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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.


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.


“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.


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.


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


In February 1995. I began working on stories about the building of a billion-dollar U.S. Navy warship at Bath Iron Works, in Maine, named for a 21-year-old Marine Corps platoon sergeant killed saving his men on the morning of February 4, 1968, during the Tet Offensive in Hue City, Vietnam.

His name was Freddy González, the only child of Dolia González – who is 78 year old and still lives and works every day in the family hometown of Edinburg. She had to raise her boy alone, on the wages of a farm worker and waitress.

I was a reporter at the old Edinburg Bureau of the McAllen Monitor, the biggest newspaper covering the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. Along with other duties, I kept with the González story, and a year later after leaving the newspaper, the Navy sent me alone by helicopter from Key West NAS to the ship as it headed for commissioning ceremonies in Corpus Christi, Texas.

The October 1996 commissioning drew thousands of people, including former Marine buddies who served with Freddy up to the time he was killed by an enemy rocket propelled grenade.

On our trip from Florida, across to Cuba and the across the wide expanse of ocean toward Corpus Christi, the ship accidentally caught the edge of Hurricane Josephine, and for two days the new crew of about 300 sailors endured 40-foot seas. There was some damage to the ship, but we made it in time to clean up and repair for the ceremony.

Dolia González stood on an upper deck to wave at the large crowd, standing beside Secretary of the Navy John Dalton. She was a mere waitress, and former farm worker, but she was a star that day. And though she is financially poor, Dolia does not complain. She is proud of her boy’s heritage as the only American to receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic last stand in Hue City–at the St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church. It was there he gathered a dozen or so anti-armor rockets, climbed to the second floor of a school complex, and fired at enemy positions before getting hit.

In 1997, Dolia González told me she had been cut off from receiving monthly benefits from her son’s death many years before, and then had received a letter from the V.A. stating not only was she being cut off, but she owed the V.A. about $8,000 for “overpayment of benefits” over a period of decades.

I got on the phone with friends in the media, and wrote a story myself that was carried on AP, and soon Albertson’s Corporation–a grocery store chain about to open a new store in Edinburg–read my story and contacted me, saying they were going to present a check for $8,000 to Dolia González to cover her “bill” from the V.A. I faxed over all the stories to the V.A. secretary’s office, and he personally cancelled the bill. But the still has to work because she can’t get any benefits, even though she is her son’s only surviving family member.

She still works, part-time as a greeter at the local grocery store, and part-time as a waitress at the ECHO Hotel and Conference Center–an old, historic meeting site for locals–just to survive.

I wrote a book, When The River Dreams, about this whole story, published in 2006. After the book came out I was honored by the Texas Senate with Senate Resolution 168, sponsored and signed by Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. Then, on February 4, 2008, Texas Gov. Rick Perry finally honored Dolia by awarding the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor, received by Dolia at Bobcat Stadium, where Freddy played football in the 1960s.

Freddy was the sixth recipient of the medal since it was established in the 1950s. Another recipient was one of Audie Murphy’s commanding officers during World War II.

Freddy’s high school football coach, Fred Akers, was also there. He went on to be a legendary coach of the Texas Longhorns.

To top it all off, the Navy flew three jets over the field from nearby NAS Corpus Christi prior to the ceremony.

Also, in 2006, Gov. Bill Richardson, D-New Mexico, and now President-Elect Obama’ selection for U.S. Secretary of Commerce, sent me a citation for my work, similar to the Senate Resolution.

This story started for me in 1995, and it will always be a part of me.

I had the book self-published after being turned down by many established publishers, and am hoping to get a good publisher or agent for this book to be republished, so I can include much more information, especially from the Texas Medal of Honor ceremony.

I have also received many more photos from the warship USS González.

On Dolia’s 78th birthday last August, she was sent by the Navy from Edinburg to Norfolk, VA, for the homecoming of the USS González. The crew on deck as it was docking all together sang happy birthday to her as she stood on the dock. That was captured on local media.

I spoke to the ship’s captain and the media person on the ship about it, and have photos of that from them.

This is a great American story of hope from a great woman who, though very poor, raised her only child well. He could easily have gone into gangs, drug abuse, criminal activities. But that was all reprehensible to him and Freddy’s innate sense of human decency. His sense of honor. His sense of civic duty, instilled in him in no small part by his mother.

With no husband to support her, working on paltry wages at dead-end, menial jobs, she did the best she could, and it was more than good enough.

This year will mark the 40th Christmas she has spent alone, without her only child. 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.

John Flores, author of When The River Dreams: The Life of Marine Sgt. Freddy González, is a freelance writer based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He may be reached via e-mail at


Public service should reflect teachings of Mother Teresa


As we continue to forge ahead through another holiday season during economically fragile times, I can’t help but think of that wonderful woman who impacted millions of lives and left mankind an unsurpassed legacy of perseverance and love.

Mother Teresa, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and champion of the poor, once said during her lifetime that spanned 87 years, “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”

Perseverance and love should form the foundation of public service. It is often said that elected officials must love what they do or they wouldn’t keep doing it. True, but public servants must also love the people they represent during good times and bad. It is the people we serve who are the oil that keeps our lamps burning.

Soon after the New Year, I will make the biannual trek to Austin for the 81st Legislative Session where we’ll be faced with possibly more needs than the state’s budget can meet. Instead of feeling discouraged, I feel more determined to persevere.

Mother Teresa never ran for public office, yet her burning lamp kept her working under austerity to serve the most destitute in India with almost perfect love and undying perseverance. She is the finest example of public service, no matter the circumstances.

