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House approves plan by Rep. Flores to use state agencies, other resources to build Valley VA Hospital

Al Ramírez, Edinburg’s first Mexican American mayor who served from 1963 to 1967, passed away on Wednesday, April 22. The groundbreaking mayor, shown here last August 21 during a campaign kick-off for Edinburg school board trustee Carmen González, was credited for helping desegregate public swimming pools, among many other achievements. "We lost one of the great men of the Valley," said former Rep. Alejandro Moreno, D-Edinburg. "He was a descendant of pioneer families. He was a former mayor of Edinburg who welcomed the striking Rio Grande City Farm workers from a hospital bed on their 1966 march to Austin. He was a life long educator who helped develop bilingual curricula in the 1970’s. He also published history and genealogy books and had a great sense of humor. May he Rest in Peace." See obituary later in this posting. 

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Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, a guest of Mayor Joe Ochoa during Kennedy’s visit to the University of Texas-Pan American in February 2008, accepted a replica of the community’s All-America City Award, a symbol of some of many achievements generated during the leadership of Ochoa, who is not seeking reelection. Ochoa, who a few days after Kennedy’s visit welcomed then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, to the three-time All-America City, will be making one of his final official appearances as mayor on Thursday, May 7, as part of the National Day of Prayer. The prayer breakfast, which will take place from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., will be held at The Social Steak House and Club, 205 Conquest Boulevard in Edinburg.  There is a $15 fee, which includes breakfast along with a special gift to the first 150 people, courtesy of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  For more information or to RSVP call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974.  

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United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison, featured second from left, a 1966 alumnus of the University of Texas-Pan American, came back to his alma mater recently to address military cadets in Edinburg.  Garrison became most famous for his role as the commanding officer of Operation Gothic Serpent, the military operation launched in 1993 to capture Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which ended with the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Actor Sam Shepherd later portrayed Garrison in the film Black Hawk Down, which chronicles the events of the Battle of Mogadishu, regarded at the time as as the biggest single firefight involving American soldiers since the Vietnam War. Featured, from left, at at the Dining-In ceremony for UTPA and UT-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College ROTC cadets are: Colonel (USAR) Christopher B. Rivers, UTPA assistant director of military science; United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison; UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale; Cadet Bronc Battalion Commander Vanessa Randolph; and Lieutenant Colonel André Dean, professor of military science and commanding officer of the UTPA battalion.  See story later in this posting. 

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Saturday, April 25, was declared Texas Meningitis Awareness Day under a measure by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, which was approved by the Senate on Friday, April 24. Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cords. The disease strikes 2,000 to 3,000 Americans each year, and 10 to 12 percent of those infected die. There is also a viral type of meningitis. Lucio also named a bill by Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Fort Worth, requiring bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campus in this state, the Jamie Schanbaum Act, after the 20-year-old University of Texas student has been hospitalized for the past six months with the less common and more violent version of the bacteria Meningococcemia. Jamie Schanbaum’s mother, Patsy Silva Schanbaum, is originally from Brownsville. Featured on the Senate floor on April 24, from left: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Maureen Moore, of the Houston Area Immunization Partnership and Confederation of Meningitis Organization; Nancy Day, representing her son, Kyle Hendrix (Meningitis survivor); Patsy Silva Schanbaum, representing her daughter, Jamie Schanbaum (Meningitis survivor); Jamie’s brother, Nicholas Schanbaum; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Ft. Worth, and Sen. Lucio. See story later in this posting. 

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Weslaco airport legislation by Rep. Martínez set for House committee hearing on Wednesday, April 8

