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Longtime Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, who retired from the Texas Legislature on June 30 to assume her new duties on July 2 as Vice President for University Advancement at the University of Texas-Pan American, on Thursday, July 19, expressed her support for fellow Democrat and McAllen attorney Roberto “Bobby” Guerra. Guerra is facing Republican Party nominee Miriam Martínez of Edinburg, a renowned journalist and small business owner, for Gonzáles’ former House District 41 seat. Serving as the Mistress of Ceremony for the Legislative Report Card event in Mission hosted by the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Gonzáles provided introductions for legislators and other dignitaries during the gathering. She recognized Guerra, the Democratic Party nominee, as “the former chair of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party, and now, I believe, my successor – and November will tell, and I have no doubt: Mr. Bobby Guerra.” House District 41 includes most of McAllen, key portions of Edinburg, Pharr, and Mission, and all of Sharyland, Palmhurst, and Alton. Featured, from left, are all Democrats: Rep.-elect Óscar Longoria, Jr., D-La Joya; Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville; Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; former Rep. Gonzáles; and Bobby Guerra. The general elections, which cover local posts to U.S. president, will be held on Tuesday, November 6, 2012.

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Miriam Martínez of Edinburg, the Republican nominee for state representative, House District 41, and Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, greeted potential voters during the Women’s Business Summit, held on Friday, June 22, at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance. Martínez is facing McAllen attorney and former Hidalgo County Democratic Party chairman Roberto "Bobby" Guerra while Hinojosa is facing Dale A. Brueggemann, a Seguin businessman who in the Tuesday, July 31 primary runoff, won the GOP nomination over Eddie Zamora of McAllen. Qualified Texas voters will be going to the polls on Tuesday, November 6 to decide local, regional and national races, including the Martínez/Guerra and Hinojosa/Brueggemann contests. Edinburg and McAllen are both key constituencies in the House District 41 and Congressional District 15 races.

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With Christopher Vela of Edinburg, a Senate legislative intern, looking on, Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr., D-Mission, on Friday, August 3, fielded questions from reporters in McAllen regarding the formation of One Texas, a new statewide organization dedicated to engaging Hispanic voters and electing more Democrats to the Texas House of Representatives. Muñoz, Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, along with Rep. Trey Martínez-Fischer, D-San Antonio, had headlined the afternoon news conference held in the office of René  A. Ramírez, founder and owner of Pathfinder, a consulting firm specializing in government relations, economic development and community outreach in the Rio Grande Valley. The three Valley state representatives each donated $5,000 to One Texas as part of their appearance in McAllen. In addition to legislative issues, such as redistricting, public education, and civil rights, which are hallmarks of minority state lawmakers, One Texas is expanding its legislative priorities to transportation, water and energy infrastructure.

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Terry and Erica Canales, featured in this campaign photograph with their daughter and son, will be representing House District 40, which includes much of Edinburg, in the Texas Legislature beginning next January. Terry Canales, an attorney in Edinburg, won the July 31 Democratic Party primary runoff. He has no opponent in the November 2012 general election, and will succeed longtime Rep. Aaron Peña, R-Edinburg, who is retiring at the end of his current two-year term. Canales, president of the Hidalgo County Young Lawyers Association, said as a state lawmaker he will work to help restore $5.4 billion in statewide budget cuts to public education, protect programs that provide health care for women, and help recruit major manufacturers to House District 40.

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South Texas College, in partnership with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Division for Rehabilitation Services (DARS), is embarking in a new grant-funded program to help disabled students achieve college and career success. The program, which is titled “Project HIRE” is geared at ensuring students have access to college, get through college and achieve success through job placement after earning their degree. It is funded by a $225,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Development Disabilities, as well as an additional $31,425 from non-federal resources. Featured at the grant announcement, from left:  Jim Hanophy, Assistant Commissioner, DARS; Steve Ahlenius, President, McAllen Chamber of Commerce; Laura Villarreal, Director, DARS Project HIRE; Bruce Reed, Assistant Dean, College of Health Sciences and Human Services, the University of Texas-Pan American; Robert S. Nelsen, President, the University of Texas-Pan American; Debra Wanser, Commissioner, DARS; Rudy Martínez, Regional Director, DARS; Raymond Lee of EMR Consulting Group; Shirley A. Reed, President, South Texas College; and Paul Hernández, Dean of Student Support Services, South Texas College. See story later in this posting.

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The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, July 31, approved a proclamation declaring August 2012 as National Minority Donor Awareness Month. Jaime Longoria, the Assistant Chief Administrator at the Hidalgo County Judge’s Office, introduced the proclamation, emphasizing the importance of organ donation and how it is an ultimate gift of life. Longoria spoke from experience: his young son was both a recipient and became a donor when he lost his life. Representatives from the Texas Organ Sharing Alliance were in attendance and also shared their profound stories. Gabriel and Sylvia Espinoza of Edinburg lost an 18-year-old son, Jeremy, in March 2003, when he was killed as a passenger in a car accident. Incredibly, two weeks before his tragic death – in a pronouncement that showed he was wise beyond his youthful age – Jeremy had told his family that he always wanted to help people. He convinced them to donate his organs in the event of his passing. Isabel Garza of Mercedes became one of five people who received organ donations from Jeremy. She received Jeremy’s left kidney, telling county leaders that she is living a healthy and active life thanks to Jeremy. Court members unanimously approved the proclamation, which aims to raise awareness of the importance of organ donation among minorities, including Hispanics. Featured, first row, from left: Edwina P. Garza,  Public Relations Coordinator, Southern Region at Texas, Organ Sharing Alliance; Jaime Longoria; Isabel Garza; and Sylvia Espinoza. Back row, from left: Precinct 4 County Commissioner Joseph Palacios; Precinct 3 County Commissioner Joe Flores; County Judge Ramón García; and Precinct 2 Commissioner Héctor "Tito" Palacios.