While most of us may never reach the level of humanitarianism that Mother Teresa did, we can surely apply her principles to our daily lives. This is my intent as I am called again to represent the interests of the people of Cameron, Hidalgo, Kenedy, Kleberg and Willacy counties.

In the meantime, my family and I wish South Texans safe and blessed holidays, and the love that Mother Teresa encouraged we extend to each and everyone.


Man From Galilee, written by South Texas College professor Christopher Holloway, has become a Christmas song classic


“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.

“It was such an honor for an established, well-known singer to choose my song as a feature on her album and she even named the album Christmas is the Man From Galilee, said Holloway. “I remember the day she called me and told me the news. I was amazed and humbled. I had written so many songs and even released my own CD, but this was the biggest development in my music career, and is still the most memorable.”

Since the release of Lane’s record in 1985, Holloway’s song has earned international acclaim, including gold records in the U.S., Canada and Australia.

“Lane catapulted me to a whole new level and gave me a new voice,” said Holloway. “I even performed with her at a couple of concerts, the most memorable being in Pueblo, California. I can remember joining her on stage and the applause of the people. It feels really good to know that so many people have been positively impacted by my music.”

Man From Galilee is getting a new wave of fans in the 2008 Christmas season, as Lane recently began hyping a new CD of Christmas classics. Commercials for the CD can be seen across broadcast and cable channels, with Holloway’s song as a feature. Also, the Internet has given birth to a new wave of fans and fan outreach.

“I get a real boost out of hearing it on radio and TV,” said Holloway. “Some of my friends and students have begun to notice. Thankfully I do get some residuals from the song, so it has helped fund my retirement. I also like to search for information on the Internet and see what people have to say.”

Although the Lane recording is his most popular musical success, it is far from his only important musical accomplishment. The start of his career began more than 60 years ago.

In October 1941, Holloway joined the U.S. Navy and found himself as a naval gunner on the USS Cushing DD-376. On Nov. 13, 1942, the ship was sunk by Japanese fire and Holloway was severely injured. After the war he decided to write a song In memory of his fallen comrades, resulting in Iron Bottom Bay.

“I wanted to write a song for each of my shipmates, so I created a composite name from the first letter of each of their names and came up with the name ‘Eddie Malone’,” he said. “The song begins, ‘Whatever happened to Eddie Malone? Does he still lie asleep beneath the foam off Tulagi; the price he had to pay, to sleep in iron bottom bay.’”

Later he moved to Colorado where he taught and pursued his passion in music. He wrote the song Angel of another Kind in tribute to his sixth grade teacher. He also composed The Ribbon theme for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which is still sung at Veteran’s Day ceremonies. During his lifetime he has written and composed more than 60 songs.

“Music is a part of my soul and I know that I am blessed with a God-given talent so I have always tried to make the most of it to benefit others,” said Holloway. “I hope that I my legacy is one of beautiful music and service to others.”

For more information about Holloway, contact him at 956/872-7265 or 956/467-1051.


Renowned South Texas surgeon Francisco Cigarroa chosen to become first Hispanic leader of UT System

The governing board of The University of Texas System on Thursday, December 18, unanimously named Francisco Cigarroa, M.D., 51, president of the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio and a pediatric transplant surgeon, as the sole finalist for chancellor of The University of Texas System after being interviewed by regents for the top post at a special called meeting of the board.

The chancellor of the UT System serves as the chief administrative officer of one of the largest public systems of higher education in the nation, overseeing nine universities and six health institutions. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $11.5 billion (FY 2009) including $2.5 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources.

Student enrollment exceeded 194,000 in the 2007 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s healthcare professionals annually. With more than 81,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.

“We are extremely pleased Dr. Cigarroa has agreed to be considered for the position of UT System chancellor,” Regents’ Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr. said. “The UT System is a national leader in higher education and health care, therefore the selection of a chancellor is one of the most important decisions this governing board will ever make. Dr. Cigarroa is an accomplished administrator, scientist and faculty member with the experience and proven track record that would be invaluable in advancing the interests of the System and our nine academic and six health institutions. The Board selected him from among an extraordinary group of candidates, and on behalf of the board I would like to thank all the candidates who have taken part in this very important process.”

Cigarroa has served as president of the UT Health Science Center–San Antonio since 2000.
A member of the Institute of Medicine, he is a recognized pediatric transplant surgeon and researcher whose articles on the principles of surgery in infants and children have appeared in several scientific publications. During his tenure as president of the health science center, sponsored research expenditures increased from $86.1 million to $146.3 million.

He joined the health science center faculty in 1995, where prior to his appointment as president he was director of pediatric surgery and director of abdominal transplant surgery. He serves on the medical staffs at Christus Santa Rosa Hospital, Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital and University Hospital, among others.

An accomplished fundraiser, Cigarroa was the first Hispanic appointed to lead a major academic health center in the United States. He announced last October that he would be stepping down as president of the health science center.

Cigarroa received a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and his medical degree from UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. He was the chief resident at Massachusetts General Hospital and completed a fellowship at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Cigarroa is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons and a diplomate of the American Board of Surgery. He serves on the board of several organizations, including the Greater San Antonio Chamber of Commerce and the San Antonio Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Cigarroa and his wife, Graciela, an attorney, have two daughters. Cigarroa is a native of Laredo.

The selection of Cigarroa as the finalist for the chief administrative position within the UT System is the result of a search for the successor to Mark G. Yudof, who assumed the presidency of The University of California system last June. More than 50 nominations and applications were considered for the position.

