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.
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.
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.
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. ••••••
Edinburg city attorney post draws candidates with diverse legal, political credentials
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Former Edinburg Mayor Richard R. Alamia, Ricardo González, and Cynthia Contreras Gutiérrez, who are well-known personalities and accomplished lawyers in the three-time All-America City, are among the seven law firm candidates who have submitted their credentials for the powerful position of city attorney for the Edinburg municipal government.
The four other distinguished law firms who have also thrown their proverbial hats into the ring are: Bracewell & Guiliani of Houston; Ortiz & Millin of McAllen; The Law Office of Sofía Arizpe and Dahlila Guerra Casso of Edinburg; and The Salinas Law Firm, P.L.L.C. of McAllen.
So far, the city council has not scheduled any action on hiring a city attorney on a permanent basis.
A request for proposals was advertised by the city at the beginning of the year, and the law firms submitted their credentials in late February.
The law firms are all vying for the spot currently being held on an interim basis by González, of Oxford & González, 124 South 12th Street in Edinburg, which was vacated late last year when then-city attorney Daniel G. Ríos of Edinburg was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as the presiding judge of the 448th Hidalgo County District Court.
Ríos, a Republican, is seeking a four-year term in the upcoming November general election against Jesse Contreras, a Democrat and veteran Mercedes municipal court judge.
After González was brought in at the beginning of January, the city council advertised for requests for proposals to seek other qualified applicants for the job, which could pay from $150 per hour to $20,000 per month, depending on which proposal makes the final cut.
All seven law firms positioning themselves for the job have political ties and/or deep roots in the city, factors which could play important roles, along with their professional achievements and credentials.
The role of the city attorney is arguably the most influential in the local government, serving as top advisor to the city council on many major decisions that involve legal and financial strategies, particularly many of the more politically-charged actions, but also on other key matters, such as rezoning, which shapes where and how residential and commercial subdivisions are created and flourish.
In addition to those duties, the city attorney also is responsible for serving as legal counsel to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and for handling civil lawsuits for and against the city, plus prosecuting criminal cases which are assigned to the Edinburg Municipal Court, which is under the jurisdiction of Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios.
Another power comes from the authority wielded by the city attorney to make the call – or defend the decision – on which items get to be hammered out behind closed doors, called executive session, where only the city council, the city attorney, and a handful of elite city bureaucrats are allowed inside.
Under Texas law, governmental entities, such as the Edinburg City Council, may go behind closed doors, known as executive session, to review, debate, and develop legal and financial strategies relating to personnel, real estate transactions, and legal issues.
In Edinburg, the city council, which currently holds its meetings in a large meeting room at the University of Texas-Pan American, retires to a much smaller conference room down the hallway to hold their executive sessions.
Copies of the complete packets from any or all of the proposals from the law firms, which range from 10 to 20 pages, are available for purchase from the City Secretary at City Hall. The fee is 10 cents per page.
The applicants, in alphabetical order, along with key information from their proposals, follow:
RICHARD R. ALAMIA
The Law Office of Richard R. Alamia, 113 South 10th, Edinburg (Phone: 381-5766).
Alamia would be the lead attorney for the city, and would have the authority to hire other legal counselors as required.
He suggested two proposed fee structures, each negotiable:
1. $10,000 per month plus litigation costs at $150 per hour; and
2. $20,000 retainer per month, which includes all litigation costs. The $20,000 retainer would include all services.
An Edinburg native who graduated from Edinburg High School in 1965, Alamia would go on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in History and Government from Pan American College, and in 1973, he added a Master’s degree in Education from Pan American University.
He received his law degree from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio in 1977.
Alamia has served as a city attorney for Edinburg, Edcouch, and Alamo, representing 15 years of experience in those positions, but noted he has 30 years experience in many facets of litigation involving cities.
Alamia was elected mayor of Edinburg in 1981 and served until 1987.
He also served as the chairman of the Hidalgo County Democratic Party from 1988 through 1992.
References listed are attorneys Aron Peña and Xavier Órnelas of Edinburg, and Mayor Joe Ochoa.
SOFÍA ARIZPE AND DAHLILA GUERRA CASSO
The Law Office of Sofía Arizpe and Dahlila Guerra Casso, 617 South 12th Street, Edinburg (temporary office), and 6521 North 10th Street, Suite A, McAllen (Phone: 956/787-6636).
Arizpe would be the lead city attorney, while Casso would be the assisting attorney.
Their suggested fee structure is $20,000 per month, which would cover all cost of litigation, meetings, drafting of contracts, ordinances, and all other city matters.
The fee is negotiable.
Arizpe is a graduate of Pharr-San Juan-Alamo High School.
She earned a Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, Ethnic Studies, in 1977 from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She received her law degree in 1981 from the University of Santa Clara School of Law in Santa Clara, California.
A Pharr native, Arizpe was a criminal district attorney for Hidalgo County from 1986 to early 2007, prosecuting a wide range of felonies. Prior to that public service, Arizpe worked as an Assistant Texas Attorney General in the Child Support Division in McAllen from 1983 to mid-1986. The year before, she served on the Gulf Coast Legal Foundation in Houston representing poor families in welfare claims, Social Security disability issues, and federal appeals.
Casso, a McAllen native, is a 1970 graduate from McAllen High School.
In 1978, Casso received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, Psychology.
In 1981, she earned a law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in Austin.
Casso has maintained her own law practice since 1990, while from 1990 to 1999, served as Municipal Court Judge for the City of McAllen. Prior to her work on the bench, she served as a criminal district attorney for Hidalgo County from 1981 through early 1990.
References listed are Hidalgo County District Attorney René Guerra, Hidalgo County 332nd District Court Judge Mario Ramírez, and Justice Federico Hinojosa (retired).
BRACEWELL & GUILIANI
Bracewell & Guiliani, 711 Louisiana Street, Suite 2300, Houston.
The law firm’s Rubén Barrera and Mario Barrera, brothers who are formerly of Pharr and Edinburg, would be part of the legal team on behalf of Edinburg. They are listed as partners with Bracewell & Guiliani.
Rubén Barrera, prior to becoming an attorney, worked as a city planner for Edinburg from 1978 to 1980.
