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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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Regional Mobility Authorities would post their full agenda packets on the Internet under legislation being developed by Rep. Flores

 

State Farm Insurance Company on Thursday, January 29, awarded $50,000 to The University of Texas-Pan American toward a project to promote service learning and safety awareness among South Texas educators and students. The twofold initiative, titled Project SELS (Service Learning and Safety), will incorporate workshops and other communication tools to engage more faculty, teachers and students in service learning activities related to their studied disciplines as well as opportunities for State Farm agents to promote safety awareness practices to create safer neighborhoods in South Texas. Area lawmakers, company officials, and university leaders were joined by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, during a press conference to announce the grant award. Featured, from left:  Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa; James Langabeer, UTPA Vice President for Business Affairs; Janice Odom, UTPA Vice President for University Advancement;  Congressman Rubén Hinojosa; Lyra Vela-Salazar, State Farm agent; and Amelia Folkes, State Farm public affairs specialist. 

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Community leaders from the City of Edinburg, including the majority of the Edinburg City Council, will be in Austin on Tuesday, February 10 to observe Edinburg Day at the Capitol, according to Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, featured center. The group will participate in legislative meetings with state leaders, visit with key lawmakers, and receive a special recognition in the House and Senate chambers. "Edinburg has much to be proud of and I am honored to once again host my hometown at our state Capitol," said Peña. "I want to thank those city leaders who will travel to Austin to help make this day a great success. It is important that other legislators hear about the great things happening in our community." With Peña, during a gathering last fall at Edinburg City Hall are, from left: Councilmember Alma Garza; Mayor Joe Ochoa; Peña; Councilmember Noé Garza; and Councilmember Gus García. The four city officials are part of the delegation scheduled to travel to the Capitol. See story later in this posting. 

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Rep. Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured during a reception in October at Edinburg City Hall, on Wednesday, February 4, voted to approve the final version of legislation that will provide health care to 11 million children in modest-income families. The bill was immediately sent to President Obama, who signed the legislation into law late that Wednesday afternoon. The State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) Reauthorization Act becomes the second bill that President Obama has signed into law since he became President. "We have a duty as a nation to protect those who cannot protect themselves. This SCHIP legislation does just that by providing health care to millions of children whose families otherwise would not be able to afford private insurance,” Hinojosa said. “It is simply unacceptable that America continues to be the world’s only developed nation that does not provide health care coverage to all children.” See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, featured here with Dr. Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., the new chancellor of the University of Texas System, was recently appointed chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, which will have jurisdiction over many major issues facing public universities, medical schools, law schools, and community colleges in Texas. That and other Senate committee appointments were made on Friday, January 30, by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. He reappointed her to the Senate Finance, Health and Human Services, and Administration committees and to the upgraded Economic Development Committee. "Because higher education issues are so important and timely, Lt. Gov. Dewhurst empowered us to address them more swiftly, efficiently, effectively and fairly," said Zaffirini. Her higher education committee will process legislation addressing pressing issues facing colleges and universities, including tuition deregulation, the top ten rule and the need for additional tier one universities. See story later in this posting. 

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Edinburg’s unemployment rate for December remains at 5.5 percent, again best in the Valley, better than Texas and U.S. unemployment levels

With Bucky the Bronco, the mascot for the University of Texas-Pan American, helping lead the cheers in June 2004, Dr. Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas was welcomed during a public ceremony on her first day as president by Rodolfo Arévalo, Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs. Citing health reasons, Cárdenas retired as president of one of the largest public universities in Texas effective Friday, January 30. Under her leadership, UT-Pan American continued its successful transformation into a research-oriented institution of higher education, with a top faculty and state-of-the-art facilities and resources. On Tuesday, January 27, Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, said he would work closely with new UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to inform and involve South Texans on the appointment, deliberations, and actions of a presidential search advisory committee which will undertake a national search for a successor to Cárdenas. "We will make sure the public is fully informed on how these major steps are taken, and how people from all walks of life from South Texas can participate in selecting the new leadership of our great university," Flores said. Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT-Permian Basin and former interim president of UT-Arlington, will serve as interim president effective February 23. See story later in this posting.