Under state law, university governing boards must name finalists for chancellor at least 21 days before making an appointment.

Kenneth I. Shine, M.D., the UT System’s executive vice chancellor for health affairs, has been serving as interim chancellor.


Prescription discount card created by Hidalgo County saving residents money during tough economic times


Since the Hidalgo County Prescription Discount Card was launched, Hidalgo County residents have saved nearly $40,000 collectively on their medications in about the first three weeks of the program.

Data Rx, the discount card management firm, reported on December 9 that residents have filled 1,066 prescriptions in participating pharmacies while using the card. Savings to Hidalgo County residents has totaled $37,256.86, or 46 percent. That’s an average savings of $34.95 per prescription.

“The response to this program has been tremendous. We are glad to offer this service and help our residents save money during these tough times. Every little bit counts,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas. “We’ve already ordered more cards to distribute and it seems like daily, we receive requests from pharmacies wanting to join the list of accepting pharmacies.”

If any business, school or organization would like to order bulk cards, they can contact the County Judge’s Office at (956) 318-2600. Individuals can visit their local independent pharmacy. A list of participating pharmacies and more information is online at

For more information, visit


Edinburg’s retail economy in October 2008 up almost 24 percent over same month in 2007


Edinburg’s retail economy during October 2008, as measured by the amount of local and state sales taxes generated by a wide range of local businesses, was up almost 24 percent over the same month in 2007, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

Also, from January through October, the local sales taxes generated were almost six percent higher than during the same period in 2007.

The local sales tax is used to help pay for dozens of major city services, ranging from new streets to city personnel.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

It’s five-member governing board, which is appointed by the Edinburg City Council, includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who serves as board president; Fred Palacios; Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.; and Elias Longoria, Jr.

The local sales taxes are generated by the city’s 1 1/2 cent local sales tax, and the 1/2 cent economic development sales tax that is administered by the EEDC.

Retail businesses are required to collect both the local and state sales taxes and send them to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts. The state government then sends the local share of the sales taxes to the communities in which they originated.

The October 2008 figure represent local sales generated by monthly filers, and reported to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in November. Then, in December, the state sent the October 2008 local sales tax revenue back to the city in the form of a rebate.

For the month of October 2008, Edinburg generated $1,242,450.90 in local sales taxes, compared with $1,002,977.19 in October 2007 – an increase of 23.87 percent.

From January through October 2008, Edinburg has generated $14,215,364.48 in local sales taxes, compared with $13,415,745.69 during the same period in 2007 – an increase of 5.96 percent.

McAllen – the largest economic engine in South Texas – for the month of October – showed a drop in the monthly sales tax figure for October 2008: minus 1.55 percent.

McAllen’s economy generated more than $4.2 million in local sales taxes in October 2008, compared with almost $4.3 million during the same month in 2007.

From January through October, McAllen has shown an increase of 2.32 percent in local sales taxes generated over the same period in 2007.

During that 10-month period, McAllen generated more than $58.8 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $57.5 million during the same period in 2007.

According to the comptroller’s office, Hidalgo County reported an almost 6.8 percent increase in total local sales taxes collectively generated by the cities in the county. The county itself does not collect a local sales tax.

For the month of October 2008, all cities in Hidalgo County generated more than $9.7 million in local sales taxes, up 6.76 percent compared with October 2007, which reached more than $9.1 million.

Year-to-date, all cities in Hidalgo County have generated more than $125 million in local sales taxes, up more than 4.1 percent over the same period in 2007, when total local sales taxes were more than almost $120.2 million.

For the month of October 2008, all cities in Cameron County generated almost $5.2 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $4.5 million during the same month in 2007, an increase of more than 13.5 percent.

Cameron County also does not collect a local sales tax.

Year-to-date, all cities in Cameron County collected more than $63.9 million in local sales taxes, compared with more than $60.5 million during the same period in 2007.

Other major cities in Hidalgo and Cameron counties reported the following monthly sales tax figures.

  • Weslaco’s retail economy generated more than $733,000 in local sales taxes in October 2008, compared with more than $642,000 during October 2007, an increase of almost 14.1 percent.
  • Brownsville’s retail economy generated more than $2.6 million in October 2008 – 4.2 percent better than the October 2007 level of more than $2,5 million.
  • Harlingen’s retail economy generated more than $1.6 million in local sales taxes in October 2008, compared with almost $1.4 million in October 2007 – an improvement of more than 21 percent.
  • Mission’s retail economy showed an almost 11 percent increase in its monthly sales tax revenue during October 2008, generating more than $1 million, compared with more than $964,000 in October 2007.
  • Pharr’s retail economy generated more than $1 million in local sales taxes in October 2008, compared with almost $918,000 during the same month in 2007, an increase of more than 12.3 percent.

According to Texas Comptroller Susan Combs:

The state collected $1.98 billion in sales tax in November, up 4.7 percent compared to November 2007.

The November 2008 figure represents local sales taxes generated by monthly filers, and reported to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts in November. Then, in December, the state sent the October 2008 local sales tax revenue back to the city in the form of a rebate.

“For the first three months of the state’s 2009 fiscal year, state sales tax collections have continued to grow,” Combs said. “However, the increase is less than in the past three years, and collections from important sectors such as retail trade and construction have declined slightly.”

The comptroller sent cities, counties, special purpose districts and transit systems their final sales tax allocations of 2008 — $488 million, up 9.2 percent compared to last December. Despite the economic slowdown, Combs said local governments collected $5.9 billion in sales tax this year, 6.3 percent more than in 2007.

