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Flagship newspaper of Freedom Communications, owner of McAllen Monitor, Valley Morning Star, and Brownsville Herald, agrees to pay as much as $42 million in a settlement with newspaper carriers and carriers’ attorneys over employment lawsuit

Edwards Abstract and Title Company, headquartered in Edinburg, was recently recognized as the 2008 Affiliate of the Year by the Greater McAllen Association of Realtors (GMAR) during its Annual Installation Banquet, held at the McAllen Convention Center. More than 300 of the region’s leading real estate professionals attended the Saturday, November 22 banquet and the installation of the officers who will serve their terms during 2009. Roxanne Rydell-González, the outgoing GMAR president, announced the honor, which is bestowed upon a non-realtor member of the organization in appreciation for outstanding service and commitment to the organization during the past year. “The Greater McAllen Association of Realtors shines year after year because of the incredible volunteers and leadership that give of themselves and their time to face the challenges and tasks necessary to carry this great association forward and service buyers and sellers in the real estate industry,” said Rydell-González. Several members of the Edwards team were on hand at the installation banquet and they were honored to receive the award. Featured, seated, from left: Marilyn De Luna, McAllen branch manager; Mary Arce, Weslaco branch manager; Elva Jackson Garza, vice president/marketing manager and Mary Barrientos, Mission branch manager. Standing, from left: Clarissa Basaldúa, escrow officer; Lydia Gámez, examiner; Dick Henry, 2009 GMAR president; Roxanne Rydell-González, 2008 GMAR president; Vickey Terveen, escrow officer; Clay Sánchez, examiner; Norma Cano, escrow officer; Libby Luis, escrow assistant, and Miriam Lozano, escrow officer.

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Santa Claus is shown passing out one of the 24 bicycles donated to students at Robert E. Lee Elementary during a pre-Christmas event celebrating family literacy. Also present was keynote speaker, Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, along with Principal Nelda Gaytán, Eddie Gonzáles, Operations Manager, and Paul Arrendondo, Assistant Manager, of Edinburg’s Academy Sports and Outdoors.

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An American soldier bravely stands at his post during this holiday season, protecting America from the forces of tyranny while bringing closer the dream of freedom to oppressed people throughout the rest of the world. A poem, featured later in this posting, captures the courage and sacrifice of tens of thousands of U.S. military veterans overseas, who have volunteered to put themselves in harm’s way, which ensured a safe Christmas 2008 for millions of Americans here at home.

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Judges Daniel G. Ríos, Jesse Contreras gearing up financially for top local race in Hidalgo County

Hidalgo County 449th District Court Judge Daniel G. Ríos of Edinburg, featured left in this file photo from last fall, has raised more than $67,000 in political contributions during the first six months of 2008, according to his campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. Ríos, former Edinburg city attorney, was appointed last November by Gov. Rick Perry to the local district court, which has jurisdiction over juvenile matters.  He joined his family to receive a House Concurrent Resolution, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, which honored the memory of Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Sr., a renowned plastic surgeon and the patriarch of their family, for his many contributions to the region. Featured during this presentation were, from left: Dan Ríos; mother Mary Ann Ríos; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who sponsored the legislation; and Dr. Luis Ríos, Jr.  See lead story on Ríos/Contreras campaign finance report later in this posting.

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Jesús “Jesse” Contreras, featured left during a recent grand opening of his law office in Edinburg, is gearing up once again for a countywide campaign, this time against Republican Judge Daniel G. Ríos in the November 4 election. Contreras, a longtime Mercedes Municipal Court judge, defeated fellow Democrat Judge Maxine Longoria-Nash in the March 4 party party primary to face Ríos, who was appointed to the bench last fall by Gov. Rick Perry.  Contreras is featured here with law partner Sergio Muñoz at their local office. The 449th District Court focuses on legal cases involving juveniles. See lead story on  Ríos/Contreras campaign finance report later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club has awarded Dr. Gary L. Ahlman, featured center, an Edinburg optometrist,  a certificate of appreciation for his many years of providing disadvantaged children with free eye exams and glasses. Ahlman has worked with Lions Clubs in Edinburg and the Hidalgo County Indigent Program to provide free eye exams and eyeglasses to children of families who are economically disadvantaged. Ahlman estimates he has helped provide free eyeglasses for over 5,000 Edinburg-area children. Featured with Ahlman are, to his left, Raúl M. Leal, secretary/treasurer for the Lions Club, and Joe Longoria, president for the Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club. See story later in this posting.