The firm also would obtain, on an as-needed basis, the services of Michael Pruneda of the Pruneda Law Firm in Pharr.
Their suggested fee structure is $325 per hour for services by each of the Barrera brothers, and $235 per hour and $220 per hour, respectively, for work done on the city’s behalf by Gilbert E. De León and Erica Escobar, associates of the law firm.
The firm normally bills on an hourly basis, but is willing to explore alternative billing arrangements.
Rubén Barrera earned a Bachelor of Arts, Cum Laude, from Pan American University in 1977, received a Master of Arts from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1979, and earned his law degree in 1982 from the University of Texas at Austin School of Law.
Mario Barrera earned a Bachelor of Arts, Magna Cum Laude, from Pan American University in 1981 and received his law degree in 1984 from the University of Texas School of Law in 1984.
De León earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Texas A&M University in 2001 and received his law degree in 2004 from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio.
Escobar in 2001 earned a Bachelor of Science, Magna Cum Laude, in Foreign Service from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and received her law degree, with honors, in 2004 from the University of Texas School of Law.
References included Pharr Mayor Leopoldo “Polo” Palacios, Jr., plus city attorneys for the cities of Boerne, Corpus Christi, Del Río, Plugerville, San Antonio, and Schertz.
The firm maintains a website at http://www.bracewellgiuliani.com.
CYNTHIA CONTRERAS GUTIÉRREZ
The Law Office of Cynthia Contreras Gutiérrez, 5518 South Jackson Road, Edinburg (Phone: 683-0057).
Gutiérrez would be the lead attorney. Dale S. Kasofsky and Melissa R. Carranza would be part of the legal team representing the city.
Their suggested fee structure calls for Gutiérrez and Kasofsky to each charge $140 per hour.
Carranza would charge $120 per hour, and work by paralegals would be billed to the city at the rate of $65 per hour.
Gutiérrez earned two undergraduate degrees from Pan American University: in 1983, she received a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science; in 1984, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in History.
In 1988, she received her law degree from the University of Houston, College of Law.
Gutiérrez has maintained her own law office in Edinburg since 2000, and among her clients has been the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation – the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.
Prior to setting up her own office, Gutiérrez was a law clerk, then associate, then partner, with Ellis, Koeneke & Ramírez, LLP in McAllen from 1987 to the spring of 2000.
She also served as a law clerk with Montalvo and Ramírez of McAllen in the summer of 1986, and prior to that, she was an assistant whose duties including translating from Spanish to English articles on sources of Mexican laws for the University of Houston, College of Law, during the 1988 spring semester.
Kasofsky earned a Bachelor of Science, Magna Cum Laude, with a concentration in negotiation and arbitration, from Cornell University in New York in 1987.
In 1990, he received a law degree, Cum Laude, from the Albany Law School of Union University in New York.
His professional experiences have including serving as a partner with Kittleman, Thomas & Gonzáles in McAllen from 2000 to 2007, and serving with Thornton, Summers, Biechlin, Dunham & Brown in McAllen.
Carranza is a 2004 graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Texas-Pan American, and she earned her law degree in 2007 from Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock.
References listed are Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Mary Alice Palacios, McAllen City Commissioner Marcus Barrera, and Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa.
ORTIZ & MILLIN
The Law Firm of Ortiz & Millin, 1305 East Nolana Loop, Suite F, McAllen (Ph: 956/687-4567).
John Millin, a partner in the firm, would be the lead attorney. Gina K. Million, also a partner in the firm, José W. Hernández, an associate with the firm, and Renée M. Rodríguez, an associate with the firm, would be part of the city’s legal team.
Their suggested fee structure is $175 per hour each for work performed by Ortiz, John Millin, and Gina Millin, and $150 per hour each for the work performed by Hernández and Rodríguez.
John Millin received an A.B. in Anthropology in 1995 from Princeton University, and earned his law degree in 1999 from South Texas College of Law in Houston.
Gina Millin received a Bachelor of Science in Applied Learning and Development in 1993 from the University of Texas at Austin, and earned her law degree in 1999 from the South Texas College of Law in Houston.
Hernández earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos in 1999, and received his law degree in 2002 from the South Texas College of Law.
Rodríguez earned her Bachelor of Arts in Political Science in 2001 from the University of Texas-Pan American, and received her law degree in 2005 from the University of Texas School of Law.
References are Luis Pizzini, the superintendent for the San Diego (Texas) Independent School District, Dennis Ramírez, a member of the Donna school board, and Eric Ramos, president of the Brooks County Independent School District.
OXFORD & GONZÁLEZ
The Law Firm of Oxford & González, 124 South 12th, Edinburg (Phone: 383-5654).
Ricardo González would be the lead attorney. William J. McCarthy, Of Counsel, also would be part of the legal team for the city.
Their suggested fee structure is $175 per hour for legal services, with a $50 per hour fee for work provided by the support staff on all matters.
An alternative proposal would involve the law firm working on a flat retainer and “Of Counsel” legal services, as was billed by the Daniel G. Ríos, the city’s previous counsel.
(In general, “Of Counsel” is a term commonly applied in the practice of law to an attorney who has been employed to aid in the preparation and management of a particular case but who is not the principal attorney in the action.)
González, a Rio Grande City native and McAllen resident, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1981 from Texas A&I University in Kingsville, and a law degree in 1985 from Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock.
In addition to his current and previous legal work on behalf of Edinburg, González has served as counsel for Hidalgo County and the Edinburg school district. Currently, he is the attorney for the La Joya Teacher’s Federal Credit Union and for the cities of Alton, Granjeno, Peñitas, and for the Hidalgo County Head Start Program.
References are available upon request.
THE SALINAS LAW FIRM
The Salinas Law Firm, 612 Nolana, Suite 350, Water Tower Center, McAllen (661-8000).
This brother-and-sister team features Jacqueline R. Salinas and Kennedy F. Salinas.
Their suggested fee structure is $140 per hour, but is open to negotiations. The contract would not require a monthly retainer fee.
Both attorneys are natives of Rio Grande City.
Jacqueline Salinas earned a Bachelor of Journalism from Texas A&M University in 1997, and received her law degree in 2000 from St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio.
