The Texas A&M Health Science Center (HSC) on Wednesday, September 23, launched the Biosecurity and Import Safety Initiative – a collection of service, research and educational activities designed to ensure the health of the Rio Grande Valley, a region at risk of infectious disease, environmental threats and natural disasters. “With the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend serving as two of the largest ports of entry for people and commerce, we have direct access to the people and data relevant to detecting threats to public health,” said Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen. “The border is the front line for expanding our knowledge base as to specific risks and solutions for identifying, containing and treating the spread of communicable infections and viruses.” To help address complex biosecurity issues along the Texas-Mexico border, the Texas A&M Health Science Center was tasked by the 81st Texas Legislature with developing a Biosecurity and Import Safety Initiative headquartered in McAllen. The initiative is an integrated program that fosters training, education and enhanced environmental laboratory capacities in support of preparedness and increased local public health infrastructure. Featured at the event, from left: Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Scott Lillibridge, M.D., Assistant Dean and Professor, HSC-School of Rural Public Health; Director, National Center for Emergency Medical Preparedness and Response (NCEMPR); Sen. Hinojosa; and Rep. Tara Ríos Ybarra, D-South Padre Island. See story later in this posting.
Cecile Richards, featured right, daughter of former Gov. Ann Richards, and STC President Shirley A. Reed pose with a photographic portrait of the late governor, which is prominently hung in the college’s Pecan Campus Ann Richards Administration Building. STC leaders are giving credit to Ann Richards, who in 1993 signed into law the legislation – authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and sponsored by Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen – that converted the McAllen branch campus of Texas State Technical College into STC. Since then, the two-county community college system has reached an unprecedented student enrollment, with more than 27,000 students signed up for the fall 2009 semester, compared with an enrollment of just several hundred students when STC was created. See story later in this posting.
Leaders with the University of Texas-Pan American, Region One Education Service Center, and the City of Edinburg on Thursday, September 24, hosted a press conference at the university to mark the 10th anniversary of GEAR UP, the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs. GEAR UP is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education, and provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools. Featured at the news conference are, from left: Jack Damron, executive director of the Region One Educational Service Center; Jack Damron; Tina Atkins, director, Region One GEAR UP; Alma Garza, Edinburg city councilmember; Dr. Martha Cantú, director, UTPA GEAR UP; and Dr. Charles A. Sorber, interim president, UT-Pan American. See story later in this posting.
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, featured second from left, on Wednesday, September 23, was joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, featured center, and other area leaders at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen for Lucio’s State of the District Conference. “I can promise you that one day, Senate District 27 will have premiere educational facilities competitive with the best institutions in the state,” Lucio predicted. “When I look to our future, I see a people with greater ability to afford health insurance. I see a community economically powered by a diversity of fields, including high-tech and green industry jobs. I envision the creation of an interstate highway vital and essential to our economic development. Featured, from left: Mayor Chris Boswell of Harlingen; Sen. Lucio; Lt. Gov. Dewhurst; Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg; and Dr. César Maldonado, president, TSTC-Harlingen. See story later in this posting.
South Texas College’s History Department and Futuro McAllen, a citizens’ organization dedicated to quality-of-life issues in McAllen, are hosting a forum on Thursday, October 1, at 7 p.m. entitled An Introduction to Rail Mass Transportation in McAllen in the Rainbow Room of the STC’s Pecan Campus Library, located at 3201West Pecan Boulevard. The proposed track starts at McAllen Miller Airport, continuing north through downtown McAllen, then along Bicentennial Boulevard, with stops at half-mile intervals. Each stop forms a unique node of mid-rise developments where people can live, work, and play. These pedestrian-friendly nodes will drive vertical growth in the city, expand the tax base and create new opportunities for business, tourism, urban living, arts, and entertainment. The line extends to Edinburg, stopping at the County Courthouse complex and The University of Texas-Pan American, making it a very different type of commuter school. See story later in this posting.
After 12 years of successes at Texas Capitol, Edinburg looking to extend lobbying to D.C.
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
With a 12-year track record of legislative achievements at the State Capitol, the Edinburg City Council is now actively pursuing a strategy to make its presence know at the nation’s Capitol by possibly hiring a federal lobbyist as well.
The state legislative achievements – ranging from championing the causes of the University of Texas-Pan American to securing major state funding for key local infrastructure projects – have come under different city councils and top administrations, including those led by former Mayor Joe Ochoa and current Mayor Richard García.
