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Panama Unit scandal sparks legislation by Rep. Canales

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From left: Bernice Espinosa-Torres, Committee Clerk, House Committee on Energy Resources, and Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg.

Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR

Forged search warrants, which were used by the now-disgraced and defunct Panama Unit anti-narcotics law enforcement task force to threaten the innocent in Hidalgo County, would be more difficult to counterfeit under legislation pre-filed on Friday, January 9, by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg. The Panama Unit – created in 2010 and disbanded in January 2013 – was made up of a small group of area law enforcement officers who wound up breaking the law themselves by stealing from, or working with, drug dealers. Canales’ House Bill 644 seeks to close what he contends is a potential legal weakness in the search warrant process, which was prompted by the infamous Panama Unit law enforcement scandal. The House District 40 lawmaker’s HB 644 requires that the name of the judge or magistrate, who are authorized to issue search warrants, must be typewritten on that powerful legal document. “Currently, a search warrant requires a judge or magistrate to sign their name on it, but many people have signatures which are too difficult to make out,” explained Canales, who is a lawyer. The Panama Unit would just scribble names on search warrants, making it difficult to verify because no one could read the judge’s supposed signature. “If our bill would have been a law already, we might have caught the Panama Unit much sooner,” Canales said. The second-term lawmaker added: “The actions of the Panama Unit, whose members have been convicted of their crimes, painted a very unfair and negative image of our law enforcement professionals in Hidalgo County. But this tragic episode shed light on a weakness in the search warrant process, and by passing this measure, a very important improvement can be made in the name of justice and civil liberties.” The plan is being supported by the Texas Municipal Police Association, the largest law enforcement association in Texas, which represents more than 21,000 local, county and state law enforcement officers.

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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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Edinburg’s retail economy in December 2008 up more than 21 percent over same month in 2007

Mayor Joe Ochoa, who earlier this year announced he would not be seeking reelection in May, on Tuesday, February 10, was honored by the Texas House of Representatives for leading Edinburg through an unprecedented period of economic development and improvements in the quality-of-life during his 13 years as one of South Texas’ most effective political leaders. The high praise was contained in House Concurrent Resolution 39, authored by Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, whose House District 41 includes southwest Edinburg. The measure, which was approved unanimously by the 150-member House of Representatives, was publicly endorsed by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, whose House District 40 includes most of the three-time All-America City. Ochoa was credited for heavily influencing the city’s "dramatic growth and prosperity," noting that during his tenure as mayor, Edinburg has seen the number of all properties in Edinburg increase dramatically, from $500 million in assessed valuations when he first took office in 1993, to $3 billion today. See story later in this posting. 

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Roland Arriola, Ph.D., president of the Texas Valley Communities Foundation, was one of 15 members appointed on Monday, February 16, by the University of Texas System Board of Regents to serve on a presidential search committee to advise regents on the selection of a president for UT-Pan American. Arriola, a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, was selected because of his role as president of the UT-Pan American Alumni Association. The UT System appointed Charles A. Sorber as interim president last month. Sorber assumed the interim presidency on Monday, February 16. The advisory committee will be asked to present the names of no more than 10 candidates – unranked – to the board, which will make the final decision. Featured, from left, during a major conference in Harlingen last fall, are Kelli Rod, Vice President of Community Relations with TXU Energy; Arriola; and Courtney P. Suhr, Senior Strategic Communications Specialist with the OneStar Foundation.  See story on the presidential advisory panel later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, featured left, and Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured right, on Tuesday, February 10, presented a Senate Resolution to members of Amigos Del Valle celebrating Senior Day at the State Capitol. Lucio paid tribute to the organization’s 2008-2009 King Luis Barrientos and Queen Eva Martínez, featured center, both representing Casa Del Mar in Brownsville. The 2007-2008 and 2008-2009 Royal Courts were also honored and included members from senior centers throughout the Rio Grande Valley. Amigos Del Valle is a consortium of county and city governmental entities working to provide nutrition, transportation and housing services to senior citizens of Cameron, Hidalgo and Willacy counties.  Helping senior citizens live healthy, productive and self-sufficient lives is the group’s primary goal. The Executive Director of Amigos Del Valle, Inc., located in Mission, is José Garza.  

