizes four Valley political entities for open government policies  

By R.J. DeSilva  

Texas Comptroller Susan Combs recently met with Rio Grande Valley officials with and college leaders in Harlingen to recognize achievements made in technical education and praise financial transparency efforts from local governments.  

For this upcoming school year, the Comptroller’s office awarded Texas State Technical College in Harlingen a total of $170,100 from the JET (Jobs and Education for Texans) Career and Technical Scholarship Fund, which provides tuition grants for students enrolled in approved training programs.  

The school will use the funds to award scholarships to students preparing for several high?demand occupations where a certificate or an associate degree is a basic prerequisite. Similarly, South Texas College in McAllen received $78,253 in scholarship funds and Texas Southmost College in Brownsville received $41,568.  

“Students in the Rio Grande Valley are among thousands benefiting from the Every Chance Funds to cover tuition, books and other basic expenses that could otherwise prevent them from earning certificates and degrees that will enable them to better provide for themselves and their families,” Combs said.   

In March 2010, Combs awarded $500,000 in JET Launchpad Fund to South Texas College. These funds help develop, support or expand nonprofit programs that prepare low-income students for careers in high-demand technical occupations, such as welding, computer support, engineering technology, nursing and allied health professions.  

Also in October 2009, two Launchpad grants were awarded to the Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement (VIDA). The Comptroller awarded $400,000 to serve the organization’s students in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, plus another $300,000 to Cameron County students. VIDA is a community based, non-profit 501c3 agency created in 1995 by community leaders of Valley Interfaith and private industry business leaders. VIDA empowers underserved residents of the Rio Grande Valley with the education and training tools needed to become self sufficient. The organization also fuels growth for existing employers and increases the recruitment of new investments to the area by developing a highly skilled work force.  

For more information about scholarship and equipment grant Every Chance Funds, visit http://www.everychanceeverytexan.org/funds.  

Making public records easier to access  

Regarding local government transparency efforts, Cameron County and the cities of Brownsville and Pharr received the gold designation in the Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle, while the city of Harlingen and the Brownsville Independent School District received a silver designation. The Leadership Circle program recognizes cities, counties, school districts and other local governments that have taken their first steps toward openness, shown progress or even exceeded transparency standards in providing online access to their expenses and revenue.  

“We appreciate the work of these Lower Rio Grande Valley officials who shine a light on spending and ensure greater accountability to the taxpayers,” Combs said. “We’re opening financial records for public examination so taxpayers can see exactly where their money is going, promoting greater accountability and raising expectations for customer service and government transparency at all levels.”  

Local governments receiving an award have opened their books to the public and provide clear, consistent pictures of spending with detailed information on how tax dollars are allocated and spent. These top-ranking entities provide information online in an easily accessible, user-friendly format with features that allow taxpayers to easily drill down for more detailed information.  

For tips and a step-by-step guide to achieve local government transparency, as well as a complete list of local governments in the Texas Comptroller Leadership Circle sorted by city, county and school district, visit http://www.TexasTransparency.org/local/. New entities are typically added on a weekly basis.  

Combs’ announcement was made during her visit to deep South Texas on Tuesday, August 17.  

••••••  

Former Jim Wells County DA indicted for using confiscated crime money for personal gain  

A Jim Wells County grand jury on Wednesday, August 18, indicted the former 79th District Attorney for first-degree felony misapplication of fiduciary property. According to the indictment, Joe Frank Garza, 63, misused more than $200,000 in asset forfeiture funds between January 2002 and December 2008.  

Court documents filed by the state indicate that Garza illegally used the asset forfeiture dollars for his personal financial benefit. The indictment alleges that Garza paid himself and employees of the district attorney’s office hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of seven years.  

According to the indictment, Garza illegally allocated funds from the district attorney’s asset forfeiture accounts for his personal financial benefit. Because district attorneys have control over their asset forfeiture funds, Texas law prohibits them from using those funds to supplement their own salaries from a county, unless the county commissioners court approves the expenditure. However, Garza is charged with failing to comply with the law and instead improperly using the asset forfeiture funds under his control for his personal financial benefit.  

Similarly, district attorneys are also required to obtain the commissioners’ approval before supplementing the salaries of county-paid employees with asset forfeiture funds. Between 2002 and 2008, Garza improperly spent more than $200,000 for his personal gain and that of his employees, according to the indictment.   

Under Texas law, tangible, personal or real property that is used during the commission of a crime can be subject to forfeiture to the State. Local authorities can either retain and use forfeited assets – such as vehicles or equipment – or they can sell them and deposit the cash proceeds in their asset forfeiture account. However, asset forfeiture funds can only be used for official purposes of a law enforcement agency or district attorney’s office and cannot be converted for personal use.  

The Office of the Attorney General is prosecuting the case as district attorney pro tem at the request of current 79th District Attorney Armando Barrera.  

••••••  

Attorney General Abbott charges mortgage company with violating debt collections laws  

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Monday, August 30, charged Coppell-based American Home Mortgage Servicing Inc. (AHMS) will using illegal debt collection tactics and improperly misleading struggling homeowners.  