Jacqueline’s professional experiences including working with a national law firm, Plunkett and Gibson, Inc., in San Antonio, then joined the McAllen firm of Willette & Guerra, L.L.P. Following her tenure with Willette & Guerra, L.L.P., she formed the law firm with her brother.
Her service with those two firms included representing cities, hospitals and county entities/agencies, including cities throughout the Valley, specializing in municipal and governmental defense work.
Kennedy Salinas earned double degrees from Southwest University, now Texas State University, in San Marcos in 1998. His undergraduate degrees were in History and Geography.
Following graduation from Southwest University, he was accepted by St. Mary’s School of Law in San Antonio, and received his law degree in 2002.
Prior to establishing the law firm with his sister, he was a district attorney in Starr County.
References include Starr County Judge Eloy Vera, Rio Grande City Mayor Kevin Hiles, Mercedes Mayor Joel Quintanilla, and Escobares Mayor Noel Escobar.
The firm maintains a website at http://www.Salinaslawfirm.com.
Texas Senate Committee on Jurisprudence meets in Edinburg to examine state regulatory powers
By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES
The Texas Senate Committee on Jurisprudence traveled to the Rio Grande Valley Wednesday, July 16, 2008. Meeting at UT-Pan American University, the committee heard testimony on how the regulatory authority of various agencies can overlap, possibly causing confusion among those regulated.
The first invited witness was Christina T. Wisdom, Vice President of the Texas Chemical Council.
She began by reviewing the Council’s work during the last session to give the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) primary authority over the state’s air, limiting the power of local governments. Committee member Sen. Mario Gallegos, D-Houston, said that chemical companies currently were not properly notifying TCEQ of accidents that have compromised air quality in Houston and that the air quality agency is not listening to local officials since the bill doesn’t order it to, adding, “TCEQ is not doing anything because of that language in that bill”.
Michael Stewart, President of the Texas Aggregate and Concrete Association, testified that there has been conflict between state and local governments for years over air and water quality as more and more municipalities try to regulate companies operating outside their city limits, but inside their extra territorial jurisdictions.
Committee member Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, criticized those who have established plants such as tire recycling operations over sensitive aquifers, saying TCEQ is not “sensitive enough” in examining where certain operations are permitted, and that local communities need more influence in determining where such operations are located.
Ned Muñoz, from the Texas Association of Builders followed, testifying about land use and housing affordability. He said his members have problems with local governments that go beyond their statutory authority to regulate development, as this cannot help but drive up the cost of housing, and that given that demographers project the state’s population will double by the year 2040, excessive regulations by cities will shrink the amount of affordable housing.
Elena Marks from the City of Houston testified that unless Houston has clean air, they simply cannot continue to attract or keep jobs and that as a home rule city it is guaranteed certain powers by the state constitution which can be applied to air pollution. She said that certain carcinogens are in Houston’s air and that the TCEQ has placed parts of Harris County on a watch list due to this. She then described the city’s desire to regulate air quality in Harris County and how that led to state legislation introduced during the 80th Legislative Session. Their main problem is that the chief emitters of the chemical benzene are outside of the City of Houston’s jurisdiction and cannot be regulated by the city.
In response to questioning from Hinojosa, she said that other states that, unlike Texas, have standards for such air toxins generally have lower levels of the chemicals in their air. For instance, a Shell Oil facility in Deer Park, Texas emits more pollutants than do similar plants in California and Louisiana, two states that do have emission standards. Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin said that such standards need to be below the safety level for human exposure and that TCEQ has refused to set such standards. Instead, it has voluntary guidelines that, according to Marks, are rarely followed.
Michael Honeycutt, the chief toxicologist of TCEQ, then testified that there are pros and cons to such standards, that some states have standards and don’t enforce them, and that standards for a chemical like benzene can vary widely. He said their guidelines were set at the middle of a range of standards used by various governments. According to Honeycutt the problem in Houston is that there is a large number of mobile and stationary sources of such pollutants, but that new technologies now available are helping them to reduce pollutants in the area.
Gallegos replied that while that may be the case, the agency is failing to communicate with local officials. He told the meeting that during a recent fire he personally tried to call TCEQ on its 800 number and it took him an hour to speak to a person. He said he smells the chemicals at his Senate office and that there is no “confusion” in his mind about standards, that “this has gone far enough for me, especially when this stuff is right in the middle of my district. We’re going to have to push or shove on this one.”
Committee Chair Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, then urged the witness to go back to TCEQ and report the members’ concerns to his superiors.
The Texas Senate Jurisprudence Committee is Chaired by Wentworth, while Hinojosa serves as vice-chair. Members include Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, Gallegos, Chris Harris, R-Arlington, and Kirk Watson, D-Austin. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair.
VAMOS and UTPA Foundation collaborate on $2 million scholarship program for area students
By MELISSA VÁSQUEZ
The University of Texas-Pan American Foundation (UTPAF) and the Valley Alliance of Mentors for Opportunities and Scholarships (VAMOS) announced on Thursday, July 10, they will team up to establish a $2 million Matching Endowed Scholarship Program for graduating Hidalgo County high school seniors planning to attend UTPA.
The VAMOS Board of Trustees will contribute $1 million in endowment funds over a five-year period to the university, which the UTPA Foundation will generously match to create the VAMOS/UTPAF Endowed Scholarship Program. The restricted scholarship program will be funded jointly on an equal basis by UTPAF and VAMOS and administered by the UTPA Foundation.
“We are overjoyed about the extraordinary gift VAMOS has made to our University and most of all to our students, who will be the beneficiaries of this endowment,” UTPA President Dr. Blandina “Bambi” Cárdenas said. “This scholarship program is a testament of UTPA’s and VAMOS’ devotion to ensure there is a university diploma hanging on the wall of every home in South Texas.”
R. David Guerra, chairman of the UTPA Foundation chair and president of the International Bank of Commerce-McAllen, said he is very proud of the joint effort with VAMOS, a quality organization he believes shares the same goals as UTPA – to help every student earn a degree, and support the future economic needs of the area.
“The Board of Directors of the UTPA Foundation are grateful for the leadership demonstrated by VAMOS and for their belief in our mission,” Guerra said. “Our goal is to provide deserving students a quality and affordable education.”
Since the organization began in 1996, Sonia Falcón, VAMOS president, said VAMOS applicants have selected UTPA as their university of choice. More than 39 percent of VAMOS scholarship recipients attend UTPA to date.