Combs sent Texas cities December sales tax allocations of $328.5 million, up 9.5 percent compared to December 2007. City sales tax allocations during calendar year 2008 totaled $4 billion, up 5.6 percent compared to 2007. Counties’ December sales tax allocations totaled $30.8 million, up 11.8 percent compared to December 2007. Counties received $365.8 million in sales tax during calendar year 2008, up 7.9 percent compared to last year.

Ten local transit systems received December sales tax allocations of $109.7 million, a 5.1 percent increase over December 2007. Sales tax allocations to transit systems this year totaled $1.3 billion, up 6.2 percent compared to the 2007 total. December sales tax allocations of $19.2 million went to 150 special purpose taxing districts, an increase of 26.4 percent compared to last December. Special purpose districts received $215.1 million during 2008, up 19.1 percent compared to 2007.

For details of December sales tax payments to individual cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose districts, locate the Monthly Sales and Use Tax Allocation Comparison Summary Reports on the Comptroller’s Web site at

The next local sales tax allocation will be made on Friday, January 9.


Edinburg’s unemployment rate in November increases slightly to 5.5 percent, best in the Valley, better than Texas, U.S. unemployment rates


Edinburg posted a 5.5 percent unemployment rate in November 2008, up slightly from the previous month, but still a better showing than any other major city in the Valley, and lower than the Texas and U.S. unemployment rates, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced.

The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.

The EEDC’s five-member governing board includes Mayor Joe Ochoa; former Mayor Richard García, who is president of the EEDC board of directors; and Fred Palacios, Elias Longoria, Jr., and Dr. Glenn A. Martínez, Ph.D.

According to the Texas Workforce Commission, Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose slightly to 5.7 percent in November, up from 5.6 percent in October and 4.2 percent in November 2007. The U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate climbed to 6.7 percent in November, up from 6.5 percent in October and 4.7 percent a year ago.

The latest figure for Edinburg compares with a 5.3 percent unemployment rate in October, which also was the best showing among the major Valley cities that month. Edinburg’s unemployment rate in October was also better than the state’s 5.6 percent rate and the nation’s 6.5 percent rate for the same month.

The unemployment rate is a key indicator of the strength of the local economy.

The unemployment rate is the number of persons unemployed, expressed as a percentage of the civilian labor force.

The civilian labor force is that portion of the population age 16 and older employed or unemployed.

To be considered unemployed, a person has to be not working but willing and able to work and actively seeking work.

In October 2008, Edinburg’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent. In September, Edinburg’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent, the same as in August. In July, Edinburg’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent, 5.3 percent in June, 4.6 percent in May, 4.1 percent in April, 4.5 percent in March, 4.4 percent in February, and 4.9 percent in January.

In November 2008, there were 28,676 persons employed in the three-time All-America City, while 1,654 were actively looking for work.

The November 2008 unemployment rate in Edinburg represents a growth of 2,763 jobs since November 2005, according to the Texas Workforce Commission.

So far this year, the city unemployment rate has averaged slightly more than five percent.

In 2007, the city’s unemployment rate averaged 4.8 percent.

In 2006, the city’s unemployment rate averaged 5.3 percent, while in 2005, Edinburg’s unemployment rate averaged 4.9 percent.

The best showing in history for Edinburg came in November 2007, when the unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent.

For all of 2007, the unemployment rate in Edinburg averaged 4.8 percent, according to the latest state figures compiled by the Texas Workforce Commission.

In November 2007, there were 27,813 people with jobs in the three-time All-America City. In November 2007, the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent.

In November 2006, there were 27,591 people employed in Edinburg. In November 2006, the unemployment rate was 4.6 percent.

In November 2005, there were 25,913 people employed in Edinburg. In November 2005, the unemployment rate was 4.4 percent.

Those levels represent some of the lowest unemployment rates and the largest numbers of people employed in the city’s history.

All cities in Hidalgo County for November 2008 had a combined 8.2 percent unemployment rate, compared with 7.7 percent in October, 7.9 percent in September, 7.8 percent in August, 7.7 percent in July, 7.2 percent in June, 6.1 percent in May, 5.7 percent in April, 6.4 percent in March, 6.6 percent in February, and 7.3 percent in January.

In November, there were 263,134 persons employed in Hidalgo County, with 23,589 actively looking for work.

For November 2008, all cities in Cameron County had a combined 7.8 percent unemployment rate, compared with 7.4 percent in October, 7.5 percent in September, 7.4 percent in August, seven percent in July, 6.8 percent in June, 5.9 percent in May, 5.4 percent in April, 5.8 percent in March, 5.9 percent in February, and 6.5 percent in January.

In November, there were 135,284 persons employed in Cameron County, with 11,378 actively looking for work.

McAllen, which usually has the lowest monthly unemployment rates in the Valley, had the second-best showing among major Valley cities in November 2008 with a 5.7 percent unemployment rate, compared with 5.4 percent in October, 5.3 percent in September, 5.3 percent in August, 5.1 percent in July, 4.8 percent in June, 4.3 percent in May, 3.9 percent in April 4.3 percent in March, 4.5 percent in February, and 4.8 percent in January.

Harlingen had the third-lowest jobless rate among Valley cities in November at 6.7 percent, up from 6.3 percent in October, 6.4 percent in September, 6.2 percent in August, six percent in July, 5.9 percent in June, 5.3 percent in May, 4.8 percent in April, five percent in March, 5.1 percent in February, and 5.4 percent in January.

