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Videotapes of public meetings of many elected governmental bodies must now be posted on the Internet under law co-authored by Rep. Canales

Videotapes of public meetings of many elected governmental bodies must now be posted on the Internet under law co-authored by Rep. Canales

Featured: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, addressing the McAllen Chamber of Commerce’s 84th Legislative Session Wrap-Up Luncheon, held on Thursday, July 9, 2015 at the DoubleTree Hilton Hotel in McAllen.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

The key public meetings of elected governmental bodies in the larger school districts, cities and counties in Texas, including many in the Valley, must now be videotaped in their entirety and made available on the Internet under a state law coauthored by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which went into effect on January 1, 2016. “House Bill 283 will improve transparency and access to our government leaders by ensuring that recordings of open meetings are now easily available to the people,” said Canales. “Many people do not have the available time to attend city council/commission, school board, and county commissioners court meetings because they are working, spending time with their families, or lack access to transportation.” During the public hearing on HB 283 held on Monday, May 11, 2015 before the House Committee on Government Transparency, the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas announced its support for the goals of the legislation. “We feel that the bill is a very good one, puts it out there, people can look online if there is a certain decisions, debates, discussions they are interested in,” said Kelley Shannon, Executive Director for the Freedom on Information Foundation of Texas. “They don’t have to be at the meeting, they can use technology and access it. We support the bill.” The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, founded in 1978 and led by a volunteer board of directors, is a non-profit 301(c)(3) organization devoted to promoting open government and protection of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press, according to its website. The House District 40 legislator also said it was important for public officials to provide the unedited visual/audio recordings of their actions on the Internet so their comments cannot be taken out of context or misunderstood, leaving a false impression of their actions and motives. “Some of the local governments in the Valley and in my legislative district already were providing this and other vital public information services, but now more of our elected leaders are going to do the same beginning this month,” Canales said. “This measure makes it state law that elected officials cannot take away the right of the people to see for themselves through the Internet what is being said and done in their name.” As finally approved by the Legislature during the spring of 2015 and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 17, 2015, HB 283 applies to “district board of trustees for a school district that has a student enrollment of 10,000 or more, an elected governing body of a home-rule municipality that has a population of 50,000 or more, or a county commissioners court for a county that has a population of 125,000”, according to the legislation. Metropolitan rapid transit authorities, regional transportation authorities, and municipal transit departments also are covered by this law. Canales said he encourages area elected leaders in the Valley, who represent smaller populations, to also put their meetings on the Internet, even if they are not required by the new state law. “Technology has improved so much that a community can use even an smartphone to record, with good to excellent quality in the audio and video, their public meetings, and the costs to get it online, such as posting them on YouTube, is very little, if no cost,” the state lawmaker said. “Testimony on this law last spring found that a county in west Texas, with a population of 11,000, was already doing it.

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House passes bill by Rep. Martínez to protect Texas’ $159 million citrus industry from new plant plague

 

Hidalgo County leaders on Friday, May 1, commemorated the historic infusion of about $300 million in federal funds for the Hidalgo County Levee Rehabilitation Project during a special recognition ceremony and press conference at the Hidalgo Pump House Museum and World Birding Center Nature Park.  Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured first on right, released an economic impact study, commissioned by his office and conducted by Sai Mullapudi of the University of Texas-Pan American’s Data and Information Systems Center Division of Community Engagement, that highlighted the economic impact of the levee upgrades.  The study indicates that the entire levee rehabilitation project, when completed, will produce nearly 5,000 local jobs and generate $508 million in economic impact. From left, in this photograph, are: Ron Vitiello, chief for the Rio Grand Valley Border Patrol sector; Mayor John David Franz of Hidalgo; Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; and Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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May marks National Mental Health Month and to recognize the month-long health campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, the South Texas Behavioral Health Center hosted an advocacy reception for community leaders on Friday, May 1. Area leaders spanning from law enforcement, military, elected officials, health care practitioners and social service providers attended the event in recognition of the advancements and challenges of mental health care in the Valley. Standing, from left, are: Solomon Torres, District Director for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Doug Matney, Vice President of Acute Care and Group Director for South Texas Health System; César Matos, MD; Joe Rodríguez, CEO for South Texas Behavioral Health Center and Michael Sauceda, Business Development Director for South Texas Behavioral Health Center. See story later in this posting. 