“We are proud of our scholarship recipients and of the work and progress that UTPA has made to make itself accessible to our recipients,” Falcón said. “We hope that by establishing this endowed scholarship program future recipients will continue to make UTPA their choice to obtain a quality education. The impact of this program will not only be measured by the recipients receiving this award, but by the future generations that will also have access to this program.”
Falcón said entering into the partnership with the UTPA Foundation made sense because both organizations are dedicated to helping the Rio Grande Valley and the people who live in the area succeed.
“VAMOS is a grassroots organization founded and funded here locally and we believe in supporting our local university because it supports many of our local students and provides them with a first-class education,” Falcón said. “ The Valley is our home and we have a strong commitment to this area and the people who live here.”
Guerra said VAMOS’ pledge to UTPA is not only an investment in the university, but in its students who are continuously recruited by local and national employers for their academic achievements and work ethic.
“As our region continues to grow and the demand for higher education escalates we will need more organizations like VAMOS. We encourage other institutions and individuals to consider UTPA in their giving and estate planning. There is truly no better way to change the life and fortune of an individual than by helping them receive a good education,” Guerra said.
Lydia P. Alemán, executive director for the UTPA Division of University Advancement, said she is grateful for VAMOS’ contributions over the years, and is especially thankful to Alonzo Cantú, VAMOS chairman emeritus and UTPA Foundation board member, and to the VAMOS Board of Trustees for their passion for higher education and support of South Texas students attending the University.
“The scholarship funding we are receiving from VAMOS today will make a big difference in the lives of students who want to make their dream of earning a college degree a reality,” Alemán said.
To be eligible for the VAMOS/UTPAF Endowed Scholarship Program, the following criteria will be required: be a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident (with Resident Alien Card); be an entering freshman to The University of Texas-Pan American; rank in top 25 percent of his/her graduating class; meet minimum SAT and ACT score requirements established by the University and provide proof of acceptance to the institution; and demonstrate financial need as defined jointly by UTPAF and VAMOS.
In addition, students will be evaluated based on academic achievement, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement that describes the applicant’s personal and professional goals, community involvement and other factors.
The scholarships can be renewed annually based on the student maintaining a grade point average of 2.7 or better on a 4.0 scale, and remaining enrolled at UTPA on a full-time basis. The amount awarded per one student may total to $20,000 over four years. The program is expected to begin awarding scholarships in fall 2009.
For more information on the VAMOS/UTPAF Endowed Scholarship Program, contact the UTPA Division of University Advancement at 956/318-5301.
For further information regarding VAMOS, call 956/631-1273, e-mail:
Edinburg first Valley city to join National Cool Cities campaign, which is aimed at curbing global warming
By BRITTNEY BOOTH
The City of Edinburg has become the first city in the Rio Grande Valley to join the national Cool Cities campaign, and enact programs aimed at curbing global warming.
The Edinburg City Council on Tuesday, July 15, approved a resolution pledging to take action to decrease global warming locally and officially making Edinburg part of the Cool Cities Campaign. The action took place during the council’s regular-scheduled meeting, which began 7 p.m. in the International Room of the International Trade and Technology Building on the University of Texas-Pan American campus.
Cool Cities is a national initiative sponsored by the Sierra Club that encourages cities to cut down on environmentally harmful emissions locally, and implement smart energy policies that save taxpayers dollars.
“It’s a positive solution to address global warming. It not only saves energy, as a result, it also saves taxpayers money and improves the quality of life in Edinburg,” said Mark Peña, the Edinburg Cool Cities team coordinator. “We hope other cities will follow Edinburg’s lead in initiating environmental campaigns.”
To receive the Cool Cities designation, a city must sign the U.S. Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement, which urges federal and state governments to meet or beat the Kyoto Protocol treaty target of decreasing global warming pollution levels to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
By signing the agreement, Edinburg’s City Council commits to evaluate the city’s policies and procedures and ensure environmentally clean and energy efficient practices.
Edinburg’s next step will be to take an inventory of the city’s emissions and develop a local climate protection plan, involving various facets of the community. Cities like Austin and Dallas have developed campaigns to reduce global warming. Residents in McAllen, Harlingen and Brownsville are in the beginning stages of the campaign.
Edinburg already offers a recycling center where residents can drop off glass, plastic, paper and more. Also, the city created a mulching program, an ordinance that protects tree and has installed energy-saving tools in its newer buildings.
Mayor Joe Ochoa said the city will take additional practical energy-saving steps, such as replacing electricity-zapping fixtures with more efficient models and educating the community on environmental issues.
“I firmly believe that our community not only needs to become more environmentally friendly, but also certainly improve energy efficiency in our city,” he said. Mayor Pro Tem Gene Espinoza said he is encouraged to see citizen groups, like the Edinburg Cool Cities team, pushing the initiative to expand the city’s environmental efforts.
“We will definitely start looking into solar power and more recycling to save energy and the environment,” he said. “I think the citizens are really going to hear the message that we are behind this.”
For more information on the Cool Cities campaign, visit http://coolcities.us.
Two Edinburg men – Dario Guerra, Jr. and Sonny Hinojosa – among gubernatorial appointments to Rio Grande Regional Water Authority Board
Gov. Rick Perry recently appointed nine South Texans, including two men from Edinburg, to the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority Board of Directors. The board develops water policies, manages floods and protects the quality of water for the Rio Grande that borders Willacy, Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr, Zapata, and Webb counties.
Dario Guerra Jr. of Edinburg is a self-employed rancher. He is a former member of the Texas Water Development Board. His term expires February 1, 2009.
Sonny Hinojosa of Edinburg is general manager of Hidalgo County Irrigation District No. 2. He is a board member of the Texas Water Conservation Association, and vice president of the Lower Rio Grande Water Committee and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Water District Managers Association. He is also a member of the Region M Water Planning Group, and secretary of the Texas Irrigation Council and the Watermaster Advisory Council. Hinojosa received a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&I University. His term expires February 1, 2009.
The other seven appointees were:
Joe A. Barrera III of Brownsville is general manager of the Brownsville Irrigation District. He is past secretary and treasurer for the Lower Rio Grande Authority and the Lower Rio Grande Valley Water District Managers Association. He is being reappointed for a term expiring February 1, 2009.