Among the Valley’s largest cities in November 2008:

  • Mission posted a 7.2 percent unemployment rate, compared with seven percent in October,
    seven percent in September, 6.8 percent in August, 6.7 percent in July, and 5.9 percent in June.
  • Pharr reported a seven percent unemployment rate, up from 6.8 percent in October, down from 7.2 percent in September, the same as the seven percent rate in August, and worse than than 6.8 percent level in July and the 6.4 percent level in June.
  • Brownsville posted a 7.5 percent unemployment rate, an improvement from October’s 7.6 percent unemployment rate and September’s 7.6 percent, the same as the 7.5 percent level in August, but worse than the 7.2 percent rate in July and seven percent rate in June.
  • Weslaco reported an 8.3 percent unemployment rate, the highest level since June. In October, the city’s unemployment rate was 7.6 level, 8.2 percent in September, 8.1 percent in August, 7.9 percent in July, and 7.4 percent in June.

The breakdown of Edinburg’s unemployment rate for the past 23 months follows:

  • November 2008: 5.5 percent
  • October 2008: 5.3 percent
  • September 2008: 5.4 percent
  • August 2008: 5.4 percent
  • July 2008: 5.3 percent
  • June 2008: 5.3 percent.
  • May 2008: 4.6 percent.
  • April 2008: 4.1 percent.
  • March 2008: 4.5 percent.
  • February 2008: 4.4 percent.
  • January 2008: 4.9 percent.
  • December 2007: 4.7 percent.
  • November 2007: 3.7 percent.
  • October 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • September 2007: 5 percent.
  • August 2007: 4.9 percent.
  • July 2007: 5.8 percent.
  • June 2007: 5.5 percent.
  • May 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • April 2007: 4.3 percent.
  • March 2007: 4.4 percent.
  • February 2007: 4.8 percent.
  • January 2007: 4.9 percent.

Also according to the Texas Workforce Commission:

Texas’ seasonally adjusted nonagricultural employment grew by 7,300 jobs in November.

Texas employers now have added 221,200 jobs in the past 12 months, for an annual job growth rate of 2.1 percent. The United States recorded 1.9 million job losses during the same period, for a negative annual job growth rate of 1.4 percent.

Texas’ seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose slightly to 5.7 percent in November, up from 5.6 percent in October and 4.2 percent in November 2007. The U.S. seasonally adjusted unemployment rate climbed to 6.7 percent in November, up from 6.5 percent in October and 4.7 percent a year ago.

“Despite a slight increase in the unemployment rate statewide, the falling unemployment rates in Southeast Texas reflect that those adversely affected by the impact of Hurricane Ike are getting back to work,” said Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) Chairman Tom Pauken.

“While Texas is holding our own compared to the national trends, we continue to feel the impact of the U.S. and international economic downturn,” said Pauken.

The Midland MSA experienced the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 3.3 percent (not seasonally adjusted). The Odessa MSA was second at 3.9 percent, followed by the Amarillo MSA at 4.0 percent.

Leisure and Hospitality gained 4,300 positions in November, for an industry gain of 38,000 jobs in the past year. Education and Health Services grew by 2,100 jobs this month, adding 31,700 jobs in the past 12 months.

“The Texas unemployment rate climbed slightly to 5.7 percent this month, so we know many Texans are searching for work, despite reported job growth,” said TWC Commissioner Representing Labor Ronny Congleton. “Workforce centers across the state are ready to assist Texas workers with employment services such as résumé preparation, as well as with, TWC’s online job-matching system.”

Natural Resources and Mining employment increased for the 14 th consecutive month, adding 1,900 jobs in November, with 17,400 positions added over the year. The industry’s annual job growth rate is now at 8.2 percent.

“Our Texas employers still are adding jobs and continue to outperform the United States over the year,” said TWC Commissioner Representing the Public Andres Alcántara. “Although we recorded a slight rise in the unemployment rate in November, it is encouraging that a number of industries have been able to sustain job growth throughout the year.”


Gov. Perry meets with industry and labor leaders to assess impact of national economy on Texas

Gov. Rick Perry on Wednesday, December 17, met with leaders of key trade associations and labor unions to hear first-hand how the current national economic situation is impacting Texas’ industries and workers. This is the fourth meeting Gov. Perry has held with industry and state leaders to discuss the future of the Texas economy.

“Texas has created and maintained a business-friendly environment that continues to attract companies and support innovation and competitiveness,” Gov. Perry said. “As we continue to weather the turbulent national economy, maintaining our private and public collaboration is essential to ensuring future prosperity for all Texans.”

The governor was joined by representatives from several trade associations and worker’s unions, including the Texas Apartment Association, Texas Chemical Council, Texas Oil and Gas Association, Texas Travel Industry Association, Air Line Pilots Association, Associated General Contractors, and Plumbers and Pipe Fitters Union.

The diversity of Texas’ economy has prepared the state to withstand the current instability in the national economy, and stronger guidelines for home equity borrowing and lending have resulted in Texas retaining some of the lowest levels of mortgage defaults among the nation’s top 10 most populous states.

Thanks to disciplined, principled policies of limited growth in spending, low taxes and a reasonable regulatory climate, Texas continues to be a leader in job creation. From October 2007 to October 2008, the U.S. lost over 1.1 million net jobs while Texas created more than a quarter of a million net new jobs. Texas’ unemployment rate is nearly a full percentage below the national average, and the Lone Star State is home to more Fortune 500 headquarters than any other state in the nation.