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Manuel Garcia and Johnny Rodriguez, two of the board members for Edinburg Child Care, Inc., a non-profit business dedicated to providing nutrition and education services to children in day care homes, display a cake that helped mark the 25th anniversary of the local entity.  The local firm, which helps generate a multi-million dollar economic impact for the region, hosted a celebration in the Edinburg/San Manuel region on April 25, 2009, as a treat for many of its participants. Operations consist of reimbursements to day care homes and day care centers for meals served to children under their care and administrative costs.  All seed funds/startup costs were provided by Romeo Villarreal, a local businessman and educator. The policy-making board of directors oversees the program, which is administered by an executive director. Since 1991, this program has generated between $2 million to $2.3 million dollars annually and disbursed to providers from Corpus Christi to Laredo, to Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. Three hundred to 500 small business owners of day care centers are being supplemented annually through this agency. Edinburg Child Care, Inc. is located 2002 West University, Suite 3, Edinburg, 78539. They may also be contacted by telephone at 956/383-6789; by fax at 956/383-6888; and toll-free at 1/800-281-6780. Mary Villarreal, the company’s executive director, may also be reached via Internet mvillarrealmmv@sbcglobal.net or edinburgchildcare@hotmail.com. 

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The Texas Senate on Monday, May 4, unanimously voted for Senate Bill 1443 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee,  that would provide financial relief to students and their families, while recognizing the shared responsibility of the legislature and higher education institutions to keep college affordable and accessible without sacrificing excellence. The bill focuses on total academic costs, not simply on tuition; caps increases and links them to formula funding; offers an optional 4-year guaranteed tuition rate; includes additional cost-cutting measures; and establishes legislative oversight. See story later in this posting. 

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Asian citrus psyllid nymphs, shown here in their development stages by a U.S. Department of Agriculture photograph, can live on citrus trees that are infected with the Citrus Greening Disease and can acquire that plague just before reaching the adult stage. Once that happens, those insects can immediately transmit the disease to uninfected trees, which ruin the trees and citrus.  The greening disease, which has not yet been detected in Texas, could devastate the state’s $159 million citrus industry, most of which is located in Hidalgo County. A bill by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has been passed by the House of Representatives. The measure would give the Texas Department of Agriculture the needed policy powers to help citrus growers prevent a potentially-devastating outbreak of this plant disease. See lead story later in this posting. 

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Interim President Sorber updates UTPA Alumni Association on plan for $70 million fine arts facility

 

Former Edinburg Mayor Pro Tem Alfredo "Fred" Longoria, a native son, successful businessman, and longtime community leader who helped transform what many considered to be a sleepy border town in the early 1990s into a major economic force for South Texas in 2009, on Sunday, March 22, passed away as a result of complications from a stroke. He was 80. For Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, Longoria’s passing literally hit home. His son, Aron Leonel Peña, is married to one of Longoria’s daughters, Clarissa Longoria-Peña. "I am very sad to hear that Fred Longoria has passed away. My condolences to his family and friends," the veteran state representative reflected. "Fred was not only a long time supporter but a good man who wanted to do right by his City of Edinburg. Sometime after our initial work together, Fred became a member of the family when my eldest son married his daughter," Peña said. "The City of Edinburg has lost a loyal son who will be dearly missed. May God speed."  See story later in this posting. 

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The Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday, March 17, unanimously approved a resolution in support of a “universal freight shuttle”, featured in this diagram, along U.S. Highway 281. The diagram illustrates what the freight shuttle could look like: an elevated, unmanned track with single load transporters going in both directions. At destination, the transporters would enter cargo bays terminals at which point the trailers would simply hook up with a traditional big rig to get a short distance to a particular store. The freight shuttle is a linear motion, automated track with single container transporters that could get goods quickly and safely from Point A to Point B using only renewable energy sources and with zero-emissions. This concept, developed over the past eight years by the Texas Transportation Institute, could be used within the footprint of existing highways, including U.S. Highway 281. “Hidalgo County is working with the communities along U.S. Highway 281 to make sure we are ready to be the first to make the most of this new technology,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III. See story later in this posting. 

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Lack’s Furniture has created a $10,000 scholarship fund through South Texas College to provide opportunities for the dependants of Lack’s employees to attend college. The company was originally founded in 1935 by Sam Lack, a Russian immigrant. The operations focused on selling automotive parts, but World War II pushed the boundaries of Lack’s into the home furnishings arena.  Today, the business is still family-operated under the leadership of Lee Aaronson. A tradition of giving runs in the Aaronson family, which still owns the chain of 11 Lack’s stores serving the Rio Grande Valley from Laredo to Port Isabel. Featured, from left; Michelle Moffitt, buyer’s assistant for Lack’s; John Price, director of human resources for Lack’s; Al Moffitt, general manager for Lack’s; Kris Karr, advertising manager for Lack’s; and Anabel Hudson, buyer’s assistant for Lack’s. See story later in this posting. 

