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Miriam Martínez leading by example on term limits Photograph by Heriberto Reyes

Term limits, which are being proposed for the McAllen mayor and McAllen city commissioners by the McAllen Police Association, help promote democracy so much that Miriam Martínez, the Republican nominee for State Representative, House District 41, on Thursday, October 4, signed a notarized statement that she would not serve more than two terms in the Texas House of Representatives. “I always believed that one should lead by example, and that’s why I am swearing, under oath, that I would limit myself to two terms in the Texas House of Representatives if I were to be elected state representative,” Martínez said. The term for state representative is two years. Martínez said four years in the Texas House of Representatives is more than enough time for a legislator to do good for their constituents. “Understanding the legislative process is not rocket science, it’s about doing what is right for your community,” said Martínez. “If an elected official is that good, they should seek higher office after two terms.” Featured, from left, are Fern McClaugherty, a member of the Objective Watchers of the Legal System, a taxpayer watchdog organization best known as the OWLS; Miriam Martínez; and Rev. Armando Vera, president of the first-ever Hispanic Tea Party, which is based in Hidalgo County. Martínez is facing Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-Sharyland, in the November 6 general election for the two-year term that begins in mid-January 2013. House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, north, central, southeast and portions of west McAllen, Palmhurst, Sharyland, Alton, and portions of Mission and northwest Pharr. See story on term limits later in this posting.

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R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-Sharyland, on Tuesday, September 25, takes the oath of office from Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, during public ceremonies held on the floor of the Texas House of Representatives at the State Capitol in Austin. Guerra, a McAllen attorney, is finishing the final few months of the unexpired term of former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, who retired from the Legislature late last spring to accept the position as Vice President for University Advancement at the University of Texas-Pan American. Later, Straus appointed Guerra to the House Committee on Public Health and the House Committee on Border and Intergovernmental Affairs – the two legislative panels on which Gonzáles served before leaving the House of Representatives. The Public Health Committee is an 11-member panel whose responsibilities including dealing with the supervision and control of the practices of dentistry and medicine. “Public Health is a crucial committee for the Rio Grande Valley,” Guerra said. “The border area faces many unique health challenges including a physician shortage crisis, high rates of chronic diseases, lack of insurance coverage for many families, and most recently, unintended affects of the new managed care system. I look forward to fighting to improve conditions for both the Valley and my state.” The Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, with nine members, considers legislation that affects counties along the Texas-Mexico border region. “Recently, the issue of security has been on the forefront of our border communities and I am honored to be the voice for the Valley on the Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee,” Guerra said. “It is important that we keep working to find ways to keep our borders safe without impeding trade or economic development.” Guerra is facing Republican Miriam Martínez of Edinburg, a small business owner and international journalist, in the November 6 general election for State Representative, House District 41, for a two-year term that begins in mid-January 2013. House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, north, central, southeast and portions of west Mcallen, Palmhurst, Sharyland, Alton, and portions of Mission and northwest Pharr.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors and staff are planning the Annual Installation Banquet scheduled for Saturday, November 3, 2012 at 6 p.m. This year, the ceremony will take place at Legacy Chapels Life Events Center located at 4610 S. Jackson Road. in Edinburg. The banquet will honor Dina Araguz, featured left, as incoming chairman, and Edna Peña, featured right, as outgoing chairman for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. It will also provide dinner and entertainment by comedian and magician Mark Robinson, plus the announcements of “Man and Woman of the Year, “Leadership Award” and “Ambassador of the Year”. Tickets to attend the Annual Banquet are $40 per person, or $400 for a table of 8. Attire will be business casual and all are encouraged to attend the magical night. More information is available by contract the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 383-4974.

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Edinburg Rotarians, Mari De León, featured left, and Jane Cross serve up healthy samples to the parents participating in Boys & Girls Clubs Day for Kids, held on Friday, September 21, at The Legacy Center@Boys & Girls Clubs of Edinburg RGV, located at 702 Cullen Street. This event, the first in a series of Healthy Lifestyles for a Lifetime cooking demonstrations, was sponsored by H-E-B and the Edinburg Rotary Club in an effort to educate parents and families on how to make better healthier food choices, and how parents can use dinner time to stay connected with their children. Other supporters included the Food Bank of the RGV. The event featured, among other things, audience sampling of all healthy food choices prepared, including salsa, chicken fajita, and even desserts. The food sampling trays were served up by Edinburg Rotarians. I love this,” said one parent, who husband recently suffered a heart attack. “I did not know how to read food labels before this event and now I feel like I can better help him.”