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Former Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen, is back in action at the Texas Capitol, working on key measures designed to help millions of Texans. But he is not a registered lobbyist nor a state lawmaker. Instead of providing public service in either of those two influential roles, he is serving the state as a member of the nation’s most powerful political entity – the American citizen. In that role, Gutiérrez and his wife, Cecilia, along with Delia Oropez of Weslaco and Estella Lane Treviño of Edinburg, are members of the Texas Silver-Haired Legislature, a powerful coalition of influential Texans who work on measures to help older residents. Featured in this portrait taken in the chamber of the House of Representatives are, from left: Delia Oropez; former Rep. Gutiérrez; and Cecilia Gutiérrez. See story later in this posting. 

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Congratulations to Maureen F. McClain, associate director of Disability Services at The University of Texas-Pan American, who was recently appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry to the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. McClain was one of five individuals in the state, whose terms will expire February 1, 2010, to be chosen for the committee that works to ensure Texans with disabilities may live their lives with integrity, independence and productivity. Pictured is McClain being sworn in by U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa in late January in McAllen to the Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities. McClain, who has been employed with UTPA for more three years, earned her bachelor’s degree in rehabilitative services and a master’s in rehabilitative counseling from UTPA. She is a member of the Association of Higher Education and Disabilities, and was appointed to the Academic Advisement Council. To learn more about UTPA’s Disability Services department and the services offered, visit http://www.utpa.edu/disability or for more information on the committee, visit http://www.governor.state.tx.us/disabilities/. 

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Criminals don’t take a day off and they are always on at the top of their games. So why shouldn’t the rest of society be just as prepared to trump their aces, especially when it comes to cyber security? That’s why South Texas College is hosting a Cyber Security Workshop on Thursday, February 19 and Friday, February 20 at its Pecan Campus in McAllen. Offered in conjunction with Texas A&M University, the National Science Foundation and TEEX, the free workshop offers business owners and technology professionals the latest information about cyber terrorism and cyber security issues. “We are very excited to host this workshop because the developments in technology occurring every day mean that we must be extremely vigilant in learning about the lat est innovations and how criminals are using them to try and damage our identities,” said Raquel Peña, assistant professor of computer science for STC, featured in this photograph. “But we don’t have to be victims, as long as we stay ahead of the curve and use the tools available to keep the cyber world safe.” Space for the workshop is limited to 80 participants and is filling up quickly. For more information or to reserve a spot, call 956/872-2056. 

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Several South Texas College students had the unique opportunity to meet recently with Texas lawmakers in Austin to share their views about higher education, as well as their hopes for current and future generations of Hidalgo and Starr county students. Karina Cerda, Darien Fernández, Miguel García, Lizette Muñoz, Cassandra Orozco, Ronald Tanamachi and Esther Ybarra, who are members of STC’s Student Government Association, represented the student body at Community College Day at the Texas State Capitol on Wednesday, February 4. Community College Day was sponsored and organized by the Texas Junior College Student Government Association. The students toured the capitol building, attended a rally and had the opportunity to network with students from across the state. The STC students, who were chaperoned by a delegation of STC administrators, met with: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles; Rep. Ryan Guillen, D-Roma; Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham; Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas; and Rep. Fred Brown, R-Bryan.  The meetings allowed students to share their experiences and expectations with lawmakers to help them understand the continually growing role community colleges play in the economic growth and vitality of the districts they serve.  In a related matter, STC leaders have announced that enrollment at the two-county higher education institution approached 22,000 for the spring 2009 semester. See story on enrollment later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce is going on a “SAFARI” from Thursday, February 26 through Sunday, March 1, at the Edinburg Municipal Park. The Heart of America Carnival will be featured during that week; with a $5 "All-You-Can-Ride" special on February 26. Musical headliners “Little Rob” will perform Friday evening and “DUELO” will perform on Saturday at 7 p.m. Fiesta Edinburg will also feature food, carnival, various music and entertainment. Also, check out the  free “SAFARI” Kidz Zone on Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. ($5 parking fee required). Edinburg residents also will be treated to the IBC Bank Fiesta Edinburg “SAFARI” Parade, scheduled for Saturday, February 28, beginning at 10 a.m.  The parade will start at the Hidalgo County Court House. Dedicated IBC Bank employees, as part of the IBC Employee Advisory Board, have contributed to making Fiesta Edinburg a great success for the community, noted Dina Araguz, Edinburg 107 IBC Bank branch manager. For more information on Fiesta Edinburg, please call 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Enrique García, Salvador Martínez, Josue Ramírez, Aaron Ramírez, Judith Cantú, Dina Araguz, Lizette Cano, Ashley Herrera, Griselda Zambrano, Aaron Galván , and Robert Alaniz. 