While Texas remains in a substantially better economic position than other states in the turbulent national economy, Perry continues to work with the public and private sectors to identify opportunities to maintain and enhance Texas’ economic edge and competitive position in the global marketplace.

For more information about the meeting, please visit


Hidalgo County requests fairness in distribution of federal aid to help pay for recovery efforts following Hurricane Dolly


At a public hearing in Harlingen on Monday, December 15, the director of the Office of Rural Community Affair’s Disaster Recovery Division heard from Rio Grande Valley county judges and Councils of Government asking the state to reconsider the allocations of disaster recovery funds. The unanimous feeling was that South Texas would not receive an adequate share of recovery money compared to the damage sustained during Hurricane Dolly, based on the current proposed plan.

“It is not our intention to compete with East Texas. The Houston-Galveston area sustained plenty of damage from Hurricane Ike, and we are not arguing that. It is a matter of parity,” explained Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas. “We feel strongly that $15 million out of $1.3 billion for the four counties of Hidalgo, Cameron, Willacy and Starr is completely inadequate.”

The state plans to use $197 million alone for planning and other $65 million for administration — 17 times more than the Lower Rio Grande Development Council’s proposed share.

According to the proposed Action Plan to distribute $1.3 billion in Community Development Block Grant funds throughout the state of Texas (you can find the plan at, the funds may be used for public infrastructure, economic development and housing. Yet it is not clear what formula was used to arrive at the preliminary regional allocations; the plan only notes $50 million in housing damages in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties.

In Hidalgo County, 16,831 individual applications for housing assistance were sent to FEMA; however, only 5,970 were approved, proof that the need for housing repair money in Hidalgo County is extreme.

The ORCA plan states: “The development of the Proposed Action Plan considers a locally driven process with priorities established at the local level and then working with the Office of the Governor, community leaders, advisory groups, Councils of Government (COGs), and others to maximize the funds and place funding where the highest needs exist. This approach allows for local communities to take ownership and pride in rebuilding their communities in a way that will rebuild the coastal region to a level that will not only allow them to rebound for these disasters, but to help grow Texas stronger.”

In order to rebound, Hidalgo County’s funding should be increased and based on true numbers: $231 million in overall damages.

“We cannot even begin to address areas of highest need with the amount of funding proposed for Hidalgo County,” Salinas said. “We are asking for the state to reconsider how the money is distributed.”

Hidalgo County leaders will also be including in their written request $415 million in proactive projects meant to increase the drainage capacity of Hidalgo County so flooding on the scale of Hurricane Dolly never happens again.

Concerned citizens can submit written comments about the Proposed Action Plan by mail, email or fax by January 5, 2009. Attn: Oralia Cárdenas, Director Disaster Recovery Division, P.O. Box 12877, Austin, TX 78711. Fax: 512/936-6776, Email: ocá

For more information, visit


South Texas congressional delegation urges waiver of costs incurred during Hurricane Dolly relieve efforts


Congressmen Solomon P. Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, and Henry Cuellar D-Laredo/McAllen, on Tuesday, December 16, sent the following letter urging President Bush to waive any associated costs local governments incurred during the aftermath of Hurricane Dolly.

This is the second letter the South Texas delegation has sent to FEMA seeking a waiver for the cost share of federal public assistance for South Texas counties.

The text of the letter follows:

Dear Mr. President:

On August 25, 2008, Texas Governor Rick Perry formally requested that you waive the 25 percent cost share for Hurricane Dolly federal public assistance under Category A (Debris Removal) and Category B (Emergency Protective Measures) for Cameron, Hidalgo, and Willacy counties and the incorporated cities within each county for 30 days. On September 19, 2008, we wrote to you expressing support for Governor Perry’s request and seeking your expedited approval of the waiver request. However, almost three months after the initial correspondence, we understand that the request is still under “review” by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Failure to provide increased cost share assistance is already having a detrimental effect on the economy of these counties and their ability to provide basic social services to their local communities. Additionally, it has recently come to our attention that federal cost estimates for damage incurred during Hurricane Dolly are far lower than local cost estimates, thus potentially placing even more disaster recovery financial burdens on local governments as they rebuild after the storm.

As you are aware, Congress appropriated approximately $21 billion to your Administration for disaster recovery efforts. The intent of the appropriations was to provide federal disaster assistance to communities thus alleviating local and state financial burdens from those communities impacted by the 2008 storm season.

Therefore, as requested in our previous letter, we call on you to approve the cost share waiver for Hidalgo, Willacy and Cameron counties as requested by Governor Perry, and inclusion of Starr county, in light of the extreme circumstances that have caused a state and local financial hardship. Additionally, we request that FEMA review initial damage estimates in conjunction with local community leaders so that recovery from Hurricane Dolly is adequately addressed by the Administration.

We look forward to your response.


State housing agency makes $300,000 investment in
Hidalgo County through home buyer assistance funds


Knowing that homeownership is the catalyst that creates stable families, communities and local economies, the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs (TDHCA) has announced a funding award to a local nonprofit housing organization serving Hidalgo County to assist eligible residents with the purchase of their first home and provide financial benefits to both the local construction industry and government coffers.

TDHCA awarded $300,000 in homebuyer assistance funds to Affordable Homes of South Texas, which will provide 30 households with down payment and closing cost assistance.

“These funds will definitely improve the lives of many hard-working families who might otherwise miss out on their chance of achieving the American Dream,” said State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa. “The work of TDHCA and Affordable Homes of South Texas is commendable. It is through these efforts that we improve the standard of living for area residents and offer a brighter future for them and their children.”