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On Wednesday, September 13, the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce hosted its final monthly Ambassador meeting of the fiscal year at the historic Edinburg Depot, located at 602 West University Drive. Ambassadors consist of business professionals and members within the community, and they play key roles in supporting the organization’s overall mission of member acquisition and retention. They welcome new chamber members, attend ribbon cuttings, visit members, and answer questions about services and benefits offered by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. “The Chamber Ambassadors are a special group of volunteers that play a vital role for the chamber,” said Martín Rivas, Membership Director for the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce. “Being an ambassador is a good way to make new contacts, strengthen relationships, and build more resources, and most important, work with the community.” For more information, Rivas may be contacted at 383-4974. Featured, seated from left: Lidia Díaz (Premium Automotive Services); Charlene Kuprel (Private Financial); Letty González (President, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce); Imelda Rodríguez (Director of Tourism, Edinburg Convention and Visitors Bureau); and Stephanie Ozuna (University of Texas-Pan American Graduate Office). Standing, from left: Lee Castro (Legacy Chapels Life Events Center); Marty Martin (Rio Valley Realty); Dean Reger (Atlas Electrical and Air Conditioning Services); Ismael De León (Alpha and Omega Services); Martin Baylor (University of Texas-Pan American); Martin Rivas (Membership Director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce); Dr. Walter Greene (Greene and Associates); Alex Ríos (Kids College Learning Center); Flo Prater (Rio Valley Realty); and Juan Tijerina (RGV Statewide Insurance).

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The State of Texas has proclaimed October as Financial Exploitation Awareness month. In accordance with that designation, Silver Ribbon Community Partners, Adult Protective Services in Hidalgo County, the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Lone Star National Bank and Costco is inviting the public to attend the 2012 Financial Exploitation Awareness Kick-Off, which will be held Monday, October 23, at Lone Star National Bank, 520 E. Nolana in McAllen. The event, which will begin at 10 a.m., will feature area city officials, members of law enforcement, elected officials, and representatives from financial institutions. In 2011, Adult Protective Services in Hidalgo County received more than 2,500 intakes regarding abuse, neglect and exploitation of disabled persons 18 of age and older and the elderly age 65 and older. Of these reports, more than 1,500 were confirmed. Shown meeting to discuss final arrangements for the workshop are, from left: Alina Cantú, RGV Hispanic Chamber; Rose Ramírez, Silver Ribbon; Edna de Saro, Marketing Director, Lone Star National Bank; and Jason Torres and Blenda Cantú of Costco. See story later in this posting.

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Carmen González, the president of the Edinburg school board, says the school district's finances, academic performances, campuses, and future have never been better, offering a 69-page factual report, The Legacy of Excellence Continues, as proof of those successes under her leadership and tenure. González, a retired professional educator with 37 years experience – including her last 25 years in Edinburg – also highlighted her impressive professional and public service careers on Thursday, September 20, during her campaign kick-off before a full house at the ECHO. “Our district is committed to providing the very best education to our children,” González reflected following her standing-room only reception, which drew constituents from all walks-of-life, ranging from parents, educators and taxpayer activists to business leaders and state legislators. “It is truly an honor for me for voters to have given me the opportunity to serve our community for the past eight years,” she said. “I am respectfully asking all constituents to take a close look at my achievements on their behalf, and please vote for me once more.” See lead story in this posting.

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School district's achievements and future have never been better, says Carmen González, as she seeks reelection to Edinburg school board

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Carmen González, the president of the Edinburg school board, says the school district's finances, academic performances, campuses, and future have never been better, offering a 69-page factual report, “The Legacy of Excellence Continues”, as proof of those successes under her leadership and tenure.

González, a retired professional educator with 37 years experience – including her last 25 years in Edinburg – also highlighted her impressive professional and public service careers on Thursday, September 20, during her campaign kick-off before a full house at the ECHO.

“Our district is committed to providing the very best education to our children,” González reflected following her standing-room only reception, which drew constituents from all walks-of-life, ranging from parents, educators and taxpayer activists to business leaders and state legislators.

“Our administrators, teachers, principals, and department heads work together to make this goal possible,” González emphasized. “We invite our parents to get involved and there is lots of parental involvement.”

Joining her at the campaign kick-off was her husband, Eduardo González, who serves as a member of the South Texas Independent School District Board of Trustees.

Also in attendance were their son and his wife, David John and Dette González, with their children, Victoria and Alex. In addition, Eduardo and Carmen González’ two granddaughters, Ashley González and Nicole C. Calderón, and their great-grandson, Ethan Calderón, proudly showed up in support.

“It is truly an honor for me for voters to have given me the opportunity to serve our community for the past eight years,” she said. “I am respectfully asking all constituents to take a close look at my achievements on their behalf, and please vote for me once more.”

Bond construction done on time, under budget

High on her list of the school district's many achievements during her two terms on the school board is the recently-completed $112 million school bond construction issue, which has led to the opening of four elementary schools, two middle schools, three performing arts centers, major renovations at Brewster Elementary School, and the $11.2 million renovation of Robert R. Vela, the district's fourth high school.

“Who would have thought that four years ago, when voters overwhelmingly approved the bond issue, that we would have finished on time and on budget?” González asked. “Never in the history of the Edinburg school district have we been able to do so much. Mission accomplished, and without raising the tax rate, which is one of the lowest (1.2398) among Valley school districts.”

González said the addition of the new campuses was a priority for a school district bursting at the seams, currently employing more than 4,400 professionals and educating 33,500 students.