Wayne Halbert of San Benito is general manager of the Harlingen Irrigation District and Adams Gardens Irrigation District. He serves as the mayor of Rangerville and is the legislative director of the Texas Irrigation Council. He is past president of the Texas Water Conservation Association, chairman of the Rio Grande Watermaster Advisory Council and past chairman of the Southmost Soil and Water Conservation District. He is being reappointed for a term expiring February 1, 2011.
Sonia Kaniger of Harlingen has served the Cameron County Irrigation District No. 2 for 30 years. She is past president of the Lower Rio Grande Water District Managers Association and past vice president of the Rio Grande Regional Water Authority. She is also a board member of the Texas Water Conservation Association and a member of the Region M Water Planning Group. She is being reappointed for a term expiring February 1, 2009.
Brian Macmanus of Harlingen is the director of water and wastewater at the East Rio Hondo Water Supply Corporation. He is a board member of the Texas Rural Water Association, and secretary treasurer for the South Texas Water Utility Manager’s Association and the North Cameron Regional Water Supply Corporation. He is also past vice president of the Texas Water Utility Association, Citrus Chapter. Macmanus received a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and a master’s degree in agricultural engineering from the University of Missouri, Columbia. His term expires February 1, 2011.
Samuel Sparks Jr. of Harlingen is owner and operator of SRS Farms. He is president of Ross Gin and Mercedes Water District No. 9, vice president of Valley Coop Oil Mill and member of the Valley Acres Water District. Sparks attended Abilene Christian University. His term expires February 1, 2011.
Jimmie Steidinger of Donna is a farmer and rancher. He is past chairman of the Texas Citrus Exchange and past secretary of the Edinburg Citrus Association. Steidinger serves on the advisory committee of Texas A&M University Kingsville Citrus Center. He is being reappointed for a term expiring February 1, 2009.
Frank “JoJo” White of Progreso Lakes is general manager of Irrigation District No. 9 for Hidalgo and Cameron counties. He is director of the Texas Irrigation Council and Valley Water Committee, and past president of the Rio Grande Water District Managers Association. White received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas Pan American. His term expires February 1, 2009.
Select Committee on Public Schools Accountability focuses on issues facing Valley education system
By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES
Issues facing Rio Grande Valley schools were the focus of a legislative committee on Monday, July 14. The Select Committee on Public School Accountability was in Brownsville hearing how state standards affected local schools. Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and his son, Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-San Benito, led off the day, welcoming the committee and telling them changes can be made to enhance education.
Sen. Lucio warned against an overbearing load imposed by tests and paperwork on teachers and students alike, saying that they should spend time teaching and learning, not pushing paper. Rep. Lucio said that where a child is born should not determine the quality of his or her education.
The first witness was Richard Rothstein, from the Economic Policy Institute. He told the panel that schools should not be held accountable for just one item, such as a particular standardized test. He said the danger is that when an institution is held accountable for only one item, it focuses on that item to the exclusion of everything else.
Rothstein said that the very reason that public education was established during the late 18th century was so that citizens could determine the best policies for the country and make informed decisions as to whom their leaders might be and that as testing becomes more and more widespread, the basic goals of education are lost.
Brownsville School Superintendent Héctor Gonzáles then testified, telling the committee that despite being in an area where almost half of the students have only a limited knowledge of English and most are not financially well off, his district continues to meet all state standards and that most schools in his district are recognized for excellence, in spite of lower levels of funding when compared with other districts around the state.
He said that the “playing field is not level”, but that they perform better than other districts despite a relative lack of funds. He said that under the current system, districts achieve “recognized” status based upon where they are located and who their students are, not what the districts are achieving.
Committee co-chair Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, said that the Brownsville district is the “poster child” for everything that is wrong with the current accountability system, that it is “unconscionable” to think that as a state, Texas is not meeting the needs of its school districts.
Invited testimony included Chris Dougherty, from the National Center for Educational Achievement. He told the committee that if one is going to rate schools one needs to use a model that gives weight to growth, and that districts across the state should be compared similarly.
Dallas Superintendent Michael Hinojosa warned against changing systems without great reason, saying people could be “confused” by changing standards, that “one size does not fit all”. Mike Moses, of Raise Your Hand Texas, said his organization is committed to improving and strengthening accountability, and that while now is a good time for changes in the system, great care needs to be taken. “What do we do with the students who haven’t been in the system?”, Moses asked, saying that schools need to be given consideration for students that they have had only a short time, especially students entering at the middle school level or higher.
Co-chair Rep. Bob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, questioned whether entering students who speak primarily Spanish should be given the standardized test exclusively in English during their second year, when it may take several years to learn the language. Committee member Salem Abraham reminded the other members that English as a second language issues are not confined to South Texas, that they exist across the state.
Public testimony followed, including Teri Alarcón, principal of Brownsville’s Hanna High School. She told the committee members that English speaking students have no problems meeting state standards, but that students who enter speaking primarily Spanish simply do not have the time to learn English before being forced to take achievement tests in that language. Other witnesses told the members that while students are being taught English during school hours, their immersion in Spanish outside of school means they may not learn English as quickly as they might otherwise.
The Select Committee on Public School Accountability is Chaired by Shapiro and Eissler. Members include Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands; Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington; Education Commissioners Robert Scott and Raymund Paredes as well as public members Salem Abraham, Ronald Steinhart, Sandy Kress, Larry Kellner, Susan Lewis Dalia Benavides, Dr. David Splitek, Dr. Thomas Randle and Beto González.
The meeting recessed subject to call of the chair. Its next meeting is scheduled for August in El Paso.
Democrats need only to gain five seats in November to take over Texas House of Representatives
By REP. PETE GALLEGO
On March 4, 2008, over 2.8 million Texans voted in the Democratic primary. As one of the 2.8 million, I felt an overwhelming sense of pride knowing that I was able to play a part in making history. Together, we showed the nation that Texas Democrats are energized and ready for change.
It is hard to believe that we have less than four months remaining until the general election. Our nominees have been selected, we have a united Democratic Party, and we are poised to make history yet again on November 4th. Never in my lifetime have Democrats been so motivated and energized. Much of the momentum we enjoy today is a direct result of the Netroots activism that has helped fuel the progressive movement. That is certainly evident right here in Texas.