“Promoting homeownership is a critical mission of the Department, as it brings stability both to families and entire neighborhoods,” said Michael Gerber, TDHCA Executive Director. “TDHCA is confident that our homebuyer funds will have a profound and lasting impact on these 30 families, and we’re proud to help contribute to an improved quality of life for area residents. In addition, the economy will also benefit from the infusion of construction payroll funds and increased taxes and other fees to local governments.”

TDHCA awards homebuyer assistance funds to eligible applicants through the Department’s HOME Investment Partnerships (HOME) Program, which helps provide down payment and closing cost assistance to qualifying first time homebuyers. Assistance is limited to 6 percent of the home purchase price or $10,000, whichever is greater.

Eligible applicants include qualifying units of local government, public housing authorities, Community Housing Development Organizations and other nonprofit groups, and qualifying for-profit organizations.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is the funding source for the HOME Program. The program serves households earning no more than 80 percent of the area median family income, which for Hidalgo County equals an annual income of $34,900 for a family for four.

The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs is the state agency responsible for affordable housing, community services, energy assistance, and colonia housing programs. The Department annually administers more than $400 million through for-profit, nonprofit, and local government partnerships to deliver local housing and community-based opportunities and assistance to Texans in need.


Rep. Callegari bill would protect homeowners from abuses of eminent domain actions by government


On Tuesday, December 16, Rep. Bill Callegari, R-Houston, filed a measure to reform how local governments may condemn run-down, deteriorating properties, known as eminent domain.

In general, eminent domain is the power of a government to acquire private property for public purposes. It is used frequently to obtain real property that cannot be purchased from owners in a voluntary transaction.

The measure, House Bill 417, protects homeowners by limiting governments’ authority to condemn property on grounds that it is blighted.

“Local governments have too much power to label people’s homes as blighted,” said Callegari. “As the law reads today, practically any material defect on a homeowner’s property could render it eligible for condemnation. If a homeowner has anything on their property that could be construed as a health hazard, or if their home is deteriorated or obsolete in any way, then their home could be condemned. This leaves very little protection in place for Texas homeowners.”

Unlike current law, where any single factor could cause a home to be condemned on grounds of blight, Callegari’s bill raises the bar for governments to be able to condemn homes for blight. As introduced, HB 417 requires that a property meet several specific, measurable criteria before it may be condemned on grounds that it is blighted.

The bill also prohibits local governments from condemning homes for aesthetic reasons. In addition, HB 417 requires that blighted properties be condemned on a property-by-property basis.

“As it stands now, one bad apple can ruin a whole block. If one or two properties in an area have characteristics of blight, then all of the homes in that area could be condemned for being blighted. This is patently unfair to those homeowners who maintained their property in good condition,” he contended. “My bill removes the authority of local government to condemn wide swaths of land, and requires them to consider condemnation on a property-by-property basis.”

HB 417 also reforms the procedures for compensating homeowners displaced by having their property condemned. In addition to requiring that displaced homeowners be compensated for their relocation costs, the bill ensures that homeowners be compensated for their property in an amount that allows them to maintain their standard of living before their property was condemned.

“Private citizens should not be forced to endure financial hardships resulting from a government’s decision to condemn their property,” said Callegari. “I have heard too many stories of families that went broke, or were forced into impoverished conditions, because they had to relocate after having their property condemned. If government is going to condemn private property for a public use, it has an obligation to ensure that the families affected by that action are not hurt.”

In 2007, Callegari introduced a similar measure in the Texas House of Representatives. Despite widespread support, that measure was stalled during the final days of the session.

Another, related bill authored by Callegari, the Landowner’s Bill of Rights Act, did pass. That bill requires that landowners affected by a proposed condemnation receive information regarding their rights and options during the condemnation proves. The Landowner’s Bill of Rights Act went into effect in early 2008.


Gov. Perry endorses bill to create Choose Life specialty motor vehicle license plate, which would raise money to encourage adoption over abortion

Gov. Rick Perry on Thursday, December 18, announced his support of House Bill 109, which would create a Choose Life specialty license plate to raise funds to assist pregnant women who are considering adoption as an alternative to abortion for their unborn children.

“I am here today to endorse an effort that will allow Texans to support the humane choice of adoption,” Perry said. “The majority of Texans believe in the sanctity of life, and this license plate will give them a means to tell the world in a subtle but meaningful way, while providing support to pregnant women making the decision to choose adoption.”

The governor was joined at the December 18 news conference by Rep. Larry Phillips, R-Sherman, who will sponsor the bill in the Texas House of Representatives and Joe Pojman, executive director of Texas Alliance for Life.

“The Choose Life license plate will help to create a win-win situation for all those involved—the birth mother, the adoptive parents, the baby, and the pro-life organizations that assist them,” said Pojman. “It’s time Texas joined the 19 other states that already have a Choose Life license plate to promote adoption.”

Initially introduced in Florida, the Choose Life license plate is currently available in 19 states. To date, more than $9 million has been distributed through the Choose Life license plate program to nonprofit charitable organizations around the nation that assist women who are considering adoption.

HB 109 would create the optional Choose Life license plate costing $30, of which $8 would go to the Texas Department of Transportation for the production of the plate. The Office of the Attorney General will distribute $22 from the sale of each plate as grants to nonprofit charitable organizations that provide counseling and cover material and healthcare costs for pregnant women considering adoption.

Perry remains committed to family values and the defense of unborn children.