“Prior to the bond election, many teachers and their students were forced to endure in less-than-ideal conditions of portable classrooms,” she recalled. “As a result of our bond election, all students can now learn in state-of-the-art facilities. The wisdom of our expansion also shows in the tremendous educational achievements of our students, plus we conducted everything from the election to overseeing the construction projects in the open, for all to see.”

School savings account at $50 million

González said she has been effective in protecting local taxpayer funds in the operation of the sprawling school district.

“We have a Fund Balance, which is the school district’s savings account for emergencies, valued at more than $50 million. When I first came on board, the school district’s Fund Balance was only $5 million,” she said.

“Just because we have the money, that doesn’t mean we should spend it all,” she explained. “As a result, we had the money needed to make sure that we were the only school district in the Valley that did not have to lay off any employees because of the state budget cuts.”

Student successes recognized nationally

Academic successes at the school district also have reached historic levels during her two terms on the school board, she continued.

“Edinburg is the only school district in the nation which has three high schools to earn the College Board Inspiration Award, a national recognition that honors the most improved schools in America,” González illustrated.

“We also have earned top state honors from the Texas Education Agency, which as of this year has designated 13 Exemplary Schools and 19 Recognized Schools for the outstanding performances of their students, staff and faculty,” she said. “When I first was elected to the school board, we only had one Exemplary School and 11 Recognized Schools.”

More results under González' leadership

According to the school district, other gains made during González' service on the board include:

• Received a rating of “Superior Achievement” under the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) for the ninth consecutive year;

• Adopted a balanced budget in 2012-2013 despite state cuts to education and without any employee layoffs;

• Gave all employees in the current budget a two percent cost-of-living raise for all employees, which followed an across-the-board $500 stipend to all employees in December 2011;

• Reversed a $4 million deficit in the district’s self-funded insurance plan within the first year and built a surplus of $18 million in the insurance plan;

• Opened the $5 million Instructional Technology Building;

• Secured a “Safe Routes to School Grant,” a joint project with Hidalgo County and the cities of Edinburg and McAllen to build sidewalks for schools;

• Received $2 million Cool Schools Grants to replace air conditioner in elementary and secondary schools and save the district $237,000 in energy costs; and

• Received the Texas Fitness Now Grant to purchase equipment for the Physical Education classes at middle schools.

ECISD has 42 campuses consisting of 31 elementary schools, six middle schools, four high schools, a dropout recovery school, and an alternative school. The fourth high school – Robert R. Vela High School – opened in early August.

(Political Ad paid for by Carmen González for ECISD School Board, Place 6, 902 West Ebony Drive, Edinburg, Texas 78539)

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Miriam Martínez publicly pledges that she would apply term limits to her own state House career

By BRAD NIBERT

Term limits, which are being proposed for the McAllen mayor and McAllen city commissioners by the McAllen Police Association, help promote democracy so much that Miriam Martínez, the Republican nominee for State Representative, House District 41, on Thursday, October 4, signed a notarized statement that she would not serve more than two terms in the Texas House of Representatives.

“I always believed that one should lead by example, and that’s why I am swearing, under oath, that I would limit myself to two terms in the Texas House of Representatives if I were to be elected state representative,” Martínez said. The term for state representative is two years.

Martínez said four years in the Texas House of Representatives is more than enough time for a legislator to do good for their constituents.

“Understanding the legislative process is not rocket science, it’s about doing what is right for your community,” said Martínez. “If an elected official is that good, they should seek higher office after two terms.”

Martínez held a news conference at 10 a.m. on October 4 at her Edinburg office to sign the document in which she promised, “before God and on my honor,” that she would not serve as House District 41 state representative for more than four years.

House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg, north, central, southeast and portions of west McAllen, Palmhurst, Sharyland, Alton, and portions of Mission and northwest Pharr.

Joining Martínez were Rev. Armando Vera, president of the first-ever Hispanic Tea Party, which is based in Hidalgo County, and Fern McClaugherty, a member of the Objective Watchers of the Legal System, a taxpayer watchdog organization best known as the OWLS.

McClaugherty, a notary public, certified the pledge taken by Martínez.

The issue of term limits has caught public attention in South Texas as a result of efforts by the McAllen Police Association, which wants to prevent the McAllen mayor and city commissioners from serving more than two terms, which total eight years.

“During the past few weeks, as the citizen-driven effort, supported by thousands of registered voters, to set term limits for the McAllen mayor and McAllen city commissioners, I have been amazed just how badly some local politicians want to remain in power,” said Martínez. “They would have us believe that our community would fall apart if they were forced to leave their elected offices after eight years.”

Austin, Dallas, San Antonio, and Houston are among cities nationwide that have term limits for their mayor and/or city commissioners. At the national level, the President of the United States can serve no more than two terms or eight years.

“Terms limits would give voters more choices and bring new ideas that benefit all of us. For those and other important reasons, I am strongly supporting efforts by the McAllen Police Association, which wants local voters to have the right to vote on requiring term limits for the McAllen mayor and McAllen city commissioners,” added Martínez, a small business owner and renowned international journalist.