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Lewis Joseph Lodico of Edinburg on Tuesday, July 24, was honored for his 60 years of service as as a member of the Edinburg Volunteer Fire Department by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court.  Born on September 7, 1934 in Silver Creek, New York, Lodico began his service in Edinburg on September 8, 1952, a day after his 18th birthday. Since then, he has served as an active volunteer firefighter, and this year marks his 60th continuous year of volunteer service with the department.  Throughout his career, Lodico has held numerous leadership positions within the department, including Assistant Fire Chief, and currently serves as Chief Emeritus, the highest honor in the Department. Lodico has served thousands of hours in emergency and fire service training in 31 subjects, and has mentored hundreds of young firefighters during his tenure, educating, listening, leading and guiding them in their lives. Lodico was joined by his wife Sharon and Deputy Chief Uvaldo Pérez, featured in the background, who spoke highly of Lodico’s commitment to the field and to his community. 

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Erica Rodríguez, Sabrina Rodríguez-Louck, and Johanna Sáenz, featured from left, the owners of the RGV Cupcake Factory in McAllen, on Tuesday, July 24, were honored by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court for their successful participation in Cupcake Wars, a television show on the Food Network channel. Sabrina and Erica represented the RGV Cupcake Factory in the competition, excelling in all aspects of the competition to earn the $10,000 grand prize as the first Texas winners on the show. The commissioners court congratulated the women entrepreneurs for their success and for showcasing Hidalgo County and the Rio Grande Valley in such a positive light on national television. Following the ceremony, the commissioners court and the public were treated to samples of the now nationally-renowned and delectable cupcakes. The county leaders featured in the back row are, from left: Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Flores; County Judge Ramón García; Precinct 2 Commissioner Héctor "Tito" Palacios; and Precinct 1 Commissioner Joel Quintanilla.

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Bring out that sun screen and get ready for the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber’s “Jalapeño Golf Classic” on Saturday, August 25, at Los Lagos Golf Course in Edinburg. The event will feature cars from Frank Smith Toyota, Mercedes Benz, Boggus Ford and Clark Knapp Honda as the Hole-in-One prizes. A putting contest also will be available from Deutsch & Deutsch for a Caribbean Cruise or Honeymoon Package featuring several locations. Other competition will be the Longest Putt, Longest Drive, Closest to the Pin for A-B-C categories. Breakfast and Lunch will be served. Cocktails and refreshments will be made available by the Jalapeño Ladies during the entire tournament. Registration begins at 7 a.m. with tee time at exactly at 8 a.m. Door prizes are always plentiful. Sponsorships are still available at $4,000 for the Jalapeño Grande, $3,000 for the Shirt Sponsor, Cap Sponsorship at $1,500, Chili Piquin at $1,000 and a Hole Sponsorship at $75. Three-Man Teams are $500 with individual registrations at $150. Participants can promote their business while helping the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce with their fundraiser. Promote your business while helping the RGVHCC with their fundraiser. More information on the tournament is available by calling the RGHVCC office at For more information on the tournament at 928-0060. Featured, front row from left, are Jalapeño Golf Classic committee members Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO for the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Donna Saccomanno and Ruthie McCollough. Back row from left are John Kowalski and Ronnie Bernal.

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Paul R. Rodríguez, 58, of McAllen, who currently serves as President and Chief Executive Officer for Valley Land Title Company, on Tuesday, July 24, was unanimously selected by his now-six colleagues on the South Texas Board of Trustees as the replacement for the late Michael Allen, who had passed away almost two years ago. Rodríguez reflected on the loss suffered by the Allen family and the STC community as a result of the Allen’s untimely passing. “I take this assignment with some regret because Michael Allen was a tremendous asset to the state, city, and the college, but I am very humbled and flattered that I was selected among the distinguished list of candidates,” he said. “I am looking forward to working with my fellow board members, administrators, staff and students at STC to continue the momentum of progress it has made.” See story later in this posting.

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Without raising taxes, Edinburg prepared to provide $20 million toward construction of envisioned $76 million county courthouse

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

With an estimated 6,000 jobs in Edinburg directly linked to the presence of the Hidalgo County Courthouse, which is the heart of county government, city and county leaders are reviewing an historic and comprehensive master plan that includes the proposed construction of a $76 million, 294,000-square-foot, seven story Courts Building that would dramatically reshape the county seat’s downtown.

This scenario would feature locating the Courts Building on the downtown county square, which is currently used for parking, closing off the portion of Business Highway 281 that divides the county square from the current Hidalgo County Courthouse campus, and physically linking the new facility with the current courthouse, which would be dedicated for use primarily by the County Clerk’s Office and the District Clerk’s Office.

It could take up to four years from developing the architectural design of the Courts Building to finishing the construction of the new complex. The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court is expected to review the master plan, along with the offer of financial help from the city, later this summer.

The detailed study, commissioned last fall by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, was released on Wednesday, July 25, before a joint session of the Edinburg City Council and its jobs-creation arm, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, along with Brian Godínez, representing ERO Architects of McAllen and his own firm, Godínez Communications, updated the city leaders on several different options, including their projected costs. Those scenarios are among the elements to be considered by the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court, which is grappling with what to do with an aging and undersized county courthouse that has been a city landmark since 1954.

ERO Architects, led by Eli R. Ochoa, P.E., AIA, was hired by the county commissioners court to spearhead the development of the Master Plan. In addition to ERO Architects and Godínez Communications, also participating in this landmark study are Gallegos Project Management, represented by Gilbert Gallegos, AIA, of McAllen, and Limbacher-Godrey Architects, represented by Laurie Limbacher, AIA, of Austin.