A few weeks ago, the Republican presidential nominee admitted to not knowing how to use a computer, let alone the Internet. One of his advisors tried to justify his apparent Internet ignorance by suggesting that he doesn’t need to know how to use a computer because he has people who do that for him. Reading this, I was completely awestruck. In this day and age, the Internet is neither a passing fad nor a toy to be ignored and dismissed. The Internet is arguably the most important resource voters and elected officials have to stay informed and connected with the world they live in and the people they serve.
In retrospect, maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised. The fact is many politicians on the far right have simply lost touch with voters and hard-working Texas families. Just look at the wayward legislative priorities the far right has pursued since taking over the Texas House six years ago.
In 2003, the Republican controlled Texas Legislature took away health care from hundreds of thousands of children by slashing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). They passed a disastrous “tuition deregulation” bill which has caused college costs to skyrocket, making a higher education degree too expensive for thousands of Texas kids. The far right continues their assault on our public education system by trying to force a risky private voucher scheme into our public schools. As Texans are getting squeezed by soaring energy bills and $4 a gallon gas, the far right ignores these pocketbook issues that affect the daily lives of Texans choosing instead to prioritize and pursue the politically-motivated and partisan agenda of non-existent voter fraud. The legislative priorities of the far right are no longer consistent with mainstream Texas values, which is one of the reasons Republicans are so nervous about November.
Since 2003, Democrats have regained nine seats in the Texas House of Representatives, and today we are only five seats away from taking back the majority. This dramatic swing of the pendulum is the result of countless hours of dedication, education, and hard work by both Netroots activists and organizations like the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee (HDCC).
The HDCC is organized and lead by Democratic leaders in the Texas House. The HDCC is the only organization in the state dedicated solely to electing a Democratic majority in the Texas House. The HDCC raises money, trains staff and works hand-in-hand with House candidates from across the State to ensure they have every advantage possible during the general election season. Best of all, these services do not cost House Democratic candidates a penny. While the HDCC has been very successful in working toward our goal of taking back the House, we cannot elect a Democratic majority without your help. Click here to invest in the HDCC today.
Texans need Democratic leaders who will take on real issues and develop real solutions for Texas families. United, Democrats will take back the Texas House in November, and return real democracy and leadership to our state.
(Gallego is co-chair of the Texas House Democratic Campaign Committee)
Senator Zaffirini says expansion of TIERS could hurt ability by seniors and disabled to receive benefits
By CELESTE VILLARREAL
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, senior member of the Texas Legislature’s Eligibility System Legislative Oversight Committee, on Monday, July 14, questioned Health and Human Services Commissioner Albert Hawkins about the proposed expansion of the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS) to include all seniors and persons with disabilities who are benefit recipients before the statewide rollout. Meeting at the State Capitol, the committee also heard public testimony.
TIERS is a computer software program designed to assist Texans who qualify for state benefit programs by gathering their information to help them collect benefits such as Medicaid and food stamps. Since implementation by the Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) in 2003, the program has proved difficult to navigate and faulty in processing and maintaining the integrity of critical data.
Zaffirini questioned the disproportionate impact the HHSC’s proposed expansion of TIERS has on seniors and persons with disabilities. She expressed concern that the plan risks the healthcare benefits of persons who are the most likely to need medical attention and least likely to successfully use this complex system. If the proposal is carried out, 100 percent of the cases involving Medicaid for the Elderly and People with Disabilities (MEPD) would be handled through TIERS, compared to only 22.4 percent of food stamp cases.
“Due consideration must be paid to the unique needs of the elderly and persons with disabilities,” Zaffirini said. “Existing TIERS errors must be identified, addressed, and fixed before this population is asked to utilize the system.”
Zaffirini provided suggestions for improving the program for the elderly and persons with disabilities, including developing additional benchmarks specific to the MEPD conversion and outreach to educate the MEPD population about how to navigate the program and avoid problems. Senator Zaffirini also proposed that extensions for eligibility to seniors and persons with disabilities be provided due to the problems associated with TIERS, the same way food stamp eligibility was expanded.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed Zaffirini to the oversight committee last January.
Sen. Cornyn releases statement in support of veto override On Medicare cuts
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Vice-Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, on Tuesday, July 15, made the following statement this evening regarding his vote in support of overriding the President’s veto of H.R. 6331, the Medicare Improvement for Patients and Providers Act of 2008.
“I recognize, and share, many of the President’s concerns with how this recent Medicare debate has devolved. It’s clear that Senate Democrats were more concerned with scoring short-term political points, than with passing a long-term solution that would protect Medicare for future generations. They chose to run out the clock, avoid the tough decisions, and delay consideration of a long-term solution for a date uncertain. I hope all those who support Medicare, as I do, take note of that when this debate returns to the Senate 18 months from now — when an even more harmful 20 percent cut in reimbursement rates is scheduled to be enacted.
“I joined with a majority of my colleagues in voting to override the President’s veto, because I could not in good conscience allow this year’s cuts to go forward. Texas seniors deserve access to quality health care. That is why this short-term fix does not free Congress from avoiding its long-term responsibility to protect Medicare. No one wants to fix this system and do away with the annual cuts that threaten doctors and beneficiaries more than I do. I am the only member of the Senate who has introduced a long-term fix to the broken repayment system this year.
“I will continue to push for a permanent fix. Seniors, physicians and the American people deserve real solutions and not the partisan rhetoric we have seen in recent weeks.”
Cornyn serves on the Armed Services, Judiciary and Budget Committees. In addition, he is Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Ethics. He serves as the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee’s Immigration, Border Security and Refugees subcommittee and the Armed Services Committee’s Airland subcommittee. He served previously as Texas Attorney General, Texas Supreme Court Justice, and Bexar County District Judge.
Rep. Noriega says he forced Sen. Cornyn to “flip-flop” on Medicare legislation
By HOLLY SCHULMAN
For the second time in a month, John Cornyn, R-Texas, has switched his vote on an issue crucial to Texas families after criticism from U.S. Senate candidate Rick Noriega, according to the Democrat’s campaign.