According to state investigators, AHMS collections agents used aggressive and unlawful tactics to collect payments from Texas homeowners who had difficulty meeting their payment obligations. The defendant also failed to credit homeowners who properly submitted their payments on time.  

In other cases, AHMS agents falsely claimed that homeowners did not make payments so the agents could justify profitable late fees or escrow accounts. The defendant also failed to properly credit homeowners after AHMS agents withdrew funds from the homeowners’ checking accounts. Because of the defendant’s unlawful conduct, homeowners defaulted on their loans, leading to foreclosure proceedings.  

Additionally, the defendant claimed to have a “Home Retention Team” to assist distressed homeowners. Many customers found that AHMS could not qualify homeowners and that they were of no help to halt the foreclosure process. Some homeowners who actually obtained loan modifications found that their monthly payments increased rather than decreased, which worsened their problem with foreclosure.  

The August 30 enforcement action charges AHMS with multiple violations of the Texas Debt Collection Act and the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act (DTPA). The state is also seeking civil penalties of up to $20,000 per violation of the DTPA. 

••••••  

Linda McKenna, current regent for Texas State Technical College, selected as new president/CEO for Rio Grande Valley Partnership  

By VERÓNICA VILLEGAS   

Linda McKenna, a successful South Texas business and community leader, who serves on the Board of Regents for the Texas State Technical College System, has been named as the new president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership.  

Her appointment was made and announced by the Board of Directors of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, a privately-funded organization based in Weslaco which champions job creation and economic development laws and policies for deep South Texas.   

She succeeds Bill Summers, the former longtime president and CEO of the organization, who passed away on November 30.  

McKenna was recommended for the position by a search committee of the RGV Partnership. 

"We couldn’t be more excited about this decision," Sergio Contreras, chairman of the search committee, said during the Wednesday, August 18 announcement. "Linda has great leadership qualities and governmental affairs experience that will enable her to increase visibility to the region and be a tremendous force in legislative advocacy."  

McKenna has a strong background working on health care policy and advocacy, including involvement with the Texas Medical Association political action committee and political campaigns.  

She also has been in leadership roles with many local board of directors including the American Heart Association, Harlingen High School PTSA and the Cameron/Willacy County Medical Society Alliance.  

"My passion for the Rio Grande Valley with its distinctive opportunities and challenges led me to apply for the position of President/CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership," McKenna said. "My interest in legislative advocacy and success in my professional career made it my desire to share my unique blend of educational, personal, and senior level executive experience."  

Among her many other credentials and experiences, McKenna was appointed to the Governor’s Commission for Women by then Gov. George W. Bush and was named chairman her second term.   

She is a graduate of Leadership Texas. In pursuit of a career in public service, she returned to college attained a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and a Master of Public Administration.    

McKenna is a former Senior Vice President with Valley Baptist Health System as well as currently serving on the Texas State Technical College Board of Regents.  

"Her tremendous background in working with different groups, combined with her dedication to the region will add even more value to our members of the RGV Partnership and the entire Rio Grande Valley," said Brad Bierstedt, chairman of the organization.  

McKenna paid homage to Summers.  

"Bill Summers was a wonderful visionary and his legacy will live on for years to come in our work here at the Partnership," she said. "I am honored the search committee as well as the Board of Directors has placed its confidence in me and I am humbled to serve in this distinguished position." 

McKenna’s first day with the Chamber will be on Tuesday, September 7.   

In her new role as president and CEO, she will be working closely with Board Directors to focus on helping frame strategies for Rio Grande Valley Partnership, with a strong focus on increasing membership value and reviewing key regional issues.    

Linda McKenna and her husband have been Valley natives for over 28 years living in Harlingen and having raised two sons. 

The Rio Grande Valley Partnership portrays itself as the region’s leading advocate and resource for businesses and fosters the relationships that advance a vibrant regional economy.   

••••••  

Texas Legislature to take up recommendations to reduce number of innocent people who are wrongfully convicted of crimes in the state  

By JANIS REINKEN  

The adoption of a report on wrongful convictions in Texas has been praised by Rep. Ruth Jones McClendon, D-San Antonio.  

The findings, developed by the Tim Cole Advisory Panel and submitted to the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense, along with a companion research report have been under study for almost a year, McClendon said on Thursday, August 26.   

Among those present at McClendon’s announcement were Cole’s mother, Ruby Session and his brother, Cory Session.  

"This action today clears the way for the Legislature to consider these recommendations and enact more pro-active policies to prevent wrongful convictions," McClendon said, "Since we now have more reliable scientific techniques available for gathering and evaluating evidence, we need to use them well, to see that criminal trials bring out the truth and assure that justice is done. It does not benefit the public just to obtain a conviction if it is based on invalid evidence, and it is wasteful to spend public funds on prosecution and imprisonment of someone who is wrongfully charged and then convicted."  