Edinburg Mayor Richard García – no relation to the county judge – says the Edinburg City Council and the EEDC Board of Directors would, combined, be able to help come up with about half a million dollars a year for three decades to help the county pay for the construction of the proposed Courts Building.

The first investment by the city would involve a $200,000 contribution to help pay for the estimated $620,000 cost for the schematic design of the building, where architects and engineers develop a general view of the components and the scale of the project.

Once construction begins, Edinburg would be able to provide annual payments of about $500,000 over the next 30 years to the county government.

"The good news is they  (county commissioners court) are asking for debt reduction participation, as opposed to $20 million upfront," the mayor explained. "Initially, we have determined that we can afford that, and I expect that we (City Council and EEDC) will be moving forward in that direction. We would not have to raise taxes or make any changes."

In his prepared remarks that are included in the Master Plan, the county judge summarized his view for the need for a new courthouse.

"The Hidalgo County Courthouse was built in 1954 to serve the needs of a much smaller community. Over 50 years later, and with a population increase of nearly 480 percent, our judicial system and administrative needs have long outgrown the existing Courthouse," Judge García noted. "Furthermore, the aging building has serious, spatial, structural, and functional issues that require serious and immediate attention."

The Hidalgo County Master Plan also noted:

"Based upon numerous meetings with Hidalgo County leadership, the Hidalgo County Finance and Budget Office, the county’s financial advisor and the county’s bond counsel, the county can re-appropriate maintenance operations funds to service the debt of a capital improvement project of approximately $76 million.

"The proposed Courts Building in downtown Edinburg would include a ground floor to accommodate the lobby, security, cafeteria, auditorium, law library, chapel and the secured Sally Port suite, the Master Plan added. The six additional floors would accommodate 24 courtrooms (four courtrooms per floor), including all of the courtroom support offices and ancillary spaces."

The $76 million project, which would not include costs for any rehabilitation at the existing Hidalgo County Courthouse, would also feature the design of the Courts Building that would allow the construction of an additional six floors to accommodate the anticipated future courtroom needs for the next 30 years.

This scenario also does not include any renovation costs to the Administration Building, which is located immediately south of the downtown county square, for the proposed transfer from the current courthouse of the District Attorney’s Office and the IT Department.

Advantages of constructing the $76 million Courts Building in downtown Edinburg include:

  • New courts;
  • State-of-the-art courtrooms and technology;
  • State-of-the-art security for public, judges, and inmates;
  • Code compliant;
  • Americans with Disabilities Act compliant;
  • Efficient mechanical systems and building envelope repairs; and
  • DA would remain in newly remodeled space in Administration Building.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Dr. Glenn Martínez as Vice-President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, Felipe García, and Jaime A. Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to:  http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Major study finds almost 270,000 residents live within 16-minute drive of Edinburg’s four key retail, medical, education corridors

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Neighboring McAllen, the longtime retail king in deep South Texas, is running out of affordable prime real estate for new businesses, making Edinburg – with its growing middle-class base, high quality-of-life, and  modern highway and roadway systems – an attractive option for national retail and restaurant chains looking to locate or expand in rapidly-growing Hidalgo County.

This economic trend was one of numerous key highlights presented on Wednesday, July 25, before a joint session of the Edinburg City Council and its jobs-creation arm, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, by John Baldwin with Catalyst Commercial, Inc. of Dallas.

That north Texas business is a retail consultant, market research and brokerage firm, whose services were retained in early March by the EEDC.

Included in that research was an equally valuable list of Texas retailers and restaurants whose owners look for specific types of consumers for the purpose of opening new businesses in Edinburg.

As part of their contract with the EEDC, Catalyst Commercial, Inc. will be making direct contact on behalf of the city with the key leadership of those retail stores and restaurants, advising them that the city has the demographics for them to succeed if they set up shop in Edinburg.

According to Investopedia.com, demographics is the studies of a population based on factors such as age, race, sex, economic status, level of education, income level and employment, among others. Demographics are used by governments, corporations and non-government organizations to learn more about a population’s characteristics for many purposes, including policy development and economic market research.

That list of companies that should be recruited by Edinburg will remain a guarded asset with the city and EEDC leadership. But all of the demographic information gathered by the study will soon be made available to the public on the EEDC web sites: http://www.EdinburgEDC.com and http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com.

Among other findings released by Baldwin and Catalyst Commercial, Inc. were:

  • An estimated 270,000 people live within a 16-minute drive from the four key retail, medical and education corridors in Edinburg, and that number is expected to reach 300,000 potential consumers by 2016;
  • More than 70,000 vehicles per day come into or leave Edinburg through U.S. Highway 281 and Business Highway 281, a number that approaches the city’s estimated 80,000 population, and that figure – known as commuter demand – is what new and existing businesses also look for to capture higher levels of customers and clients;
  • Students at the University of Texas-Pan American have a combined disposable income of more than $200 million a year, but few national retail and restaurants which desire such lucrative markets have ever heard of the fast-growing campus; and
  • Edinburg is a young city – half of the population is younger than 28 years and half of the population is older than 28 years – and it has 3.38 people per household, meaning that the city has many families with children. These characteristics represent long-term potential sales for businesses that cater to growing families.

Baldwin’s presentation represented a draft version of the initial findings, and is pending written responses and suggestions of other economic factors that the city’s elected and appointed leadership want analyzed and reviewed for the final report.

The EEDC had instructed Catalyst Commercial, Inc. to focus on four of the city’s strongest economic bases:

  • The downtown sector, including City Hall, the Hidalgo County Courthouse complex, and  University of Texas-Pan American;
  • The medical corridor, including the Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Cornerstone, and Edinburg Regional Medical Center complexes;
  • The Shoppes at Rio Grande Valley and Carmike Cinemas area; and
  • Monte Cristo from U.S. Highway 281 to Business Highway 281 that includes La Sienna Master Planned Community.