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sylvia Handy, shown here in early December 2008 successfully championing the extension of the proposed Hidalgo County Loop through her district, on Thursday, April 2, was named in a six-county indictment charging her, her spouse, Juan Gabriel Espronceda, 35, María De Los Ángeles Landa de Hernández, 27, and Eloisa Andrade Uriegas, 58, with harboring aliens for financial gain. An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. Handy has said she is innocent. Following news of her indictment, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III released the following statement: “Today, we became aware that Pct. 1 Commissioner Sylvia S. Handy and three others were arrested on the allegation of defrauding taxpayers for personal gain. We will withhold our own judgment, as this is an ongoing investigation and is in the hands of the court system. However, my office has been in contact with Commissioner Handy’s chief of staff to offer our help. My office pledges to the public that all vital public services for the families of Pct. 1 will continue.” Featured in this file photo, to her right, is Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, and to her left, is Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who serves as the vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, led the workgroup on that panel that developed state funding for general government, the judiciary, natural resources, and regulatory services.  The Senate Finance Committee, which writes the Senate’s version of the two-year state budget, on Wednesday, April 1, approved a $182 billion budget, which would cover the period between September 1, 2009 and August 30, 2011. This biennial budget is a seven percent increase over 2008-2009, but nearly half that growth is attributable to federal stimulus money. Actual state spending grows only about two percent per year over the next biennium. See story later in this posting. 

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On September 8, 1993, Gov. Ann Richards appointed the founding South Texas Community College (now South Texas College) Board of Trustees, which included Manuel Benavidez, Jr., of La Grulla in Starr County, who passed away on Saturday, March 28. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose district includes Starr County, expressed her condolences to his family and friends. "I am profoundly saddened by our loss of Manuel Benavidez, a champion of higher education, economic development and housing, and am among the countless South Texans who will miss him greatly," she said. "His legacy as a regent for South Texas College and the Starr County Housing Authority reflects his lifelong commitment to creating a brighter future for our families." Highlights of his life are featured in an article composed by one of his daughters, which is featured later in this posting. In this 1993 file photo, the founding board of trustees posed for their portrait, including, seated, from left: Rosalinda González and Pearl Mathis; and standing, from left: Glen Roney (vice chair); Manuel Benavidez, Jr.; Dr. Amparo Cárdenas; Gary Gurwitz (secretary); and Rubén Hinojosa (chair). 

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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, recently welcomed the 2008-09 Leadership Mid Valley class, which visited the Capitol to gain further insight into the workings of state government. Leadership Mid Valley provides opportunities for developing leadership skills and increasing knowledge of vital public issues. Members of this year’s class, from left to right, are: Annette Turner, Nels Anderson, Allison Summersett, Martínez, Priscilla Castañeda, Jesse Colin, Yvonne Chamblin, Vicky De La Garza, Lucio, Mari Avilés, Nancy Peña and Rolando Pedraza. On Wednesday, April 8, a bill by Martínez which would designate the Mid Valley Airport in Weslaco as the emergency headquarters for the Valley during times of natural and man-made disasters will be heard by the House Defense and Veterans’ Committee. See lead story in this posting. 

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Southwest Workers Union plans 5:45 p.m. Tuesday rally in Edinburg to help organize ECISD workers

Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III (with Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured left) will present the 2009 State of the County Address on Tuesday, February 24, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Knapp Medical Center Conference Center, located at 1401 E. 8th Street, one block west of the hospital. "This event is for us to come together to publicly evaluate where we’ve been as a community and where we are going," said Salinas. “No Boundaries” is the theme of this event, and Salinas will focus on efforts working together to improve the quality of life for all residents. Dinner will be served, and the event also includes a live auction to benefit the Hidalgo County Scholarship Program. This program was unveiled at last year’s State the County Address, and since, Hidalgo County has awarded four scholarships for up to six hours of tuition and fees to four employees and their dependents. The event is free and open to the public. However, seating is limited, so organizers are asking residents to arrive early to allow ample time for auction registration. For those who cannot attend, this event will be webcasted live on http://www.krgv.com and broadcast on digital channel 5.4.

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On Saturday, February 7, 2009, Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, presented the Most Reverend Raymundo J. Peña, Bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, a Senate Resolution in celebration of his 75th birthday. Featured, from left: Sister Norma Pimentel; Ms. Linda McKamie, CEO, Catholic Charities of Corpus Christi Diocese; Mr. Steve Saldaña, CEO, Catholic Charities of San Antonio; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Bishop Peña; and Sen. Lucio. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, on Thursday, February 19, welcomed the members of the Association of Public Administrators from the Master of Public Administration program at The University of Texas-Pan American on the House floor commending the members for their dedication to the field of public administration. "UTPA has made great strides since the inception of the Master of Public Administration Program and I am honored to have welcomed their visit to our State Capitol," said Peña. "I look forward to working with these outstanding individuals in the near future in shaping our government." Some of those delegation members are featured here, in the Speakers Committee Room at the Capitol, from left: Víctor M. de León, Dr. Aziza Zemrani, APA Advisor; Rep. Peña; Maricela De León, APA President; Adán Nieto, APA Vice President; and Edgar Cantú. Not shown are: Dr. Tom Lynch, Executive Director, UTPA at San Miguel de Allende, Mexico; Dr. Cynthia Lynch MPA Professor; Sylvia Quiñones; and Esteban Sánchez. See story later in this posting.