Local politicians who want to stay on the McAllen City Commission for more than eight years can become corrupted by the power, she noted.

“Although McAllen has had outstanding mayors and city commissioners who have served more than eight years, the time has come to change the city’s political system because it can easily lead to corruption,” Martínez said.

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Sen. Hinojosa appointed to first chairmanship of Senate committee by Lt. Gov. Dewhurst

By JENNIFER SAENZ

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst on Thursday, October 4, appointed Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as Chairman of the Senate Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

The appointment to lead a standing Senate committee was a first for Hinojosa.

Hinojosa will continue to serve as Vice Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and will continue his appointments on the Agriculture, Rural Affairs & Homeland Security, Natural Resources, Criminal Justice, and Transportation Committees as well as on the Legislative Budget Board.

Hinojosa's new appointment as chairman secures an influential leadership position that will lead a committee important to the South Texas region, while his continued membership on the Senate fiscal team cements his significant influence on the state budget-writing process.

“I am honored to serve as Chairman of the Intergovernmental Relations Committee and that Lt. Governor Dewhurst has entrusted me with this important responsibility. This committee is responsible for local government issues and oversees legislation that impacts our local economies,” Hinojosa explained. “Through this appointment I am able to put the Coastal Bend and South Texas at the forefront of the critical discussions that will be taking place during the upcoming legislative session. I look forward to working with the members of this committee.”

The Intergovernmental Relations Committee (IGR) is responsible for creating or amending statutes within the Local Government Code and oversees the creation or modification of special districts in Texas, including Municipal Utility Districts (MUDs) and Municipal Management Districts (MMDs).

Most legislation in IGR deals with “local” bills that cover a wide variety of issues impacting local government – including local housing guidelines, improving the affordability of housing, drought and wildfire preparedness, tax liens, assisting local governments in reducing costs associated with procurement, and local government transparency.

Hinojosa’s chairmanship will play an instrumental role in magnifying the issues of South Texas in the State Capitol, ensuring that the state provides local governmental entities with a cohesive set of policies that allow for collaboration, efficiency, and transparency.

“There is no question that the upcoming legislative session will be yet another challenging one. Our communities face challenging issues and our lawmakers face significant hurdles. But now is the critical time to invest in our state's rebounding economy – to invest efficiently in our infrastructure, education, agriculture and health care. I am fully committed to continue fighting and to serve the constituents of Senate District 20 through my respective appointments this session,” Hinojosa concluded.

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate for August second-best among major Valley economies

By DAVID A. DÍAZ

Edinburg posted an 8.6 percent unemployment rate in August 2012, the second-best showing among the Valley’s major cities, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

Edinburg’s 8.6 percent unemployment rate for August 2012 was an improvement over July (9.2 percent) and June (8.8 percent), and also better than the unemployment rates for August 2011 (9.4 percent) and August 2010 (9.2 percent).

Only McAllen (7.8 percent) had a lower unemployment rate than Edinburg for August 2012.

The unemployment rates during August 2012 for the other major cities in the Valley featured Weslaco (12.4 percent), Brownsville (11.6 percent), Pharr (9.9 percent), Harlingen (9.4 percent), and Mission (9 percent).

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, the unemployment rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force. The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed. To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working and actively seeking work.

This latest figures, released by the Texas Workforce Commission on Friday, September 21, follows an earlier positive economic indicator for Edinburg, reported by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, which shows another key improvement for the local economy.

Edinburg’s retail economy, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, for July 2012 was almost 16 percent better than the same month in 2011.

According to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Edinburg generated $1,335,443.54 in local sales taxes during July 2012, compared with $1,151,365.57 during July 2011, representing an improvement of 15.89 percent.

The 15.89 percent improvement in local retail activities in July, which is the latest data available, was reported on Wednesday, September 12, by the state comptroller’s office.

Local sales taxes are used statewide by local government to help fund their operating budgets. In the case of Edinburg, a portion of the local sales tax revenue is used by the EEDC to help pay for vital economic development projects.

October 19 job fair being planned

Many factors, influenced by the public and private sectors, help contribute to a strong local economy and positive employment figure, said Nelda T. Ramírez, Executive Director for the EEDC.

“In addition to the pro-business policies of the Edinburg City Council and the EEDC Board of Directors, which have helped retain and create thousands of jobs over the past decade, we have organized major job fairs over the past year alone which have successfully placed qualified professionals with outstanding employers in our community,” said Ramírez.

On Friday, October 19, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., the EEDC will be sponsoring Edinburg Job Fest 2012, which will be free and open to the public. It will be held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance, which is located at 118 Paseo Del Prado, near the Women’s Hospital at Renaissance.

The October 19 Edinburg Job Fest 2012 is part of an effort by the EEDC to sponsor job fairs on a quarterly basis. On Thursday, July 21, an estimated 1,500 area residents showed up for an EEDC job fair that featured about three dozen employers seeking to fill vacancies in key fields, ranging from manufacturing to law enforcement to health care.