The report by Catalyst Commercial, Inc. represents the first in-depth review of Edinburg’s key economic corridors since 2007, when Buxton Company of Fort Worth, an industry leader in customer analytics and retail site selection technology, determined that as much as had $500 million a year in local purchasing power in southwest Edinburg was being spent outside the city because merchants didn’t offer products and services sought by those residents.

The Buxton study showed the buying power and the demographics in Edinburg. The Catalyst Commercial, Inc. report will show the market potential and sales analysis, as well as, the retail gap analysis and leakage assessment in those specific four corridors. Catalyst Commercial, Inc.will then make the contact with prospective companies.

"We started off with the Buxton study, which looked at our demographics so we would have information so we could solicit, so we can provide for, businesses which want to invest," said Mayor Richard García. "This new study just doesn’t give us additional information, it provides us the vehicle: Catalyst Commercial, Inc. is going to go solicit the new businesses for us, at half the price of the Buxton study."

The Catalyst Commercial, Inc. findings about McAllen reaffirmed García’s view of Edinburg’s role in the expanding South Texas economy.

"We knew that was the situation. We know that’s why Edinburg is going to grow because we have room to grow. Edinburg has reached the point where we are not trying to compete with McAllen. We are growing, we are doing our own thing, we are being recognized for our growth," the mayor reflected. "If anything, McAllen is now competing with Edinburg."

Once finalized, the Catalyst Commercial, Inc.  findings will be of great use to local businesses and residents, added Nelda A. Ramírez, Executive Director for the EEDC.

"For owners of existing businesses who want to attract additional tenants or expand their facilities, this information will allow them to present the demographics of the area that show the prospective for additional commerce," said Ramírez. "If they need a bank loan to expand, it will help them demonstrate that there is enough economic potential to support their financial plans."

For owners of new businesses "such as several commercial centers that are going up, those business owners will be able to take the same data and demographics that will prove the buying potential that  is here," Ramírez added.

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Dr. Glenn Martínez as Vice-President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, Felipe García, and Jaime A. Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to:  http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Plan for 198-bed upscale student housing complex submitted to UT-Pan American by Local Government Corporation of Edinburg

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg city leaders on Thursday, June 28, approved submitting a proposal to the University of Texas-Pan American that could lead to the construction of a 198-bed student housing complex on the southeast corner of the main campus.

As part of that effort, James M. Parkey, Architect, from Argyle, Texas, and Rio Consultants, owned by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, entered into a special services agreement with the Local Government Corporation of Edinburg for the planning, design, construction, financing and operation of the envisioned multi-story building, which would replace the University Bookstore located on a 2.35 acre tract of land between 4th Avenue and 5th Avenue.

Parkey attended the meeting, but Lucio – who made a presentation March 9 before the LGC of Edinburg – had a previous commitment. Both actions by the LGC of Edinburg took place during a public session held in the city council board room at Edinburg City Hall.

There would be no fee paid to Parkey or Lucio for any of their services if the proposal for the student housing complex is not selected by UTPA and UT System leaders – or if the LGC of Edinburg decides at the last minute to not proceed with construction of the complex.

The plan by the LGC of Edinburg was submitted by a 3 p.m. Monday, July 2 deadline set by the University of Texas-Pan American.

UTPA officials will review Edinburg’s plan before recommending it for further consideration and final action by the UT System Board of Regents. UTPA officials or the UT System Board of Regents also could reject the proposal.

The LGC of Edinburg is a recently-created public entity, controlled by the Edinburg City Council, which under state law can be formed by a municipality or county government to fund transportation, water and sewer infrastructure, economic development ventures, and other projects, including the proposed student housing complex, to benefit the public.

All actions taken by the LGC of Edinburg would have to be approved by the Edinburg City Council.

The LGC is led by a five-member board of directors that includes Mayor Richard García as president, Felipe García (no relation to the mayor) as vice-president, City Councilmember Homer Jasso, Jr. as board secretary, Jaime Rodríguez as treasurer, and Fred Palacios.

The mayor was unable to attend the session as he was excused on important business. In his absence, Felipe García presided over the meeting.

Rodríguez and Palacios also serve on the board of directors for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, which is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. Dr. Glen E. Martínez, a member of the EEDC Board of Directors, sat in on the meeting.

The EEDC staff is handling the administrative duties for the Local Government Corporation of Edinburg.

Parkey and Weslaco attorney Ramón Vela, who is an expert on LGCs, provided the board members with detailed information on the roles and benefits of the LGC of Edinburg.

Vela offered his legal expertise on LGCs at no charge during the meeting. But he will be submitting a proposal to serve, for a fee, as a special issuer counsel on the bond issue. He noted that, like Parkey and Lucio, he would not receive any money for his services if the proposal is not selected by UT-Pan American or UT System leaders – or if the LGC of Edinburg decides at the last minute to not proceed with construction of the complex.

Both men focused on how the LGC of Edinburg would be able to cover all the costs of constructing, operating and maintaining the proposed student housing, without any risk to local taxpayers, and be able to generate surplus cash to help pay for other important city projects.

“There aren’t any taxpayer dollars that will be spent on this project,” Vela said. “No responsibility for the individual LGC board members, there is no EEDC (Edinburg Economic Development Corporation) money, no LGC money.”

Private investors would buy revenue bonds issued by the LGC of Edinburg, and that money would be used for the construction of the housing facility. A portion of the rent generated from the housing complex would be used to repay those investors for their principal plus interest.

The private investors who buy the revenue bonds know in advance that if not enough revenue is generated from the rentals, those investors would suffer all the financial losses. No other entities involved in the project would be liable for any losses to the investors.