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Leadership Edinburg Class is currently accepting applications for Class XX.  Leadership Edinburg is a growing organization that strives to encourage a better Edinburg through strong leadership skills focusing on politics, education, and quality of life.  There are more than 400 graduates who have taken the challenge and completed each program of work with pride and great accomplishment. Graduates of Leadership Edinburg typically continue to apply what they learned and demonstrate it by showing interest in community involvement including serving on committees and at times politics. Tuition is only $400 to participate and is due by August 29.  Applicants should make arrangements to sign up as soon as possible; as there are limited spaces are available.  The retreat will take place at South Padre Island, on September 12th & 13th at La Quinta.  For more information on Leadership Edinburg or to register please call Letty González at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956-383-4974. Featured from left are the 08-09 Leadership Edinburg Steering Committee: Cynthia Bocanegra, Pilar Corpus, Abel Leal, Naomi Peralez, Steve Crossland, Destiny Campos, Edna Peña, Jay Flores, Jerry Salazar, and  Pamela Dougherty.

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Public hearings on Hidalgo County Loop, including Edinburg session, rescheduled to August 5, 6, 7, 12, and 13

The State of Texas on Saturday, August 2, approved aerial spraying for the counties of Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, has announced. At the request of the local counties and municipalities, the Texas Department of State Health Services has contracted with Chicago-based Clarke Mosquito Control to conduct the aerial sprays, which could start as early as Sunday night, August 3, but will begin no later than Monday night, August 4, weather-permitting. “Our residents will feel relief soon,” said Salinas. “The state of Texas and our state delegation, especially Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D-McAllen), have been extremely responsive. My hat is off to them. Now it’s time to pull out the big guns in our war on mosquitoes. My message to them is buzz off now or you’ll be sorry.” See story later in this posting.

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Hurricane Dolly is featured in this NASA image as i t hits the Rio Grande Valley on Wednesday, July 23, as a Category 2 hurricane, with sustained winds reported at about 100 mph near the coast – and at about 70 miles per hour in Edinburg. Although many in Edinburg were spared misery and suffering, other portions of South Texas, including thousands of fellow Hidalgo County residents, were hit hard by power outages, wind damage, and especially flooding. On Friday, August 1, Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, announced that disaster assistance is now available to individuals who qualify under guidelines established by FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362). For those with speech or hearing impairment: TTY 1-800-462-7585. Individuals may also apply by going online at: http://WWW.FEMA.GOV. Disaster assistance available from FEMA includes: housing needs; other than housing needs; and other additional services. Individuals will need to have the following information available when contacting FEMA: A phone number where you can be reached; social security number; current mailing address; address of the affected property; brief description of the damages; and insurance information, including policy number. “I encourage all Rio Grande Valley residents who have been impacted by Hurricane Dolly to contact FEMA and see if they qualify for disaster assistance,” Martínez said. “With FEMA, individuals may be able to find get the assistance necessary to help them back onto their feet.”

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Coastlines can either evolve slowly, as a beach builds or erodes wave by wave, or they can change all at once in one mighty storm. Barrier islands are particularly prone to sudden change because they take the brunt of severe storms. Even the relatively mild Hurricane Dolly, which came ashore on July 23 as a Category 2 hurricane with winds of about 160 kilometers per hour (100 miles per hour), brought noticeable changes to the Texas coastline. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) flying on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured the top image on July 26, immediately after Dolly moved out of the region. The image shows changes to both South Padre Island and the Texas shoreline. The image was made with a combination of visible and infrared light to highlight the presence of water on the ground. The plant-covered land is green, while sparsely vegetated areas are tan. Water is dark blue to black, and clouds are turquoise blue and white. South Padre Island appears to be painted with a film of pale blue in the this image. The color is from water-soaked sand. A closer look reveals more significant changes. The shape of the inland side of the island has changed. The Laguna Madre appears to have swollen, covering much of the western shore of South Padre Island. Just below the center of the image, a square-shaped section of the island is gone. The Texas coastline also changed. A thin line of land that ran through the Laguna M adre in an image taken several days earlier is missing in the July 26 image. Water intrudes into shore where low-lying coastal regions have flooded. The waters of the Laguna itself are bright blue. Soil and sand that washed into the Laguna from the storm and floods reflect light back into space, and this colors the water lighter blue. Dolly’s heavy rains also caused inland flooding on both sides of the border between the United States and Mexico. Rivers and streams too small to be visible prior to Dolly’s arrival stood out as a network of blue on July 26. NASA images courtesy the MODIS Rapid Response Team at NASA GSFC. Caption by Holli Riebeek.