Jim Bethke, Executive Director of the Task Force, said, "Meaningful efforts were made to make data, rather than anecdotes, the force behind the recommendations in the report and research of the Timothy Cole Advisory Panel. This approach comports with the Task Force on Indigent Defense strategy of producing better criminal justice outcomes through evidence-based practices.” The goal of the Task Force and the Advisory Panel is to prevent errors such as ineffective representation, and evidentiary errors such as false eyewitness identifications, unreliable/limited science, false confessions, forensic science misconduct, government misconduct, and unreliable informant reports. Wrongful convictions not only cause irreparable harm for the innocent persons and their families, but the person truly responsible for the crime may remain at large, creating a danger to the public.  

Timothy Cole, an innocent Texan and an Army veteran, served 13 years of a 25-year sentence after being convicted in 1985 of a sexual assault he did not commit. Unfortunately, Timothy Cole was not able to see the day he was found innocent and his name cleared, because he died in prison in 1999 at the of age 39, after being convicted due to a false eyewitness identification. The Tim Cole Advisory Panel was created by House Bill 498, enacted in 2009 and authored by McClendon.  

"I will be taking an active role in the upcoming legislative session (which begins in mid-January) to see that the panel’s recommendations adopted by the Task Force come to pass. I appreciate and whole-heartedly agree with the endorsement expressed this morning by Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, of the creation of an Innocence Commission for Texas. I pledge to work to make that happen, and for the enactment of laws that will improve the criminal justice process. I remain thankful to Judge Charles Baird for his April 2009 order exonerating Tim Cole, to Sen. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) for his support as sponsor of House Bill 498 in the Senate and his constant efforts toward improving the criminal justice system in Texas, and to Gov. Perry for granting a posthumous pardon earlier this year to Tim Cole."  

McClendon currently serves on the House Committee on Appropriations and the House Committee on Transportation. She also serves as Chair of the House Committee on Rules & Resolutions. The 81st Legislative Session is her seventh term serving Texas House District 120. 

••••••  

U.S. unauthorized immigration flows are down sharply since mid-decade, says Census Bureau

By MARY SEABORN 

The annual inflow of unauthorized immigrants to the United States was nearly two-thirds smaller in the March 2007 to March 2009 period than it had been from March 2000 to March 2005, according to new estimates by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. 

This sharp decline has contributed to an overall reduction of 8 percent in the number of unauthorized immigrants currently living in the U.S.-to 11.1 million in March 2009 from a peak of 12 million in March 2007, according to the estimates. The decrease represents the first significant reversal in the growth of this population over the past two decades. 

These new Pew Hispanic Center estimates rely on data mainly from the Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey and decennial census. The unauthorized immigrant population is estimated using the widely accepted residual method, in which a demographic estimate of the legal foreign-born population is subtracted from the total foreign-born population. The difference provides the basis for estimating the size and characteristics of the unauthorized immigrant population. 

The Pew Hispanic Center’s analysis also finds that the most marked decline in the population of unauthorized immigrants has been among those who come from Latin American countries other than Mexico. From 2007 to 2009, the size of this group from the Caribbean, Central America and South America decreased 22 percent.  

The recent decrease in the unauthorized population has been especially notable along the nation’s Southeast coast and in its Mountain West, according to the new estimates. The number of unauthorized immigrants in Florida, Nevada and Virginia shrank from 2008 to 2009. Other states may have had declines, but they fell within the margin of error for these estimates. 

Not counting Florida and Virginia, the unauthorized immigrant population also declined in the area encompassing the rest of the South Atlantic division that extends between Delaware and Georgia. In addition to the decline in Nevada, three other Mountain states-Arizona, Colorado and Utah-experienced a decrease in their combined unauthorized immigrant population from 2008 to 2009. 

The report, U.S. Unauthorized Immigration Flows Are Down Sharply Since Mid-Decade, authored by Jeffrey Passel, Senior Demographer, Pew Hispanic Center, and D’Vera Cohn, Senior Writer, Pew Research Center, is available at the Pew Hispanic Center’s website, http://www.pewhispanic.org

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

•••••• 

Hispanic journalists group pays tribute to Rubén Salazar, a pioneer reporter who focused on injustices against minorities 

Forty years ago, Rubén Salazar – already a prominent Latino journalist in his own right — entered an East Los Angeles bar following his coverage of a Chicano anti-Vietnam War demonstration.

He never came out.

Salazar, an El Paso-native who at the time of his death was a reporter for The Los Angeles Times and the news director for KMEX-TV, was hit directly in the head by a tear-gas projectile shot by a deputy in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The shooter was identified but never tried, and the Latino community mourned the loss of a pioneer who with his writing attempted to showcase the injustices people of color in California faced in the early second half of the 20th century.

Through his stories, Salazar told the history of Latinos in California – a history that had been largely ignored by newspapers, radio and television.

Because he fought off efforts to give voice to the marginalized, he often faced threats.

And although his family refuses to label Salazar a martyr, the man who entered that East Los Angeles bar on August 29, 1970 emerged from it an icon for the thousands of journalists of color that today work in U.S. newsrooms.

The National Association of Hispanic Journalists joins the many story tellers throughout the country in commemorating the 40th anniversary of the death of Rubén Salazar, a man whose legacy serves as fuel for the organization. 

Share This

Share this post with your friends!