“The investors who buy those bonds pay their nickel and take their chance. They do it on the basis on what will be a very detailed feasibility study,” said Parkey. “We have done an initial feasibility study, but it would be done in much more detail. They look at it, decide if they want to invest. If they do, it’s on their dime.”

In addition to the Edinburg City Council, the state’s highest legal authority also would have to approve the sale of any revenue bonds by the LGC of Edinburg.

“We have to submit all of the documentation to the Texas Attorney General, and the Attorney General has to give the blessing,” Vela emphasized. “The AG needs to be sure that it is a non-recourse bond, that there is no liability to taxpayers. The AG has to approve the closing of the bonds. That’s another safety valve, another level of comfort for the citizens.”

Parkey distributed a preliminary rendering of the student housing complex that he has developed on behalf of the LGC of Edinburg. It would be a facility that emphasizes not only the comfort, but also the safety of the tenants. A key aspect of the complex would be a secure vehicle parking system for the tenants.

“It is called a wrap. We are putting about 282 parking spaces in a three-story parking structure that would look like it is part of the building,” Parkey said. “You wouldn’t know that it is not one building.”

Parkey noted that the city would be best served with the student housing complex, not only because it can generate revenue from the project, but because other developments may not consistent with Edinburg’s vision to improve the adjacent downtown region.

“We suggested (to UTPA leaders) they broaden their search and consider other uses,” Parkey noted. “If they lease that bookstore and put an enterprise in it, it would have very little impact on the overall goal of what the city wants. You need a bigger project. This is one that would fulfill those needs, and we could do it without taxpayer dollars.”

The Edinburg Economic Development Corporation is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council. It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Richard García as President, Dr. Glenn Martínez as Vice-President, Fred Palacios as Secretary-Treasurer, Felipe García, and Jaime A. Rodríguez. For more information on the EEDC and the City of Edinburg, please log on to:  http://www.EdbgCityLimits.com

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Financial leader Paul R. Rodríguez of McAllen unanimously appointed to STC Board of Trustees

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Paul R. Rodríguez, 58, of McAllen, who currently serves as President and Chief Executive Officer for Valley Land Title Company, on Tuesday, July 24, was unanimously selected by his now-six colleagues on the South Texas Board of Trustees as the replacement for the late Michael Allen, who had passed away almost two years ago.

Having served on the STC governing board since May 2004, Allen had represented the interests of the constituents of District 3, which includes south McAllen, southwest Pharr, Hidalgo, Sharyland, southeast Mission and Granjeno.

Allen, 72, passed away in McAllen on Wednesday, August 25, 2010, after a long battle with cancer. Just a few months earlier, Allen had successfully fought off a reelection challenge for a new six-year term. However, his illness dramatically worsened over the summer, leading to his unexpected death.

With the appointment, Rodríguez will serve out Allen’s term, which ends in May 2016.

The decision to appoint Rodríguez came after deliberations behind closed doors – as allowed by state law – by the six members of the STC Board of Trustees.

Rodríguez and Dr. Ofelia Averack, a McAllen physician, were the two finalists considered by the full board from a list of 13 qualified individuals from District 3 who had been nominated for the powerful political entity, which governs major campuses in McAllen, Weslaco and Rio Grande City.

Last August, the STC Board of Trustees approved a one-year, $138.5 million budget, and may soon begin considering a major bond election for expansion plans of the fast-growing institution of higher education.

Neither Rodríguez or Averack attended the public portion or closed portion of the STC Board of Trustees meeting, which was held at the Pecan Campus in McAllen.

After board members reconvened into open session, Rose Benavidez of Rio Grande City, who serves as chair of the STC Board of Trustees, announced that Rodríguez was their choice to fill the vacant slot, then called for a vote on his selection, which was approved without any dissent.

A few minutes after the vote, with her fellow board members still in attendance, Benavidez contacted Rodríguez by phone to tell him the good news.

"I am calling to officially inform you that you have been appointed to be the board trustee member for District 3," Benavidez informed Rodríguez. "I have every single board member still in the room anxious to congratulate you."

Placing him on her phone’s speaker function, Rodríguez expressed his gratitude for the honor.

"I certainly appreciate the confidence you has shown in me," he acknowledged. "I know you had an excellent group of candidates to select from, so I certainly appreciate the responsibility you have given me."

Later, Rodríguez reflected on the loss suffered by the Allen family and the STC community as a result of the Allen’s untimely passing.

“I take this assignment with some regret because Michael Allen was a tremendous asset to the state, city, and the college, but I am very humbled and flattered that I was selected among the distinguished list of candidates,” he said. “I am looking forward to working with my fellow board members, administrators, staff and students at STC to continue the momentum of progress it has made.”

Benavides also later commented on the transition that had taken place as a result of Rodriguez’ appointment.

“I would like to thank my colleagues for their dedication and commitment while we worked diligently to fill the vacancy created by Mike Allen, an unwavering advocate and friend of South Texas College, whose devotion will not be forgotten,” she said. “We were fortunate to have a diverse and talented pool to choose from, and the board unanimously agreed that Paul Rodríguez demonstrated wonderful attributes coupled with a wealth of experience, making him the ideal candidate. I am pleased to welcome Paul to our board, and look forward to working closely with him in championing our mission

In addition to a lengthy professional resume – his previous work experiences included top positions with Lone Star National Bank of Pharr, International Bank of Commerce of McAllen, NBC Bank Rio Grande Valley, and Central National Bank of Pharr – the PSJA and Princeton University graduate (Class of 1972 and 1976, respectively) also currently serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Juan Diego Regional Catholic High School in Mission.