Area employers who wish to participate in the job fair, which is free of charge to them, may contact Letty Reyes, Project Manager for the EEDC, at 956/383-7124 for more information on the upcoming October 19 Edinburg Job Fest or other job fairs in the future.

The Texas Workforce Commission maintains a detailed accounting of employment trends for Edinburg and all other cities in the state on its website, located at:

http://www.tracer2.com/cgi/
dataanalysis/AreaSelection.
asp?tableName=Labforce

>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.EdinburgCityLimits.com

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Edinburg awarded $3.6 million to build two hurricane shelters, says Congressman Hinojosa

By PATRICIA GUILLERMO

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Wednesday, October 3, announced the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has granted $3.6 million to the City of Edinburg in partnership with Hidalgo County for the construction of two hurricane/tornado safe room shelters that will also serve as community centers.

“The funding from FEMA is not only greatly appreciated it is needed for our increasing population in the Edinburg area,” said Hinojosa. “The new shelters will be able to facilitate our residents who have special needs and will be equipped to also handle those with medical special needs so that families can stay together. The construction of the new structures will also create local jobs during the duration of the projects.”

The two shelters will each be 20,000 square feet and will serve residents with special needs and medical special needs in times of severe storms. One shelter will be built at North 2nd Ave. & West Von Week St. in Edinburg, the other will be constructed at 315 E. Palm Dr. in Edinburg.

Both structures will be a domed structure built of concrete and will be multi-purpose serving centers. Total project cost for each shelter is estimated at $2,400,000 with federal funds paying $1,800,000 for each shelter. This federal funding is a result of funds provided to the state of Texas for the aftermath of hurricane Ike in 2008. Hurricane Ike is recorded as the costliest hurricane in Texas history, and the second costliest hurricane in the United States, surpassed only by hurricane Katrina of 2005.

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Hidalgo County Scofflaw Program goes into effect to collect unpaid court fees and fines

By KARINA CARDOZA

As of Thursday, October 4, Hidalgo County residents who owe a Justice of the Peace court fine or fee over 90 days past due will now be denied services and unable to register their motor vehicle until their debt is paid in full, due to the implementation of a new program in the county. The Hidalgo County Scofflaw Program intends to collect outstanding fines and fees by catching “scofflaws” who have skipped out on their obligations.

In 1997, the Texas Legislature approved language in the Texas Transportation Code that allowed county tax assessor-collectors to deny registration of a vehicle if they received information that the registrant owes the county a past due fine or fee. Dubbed the “Scofflaw Program,” the program allows a mechanism for counties to chastise scofflaws, defined as “contemptuous law violators,” as a means of recouping money that is owed. Hidalgo County chose to implement the program using outstanding justice of the peace fines and fees, which total approximately $40 million and go back as far as the early nineties.

Hidalgo County’s Scofflaw Program begins the enforcement phase of a project which commenced in 2011, “Operation: Clean Slate,” in which residents could search an online database to determine whether they owed the county. The website also allowed defendants to conveniently settle their debt by paying online. Residents were urged to “clean their slate, before it was too late,” and before further consequences ensued. This phase of the project now adds a stronger enforcement mechanism by which the County can rightfully reclaim outstanding debt.

“The county is trying to be more efficient in its collections, and we took the challenge to help the county in this effort,” said County Tax Assessor-Collector Armando Barrera. “The tax office is already a major revenue source for the county, and this program is one more tool to ensure that everything owed to the county gets paid,” Barrera continued.

Paul Villarreal, current Chief of Operations and Barrera’s successor beginning January 2013, added, “We encourage the public to take care of their fines as soon as possible so that we can continue to serve their vehicle registration needs in our office.”

Spearheading the implementation of the JP Collections Initiative along with Barrera and the committee were County Judge Ramón García and Precinct 4 Commissioner Joseph Palacios, who were both pleased with the implementation of the program.

García touted the program as long overdue, and stated he is eager to see an increase in revenues due to this new program.

“With the county facing a major budget shortfall this year, recapturing these funds owed to the county will certainly help our financial situation,” remarked García. “This money is owed, and we ask that residents take personal responsibility and settle their obligations as soon as possible.”

Palacios concurred.

“It is our fiduciary responsibility as public servants to ensure we are taking advantage of all resources available to effectively and diligently manage our county funds, including collecting what is owed,” he remarked. “Together, we came up with a creative solution to address a very real need, and I applaud the efforts of all who were involved to get this program started.”

The committee worked closely with all nine Justices of the Peace offices to ensure that standard procedures were in place to successfully implement the program across all offices. If flagged, residents must pay in full online or at a Justice of the Peace court in order to be cleared and allowed to register their vehicle at the tax office.

Reynaldo Salazar, JP Collections Committee Chair and Budget Office Strategic Planning Director, noted that “our elected officials asked us to develop and outline possible revenue enhancement strategies, and the committee was able to bridge the gap between brainstorming a conceptual idea and turning that into a deliverable.