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As part of its response, the Hidalgo County government has established a hurricane hotline to assist any resident, according to Cari Lambrecht, public information officer for the county judge and county commissioners court.  The telephone number, which will remain active through August 8, is (956) 318-2903.  Residents will be able to reach operators, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., who will help residents with questions about debris removal, health concerns, assistance and flooding issues.  “We are working to make sure our residents’ questions are answered,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, featured here with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, following a Thursday, July 24 press conference in McAllen. “All of us need to be on the same page so we can help each other through this difficult time.”

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Potential litigation involving the ongoing construction of the new Edinburg City Hall, featured here with a portion of its west facade, is set for consideration on Tuesday, August 5, in executive session by the Edinburg City Council. No other details were released in the August 1 posting of the city council’s agenda. Also behind closed doors, city leaders will take up the issue of what to do about hiring a permanent city attorney. Seven area firms, including the current interim city attorney, have submitted their credentials for the post, and their proposed fees range from $150 per hour to $20,000 per month. The city has retained an interim city attorney since January, following the resignation of then-city attorney Daniel G. R=C 3os in December, who was required to vacate his post after being appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as the presiding judge of Hidalgo County’s 449th District Court. Ríos, a Republican, is facing Jesse Contreras, a Democrat and longtime Mercedes Municipal Court Judge, in the November general elections.

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Edinburg city attorney post draws candidates with diverse legal, political credentials

The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation and VAMOS, the Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships  announced at a press conference on Thursday, July 10 that they will partner to create the VAMOS/UTPAF Endowed Scholarship Program. VAMOS donated $1 million to the UTPA Foundation to kick off the program, and the University Foundation matched the funds. Pictured center, from left, holding the check, are: Sonia Falcón, VAMOS president; Alonzo Cantú, VAMOS chairman emeritus and UTPA Foundation board member; and Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas, UTPA president. Standing, from left, are Rodrigo Reyna, VAMOS board member; Lydia P. Alemán, UTPA University Advancement executive director; David Deanda, VAMOS board member; Paul  Rodríguez, VAMOS board member; Bill Ellis Jr., UTPA Foundation board member; A.R. (Felo) Guerra, UTPA Foundation board member; Heather Margain, VAMOS executive director; Alma De La Garza, UTPA Foundation board member; and R. David Guerra, UTPA Foundation chair. See story later in this posting.

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South Texas Health System, which includes Edinburg Regional Medical Center, Edinburg Children’s Hospital, and the South Texas Behavioral Health Center in Edinburg, is ranked among the top 10 contributors of the United Way of South Texas annual charity fundraiser.  Its collection of $55,724 from hospital employees in the local system, which also includes McAllen Heart Heart Hospital and McAllen Medical Center, ranked it number seven among corporate employee donors.  The United Way of South Texas helps fund various community organizations using these dollars to help local youth succeed, strengthen and support families, provide employment placement for the disabled, elderly assistance, transportation assistance, emergency center, CPS training, and many other services critical to Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley. Featured at Edinburg Regional Medical Center, from left, are: Thelma Garza; Joe Garza; Gilda Romero; Roxanna Godínez; Doug Matney; Lisa Killion; Linda Reséndez; Joel Peña; Joe Riley; and Ismael Morán.

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Janie Cabellero, featured left, a business advisor with the Small Business Development Center at the University of Texas-Pan American, and Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, president and CEO of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, are making final preparations for a major workshop that will help area residents seeking to invest in both start-ups and established commercial enterprises in the United States. The seminar, which will be conducted in Spanish, will be held on Wednesday, July 30, in the third floor meeting room at the McAllen Memorial Library, 601 N. Main Street.  The free seminar on foreign investments will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. “Pasaporte al Éxito:  Estrategias Claves Immigratorias de los EE.UU. para el 2008 y en Adelante” will cover the eligibility for investor visa categories, preparation and lodging of visa applications on behalf of immigrant investors; typical guidance and strategy development on the most effective methods for obtaining foreign investors visa status; and information regarding renewal, maintenance and change of status for foreign investors.  The Spanish session is being hosted by the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce  and the UTPA Small Business Development Center. It will be presented by Tindall & Foster, P.C., one of the nation’s largest law firms specializing in immigration law, which enjoys a national reputation in this field. Pre-registration is required to secure a seat.  Call the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce at 928-0060.