From 1999 through 2008, Rodríguez served as the past president and member of the Sharyland Independent School District  Board of Trustees, served as board member of the Mission Economic Development Authority (1989 through 1999), continues to serve as Chairman and board member of the Municipal Utility District No. 1 (1988 through the present), and is a former Chairman and board member of Mission Hospital (1985 through 2000).

He listed as his three references for the position Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Keith Patridge, President and CEO for the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, and Jesse Muñiz, the Assistant Superintendent for the Sharyland Independent School District.

In the chronology of events leading to Rodríguez’ appointment, STC provided the following history:

On January 23, the Office of the Attorney General of Texas rendered an opinion in response to the college’s question regarding the proper way to fill the vacancy caused by Allen’s passing. The opinion indicated that the vacancy would be filled for the duration of the unexpired term by the remaining six STC board trustees.

On January 31, the STC Board of Trustees directed STC President Shirley Reed to solicit nominations of candidates who wished to be considered for the appointment. Through press releases, local advertisements, and letters mailed to more than 300 area leaders, the solicitation for nominations took place, with a March 7 deadline.

On March 8, the STC Board of Trustees reviewed the application packets of 13 nominees and formed a Board Screening Committee to conduct interviews with each of the nominees. A random drawing by legal counsel determined the order of the interviews.

The Board Screening Committee interviewed the nominees on April 26, 27, 28 and May 2. Twelve of the nominees went before the special panel, with the 13th nominee unable to make the offered interview.

On May 30, the Board Screening Committee recommended five of the 13 initial nominees for further review. At a special meeting on May 31, the STC Board of Trustees received the recommendations from the Board Screening Committee and directed Reed to coordinate another found of interviews with those five individuals.

On June 28, the STC Board of Trustees interviewed the five remaining nominees, with Rodríguez and Averack making the final cut.

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State commissioners set wheels in motion for $112 million in funds for two highway projects

By KARINA CARDOZA

The Texas Transportation Commission met in Corpus Christi on Thursday, July 26, and approved the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority’s (HCRMA) request to terminate the Pass-Through Agreements for the State Highway 365 and US 281 Military Highway Overpass project.

This action was necessary to allow for the HCRMA to proceed in negotiating an Advance Funding Agreement (AFA) with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for $112 million in funding for SH 365 and U.S. Highway 281. 

According to TxDOT, a pass-through agreement is a financing tool the state created to stretch already limited tax highway dollars and to allow local communities to fund upfront costs for constructing a state highway project. The state then reimburses a portion of the project cost to the community over time by paying a fee for each vehicle that drives on the new highway. Projects must be on the state highway system to be eligible to be developed under this program.

The proposed AFA gives the HCRMA greater flexibility than the Pass-Through Agreements if additional funding is secured for the projects. It is anticipated that the AFA will be considered by the Texas Transportation Commission at its upcoming meeting later in August.

Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García and HCRMA Chairman Dennis Burleson attended the Commission meeting and spoke in favor of the items. García thanked the commission for their support, emphasizing the need for transportation in our area. 

The county judge noted that Hidalgo County will continue to work as a region with the leadership of  neighboring counties, and looks forward to officially begin designating parts of Highways 77, 281, and Expressway 83 as interstates in the near future. The commission unanimously approved the items.

After the commission meeting, members of the 281 Coalition met to discuss the continued improvements of U.S. Expressway 281 to interstate standards. In addition to García and Burleson, members of the coalition in attendance were Brooks County Judge Raúl Ramírez, Live Oak County Judge Jim Huff, Edinburg City Manager Ramiro Garza, Pilar Rodríguez, Executive Director of the Hidalgo County RMA; Keith Patridge, Executive Director of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation; Andrew Canon, Director for the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization; Teclo García ( no relation to the county judge),  Governmental Affairs Officer for the City of McAllen; Bobby Villarreal with the Hidalgo County Judge’s Office; and Marcos López representing Precinct 4 Hidalgo County Commissioner Joseph Palacios.

At the 281 Coalition meeting, items of discussion included the completion of overpasses in Encino, Falfurrias, Ben Bolt, and Premont, as well as improvements in the George West area. 

The 281 Coalition’s goal is to have free flowing movement of goods through North U.S. Expressway 281 and to have the entire segment from the Rio Grande Valley to George West up to interstate standards, which encourages and entices more business to relocate along the corridor knowing that they can move their goods in a timely manner.

The next meeting of the Hidalgo County RMA is scheduled at 5:30 pm on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 at Pharr City Hall (118 S. Cage Blvd, Pharr).

For more information, visit the HCRMA website at: http://www.lrgvdc.org/RMA/

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Mammograms and contraception services, at no extra charge, expanded under Affordable Care Act, announces Congressman Hinojosa

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, August 1,  announced that under the Affordable Care Act (also known as "Obamacare") for the first time ever, women will now have access to life-saving preventive care, such as mammograms and contraception, without paying any more out of their own pockets.

"Women have had a tougher time than most when it comes to having access to preventive care and it is long past the time that things should have changed," said Hinojosa. "The Affordable Care Act already has benefits in place specifically for women, but now, as of August 1, 2012, most private health insurance plans will cover additional women’s preventive services without requiring women to pay more for those necessary services."

These services include:

  • Well-woman visits;
  • Screening for gestational diabetes, which help protect the mother and her child from one of the most serious pregnancy-related diseases;
  • Breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling;
  • Screening and counseling for interpersonal and domestic violence;
  • Contraception and contraceptive counseling;
  • HPV DNA testing;
  • STI counseling; and
  • HIV screening and counseling.

These services are based on recommendations from the Institute of Medicine, which relied on advice from independent physicians, nurses, scientists, and other experts, as well as evidence-based research, to develop its recommendations. And insurance companies know these services help prevent disease and illness, which can save them money in the long run.