“Looking toward the future, we look forward to enhancing this program in the coming months and partnering with our local municipalities to also assist them in their collection efforts,” Salazar added.

County officials urge the public to check the online database, which can be found at http://www.hidalgocounty.us, and take care of any outstanding payment prior to making a visit to the tax office. If flagged as a “scofflaw” on the system, registration will be denied until paid in full online or at the Justice of the Peace court.

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House/Senate committee hears controversial options for improving public school financing

By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES

The Joint Interim Committee to Study the Public School Finance System, which include Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City, on Monday, September 24, heard testimony about new tax structures to pay for public education.

The state heads to court later in October to respond to another lawsuit that contends the current system violates the Texas Constitution's requirement that public education funding be adequate and equitable.

With this ongoing lawsuit, education funding is sure to be one of the largest issues lawmakers consider the 83rd Legislative Session begins in January. The September 24 testimony highlighted some of the remedies the Legislature will look at if it decides to reform the education finance system.

One method, proposed by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, would expand the sales tax base.

TPPF representative Talmadge Heflin testified that his group favors taxing the sale of property and services, while reducing or eliminating local property taxes. His group recommends starting by paying for the school maintenance and operation budgets with the proceeds from this sales tax expansion.

Members of the committee met this proposal with some skepticism, worrying that such an expansion could have a chilling effect on property sales. Other members raised concerns that the sales tax burdens lower income individuals more than affluent people, and would advantage property owners over those who rent.

Heflin responded by noting that the upfront cost of a tax on the sale of property would be offset by a few years of the owner not paying property taxes. He went on to say that the current property tax system already impacts low income individuals who don't own property, as landlords pass property tax costs onto their tenants in the form of higher rents.

The Center for Public Policy Priorities made their case for combing through the tax code to make sure it reflects modern economic realities.

Dick Lavine, Senior Fiscal Analyst for The Center for Public Policy Priorities, began by opposing raising the sales tax, saying it hits those in lower income brackets much harder. His organization favors an expansion of the sales tax to service based industries. Levine also said that many of the current property tax exemptions should be looked at, arguing they can impact those in lower income brackets.

Lavine advocated a sunset process, similar to what the Legislature already uses to evaluate state agencies, to look at tax exemptions after a certain amount of time to consider whether these exemptions are still working as intended.

Another proposal, supported by Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, is to move to a statewide property tax. This would shift responsibility of property tax collections from local school districts to the state.

Duncan argued that the current system, with more than a thousand districts assessing property taxes at different rates and on different property values, makes an unwieldy, complex and volatile system that directly contributes to inequity in the system. Assess the tax at a statewide level, he said, would make the system predictable and more streamlined.

When the session begins, lawmakers will have to weigh these options, and more, in order to decide whether or not to change the way the state pays for public education.

Public education funding reform is a complicated and controversial issue whenever it comes before the Legislature, and the lawsuits before the state courts will put pressure on both houses to come up with a system that is more palatable to local school districts.

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Financial Exploitation Awareness Kick-Off event set for Monday, October 23, in McAllen

The State of Texas has proclaimed October as Financial Exploitation Awareness month.

In accordance with that designation, Silver Ribbon Community Partners, Adult Protective Services in Hidalgo County, the Rio Grande Valley Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Lone Star National Bank and Costco is inviting the public to attend the 2012 Financial Exploitation Awareness Kick-Off, which will be held Monday, October 23, at Lone Star National Bank, 520 E. Nolana, in McAllen.

The event, which will begin at 10 a.m., will feature area city officials, members of law enforcement, elected officials, and representatives from financial institutions.

In 2011, Adult Protective Services in Hidalgo County received more than 2,500 intakes regarding abuse, neglect and exploitation of disabled persons 18 of age and older and the elderly age 65 and older. Of these reports, more than 1,500 were confirmed.

According to the authority of Chapter 48, Title 2, Texas Human Resources Code (HRC) and 40 Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Chapter 705, “when an alleged perpetrator is a caretaker or paid caretaker, family member, or other individual who has an ongoing relationship with the alleged victim, financial exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper act or process of an alleged perpetrator using, or attempting to use, the resources of the alleged victim, including the alleged victim’s Social Security number or other identifying information: for monetary or personal benefit, profit, or gain; and without the informed consent of the alleged victim.”

The speaker for this event will be Elizabeth Vega, Financial Exploitation Specialist for Region 11 with Adult Protective Services.

Vega has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Texas A&M Corpus Christi. She has been with Adult Protective Services for more than 19 years.

Vega began her career as an In-Home Investigator and served in this capacity for five years. She moved into the Guardianship Program and served there for six years as a Guardianship specialist and then as the Regional Guardianship Supervisor for one year. When that program was transferred to the Department of Aging and Disability Services, she became the Financial Exploitation Specialist for Region 11 and has served in this capacity for the last seven years.

Vega has more than 500 hours of specialized training in the Field of Financial Exploitation. TCLEOSE credit will be provided and refreshments will be served. Remember “If it’s not your Money, It’s a Crime.”