Cornyn is facing a challenge in the November election from Noriega, who is a veteran Houston state representative.
On Tuesday, July 15, after outcry from the Noriega campaign and medical groups such as the American Medical Association, Cornyn switched his vote on a key Medicare bill for politically expedient reasons.
Cornyn’s vote to support the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 came just weeks after originally voting to block the bill and on the heels of a similar vote switch on the GI Bill. Though Cornyn’s eventual vote is a welcome development, the political expediency for his final votes are all-too-typical of his time in Washington.
Unlike Cornyn, Noriega said he has pledged to serve as a senator whose votes always place Texas families first. Noriega has remained consistent in his support for both the Medicare and the GI Bill and does not determine how he votes by scanning the political tea leaves. Cornyn, whose original opposition to the Medicare legislation led to the Texas Medical Association stripping their support for his candidacy, had recently told the Washington DC newspaper Roll Call that he did not plan to change his vote.
In May 2008, Cornyn was one of only 22 Senators to vote against the bipartisan Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Act (the GI Bill), which helped honor returning veterans with a range of educational opportunities. He finally reversed course after immense pressure from both sides of the aisle. Noriega, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Texas National Guard, supported the bill for months.
South Texas College to offer Mexican American Art Appreciation course this fall
By HELEN J. ESCOBAR
It has been said that the eyes are the window to the soul and so it might just be that viewing art can help you understand the soul of the artist and appreciate the artist’s heritage and history. That is what students in South Texas College’s new Mexican American Art Appreciation course will find out in fall 2008.
“We are offering this course for the first time as part of our Mexican American Studies associate degree plan to provide students the chance to learn about their heritage and culture through art,” said Patricia Ballinger, course instructor. “We will examine Mexican American issues in history and politics through a variety of art mediums including architecture, paintings and sculpture, just to name a few.
“We will also look at the themes that are a part Mexican American traditions and way of life that is finding a voice within the fine arts. This voice was first expressed in a grand form by Orozco with his mural for Dartmouth College and its influence has continued to grow since then and can be seen in contemporary artists such as Judy Back, Jose Montoya, Los Four and even our own Valley born Carmen Lomas Garza. We hope students will come away with a better understanding and relation to the Mexican American experience and, perhaps, an appreciation for the rich make up of Mexican American expressions.”
This is the only course of its kind offered in Hidalgo and Starr counties. Mexican American Art Appreciation is one of several new courses offered starting in fall 2008 as part of the college’s new Mexican American Studies Program. Students also have an opportunity to take Mexican American Literature, Mexican American Politics, Mexican American History I and II, as well as Introduction to Mexican American Studies.
“This program offers students a unique opportunity to learn about their own culture and heritage,” said Gilberto Reyes Jr., Mexican American Studies Program coordinator for STC. “I believe the saying is true that you can’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been. Mexican Americans are on the threshold of great things in America. I hope students will seize this opportunity because it’s not only important to take pride in your heritage, the degree is a wonderful foundation for a variety of careers.”
For more information about STC’s Mexican American Art Appreciation course contact Ballinger at 872-2508. For more information about STC’s Mexican American Studies Program contact Reyes at 872-2170.
Texas Attorney General Abbott’s Cyber Crimes, Fugitive units arrest five convicted sex offenders for illegally using MySpace.com
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s Cyber Crimes and Fugitive units arrested five registered sex offenders earlier in July for illegally using the popular social networking site MySpace.com. Since subpoenaing sex offenders’ user profiles from MySpace.com in May 2007, the attorney general’s investigators have arrested 28 previously convicted sex offenders who illegally accessed the site.
“Each of the registered sex offenders arrested during this operation were originally convicted of crimes involving young children,” Abbott said. “Despite clear legal prohibitions, all five of these sex predators accessed MySpace.com. Parents and children alike must remain vigilant about the dangers posed by online sex predators.”
He added: “These arrests reflect MySpace.com’s ongoing willingness to work cooperatively with law enforcement. However, until MySpace.com and other social networking sites implement true age verification software, dangerous sex offenders will continue using these Web sites to prey upon young children.”
On July 1, Cyber Crimes and Fugitive Unit investigators arrested Charles Cathey, 52, of San Antonio, for using the Internet in violation of his release terms. In 1988, Cathey was convicted of aggravated sexual assault of a 7-year-old child and sentenced to 35 years in prison.
Other registered sex offenders arrested in the sweep include:
• Daniel Louis Trowbridge, 47, arrested July 1 in Seguin; convicted in Travis County in 1980 for indecency with a child. His victim was an 11-year-old girl.
• Scott Charles Spencer, 39, arrested July 1 in Alvarado; convicted in Johnson County in 1990 for indecency with a child by sexual contact. His victim was a 12-year-old girl.
• Thomas Lyman Warren, 64, arrested July 1 in Houston; convicted in Harris County in 1984 for injury to a child. His victim was two years old.
• Joel Wayne Jones, 40, arrested July 2 in Port Arthur; convicted in Jefferson County in 1994 for indecency with a child by sexual contact. His victim was an 8-year-old girl.
In May, Attorney General Abbott subpoenaed sex offenders’ user profiles from MySpace.com. As a result, the network provided the OAG with data from Sentinel Safe, which MySpace.com hired to compile and verify its users’ identities. Attorney General Abbott has repeatedly urged MySpace.com and other social networking sites to implement definitive safety measures that would help prevent young users from receiving sexually explicit images and unwanted sexual advances. Since the push from Attorney General Abbott and other state attorneys general, MySpace.com began screening profiles for inappropriate content. It also took steps to make certain vulnerable users’ profiles unavailable to the general public.
Since taking office, Attorney General Abbott has earned a national reputation for aggressively arresting and prosecuting online child predators. In 2003, he created the Cyber Crimes Unit, which protects children from online sexual exploitation. The Cyber Crimes Unit and the Fugitive Unit, which locates sex offenders who have violated the terms of their parole and could be stalking children, have combined to arrest more than 700 sex offenders. Cyber Crimes Unit investigators also have traveled to schools and communities statewide to offer educational cyber safety programs.
To find out more about Abbott’s efforts to crack down on sex predators, visit the agency’s Web site at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov or call (800) 252-8011.