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Mayor Joe Ochoa, featured left, presents a proclamation to Officer Balde  Gómez, center, and Chief of Police Quirino Muñoz on Tuesday, July 15, designating Tuesday, August 5 as “Edinburg’s Night Against Crime”. The 13th annual event, being hosted by the Edinburg Crime Stoppers Association, is part of a nationwide effort to empower citizens to work with local law enforcement to help spot, prevent, and discourage criminal activities in their hometowns.  In Edinburg, the event will be held from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. at the Edinburg Municipal Park, located at 714 South Raúl Longoria Road. Parking and admission to the local event is free and open to the public. There will be booths where food and non-alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase, and live concerts – also free – will be featured during the evening.  Robert Pulido y Los Clasicos, Riley y Los Gilitos, Los Badd Boys del Valle, and the 24/7 rock band will perform during the evening.  Prizes, vendors, kid rides, and a special guest appearance by the Green Ghost will also be featured.  Last year’s event drew more than 5,000 people. More information is available by calling the Edinburg Police Department at 383-7124. ••••••

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Hidalgo County Road Builders negotiates $46.3 million contract to work on Hidalgo County Loop project for local Regional Mobility Authority

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Mayor Pro Tem Alma Garza and Johnny Rodríguez, her opponent in the Saturday, May 10 city council elections, maintained a positive, friendly tone on Wednesday, March 12, when both candidates showed up late that morning at Edinburg City Hall to see whose name will be placed first on the ballot for their seat. Staff members for the City Secretary drew the names with the candidates looking on as witnesses. Garza will have her name first on the ballot. In the second race, challenger Leonel Guerrero’s name will be first on the ballot in his race against Councilmember Gene Espinoza. Guerrero also attended the drawing, which was open to the public. Espinoza was unable to attend due to other important business. Garza and Rodríguez are vying for the Place 4 city council post, while Guerrero and Espinoza are seeking the Place 3 seat.

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Gerry Pate, standing left, managing general partner with Hidalgo County Road Builders, a private coalition, has negotiated a $46.3 million contract with the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority – a governmental entity – to provide pre-construction services in preparation for the building of major portions of the $645 million Hidalgo County Loop, which will be designed to shuttle heavy commercial truck traffic coming to and from the region. Services included in the agreement include advance planning, environmental clearance, preliminary and final design, right-of-way acquisition services. The contract was approved on Thursday, February 28. HCRB is contracted to complete the pre-construction services within 18 months and deliver to the RMA board a guaranteed maximum price for the completion, including construction of a major portion of the loop project by 2013. The agreement is expected to be executed within the next week. Also featured with Pate is Jacinto Garza, the project engineer. Both men were addressing the RMA board during the organization’s meeting in Weslaco on Thursday, February 28. See lead story later in this posting.

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Bryant Morrison, a faculty member at the University of Texas-Pan American, addressed the Edinburg School Board on Tuesday, March 11, to announce the formation of Yes4Kids, a political action committee that will raise money to help pass a two propositions relating to the construction and renovation of schools in the district. The election will be held on Saturday, March 10. were among some of the Yes4Kids members who made their pitch before the Edinburg school board during the trustees’ regularly bimonthly meeting on Tuesday, March 11. Also at the meeting were opponents of the bond election, who are concerned that, with the U.S. economy slowing down – possibly already in an economic recession – now is not the time for local taxpayers to go into long-term debt by passing bond issues. But Morrison and other bond proposals believe otherwise. “We don’t need their money, we need their support and we need the community discussing the pros and cons of the bond. The more people talk, the more they will see that there is really no debate here,” Morrison said. “When they get the information, they will see we will be saving money, we will get a bigger bang for the bank, and we will relieve the district from some of the bond debt they already have.” See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, recently presented a $500 check to Women Together/Mujeres Unidas, a local charity organization whose vision is to end violence so that individuals may live without fear, abuse or oppression. The mission of Women Together/Mujeres Unidas is to provide shelter and support services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and their families. Martínez organized a charity event in November 2007 to benefit various charity organizations in the Rio Grande Valley. Among those charities that benefited from the event was Women Together/Mujeres Unidas. Since 1978 Women Together/Mujeres Unidas has worked to end domestic violence and sexual assault in Hidalgo and Starr Counties. Women Together/Mujeres Unidas have three locations, two in McAllen and one in Weslaco. They provide education, awareness and prevention programs to the communities. Featured with the Mid-Valley lawmaker is Marlene Ramírez, Outreach Advocate for Women Together/Mujeres Unidas in front of Martínez’ district office in Weslaco.

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