By eliminating barriers like co-pays, co-insurance, and deductibles, secure, affordable coverage is quickly becoming a reality for millions of American women and families.

Hinojosa added, "These eight preventive care measures could save the lives of the women we love and to me there is nothing better than investing in their health."

For more on the new guidelines, visit http://www.HealthCare.gov

Or call your insurer for questions about how these new provisions will affect your plan.

••••••

Disabled college students at South Texas College to benefit from "Project HIRE"

By EDGAR CHRNKO

South Texas College, in partnership with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services Division for Rehabilitation Services (DARS), is embarking in a new grant-funded program to help disabled students achieve college and career success.

The program, which is titled “Project HIRE” is geared at ensuring students have access to college, get through college and achieve success through job placement after earning their degree. It is funded by a $225,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Development Disabilities, as well as an additional $31,425 from non-federal resources.

“We are starting with a cohort of seven students and we will add new students each semester,” said Paul Hernández, Dean of Student Support Services for STC. “At STC we are known for our open access and creating opportunities for disabled students. Each semester we service more than 200 students through our Disability Support Program and we do everything possible to ensure these students get the help they need to reach their goal of graduation. Now we are extending that through job placement.”

Some of the services STC currently provides include note taking/lecture notes, sign language interpretation, readers and/or scribes, class materials in large print or Braille, extended time for tests, alternate test sites or formats, and counseling, just to name a few. Also, the college’s campus locations and teaching sites are designed to provide full access to disabled students.

Through the grant, each participant will have a liaison that will personally track their progress from admission to STC through to the attainment of an associate’s degree, then through a bachelor’s program or job placement.

“In addition to our normal services, the participants will also receive a laptop computer and other needed assistive technology, training in life skills and financial management, a business mentor, assistance with securing internships and many other benefits,” explained Hernández. “Our goal is to not just help them graduate, but put the proof in the pudding, which is getting a good paying job in the field to which they earned their degree. This program is a way to ensure disabled students don’t fall through the cracks of society. At STC we make a lifelong commitment to helping our students and their families secure a better life. This is an extension of that mission.”

In addition to STC and DARS, The University of Texas-Pan American, Workforce Solutions, Access Granted Technology Services, and the Communication Access Ability Group of South Texas are also partners in the grant, handling different facets of the program.

“This grant is a wonderful example of how a community of partners can come together by sharing expertise and resources to reach a common goal,” said Jim Hanophy, DRS Assistant Commissioner. “The project’s focus to help these students advance their education and find gainful employment will serve as a model for development for similar projects across the state.”

In all, 50 students will initially benefit from the program in the first five years, with the hope of expanding the program in the future. For additional information about STC’s Disability Support Services call 956/872-2530 or 956/872-8372.

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Texans warned about utility payment scam being used to steal vital personal information

A new identity theft scam that is sweeping the country claims that Americans can get federal financial assistance to help cover the cost of their utility bills, according to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott.

Using in-person solicitations, social media, fliers, phone calls and text messages, scammers are contacting customers and claiming that a new federal program established by the Obama Administration is providing free utility bill payment credits or applying payments on customers’ behalf.

To benefit from the purported program, utility customers are told they must provide their Social Security and bank routing numbers. Victims who provide their sensitive personal information are given a so-called "Federal Reserve bank routing number" to pay their utility bills. Customers are led to believe that their utility bill will be paid if they use this routing number and insert their Social Security number as the bank account number.

In reality, there is no such program, no federal money and no payments ever applied to the customers’ accounts. Customers who use the fraudulent bank routing number are still responsible for their utility bills and must make payments on their own.

To avoid falling for this scam, Texas utility customers should consider three tips:

  • Never provide Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or bank account information to anyone who requests it during an unsolicited phone call or in-home visit;
  • If someone calls claiming to represent the local utility company and demands immediate payment or personal information, call recipients should hang up the phone and call the customer service number on their utility bill. Texans should never give in to high pressure calls seeking personal information; and
  • Texans should never allow anyone into their homes to check electrical wiring, natural gas pipes or appliances unless an appointment has been scheduled or a utility problem has been reported. Anytime a utility employee arrives at a residence, the occupant should require that the employee produce proper identification.

••••••

McAllen lands $22 million irradiation facility for imported produce, says Congressman Hinojosa

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Thursday, July 19, announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has released a final rule that will allow new irradiation treatment facilities in Texas and other southern states. This rule will allow the construction of a $22 million dollar irradiation facility in the McAllen Free Trade Zone that will add more than 100 direct jobs and hundreds of indirect jobs.

"Texas is on the front lines of defense protecting American consumers from pests and other contaminations from Mexico, Latin America and beyond that endanger the health of all Americans." said Hinojosa "More than 60 percent of the produce now shipped in Texas comes from Mexico. With the emergence of citrus greening and Mexican fruit flies along the border with Texas, the need for more irradiation facilities is even more urgent. That is why I have been working with the USDA on quick adoption of this rule. I am also gratified that APHIS recognizes the danger of exotic fruit flies and has included additional safeguards for irradiation facilities in states like Texas to maximize the safety for all Americans."

Keith Patridge, president of the McAllen Economic Development Corporation, said his organization is ready for the next steps.

"This new rule clears the way for this project to move forward. It will not only provide much needed jobs for South Texas but also improve the safety of the imported food supply the additional economic benefit of increased shelf life for the retailer and the consumer. A true win-win in these difficult economic times," he said.

To see the text of the final rule, log on at: https://s3.amazonaws.com/public-inspection.federalregister.gov/2012-17725.pdf.

••••••

Mission Economic Development Corporation launches $100,000 Small Business Fund

The Mission Economic Development Corporation and the Mission City Council on Thursday, July 19, announced the creation of Ruby Red Ventures, a $100,000 small business fund that aims to nurture entrepreneurial spirit and promote the creation of innovative businesses in the City of Mission.