For more information regarding the 2012 Kick-off or to RSVP, residents may contact Rose Ramirez, Silver Ribbon Community Partners Program Director, at 956/664-4892 or via email at
rramz8952@yahoo.com or the RGV Hispanic Chamber at 956/928-0060.

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David Villanueva, 20, of Edinburg, convicted of receiving Glock pistols with intent to assault

By ANGELA DODGE

David Villanueva, 20, has entered a plea of guilty to receiving firearms with the intent to commit a felony, United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson, along with Melvin King Jr., special agent in charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, announced on Wednesday, September 26.

Villanueva admitted that on Friday, July 13, 2012, he accepted delivery and signed for a package containing three Glock handguns. He further acknowledged he intended to use at least one of them to commit assault with a deadly weapon – using a deadly weapon to threaten or cause imminent bodily injury to another person.

According to court records, ATF agents arrested Villanueva when they found the three Glocks at his Edinburg residence while executing a search warrant. Villanueva had threatened some people and subsequently requested three Glocks be shipped to him from Indiana and that one of them be small and easily concealable.

U.S. District Judge Micaela Álvarez, who accepted the guilty plea, has set sentencing for December 12, 2012, at which time he faces up to 10 years in federal prison and a maximum $250,000 fine. He will remain in custody pending transfer to a U.S. Bureau of Prisons facility to be determined in the near future.

ATF investigated this case with the assistance of the Edinburg Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher Sully is prosecuting the case.

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Rep. Callegari, Rep. Lucio III announce Texas Higher Ed Open Government Challenge improve transparency in colleges, universities

By JEREMY B. MAZUR

Texas Higher Ed Open Government Challenge, an effort to improve transparency in the state’s colleges and universities, began on Monday, September 24, and will continue through Wednesday, October 31, according to the leadership of the Texas House Committee on Government Efficiency and Reform.

Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Katy, is chairman of the legislative panel, while Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, serves as vice chairman.

The Texas Higher Ed Open Government Challenge is a special project within the Texas Red Tape Challenge crowdsourcing site.

The Higher Ed Open Government Challenge invites students and researchers at Texas' graduate-level public policy and public administration schools to offer their ideas on how to improve the state's open government policies and programs.

“This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for graduate students focused in the area of public policy to offer their recommendations on how we can improve state government's transparency, accountability, and efficiency,” said Callegari. “Just as students may gain valuable experience by participating in this Challenge, the Legislature may gain valuable, meaningful insights on how to improve Texas government.”

Through October 31, the Texas Higher Ed Open Government Challenge will introduce specific open government-related policies and programs for participants' consideration every two weeks.

The first two focus areas posted for the Challenge include public notice of rulemaking and rules, and the rulemaking and regulatory negotiation processes.?? Participants are asked to contribute their ideas on how these statutes may be reformed, streamlined, or otherwise modernized as a way to improve state government transparency, accountability, and efficiency.?

?Just as participants in this Challenge are asked to share their own ideas, they are encouraged to collaborate with others on ideas offered within the crowdsourcing platform. This includes discussing the ramifications of a given idea, including potential costs and savings as well as the unintended consequences. ??

“The Higher Ed Open Government Challenge offers a unique way of using information technology to tap into the expertise of our state's public policy and public administrations schools to the benefit of not only the State Legislature, but the citizens of Texas,” said Lucio III. “I look forward to seeing the ideas that emerge from this effort.”?

?The Texas Higher Ed Open Government Challenge is open to students and researchers enrolled in any of Texas' graduate-level public policy and public administration programs, including the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University, the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas, the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern University, the University of Houston, Texas Tech University, Texas State University, and, among others, Rice University.??

Workable ideas submitted through the Texas Higher Ed Open Government Challenge will be formally considered by the Government Efficiency and Reform Committee in a public hearing in November. Those that the Committee adopts will be incorporated in the Committee's interim report to the 83rd Texas Legislature, which begins in January 2013.??

The Texas Higher Ed Open Government Challenge may be found on the Texas Red Tape Challenge web-site at http://www.texasredtapechallenge.com.

The policies and programs open for consideration are listed beneath the focus areas of the “Texas Higher Ed Open Government Challenge” located within the menu on the left hand side of the Texas Red Tape Challenge site.??

The Texas Red Tape Challenge is a crowdsourcing web-site that asks members of the public for their ideas on how to streamline or reform specific regulations in the areas of occupational licensing, manufacturing, and public education.

All members of the public are welcome to participate. The Texas Red Tape Challenge closes on October 31st.??The Texas Red Tape Challenge may be accessed at http://www.texasredtapechallenge.com. Additional updates, as well as news on popular ideas generated by the Challenge community, may be found on Twitter @TXRedTapeChalle.

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Gov. Perry promotes competency-based learning and technology as keys to improving higher education

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, October 4, encouraged more institutions of higher education to utilize a competency-based approach to earning a degree, and highlighted the importance of technology to help improve four-year graduation rates and make tuition more affordable.