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Charles A. Sorber, former president of UT-Permian Basin and former interim president of UT- Arlington, will serve as interim president of the University of Texas-Pan American effective February 23 while a national search begins for a permanent successor to former president Blandina "Bambi" Cárdenas, the UT System announced on Tuesday, January 27. “Dr. Sorber’s expertise and vast background have earned him a rock-solid reputation of service in a variety of administrative positions, and we are extremely fortunate to have him help guide UT-Pan American in this important time of transition," said David B. Prior, the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs. "UT-Pan American is tremendously important to the region and to the UT System. We believe that the students, faculty and staff will enjoy getting to know Dr. Sorber as your combined efforts continue to move the institution to even greater distinction. The quick action by UT System administrators is crucial to maintaining stability at the university, said Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen. "I am happy to see that the UT System is moving quickly to search for the best candidate to lead UT-Pan American," said Hinojosa. "Dr. Cárdenas set a high standard and I expect the presidential search advisory committee to seek out an outstanding academic and administrator to guide UT-Pan American." See story later in this posting.

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In an effort to rouse up funding and support for local projects in the upcoming transportation reauthorization bill, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, featured left, on Monday, January 26, met with Congressman James Oberstar, D-MN, featured right, who is the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Hinojosa, along with Congressman Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi (center), highlighted South Texas’ many infrastructure projects that are “shovel-ready” and needed for long-term growth. These projects include the Hidalgo County Loop, the Donna Bridge access road, North Rail Relocation project, and U.S. Highway 281 at Falfurrias and Ben Bolt. See story later in this posting.

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Former McAllen Mayor Othal E. Brand Sr., featured left, was recognized on Monday, January 26, for his years of service to the community, and he was presented a proclamation from Mayor Richard Cortéz, on behalf of the city commission. In 1973, Brand was elected city commissioner and in 1977 was elected mayor, where he served continuously for 20 years until 1997. Through his leadership and vision, he was instrumental in establishing the McAllen Economic Development Corporation and the Boys & Girls Clubs of McAllen and planned for McAllen’s future by acquiring land for future growth. Brand served on numerous boards and committees both on the local and state levels. See story later in this posting.

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Edinburg High School graduate Aurora Casas was already a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) when she started her college career at South Texas College. At the age of 58, she didn’t let a simple number keep her from her achieving her goals. “It was always my dream to be an office worker,” she said. “I would go to renew my driver’s license or to the bank and I would see the young ladies and gentlemen behind their desks; I always dreamt that I could be in their shoes one day. I wanted it to be me as the professional helping others.” But it took a pink slip to put her back on the college path. Prior to STC, she spent 30 of her years as a seamstress with Haggar Clothing Co. She took the job to help her family make ends meet, but ultimately wasn’t doing what she really hoped with her life. And in the end, the Haggar plant closed and her long-term commitment to her employer only earned her a pink slip. Now, the South Texas College alum Aurora Casas of Edinburg uses her college knowledge to help mature adults find work in a high-tech, fast-paced, global marketplace. See story later in this posting.

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The Hidalgo County District Clerk’s Office on Thursday, January 22, presented a check totaling $2,500 to the Make-A-Wish Foundation as part of their Blues for Bucks Workplace Fundraising Campaign to benefit local charitable organizations. The program allows department staff to wear jeans every Friday in exchange for a $5 donation. “I am extremely proud of our staff for their support of the Make-A-Wish Foundation and their willingness to give back to their community. They are extremely elated to see their efforts going towards a cause that helps grant the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions,” said Hinojosa. Featured, first row, from left: María Barrera; Mary Alonzo; Prescilla López; Ava Sandlin, area Executive Director for the Make-A-Wish Foundation; María Elva Garza; Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa; and Nilda Van Hook. Back row, from left: Aída Ríos; Ángela García; Lonnie De León; Eric Rodríguez; Irene Casares; Ireneo Razo; Pedro Navarro; Josue Palomo, and Lorena De La Garza. See story later in this posting.

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Christmas inspires precious memories, divine hope for Dolia González, others who have lost loved ones

Hidalgo County leaders have joined forces recently on several projects of mutual concern, including pushing for environmental planning for the eastern portion of the Hidalgo County loop project and urging President Bush to wave any associated costs local governments incurred during the aftermath of Hurricane Dolly. In this photograph, taken during the December 6 meeting at Mission City Hall of the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority, Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sylvia S. Handy, and Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, successfully encouraged the RMA Board of Directors to speed up plans for the eastern portion of the proposed county roadway loop. See stories on Hurricane Dolly recovery requests and on a successful prescription discount card that recently went into effect in Hidalgo County.