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Monitor publisher Frandsen warns City of McAllen about decision by Mayor Cortéz to pull legal notices

 

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, featured at the podium during the fall 2005 dedication of the Rio Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission – the first such state facility built by Texas – continues to work on behalf of Texas’ military veterans and their families. On Thursday, January 22, Flores filed a bill that would provide Texas veterans, who are physically- or mentally-disabled, as a result of military service, with as much as a 100 percent exemption on their home property taxes. "We are pleased that Rep. Flores has carried this extremely important initiative for veterans of this state. This bill is long overdue and we know that Kino has always taken a proactive approach to help veterans," said Emilio De Los Santos, the Veterans Services Director for Hidalgo County. "This bill not only will help veterans of the past, but also veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars." Flores is a U.S. Army veteran. An identical measure, Senate Bill 469 by Sen. John Corona, R-Dallas, was filed on Tuesday, January 13. See related story later in this posting. 

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In an effort to recover local funds spent on federal levee rehabilitation, U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured left, on Thursday, January 22, introduced legislation that would enable the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) to reimburse Hidalgo County for expenses incurred. Hinojosa and Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III, featured center, also met on January 22 with Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, featured right, to discuss the reimbursement initiative and voice their commitment to repairing the Valley’s levees. Cornyn has introduced similar legislation in the Senate that would reimburse Hidalgo County for its work on federal levee projects. See related story later in this posting. 

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Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, featured left, on Tuesday, January 20, announced she was retiring at the end of the month as a result of health concerns. She was praised by two area legislators as an inspiration to the region. "I am saddened by the unfortunate, but understandable, retirement of President Cárdenas. She has been an inspiration to me and to countless other people, not only in the Valley, but throughout the state," said Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview.  Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, also noted that "Dr. Cárdenas set a standard for academic excellence and continuous pursuit of self-realization and personal enrichment. During her tenure, Dr. Cárdenas led UT-Pan American’s efforts to further establish the university as a model institution of higher education, serving a highly diverse population and increasing the access to advanced degrees in South Texas." She is featured here, with Dr. Marla Guerra, superintendent for the South Texas Independent School District, at the university in one of her final public ceremonies on Thursday, January 22.  The two leaders signed a new partnership between UTPA and STISD to promote college readiness and success. See related stories on her retirement and on the partnership with South Texas Independent School District later in this posting. 

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Dr. Alejo Salinas, Ph.D., of Edinburg, accepts ties, in the college’s school colors of green and purple, on behalf of his colleagues on the South Texas College Board of Trustees from students, staff, and administration for helping steer the two-county higher education system through a successful 2008. “Last year was a wonderful year for the college with big growth in enrollment, launching our second bachelor’s degree, and kicking off our 15th anniversary celebration, but one thing is clear – none of this would have been possible without the support of the hardest working board of trustees anywhere in Texas,” said Dr. Shirley A. Reed, STC president, also featured in this photograph. “Dr. Salinas is one of our biggest advocates and has been true to serving the interests of the constituents he represents. We thank him for the countless hours he spends safeguarding public funds and planning for the future of higher education in the Valley.” Salinas is superintendent emeritus for and a clinical lecturer at The University of Texas–Pan American, and former superintendent of Hidalgo I.S.D. He has served STC since 1996. As the District 5 representative on STC’s Board of Trustees, he represents northwest Hidalgo County, Edinburg, north San Juan, and northeast Pharr. “I sincerely thank the college community for this token of appreciation,” said Salinas. “The biggest and best reward for my work is watching our students cross the stage at graduation each May. I am so proud to be part of this dedicated board and look forward to another outstanding year of academic excellence from our students.” 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce “Chamber Champions” Committee recently honored BBVA Compass Bank as Feature Business of the Month for January, 2009. BBVA is located on 2314 W. University in Edinburg, and may be reached at 956/926-4400. BBVA has been a member with the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce for many years, and has always supported community endeavors. They contribute to local scholarships and non-profit organizations, as well as support local businesses. The Chamber Champion’s Committee meets every first Wednesday of the month; to serve on the committee please contact the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956-383-4974. http://www.edinburg.com 