Without comment, the local city council on Tuesday, September 15, authorized City Manager J.J. Rodríguez to begin advertising for a Statement of Qualifications (SOQ) from individuals and firms for what the city government calls a “federal/state activist/lobbyist”.
That item was listed for action under the council’s “consent” portion of the agenda, which usually signifies there are no questions or opposition to the measure.
The deadline for interested candidates to submit their qualifications is 5 p.m. on Thursday, October 15. From those applications, city officials will come up with a short-list of finalists, then schedule further assessments of those candidates, possibly including formal presentations.
There is no date set for final action by the city council, nor is there any indication of how much the city government is willing to pay for the lobbyist(s) or firm.
For the past dozen years, Edinburg has retained the services of two area women, during separate periods to time, as state lobbyists.
Rosalie Weisfeld of McAllen was Edinburg’s first lobbyist to work at the State Capitol during a legislative session. She played a key role in helping Edinburg pass state legislation in 1997 that created the University of Texas Regional Academic Health Center, which resulted in the construction of a $20 million biomedical research component next to the University of Texas-Pan American.
Weisfeld was honored by the Edinburg City Council with a proclamation following that successful legislative session.
After Weisfeld finished up her legislative tour of duty for the city, another Valley native – Elvia López Caballero, formerly of Weslaco – was brought on, and she has served as the city’s Austin-based lobbyist, racking up numerous legislative achievements of her own, including helping secure tens of millions of dollars in state funding for a myriad of Edinburg projects.
Under the latest lobbying scenario being considered by the city council, the proposed “federal/state activist/lobbyist” would continue to focus on the work of state agencies and the Texas Legislature, but would also be required to have at least a weekly presence in Washington, D.C.
The city manager said following the September 15 city council session that Edinburg is focusing on securing and protecting federal funds to continue the city council’s ambitious, long-standing program to transform the South Texas International Airport at Edinburg into a major hub of commercial air traffic.
In his written report to the city council on the lobbyist position, Rodríguez noted that the decision to seek a Washington, D.C. presence came from the top of the city political structure.
“In accordance with the Mayor’s and the City Council’s desire to have consultant services for advocacy/lobbying activities in Washington, D.C. and Austin, Texas, city and EEDC (Edinburg Economic Development Corporation) staff are initiating a process which is intended to accomplish that goal,” Rodríguez noted. “The process outlines the specific areas the City and EEDC are expected from consultants for such services as outlined the Request for Statement of Qualifications.”
The EEDC, a branch of the city government, is the jobs-creation arm 0f the Edinburg City Council.
The EEDC sits on a treasury of several million dollars a year, generated primarily for a local one-half cent economic development sales tax. EEDC funds are available for use in paying for lobbyist services.
“The Request for Statement of Qualifications (RFQ) will be be mailed to consultants with advocacy/lobbyist services experience,” Rodríguez explained. “Once the RFQ’s are submitted to the city, they will be reviewed by staff and subsequently forwarded to the City Council. Final determination on selection of the consultant firm will be made by the City Council.”
The RFQ, as listed on the city council’s full agenda packet, follows verbatim:
The City of Edinburg, Texas is seeking qualifications from experienced firms for professional services for Advocacy/Lobbyists Services.
II. Services Required
The Scope of Work is a general guide to the work the city and EEDC expects to be performed by the federal/state advocate/lobbyist, and is not a complete listing of all services that may be required or desired.
- Advise the city and EEDC of the political and financial feasibility of the legislative platform and develop appropriate strategies in the consultation with city staff, including, but not limited to, drafting city specific legislation, facilitating coalitions to advance any introduced legislation through the legislative process, resulting in the chaptering of said legislation. Advise on presentation (organization, formatting, etc.) of legislative materials and assist in drafting materials and correspondence to support advocacy for legislative platform.
- Proactively identify and analyze potential impacts of federal and state budget proposals and pending legislation on the city and advocate accordingly. Assess legislative bills to determine the key pieces of legislation that should be brought to the city’s attention.
- Represent the City of Edinburg in terms of communicating the city’s legislative platform and position on federal and state budget proposals and legislative bills to various federal and state stake holders, including writing letters of support/opposition and verbal communications (in person, meetings, testifying in committees, etc.).
- During the federal and state legislative sessions, provide on an as-needed basis calls with the city manager to review week’s activity and plan for the upcoming week;
- Create written report (monthly summary) regarding advocacy activities and participate in meetings as called via teleconference.