The governor was joined by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, and Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, the Co-Chairs of the Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Education, Governance, Excellence and Transparency, and Fred Heldenfels IV, Chairman of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB), at the 2012 Texas Higher Education Leadership Conference in Austin, which focused on continuous innovation and improvement in higher education.

“Today's highly-competitive, ever-evolving economy is demanding a workforce that's more extensively educated and better prepared for the high-tech jobs of the present and future,” Perry said. “Through innovative programs and approaches, universities can meet their responsibility of educating the next generation of Texans without sacrificing an iota of the quality that's made our

higher education system a beacon for researchers and students from around the world.”

Perry highlighted Texas' College Credit for Heroes program, which uses a competency-based learning approach to allow veterans to get college course credit for the experience, education and training they obtained during military service. He also mentioned WGU Texas, a subsidiary of Western Governors University (WGU), which provides online bachelor's and master's degrees, and

this fall, will graduate its first class since its creation last year.

The governor encouraged more colleges and universities to consider these affordable and flexible tools to help students seeking a degree.

“Innovation in academic programs and research and transparency in reporting our progress and processes are critical to our success in Texas higher education,” Zaffirini said. “Through effective bipartisan collaboration we can develop strategies and solutions to the challenges of ensuring accessibility, affordability and efficiency for students without sacrificing excellence.”

“We are pleased that Gov. Perry is committed to making Texas a national and international leader in higher education,” Heldenfels said. “His focus on keeping college affordable for Texas families and creating financial incentive for institutions to improve results are important to ensuring we create and sustain a more educated workforce to drive our 21st century economy.”

“Digital technology is playing a dramatic role in changing the delivery of content in higher education,” Branch said. “It creates an opportunity for high quality offerings with more flexibility and a lower price for students.”

In order to ensure Texas students who want to pursue a degree have access to an affordable and accountable education, Perry has also called for a four- year tuition freeze at the rate a student pays his or her freshman year. He has also proposed outcomes-based funding for institutions, tying 10 percent of an institution's state funding to the number of students it graduates. Additionally, the governor has renewed his challenge for institutions of higher education to offer bachelor's degrees for $10,000 or less, including books. So far, 10 institutions have announced or implemented a $10,000 degree:

  • The University of Texas at Arlington, Tarrant County College System and Mansfield School District;
  • The University of Texas at Permian Basin;
  • The University of Texas at Brownsville;
  • Tarleton State University;
  • Texas A&M University-Commerce and South Texas College;
  • Texas A&M International University;
  • Texas A&M University-San Antonio and Alamo Colleges;
  • Texas A&M University-Texarkana;
  • Angelo State University; and
  • Sul Ross State University, Rio Grande College and Southwest Texas Junior College

For more information about the governor's education priorities, please visit: http://governor.state.tx.us/
initiatives/education/

To learn more about WGU Texas, please visit: http://texas.wgu.edu.

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24 million Latinos eligible to vote, but turnout rate has lagged that of whites, blacks

By RUSS OATES

A record 24 million Latinos are eligible to vote in the 2012 presidential election, according to an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. This is up by more than 4 million, or 22%, since 2008, when 19.5 million Latinos were eligible to vote.

Latinos are the nation's largest minority group. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2011 there were 51.9 million Latinos in the U.S., making up 16.7% of the nation's population. Latinos today comprise a greater share of the nation's 215 million eligible voters than they did just a few years ago – minus 11.0% this year, up from 9.5% in 2008 and 8.2% in 2004.

However, the turnout rate of eligible Latino voters historically lags that of whites and blacks by substantial margins. In 2008, for example, 50% of eligible Latino voters cast ballots, compared with 65% of blacks and 66% of whites. Also, despite ongoing Latino population growth, the number of Latinos who said they are registered to vote fell by about 600,000 between 2008 and 2010, according to Census Bureau data. This was the only significant decline in the number of Latino registered voters in the past two decades.

There is not yet any nationwide data on Latino voter registration levels so far in 2012. In the only four states that report such records by ethnicity – Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina —-

the 2012 registration levels of Hispanics have already surpassed the 2008 levels. However, these states are not necessarily representative of the nation as a whole; more so than most other states, they have experienced very rapid growth in their Hispanic population in recent years.

This report explores electoral participation trends among Hispanics in recent presidential election cycles. It also provides a snapshot of the geography and demography of the Hispanic vote in 2012, with a special focus on the so-called “battleground states.” Accompanying this report are state profiles of Latino eligible voters in 41 states and the District of Columbia, each based on data from the 2010 American Community Survey. Also accompanying this report is an interactive map showing key characteristics of Latino voters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The report, A Record 24 Million Latinos Are Eligible to Vote, But Turnout Rate Has Lagged That Of Whites, Blacks, authored by Mark Hugo López, Associate Director, Pew Hispanic Center, Seth Motel, Research Assistant, Pew Hispanic Center and Eileen Patten, Research Assistant, Pew Hispanic 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.

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