In particular, it seeks to encourage entrepreneurially oriented Rio Grande Valley residents to expand and/or launch new ventures in Mission. The goal of Ruby Red Ventures is to allow participates to gain a better understanding of how to develop and follow a realistic business plan, as well as, provide the participants with forums in which they develop skill in presenting their ventures.

“Considering how difficult it is to borrow money today, we need to begin removing some barriers and making capital more accessible to fuel startup growth. If we don’t support our small businesses or aspiring entrepreneurs, who will?” Alex Meade, Mission EDC CEO explained.

“The State has done an excellent job with the Texas Emerging Technology fund; however, it can’t fund all projects. The EDC believes that in order to make the state more competitive, communities now need to create their own tools.” Meade continued.

“Throughout the state and country, entrepreneurs have access to startup accelerators, angel networks, and/or venture capital funds — so why not Ruby Red Ventures in the Texas Rio Grande Valley? The Valley was founded by entrepreneurs and as economic development professionals and beneficiaries of their hard work, we, at Mission EDC, feel obligated to continue to foster that spirit.”

Ruby Red Ventures will consist of two rounds of funding per year at $50,000 per round and a maximum of $25,000 per company. Participants will be required to attend small business workshops to help them prepare sound business plans. The application period begins in early September 2012 with the first round of funding to occur in March 2013.

For more information, please contact the Mission EDC at 956/585-0040.

••••••

Texas A&M & Texas Wesleyan partner to form A&M Law School at current Fort Worth campus

The Texas Wesleyan University Board of Trustees on Tuesday, June 26, approved a letter of intent for Texas Wesleyan University and Texas A&M University to enter into a strategic partnership that would provide premier legal education in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex for decades to come. Under the proposed multi-million dollar agreement, the school would be known as the Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University.

Texas A&M School of Law at Texas Wesleyan University is located in Fort Worth.

“Last October, Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp approached me about a unique strategic partnership,” Texas Wesleyan President Frederick G. Slabach said. “After months of careful consideration, we both consider this to be a mutually beneficial collaboration with limitless possibilities.”

Among the future offerings would be a joint law school JD/Texas Wesleyan MBA program and also a Texas Wesleyan undergraduate/law school 3+3 program. These new programs exemplify how the partnership would allow for the development of collaborative academic programming that will have a lasting impact on students. The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents met a few days later and approved the Texas A&M-TWU partnership.

“In creating the Texas A&M University School of Law at Texas Wesleyan, we are finally expanding the Texas A&M brand into the field of law with a focus on emerging fields that require a growing legal expertise,” said Sharp.

Sharp also put the law school partnership in the context of recent major announcements, saying, “In the last week we have received one of the largest federal grants since NASA was brought to Texas to develop life-saving vaccines and medical therapies, we announced a concession agreement for facilities and food services valued at more than a quarter billion dollars, and today we are forging a new partnership to create a long-sought Texas A&M School of Law, which will have a profound an impact on the future of Texas.”

The president of Texas A&M, R. Bowen Loftin, praised the new arrangement, saying, “Expanding Texas A&M’s graduate professional programs is one of the key tenets of Vision 2020, our long-range plan to become one of the country’s top 10 public institutions by the year 2020. If you look at the top universities – our peer institutions – most of them have a law school.

“We see today’s announcement as the next step in Texas A&M’s dramatic evolution from its beginnings as a regional, military-focused institution into one of the nation’s largest and most prestigious comprehensive universities in a short period of four decades.”

Under the agreement, Texas A&M acquires ownership and operational control of the law school. All faculty and staff of the law school will be employees of Texas A&M. Texas Wesleyan University would retain ownership and control of the law school building and four city blocks of land at the downtown Fort Worth campus and would lease the facilities to Texas A&M.

“The synergy of this strategic partnership is extraordinary,” said Kenneth H. Jones, Jr., chairman of Texas Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees. “Texas A&M stands to benefit from an already established, ABA-accredited law school. Fort Worth and the Metroplex would lay claim to an institution poised for first-tier status. And Texas Wesleyan would gain new academic programs that drive our vision of preparing motivated students for graduate school.”

Among the future offerings would be a joint law school JD/Texas Wesleyan MBA program and also a Texas Wesleyan undergraduate/law school 3+3 program. These new programs exemplify how the partnership would allow for the development of collaborative academic programming that will have a lasting impact on students.

The presidents of the two universities would appoint a Strategic Partnership Academic Coordinating Council to advise them on additional collaborative academic initiatives that would serve the students of each campus.

President Frederick G. Slabach served as dean at the School of Law from 2003 to 2006 and has remained a professor of law from 2006 to present. John Sharp was appointed chancellor of The Texas A&M University System by the Board of Regents on September 6, 2011.

The agreement will be executed on or before June 1, 2013.

Texas A&M University, the state’s first public institution of higher education, is one of the largest in the nation, with a student body of nearly 50,000. Texas A&M is one of the nation’s premier research universities and is one of only three Tier 1 universities in Texas.

With a rich 122-year tradition, Texas Wesleyan University offers a solid undergraduate curriculum as well as master’s level and doctoral programs. U. S. News & World Report ranked Texas Wesleyan in the #1 tier of regional universities for 2011 and 2012. Texas Wesleyan is home to the nation’s largest nurse anesthesia program.

The A&M System is one of the largest systems of higher education in the nation, with a budget of $3.3 billion. Through a statewide network of 11 universities, seven state agencies and a comprehensive health science center, the A&M System educates more than 120,000 students and makes more than 22 million additional educational contacts through service and outreach programs each year. Externally funded research expenditures exceed $780 million and help drive the state’s economy.

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