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South Texas College has been selected to participate in the Community Colleges CAN Mentoring Program, which is a national program to link community colleges across the country in unique ways for the betterment and continued pervasiveness of higher education. Through the program, STC will work closely with El Paso Community College to develop an outreach program tying together all higher education institutions and school districts across Hidalgo and Starr counties to address the college readiness needs of all current and future students in the counties. Ultimately, STC hopes to facilitate increased college-going rates, increased college readiness rates, and increased degree attainment rates by creating a seamless system to transition students from high school to college. Featured in this shot, taken during the fall 2008 orientation at STC’s Pecan Campus in McAllen, are high school students from McAllen who are part of the South Texas College McAllen I.S.D. Achieve Early College High School program, one of the many initiatives the college has created with Valley school districts to create a seamless path to college. See story later in this posting.

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“I heard my song while I was watching Fox News the other day,” said Christopher Holloway, South Texas College history instructor. “Who would have known that more than 20 years later it would still be a hit? I think you can say it’s become a Christmas classic!” Holloway, a man of many talents, has not only taught history for more than half a century, but also had a prosperous career in singing and songwriting. A natural vocal talent and composer, he was signed by Playback Records. He wrote several songs, including Man From Galilee, which caught the attention of Christian singer Cristy Lane. Eight years after the song’s birth, Lane released a Christmas CD in 1985 featuring her version of the song, which sold 250,000 copies in the first year. Holloway poses with a record of his songs and the songs of Cristy Lane. See story later in this posting.

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This year will mark the 40th Christmas that Dolia González of Edinburg has spent without her only child, American war hero Freddy González. But instead of sitting alone with her memories, she reaches out and is like a star shining for those around her. That is her sense of decency, honor, and civic duty, says John Flores, author of a book about the Edinburg family. Last February, Dolia González and her son were the center of attention in Edinburg, when Gov. Rick Perry, to her left, came to the three-time All-America City to bestow Texas’ highest honor in memory on her son’s courage in battle. From left, are: Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; Edinburg City Councilmember Noé Garza (back row); Dolia González; Edinburg City Councilmember Alma Garza (back row); Gov. Perry; and Edinburg school board president Omar Palacios. See lead story later in this posting.

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McAllen’s city legislative agenda to include proposal for new, 100,000-square-foot, postgraduate higher education complex, says Rep. Gonzáles

Ciro Treviño, featured right, takes his oath of office on Wednesday, November 12, as he is sworn in for a new, four-year term on the Edinburg school board. Treviño, who faced two challengers – Carlos Ramos and Roger C. Bunch – earned more than 55 percent of the vote during the November 4 general election, accumulating 9,648 votes, compared with Ramos’ 6,059 (almost 36 percent) and Bunch’s 1,486 (almost nine percent) turnout. It was the first campaign race for both Ramos and Bunch against Treviño, a veteran political figure in the city and Hidalgo County. Extending a peace offering to his two challengers and their supporters, Treviño gave them credit for running a good race. “I didn’t think I was going to make it, but I am glad I did,” he said. “I think this was my hardest election, really, and I have had few. But we will do the best we can. I know we are all going to be working towards the same goals.” Justice of the Peace Charlie Espinoza administered the oath of office with Armando Barrera, the Hidalgo County Tax Assessor-Collector who served as Treviño’s campaign treasurer, holding the Bible for Treviño. See related story later in this posting.

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Carmen González picked up almost 60 percent of the vote in her November 4 reelection bid for a second term against challenger – and former veteran ECISD board president – Gilbert Enríquez with 9,981 votes compared with 6,782 votes for her rival. González’ match with Enríquez was the most visible, through the use hard-hitting advertisements featured in the McAllen Monitor, and personal attacks on local, anonymous blogs on the Internet. “I know I am perceived by some that I am as a threat to their personal goals,” she said. “Believe me when I say that I know who I am, and that you know who I am, and why I am the way I am. I make no apologies.” González was sworn in by Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, with González’ husband, Edward, holding the Bible upon which his wife placed her hand while taking her oath of office.  See story later in this posting.

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The McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Women’s Business Center have signed a memorandum of understanding to work together to help small businesses. In October, the two organizations signed a memorandum of understanding which pledged both entities to work together to provide technical and training assistance to women-owned businesses in South Texas. For more information about the Women’s Business Center, call (956) 618-2828 or to reach the MHCC, call (956) 928-0060. Featured during the signing ceremony are, seated, from left:  María “Charo” Mann, chief executive officer and executive director for the Women’s Business Center, which is located in Edinburg, and Cynthia Sakulenzki, the president and chief executive officer for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Standing, from left: José Leal, business advisor for the Women’s Business Center; Pam Garza, special events coordinator for the Women’s Business Center; and Elizabeth Martínez, managing editor for the South Texas Business Times and vice chair of membership for the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

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