- Travel to Austin, Texas and Washington, D.C. as needed with a minimum of one visit a week during the legislative session. Attend events coordinated by the city manager for the Edinburg City Council.
III. Proposal requirements
Each proposal must address, but may not be limited to, the following elements:
- Firm name, including the addresses of all firm offices identifying in which the office the work will be performed.
- Names, position, phone and fax numbers of contact person(s).
- Names of principals in the firm; years firm has been in business.
- Number of staff that will be working for the City of Edinburg;
- Provide a minimum of at least 3 client references with the names, addresses and phone numbers where similar planning services were provided.
- Listing all pending litigation against or involving the firm or its agents or employees with respect to any work performed.
- Amount of professional liability insurance coverage carried by your firm.
- Name and phone number of person to contact at the banking institution where you firm does business.
IV. Evaluation Process
After the deadline for receipt of SOQ’s (editors note: Statement of Qualifications), the City of Edinburg will review the firms’ qualifications utilizing the evaluation criteria noted below. Proposals shall be opened and checked to ensure that each complies with the requirements of the RFP (editor’s note: Request for Proposals). The absence of required information may render the proposal non-responsive and may be cause for rejection.
V. Selection Process
Based on the City of Edinburg’s review of the SOQ’s, it is expected that several firms will be short-listed and presented to the Edinburg City Council for their consideration. The City Council will make a selection, request the submission of supplemental information, or require firms to make formal presentations before the Council Firms selected by the Council will subsequently submit request for proposals for the desired services.
VI. Evaluation Criteria
The following criteria will generally be used to evaluate the firms’ statement of qualifications:
- Specific Project Experience: Experience and past performance of the firm.
- Individual Project Experience: Availability of knowledgeable personnel with the firm or on a consultant team. Must provide the background of the key members of the consultant team and their specific participation.
- Approach: The firm’s approach in providing lobbyist services.
- References: Strength of References from public agencies or previous clients.
VII. Response Deadlines
Responses to the RFQ must be addressed to Mr. Pete Garza, Assistant Director of Finance, City of Edinburg, and received at City Hall, at 415 W. University Drive, P.O. Box 1079, Edinburg, Texas 78541 by October 15, 2009, no later than 5 p.m. for consideration. Ten (10) complete sets of the response no larger than 30 bound pages must be submitted no later than this date and time. Response to the SOQ is to be placed in a sealed envelope indicating that its contents are in response to the Request for Statement of Qualifications for “Advocacy/Lobbyist Services for the City of Edinburg, Texas”.
Texas A&M launches biosecurity initiative in McAllen to ensure Valley health concerns
By SCOTT MAIER
The Texas A&M Health Science Center (HSC) on Wednesday, September 23, launched the Biosecurity and Import Safety Initiative – a collection of service, research and educational activities designed to ensure the health of the Rio Grande Valley, a region at risk of infectious disease, environmental threats and natural disasters.
“The Rio Grande Valley faces some very unique challenges due in part to the high number of visitors traveling in and out of this area annually, the presence of particularly vulnerable populations, and a rapidly developing infrastructure,” said Scott Lillibridge, M.D., assistant dean and professor in the HSC-School of Rural Public Health and director of the National Center for Emergency Medical Preparedness and Response (NCEMPR). “When combined, these factors make the region a biosecurity hot spot where medical and public health preparedness are critically important to Texas.”
“One of the Health Science Center’s main objectives with the Biosecurity and Import Safety Initiative will be to increase the likelihood that local public health personnel, health providers and health-related organizations have the tools necessary to immediately recognize emergency situations and, in turn, report potential situations to local and regional public health authorities,” Lillibridge continued.
Joining Dr. Lillibridge and his HSC colleagues at the unveiling ceremony at the HSC-South Texas Center were Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen; Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen; Rep. Tara Ríos Ybarra, D-Port Isabel; and area public health authorities, hospital administrators, health providers, emergency medicine system personnel and invited guests.
“With the Rio Grande Valley and the Coastal Bend serving as two of the largest ports of entry for people and commerce, we have direct access to the people and data relevant to detecting threats to public health,” Hinojosa said. “The border is the frontline for expanding our knowledge base as to specific risks and solutions for identifying, containing and treating the spread of communicable infections and viruses.”
To help address complex biosecurity issues along the Texas-Mexico border, the Texas A&M Health Science Center was tasked by the 81st Texas Legislature with developing a Biosecurity and Import Safety Initiative headquartered in McAllen. The initiative is an integrated program that fosters training, education and enhanced environmental laboratory capacities in support of preparedness and increased local public health infrastructure.