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House Calls, one of South Texas’ largest home-based health care agencies, along with their employees and various community donors, have donated $20,000 to The University of Texas-Pan American to establish the Veronica Noble-Daley, R.N. Scholarship endowment. Noble-Daley graduated from UT Pan American in 1991 and became a registered nurse. She was only 25 years old when she decided to open House Calls and fulfill her desire to care for the sick and promote education, something she considered very important. Many times she assisted her employees in completing or furthering their education by providing them with flexible hours and tuition reimbursement. In addition, she helped support organizations and events that promoted education, such as the Florence Nightingale Gala, an event aimed at raising money for the university’s Department of Nursing. The endowment will benefit students pursuing a registered nursing degree and who are classified as entering freshmen, continuing freshmen, sophomores, juniors or seniors. Other requirements for the scholarship include maintaining a 3.2 grade point average, and residency in one of four Rio Grande Valley counties. Surrounded by House Calls employees, holding the check, from left, are: Armando Garza, House Calls marketing director; Erika Nobel, sister of Veronica Daley; Michael Daley, husband of Veronica Daley; Ruth Nobel, mother of Veronica Daley; and Lydia P. Alemán, associate vice president for University Advancement. For information on supporting the advancement of UTPA, call the Division of University Advancement at 956/318-5301. 

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce has scheduled a "Spring Luncheon and Style Show" at the Embassy Suites in McAllen on Saturday, April 25, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Casual, business, western and formal wear will be modeled by local community leaders and professional models. "The luncheon and style show allows our members, future members and the community to enjoy viewing the latest fashions as well as helping to stimulate our economy in McAllen and the Rio Grande Valley," said Verónica Vela, MHCC Vice Chair of Women’s Issues. A Spring Mercado consisting of individuals and/or stores will also be selling their wares and services in the hallway.  Spring jewelry, crafts, purses, dietary supplements, etc. are just some of the items.  The Mercado is free to the public. There are still some Mercado booths for sale. For more information on the Spring Mercado and/or the Spring Luncheon & Style Show call the MHCC at 928-0060. Featured are representatives of the stores that will be participating in the Style Show: Maclyn Flynn and Becky Cuellar of Warehouse 503; Becky Malcik of Beck’s Fashions; Alicia Suárez and Jessica Rangel of JCPenny’s Hair salon; Raúl Traigo of GUESS; Ana Delgado of GUESS by Mariano; Alejandro J. Garza of Kalifa’s Western Wear; Gloria Muñoz of Cute Cotton Co.; Carmen Esparaza of Joyce’s International Boutique; Mónica de Coss of Room Clothing; and Tony Lucio of Banana Republic. Committee members shown are: Verónica Vela, Vice Chair of Women’s Issues; Zaira García; Elizabeth Martínez, Vice Chair of Public Relations; and Orie Salinas, Vice Chair of Events. Participating stores not shown are: Spa La Posada, Our Secret, Dillards, Boot Jack, Nicole’s Boutique and Renée’s. 

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Sen. Hinojosa: Edinburg RAHC set up for dramatic growth; could add first two years of medical school

Edinburg City Councilmember Augustín "Gus" García, featured left, makes a point during the Wednesday, March 4 public meeting of the Edinburg Community Health/Medical Care Advisory Committee, whose members received an update on the activities and goals of the Regional Academic Health Center in Edinburg. The $20 million facility – its official designation is the Regional Academic Health Center (E-RAHC), Medical Research Division for The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio – is capable of expanding in order to provide the first two years of a UT medical school, according to Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. Dr. Thomas J. Slaga, Ph.D., featured right, a world-renowned biomedical scientist, a Professor of Pharmacology, and the interim director of the Edinburg biomedical research campus, provided the group with a tour of the state-of-the-art facility. Also featured, center, is Gilbert Mercado, III, another member of the city medical advisory group. See lead story in this posting.

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Dr. Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of The University of Texas System, on Friday, March 13, visited The University of Texas-Pan American to talk with key members of the university, community leaders and elected officials about the future of higher education. Cigarroa’s visit was the first to the university since he was selected on February 10 as the 10th chancellor to lead the UT System, but he has been to the campus many times before. Equally important, Cigarroa is the first Hispanic in the nation to lead a major university system. Featured, from left, are: Dr. Bruce Reed, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services; Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities; Cigarroa; Dr. Paul Sale, provost and vice president for Academic Affairs; and Dr. Van Reidhead, dean of the College of Social and Behavorial Sciences. See story later in this posting. Also, a video of his appearance is available online at http://www.utpa.edu/videos/

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Valley veterans on Saturday, March 14, began their walk from Edinburg to the Audie Murphy Veterans Administration Hospital in San Antonio as part of their ongoing efforts to increase public and political support for the creation of a VA Hospital in the Valley. This represents the second march in about four years, and the veterans’ efforts have resulted in several major improvements for the delivery of medical care to area veterans, but the construction of a VA Hospital remains the top prize. The veterans group is maintaining a website which is chronicling the march, and where supporters can provide moral and financial support. The website address is http://www.marchtosanantonio.webs.com