In 2005, the governor signed Senate Bill 419, which requires physicians to obtain written permission from the parent or legal guardian of a minor child before performing an abortion on that child. The statute gives the Texas Medical Board the authority to enforce this requirement by imposing license violations on physicians who violate it. This law is the most stringent protection of parental rights passed in the state to date.


Attorney General Abbott reaches agreement with Mattel, Fisher-Price to resolve lead content in toys

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and 37 other state attorneys general on Monday, December 15, reached an agreement with two major toy manufacturers that will reduce the lead content in children’s toys as of today.

Texas laws do not establish lead limits for children’s products.

Under the December 15 agreement, Mattel, Inc. and Fisher Price, Inc. will comply with future federally-mandated lead content limit reductions ahead of schedule. To ensure compliance with the agreement, both toy manufactures agreed to test their products’ lead content levels and keep records indicating their products were subjected to testing.

“Today’s agreement protects young Texans by helping to ensure that popular children’s toys do not contain excessive, unlawful amounts of lead,” Attorney General Abbott said. “Exposure to excessive levels of lead can cause serious health problems, particularly among children. The agreement reached today requires two of the nation’s most popular toy manufacturers to strictly comply with federal regulations that limit lead in toys.”

In 2007, Mattel and Fisher-Price voluntarily recalled thousands of toys that contained unlawful amounts of lead. The lead levels in the surface paints in the recalled toys exceeded 600 parts per million (ppm), which is the maximum lead content allowed under federal law. Some of the surface coatings on the toys had lead levels over 1,000 ppm, several samples tested at over 10,000 ppm, and some even tested over 50,000 ppm.

Small amounts of lead can impair brain development in children younger than 12 and high lead levels can lead to serious health problems, including seizures, comas or death.

Abbott called upon Congress to pass the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act, which lowered the allowable lead levels in children’s products. Though maximum amount of lead allowed in paint is currently 600 ppm, and the new law lowers the permissible level to 90 ppm in August 2009. The law requires further lead content reductions over the course of the next three years. These limits are as follows: 600 ppm by February 2009, 300 ppm by August 2009, and 100 ppm by August 2011, unless the Consumer Product Safety Commission concludes that it is not feasible to lower the amount to 100 ppm.

Under the December 15 agreement, the defendants must keep records indicating each product’s manufacturer, manufacturing location and the results of tests performed on those products. The companies must proactively inform the state attorneys general if their testing confirms that their products contain excessive lead under the new standards. The companies will pay the 38 states $12 million to resolve the states’ investigations, and Texas receives $379,879 under the settlement.


Program strengthens South Texas College’s ties with Valley school districts, creates seamless path to college


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.

“We have seen the success EPCC has realized in their work with The University of Texas-El Paso and local public school districts, and we know that they will be a terrific mentor to guide us through the process,” said Luzelma Canales, interim associate dean for community engagement and corporate training for STC. “STC is a very aggressive college and we believe that higher education is an opportunity for everyone, not just a dream for a few.

“To date we have successfully worked with all the schools systems in our district on a variety of exciting initiatives, but we know that there is always more we can do. More than 48 percent of high school graduates are still not making the choice to attend college. We know that the challenges faced by today’s students extend well beyond simply affording college. But we believe that if we build a solid coalition of all colleges and school districts, together we can come up with a system that ensures no student falls through the cracks and can attend and be successful in college. Attaining a college education has never been more important in these challenging economic times.”

Community Colleges CAN, is an initiative funded through June 2009 by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Vocational and Adult Education. The initiative, which is administered by JBL Associates, is designed to strengthen the capacity of community colleges to meet students’ academic needs and support their success in college and the workforce.

STC was one of 18 community colleges selected from across the nation in a national competition for the program. Teams of faculty, staff, and administrators from STC, UTPA, and local public school districts will begin their collaborative program work in January 2009.

For more information about the Community Colleges CAN Mentoring Program visit:


McAllen man sentenced for paying bribe to help drug trafficker García-Heredia escape from U.S. custody

Antonio Castillo, 30, of McAllen, convicted for paying a bribe to help a convicted drug trafficker escape from federal custody, has been sentenced to prison, acting United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced on Wednesday, December 17.

U.S. District Judge Hilda Tagle sentence Castillo to 70 months in federal prison at a hearing held late Tuesday, December 16. Castillo entered a guilty plea in August 2008 and was convicted for being an accessory after the fact in his effort to help Ricardo García-Heredia escape from federal custody.

In June 2008, Castillo met with an individual at several locations in Harlingen to discuss the escape of García-Heredia, a federal prisoner convicted in May 2008 of money laundering, conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance facing a minimum of 20 years to a maximum of life imprisonment.

García-Heredia was awaiting sentencing in United States District Court–Corpus Christi Division before Chief U.S. District Judge Hayden Head. During those meetings, Castillo told the individual he and others were prepared to pay $500,000 for the escape of García-Heredia. Castillo agreed to pay $300,000 down, $100,000 after the escape and $100,000 one month later. On June 27, 2008, Castillo met the individual in Harlingen and delivered the $300,000 and a change of clothes for García-Heredia. The individual was an undercover agent. Following the delivery of the money, Castillo was arrested by the FBI.

On July 28, 2008, García-Heredia was sentenced to 360 months in federal prison without parole for the drug and money laundering convictions.

In addition to the prison sentence, Tagle also fined Castillo $3,300 due immediately and further ordered Castillo serve a three-year-term of supervised release upon completing his prison term. Castillo has been in federal custody since his conviction and will remain in custody to serve his sentence.

This case was investigated by the FBI and was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Óscar Ponce.

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