“The work to be conducted by the Biosecurity and Import Safety Initiative in McAllen will benefit not only our community along the international border but the entire state,” Gonzáles said. “Appropriating these funds is a proactive approach to saving money and lives of countless Texans in the event of a threat to our security and health.”
Through initial state appropriations of $1 million over the next two years, the HSC is establishing groundwork in three critical areas: support of public health preparedness for urgent threats; provision of environmental health laboratory services to guard against toxic threats to water and food; and provision of additional public health practice and training opportunities for health professionals in McAllen and throughout the region.
“We worked as an entire legislative delegation to make sure South Texas is at the forefront of biosecurity initiatives with the state,” Ybarra said. “This initiative will work with legislation we passed to create a pilot public health extension service that will be the first of its kind.”
The September 23 launch of the program included a medical field demonstration consisting of a high-technology storage and transport trailer, treatment tents and a mobile Emergency Operations Center, along with a display of new methods for patient simulation training and techniques for decontamination. The equipment was gathered from throughout the United States, along with the accompanying training partners.
The Texas A&M Health Science Center provides the state with health education, outreach and research. Its seven colleges located in communities throughout Texas are the Baylor College of Dentistry in Dallas; the College of Medicine in Bryan-College Station, Corpus Christi, Houston, Round Rock and Temple; the College of Nursing in College Station; the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; the Institute of Biosciences and Technology in Houston; the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy in Kingsville; and the School of Rural Public Health in College Station. Regional efforts include the Coastal Bend Health Education Center in Corpus Christi and the South Texas Center in McAllen.
Hidalgo County RMA fails to make the cut in $273 million state highway financing program
State leaders on Thursday, September 24, approved the selection of 10 projects around the state – but none from deep South Texas – that will be funded by the Texas Department of Transportation’s pass-through finance program.
Pass-through financing allows local municipalities or private entities to pay for costs to build a transportation project and get reimbursed from the state as the transportation project becomes operational. It lets local officials reprioritize and accelerate projects important to the region.
The Texas Transportation Commission approved the list, estimated at $273 million, at its monthly meeting in Austin. The final total program call amount is subject to negotiations between the department and the local entities with respect to the actual reimbursement schedules developed as part of the individual pass-through agreements.
TxDOT issued a program call earlier this year, which led to this final selection of projects.
The Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority has been hoping to tap into the state pass-through financing program as part of a comprehensive funding strategy to raise money to build a proposed $750 million Hidalgo County Loop. The loop is being promoted as a needed roadway system to handle large commercial truck traffic, thus helping relieve increasingly dangerous congestion on U.S. Expressway 281, U.S. Expressway 83, and other major roads now being used by those heavy vehicles.
A regional mobility authority (RMA) is a political subdivision formed by one or more counties to finance, acquire, design, construct, operate, maintain, expand or extend transportation projects, according to TxDOT. These projects may be tolled or non-tolled.
Pass-through financing is a tool the state created to stretch limited transportation funds that would allow local communities to fund up-front costs for constructing a state highway project. The state then reimburses a portion of the project costs to the community over time by paying a fee for each vehicle that utilizes the transportation facility.
Pass-through finance agreements allow local communities to get needed transportation projects financed and built earlier than traditional funding will allow.
TxDOT can consider pass-through finance agreements with a Regional Mobility Authority, regional transportation authority, county, city, public or private entity.
The program is often referred to as the Pass-Through Toll Finance program. While the term “toll” in the program’s title denotes a fee associated with travel on a particular facility, it does not imply that a physical toll collection will take place on a transportation facility that becomes part of the program. This type of finance generally applies to non-tolled roads, but TxDOT can consider pass through financing for tolled projects.
The 10 projects which were tentatively authorized by TxDOT to enter into negotiations with that state agency for the Pass-Through Toll Finance program are, in priority order:
- Fort Bend County, $36.7 million, affecting Farm-to-Market (FM) 1093 from State Highway (SH) 99 to west of Fulshear, etc;
- Bexar County, $55.8 million, affecting SH 211/FM 1957 from FM 1957 to FM 471, etc.;
- Sulphur River RMA, $29.8 million, affecting U.S. 69 from Business 69D to FM 513;
- Brazoria County, $29.4 million, affecting SH 36, thru cities of West Columbia, Brazoria, and FM 1495 Grade Separation;
- City of Bulverde, $22.2 million, affecting SH 46 from Old Boerne Road to Riverway/Stahl Lane;
- City of Killeen, $19.2 million, affecting US 190/FM 2410, east of FM 3470 to west of FM 2410, etc.;
- City of Pearland, $24.6 million, affecting FM 865 from Almeda-Genoa Road to fM 518, etc.;
- City of Austin, $13 million, affecting Loop 1/US 290, involving the two director connectors;
- Hood County, $31.2 million, affecting U.S. 377, from SH 144 to Old Action Highway; and
- City of Hudson Oaks, $9.9 million, affecting U.S. 180/Interstate Highway 20, from I/C of U.S. 180, IH 20, and Lakeshore Drive, etc.