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Gilbert Enríquez, honored by Texas for integrity and public service, seeks return to ECISD board

Gilbert Enríquez, a former Edinburg school board president, also serves as executive vice-president of Enríquez Enterprises, Inc., one of the more renowned construction firms in the region. He said he is running for election to the school board on November 4 in order to continue helping the community which has helped shape his life. “I am here to help, to offer my leadership, skills, experience to everyone, to help everybody prosper, not one individual,” Mr. Enríquez pledged. “I never had any kind of ambition to be in politics or to be an elected official, but I felt I needed to give back to the district that provided me the education that got me to where I am today.” See lead story later in this posting.

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Former longtime Mayor Ronald Case, seen here on the right, passed away on Friday, September 19, Rep. Aaron Peña, a lifelong supporter of the popular city political leader, has announced. Case, who served as mayor from 1973 to 1981, was featured in this recent photo which included three other former Edinburg mayors with the state lawmaker.  Peña characterized the former mayor as being “the epitome of a gentleman public servant stepping forward to serve the community he loved. I am very proud to have been a friend and admirer of Mayor Case.”  From left are: former Mayor Richard Alamia; former Mayor Richard García; Rep. Peña; former Mayor Rudy De la Viña; and former Mayor Case.  See story later in this posting.

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Museum opens The Museum of South Texas History opened its newest exhibit, Edinburg: A Centennial Salute 1908 – 2008, on Wednesday, September 10. A ribbon cutting hosted by the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce and a private viewing was held for Museum FRIENDS. Installed in the Upper Old Jail Gallery, this exhibit presents a sampling of photographs and artifacts from the museum’s collections and is organized into four themes: education;government; civic life; and commerce. One of the largest artifacts in the exhibit is a mural depicting Edinburg Junior College students and academic subjects.  This mural was painted by Joseph Brennan and Humberto Cavazos and was presented to the college by Emil Fossler, president of the sophomore class. The exhibit coincides with the Edinburg Centennial Committee’s city- wide celebration, October 5-10. Throughout the week, various organizations will host mini-celebrations, including Edinburg’s largest birthday cake, an essay contest, and a fireman’s parade. An open house will be held at the Museum of South Texas History on October 5, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. As a gift to the community, the museum will have free admission. Family activities include Edinburg Trivia, an Edinburg activity book, entertainment, refreshments, and, of course, a few shared words to commemorate the occasion. For a complete listing of the city wide celebrations, visit http://www.edinburg.com, or call 383-6911. Featured, from left: chamber board members Gus Casas; Cynthia Bocanegra; Maggie Kent; Shan Rankin, the museum’s executive director; Lee Cavazos; chairman-elect of the local chamber of commerce; and Willard Moon, chairman-elect of the board of directors for the museum.

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Dan Richards, son of former Gov. Ann Richards, featured left, celebrates with Dr. Shirley A. Reed, South Texas College president, and Othal Brand, Sr., former McAllen mayor, during the Tuesday, September 16 naming of the college’s Pecan Campus Administration Building in honor of the late state leader, who died on September 13, 2006.  The Democratic governor played a large role in the early 1990s in bringing the college to fruition, helping thousands of Hidalgo and Starr county residents realize their goals of attaining a higher education and a better quality of life.  See story later in this posting.

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Janet Escalante, Pedro de la Fuente and Lucio Torres are just three of the more than 22,000 students who have decided to continue their higher educations at South Texas College this fall. The landmark figure was reached at the two-county community college begins its 15th year anniversary.  See story later in this posting. (more…)