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The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Tuesday, March 10, appointed Regent Janiece Longoria, formerly of Pharr, to the Board of Directors of The University of Texas Investment Management Company (UTIMCO). Longoria, a daughter of the late Sen. Raúl Longoria, D-Pharr, is a partner in a Houston law firm. She was appointed to the UT System Board of Regents in 2008. She succeeds former regent and UTIMCO board member Robert B. Rowling, who resigned last month. UTIMCO is a 501(c)(3) investment management corporation whose sole purpose is the management of investment assets under the fiduciary care of the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System. Created in March 1996, UTIMCO is the first external investment corporation formed by a public university system in the nation. It invests endowment and operating funds in excess of $18 billion. UTIMCO is governed by a nine-member Board of Directors. The UTIMCO Board of Directors includes three members of The University of Texas System Board of Regents, one member selected from a list provided by The Texas A&M University System Board of Regents, the Chancellor of The University of Texas System, and four outside investment professionals appointed by the UT System Board of Regents.

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Sales for the premiere of The Red Queen are going very briskly, according to the film’s writer-director David Carren. "With time to spare before its performance at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sunday, March 22, tickets are going very well." Tickets for the charity showing of UTPA’s Summer Workshop Film were being sold at the Box Office of University Theatre Productions. "We were out of our stack of tickets by Thursday, March 12," Theatre Manager Elva Galván stated. "Carmike in Edinburg still has them. The management will open two theatres for each of the two showings if the demand is great enough." The special showing is a benefit, arranged by Carmike of Edinburg, for two non-profit organizations, the Children’s Miracle Network and the theatre television film unit of The University of Texas Pan American Communication Department. Carmike is located on Canton Road just west of Highway 281. The University Theatre Productions Office will be open at least part of each day during spring break. If anyone wishes to contact the office, they may call 956/381-3581 and leave a telephone number or an e mail address. Their questions will be answered as soon as possible. The Red Queen is an action-adventure film, approximately 110 minutes long. Suitable for family viewing, it is the story of a college student who goes on the internet to research her family background. She meets adventure, excitement and the Red Queen. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg 2008 construction drops $45 million from 2007, with new homes down by more than 50 percent

Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, featured second from left, on Wednesday, March 4, presented legislation that would create a medical school in the Rio Grande Valley.  His measure, along with similar, but separate plans by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, were considered by the House Committee on Higher Education. Peña’s measure, House Bill 110, would transform the Regional Academic Health Center, located in Edinburg and Harlingen, into a stand-alone, four-year medical school and health science center. The key legislative panel, which has no Valley lawmakers, heard testimony in support of the medical school idea, but no vote was taken. Featured during a break during the panel hearing to review the legislation are, from left: Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, chair of the House Higher Education Committee; Peña; Martínez; and Lucio, III. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, presents a Texas flag to Edinburg native Captain Leonel A. Peña after honoring him on Tuesday, March 3, with a Senate resolution on the Senate floor at the Texas Capitol. Peña is the youngest person and first and only Hispanic to become conductor for the United States Army Band program. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, not featured in this portrait, also was a co-author of the Senate resolution. See story later in this posting. 

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More than 200 educators from across the Rio Grande Valley, Texas and the nation gathered in early March to discuss methods to accelerate students through the education pipeline and into the workforce. Hosted by South Texas College, 2009 marks the fourth year for the event. During the day-long summit, attendees looked at student access and success through a variety of lenses, including issues related to the Latino student population, issues faced by migrant and impoverished students, and how technology and the global marketplace have changed the education pipeline. Featured, from left: Pricilla Hinojosa, MISD project manager for STC; STC President Shirley A. Reed; and Jessica Ray Rincones, a student in STC’s MCCTI Program with her parents Nancy and Ruben Rincones. See story later in this posting. 

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An intriguing list of presenters, events and activities will delight the community – young and old – at the third annual Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA) scheduled for March 22-28 at The University of Texas-Pan American. FESTIBA is a weeklong celebration of the arts and humanities and promotes literacy and cultural awareness by providing students and the Rio Grande Valley community interactive, hands-on opportunities to experience books, theatre, storytelling, music, art, dance, and performance competitions. Participants in a February 20 press conference to announce FESTIBA 2009 activities were, from left: Dr. Peter Dabrowski, associate director, UTPA Department of Music and Dance; Laura Hinojosa, Hidalgo County Clerk and president of the South Texas Literacy Coalition; Stephen Leach, director of Government Relations and Community Outreach, Reading is Fundamental; Dr. Dahlia Guerra, UTPA dean of the College of Arts and Humanities and FESTIBA coordinator; and Dr. Steven Schneider, UTPA English professor, director of New Programs and Special Projects in the College of Arts and Humanities and Big Read project director. 

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