Republicans say Rep. Noriega’s campaign fundraising paling in comparison with Sen. Cornyn’s efforts
With less than four months remaining before the November election, the two Texas U.S. Senate candidates on Tuesday, July 15, released second quarter financial reports indicating their relative viability for the general election.
The two reports filed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Rep. Rick Noriega, D-Houston, demonstrated a marked and revealing contrast, according to state Republican Party leaders.
“The Q2 reports are vital in assessing the candidates’ likely ability to communicate with voters in the most populous and expensive state in this year’s U.S. Senate election cycle,” said Republican Party of Texas communications director Hans Klingler. “More importantly, since contributions are capped, the disclosures show the breadth of candidate support, and the numbers of voters willing to take an active support role in the two campaigns.”
Cornyn reported raising $1.7 million from 7,964 contributors during the quarter. He has nearly $9.4 million cash on hand as of June 30, and 90 percent of Cornyn’s donors are from Texas. This is the sixth consecutive quarter he has raised funds in the $2 million range. This number doesn’t include approximately $300,000 Cornyn helped raise in June for three fellow Republican Senate challengers running in other states.
When Noriega filed his fourth consecutive report, his campaign “showed its embarrassment at the lackluster $930,000 total by trying to bury the news in a July 3rd release as media were leaving for the holiday weekend,” Klinger contended.
“When the Dallas Morning News uncovered his press release and reported Noriega’s dismal showing, the news left Noriega’s friends over at Daily Kos shattered. After pitching their left-wing readers unmercifully to donate to Noriega, the Daily Kossacks took one look at the numbers and sullenly opined that it was
‘a disappointing take,'” Klinger added.
On Monday, July 14, Gardner Selby reported in his Postcards from the Lege blog the quarter’s shortfall left Noriega with $915,000 in the bank with less than four months to go before Election Day. That’s not sufficient funding for even one week of television in Texas, even with no money allocated for direct mail or other voter contact, Klinger said.
Noriega’s camp is boasting to reporters that their candidate is doing marginally better than Barbara Radnofsky did in 2006, Klinger noted. After the second quarter that year, Radnofsky had about $350,000 in cash on hand. Radnofsky lost the general election to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, by 62 to 38 percent.
“Rick Noriega launched his campaign on July 1st, 2007. In the year since, he has raised just $2.36 million; less than one-quarter of the $10 million he has told the media it will take for him to be competitive,” Klingler said. “At this rate, Rick Noriega should reach his self appointed goal of $10 million raised just in time for the election…of 2012.”
Attorney General Abbott reaches agreements that will help protect Texans from identity theft
Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott on Wednesday, July 16, reached settlement agreements with Select Medical Corp. and RadioShack that will help protect Texans from identity theft. The settlements resolve two state enforcement actions, which charged both defendants with violating state laws governing the disposal of customer records that contain sensitive personal information.
Under the agreements, the state will receive nearly $1.5 million that will ultimately fund future identity theft investigations and prosecutions. Equally important, both defendants will strengthen their existing information security policies by implementing new employee training programs that highlight identity theft prevention and educate staff about proper document destruction protocols. Under Texas law, vendors must take specific precautions before discarding documents that include customers’ bank accounts, driver’s license and Social Security numbers.
“Recognizing that identity theft is one of the nation’s fastest growing criminal enterprises, the Texas Legislature passed laws to protect Texans from this crime,” Abbott said. “Under today’s agreements, both defendants will implement new procedures that will better safeguard their customers’ personal information. Equally important, nearly $1.5 million in proceeds from these settlements will be used to fund future identity theft investigations and prosecutions.”
The state’s agreement with Select Physical Therapy Texas L.P. requires the health care provider to amend its existing information security procedures to ensure future compliance with identity theft prevention laws. Select Medical must implement a new training program that educates their Texas employees about newly established privacy procedures and reviews state laws governing the disposal of customer records.
Under the agreement, all Select Medical Texas employees must take the training annually for the next five years. The mandatory course will explain identity theft, its costs to individual customers and the importance of complying with the company’s newly implemented document disposal protocol. To further ensure that employees comply with the new protocol, each of Select Medical’s Texas locations must post signs detailing records storage and disposal requirements. They also must maintain certification records that show each employee’s compliance with the training requirements.
Select Medical agreed to pay the state of Texas $990,000, which includes $100,000 in attorneys’ fees. Under the Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act, the remaining sum will be appropriated for the investigation and prosecution of future identity theft cases.
The state opened its investigation into Select Medical after the Levelland Police Department reported that more than 4,000 documents containing customers’ sensitive information were found in garbage containers behind a Select Physical Therapy Texas Limited Partnership location in that city. The records discovered by authorities contained patients’ bank account numbers, sensitive medical evaluations, drug and alcohol testing verification results, plan of care forms, insurance verification sheets, and social and vocational therapy questionnaires.
An agreement with Fort Worth-based RadioShack similarly requires the electronics retailer to enhance its existing information security procedures and implement a new employee training program. RadioShack’s training curriculum will largely mirror the requirements outlined in the state’s agreement with Select Medical. Additionally, RadioShack agreed to conduct unannounced compliance audits at all of its Texas stores at least twice a year. RadioShack agreed to pay the state $630,000, which includes $50,000 in attorneys’ fees. Under the Identity Theft Enforcement and Protection Act, the remaining sum will be appropriated for the investigation and prosecution of future identity theft cases.
The state’s enforcement action against RadioShack began when state investigators learned that the retailer’s Portland location exposed thousands of customers’ personal identifying information by dumping sensitive records into a publicly accessible trash can. Documents recovered from the trash included a customer’s 1998 credit application and a receipt for a shredder one customer purchased to prevent identity theft. The records contained customers’ Social Security numbers, credit and debit card information, names, addresses and telephone numbers.
Although neither investigation revealed confirmed incidents of personal information being obtained or misused by identity thieves, customers whose records may have been contained at the affected locations should carefully monitor bank, credit card and similar financial statements for evidence of suspicious activity. Texans should also annually obtain free copies of their credit reports from http://www.annualcreditreport.com to guard against this growing crime.
Consumers who wish to file a complaint may contact the Office of the Attorney General at (800) 252-8011 or do so online at http://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov, where they can also obtain information on identity theft detection and prevention.