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Rep. Flores law makes it possible for STC, McAllen to provide graduate programs away from UTPA campus

Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, on Tuesday, January 6, was sworn into office for his 7th term by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, which marked the start of the 111th Congress. “We are beginning a new era of politics here in Washington, one where the needs of the American people will finally come first again,” Hinojosa said of the occasion. The new session marks Hinojosa’s 13th year as the U.S. Representative for the 15th Congressional District of Texas, which includes Edinburg, the largest population center. Hinojosa’s district office in Hidalgo County is located in Edinburg at 2864 Trenton Road (phone: 956/358-8400). Featured, from left: Pelosi, Marty Hinojosa, Karén Hinojosa, Rubén Hinojosa, and Kaitlin Hinojosa. See story later in this posting. 

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce recently welcomed APEX Primary Care as their latest Copper Corporate Partner. APEX provides quality primary care for the aged and disabled in the Rio Grande Valley. “We’re excited about being part of a successful organization that represents all sizes of business both small and large” noted APEX owner Eric Flores. “The McAllen Hispanic chamber’s excellent reputation in Texas as well as in Washington, D.C. encouraged us to join up with a winning organization.” The MHCC was recently named the “National Medium Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for 2008” at the annual United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce National Convention, an honor that they have previously won three times. The MHCC has also been honored seven times by the Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce as the Small Chamber of the Year for Texas. “We intend to become active with business and health concerns that affect the community” added Flores. For more information on how to become a Corporate Partner and/or member of the MHCC, call 928-0060. Featured, from left, at the check presentation: Orie Salinas, APEX public relations; Eric Flores, APEX owner; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC president/CEO; Mario Flores, APEX administrator; and Jon Scepanski, APEX assistant administrator. 

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With Edinburg continuing to celebrate its centennial anniversary, neighboring San Juan is compiling a book for its own upcoming 100th birthday in 2010 – and the community, which dubs itself "The Spirit of the Valley", has its own connections to the three-time All-America City. "John Closner, one of the founders of Edinburg was also the founder and namesake of San Juan – “St. John” as deemed by his wife and citizens," said Myssie Cárdenas-Barajas, project specialist with the San Juan EDC, featured left with Miki McCarthy, standing, the organization’s executive director.  Both Cárdenas-Barajas, a former staff member with the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, and McCarthy have deep-rooted family ties to Edinburg. "We are working closely with the Museum of South Texas History and UTPA’s archives in making sure that the book is as accurate as possible," added Cardenas-Barajas. See story later in this posting. 

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The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Friday, January 9, named Francisco G. Cigarroa, M.D., a highly-regarded transplant surgeon and president of the University of Texas Health Science Center – San Antonio, as chancellor of The University of Texas System. “Dr. Cigarroa’s impeccable credentials, superior administrative skills and unparalleled passion for medicine and academia make him an outstanding selection to lead our university system,” said Regents’ Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr.  “As president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, he has time and again demonstrated great business acumen and unmatched leadership, and it is our belief that Dr. Cigarroa will apply those same traits to continue to guide this system on a successful path, setting new benchmarks for excellence along the way.” Cigarroa, 51, will begin his duties as chancellor on February 2. His appointment was made official during a special called board meeting held in Austin. Regents last month named Cigarroa as the sole finalist for the position. See story later in this posting.

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Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, featured in this file photo addressing the McAllen Chamber of Commerce during a 2007 legislative update, says a law that he and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, created in 2005 provides the mechanism needed by McAllen to bring more graduate degree academic courses to the border region. "UT-Austin, Texas A&M, Rice, these are the flagship universities in the state, the ones with the national reputations, the biggest financial endowments, the most research-oriented," Flores noted. "Under this law, they can set up graduate programs in the Valley and the rest of the border region that otherwise could take years to materialize."  See lead story later in this posting. 

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