For more information contact TxDOT Government and Public Affairs Division at (512) 463-8588.
The Texas Department of Transportation is responsible for maintaining nearly 80,000 miles of road and for supporting aviation, rail and public transportation across the state. TxDOT and its 15,000 employees strive to empower local leaders to solve local transportation problems, and to use new financial tools, including tolling and public-private partnerships, to reduce congestion and pave the way for future economic growth while enhancing safety, improving air quality and preserving the value of the state’s transportation assets.
Find out more at http://www.txdot.gov.
Texas District and County Attorney’s Association honors Sen. Hinojosa with Law & Order Award
By ARTURO BALLESTEROS
The Texas District and County Attorney’s Association (TDCAA) has presented Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, with their Law & Order Award. The award recognizes Hinojosa’s work this past legislative session on justice and public safety.
TDCAA is a non-partisan association that provides educational and technical assistance to Texas prosecutors. The group serves as a legislative resource on criminal, civil, and juvenile justice issues, working closely with legislators like Hinojosa on a variety of proposals.
Hinojosa expressed his appreciation for TDCAA’s recognition of his service.
“Legislative work is a collaborative effort. No one can effect change or promote a policy alone. TDCAA works within the legislative system to inform and advise on serious and often-times sensitive legal matters. I thank them for this award and appreciate their tireless dedication to improving criminal and civil justice policy. My tenure as a legislator includes a significant amount of work in these fields, and TDCAA is a partner in my work,” Hinojosa said.
Local praise for Hinojosa’s work came from Hidalgo County Criminal District Attorney René Guerra.
“Sen. Hinojosa has always demonstrated a willingness to listen to all citizens when it serves the interest of our communities and the State of Texas,” said Guerra. “I know he deeply cares and strives to further the goals of fair law enforcement, while keeping a true balance between maintaining public safety and protecting citizens’ rights.”
Funding for a variety of projects is the key to improving the justice system. TDCAA president Barry Macha, a Criminal District Attorney in Wichita County, spoke on Hinojosa’s role in securing the money necessary to bolster public safety efforts.
“As vice-chairman of the Finance Committee, Sen. Hinojosa had to make some very hard choices regarding funding last session, and his final decisions proved that he strongly supports law enforcement and public safety,” Macha said. “We appreciate his efforts and look forward to working with him next session to make Texas a safer place for all of us.”
Congressman Cuellar votes to protect 11 million seniors from spike in Medicare premiums
By ASHLEY PATTERSON
Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen, on Thursday, September 24, voted to pass the Medicare Premium Fairness Act, which aims to spare 11 million seniors from unexpected increases in their 2010 Medicare Part B premiums. Without congressional action, these seniors could see increases between $15 and $30 a month.
“We have an obligation to protect our seniors and their health care,” said Cuellar. “This act aims to save more than $10 million seniors from a harsh increase in their Medicare premiums. This is good news for seniors on fixed incomes.”
With this action (and if passed into law), 2010 Part B Premiums would remain at $96.40 per month. Among those seniors who would benefit from this bill are low-income dual eligibles, new Medicare enrollees and enrollees whose Medicare premiums are not deducted from their Social Security checks.
Due to the recession, the cost of living adjustment for Social Security will likely be zero in 2010. Nearly three quarters of Medicare enrollees are protected from increases because their Medicare Part B premiums cannot rise above the Social Security cost of living adjustment (COLA). But 11 million other Part B enrollees don’t fall under the same protections and would be required to pay the increase for those who do.
“It is unfair to ask one group of seniors to carry the burden for another,” said Cuellar. “This act makes it fair for all seniors in the Medicare Part B program.”
Currently, 42 million seniors and people with disabilities are enrolled in Medicare Part B, which covers physician services and outpatient care. Low-income seniors who receive benefits from both Medicare and Medicaid, new Medicare enrollees, and seniors with incomes above $85,000 (if they are single) and $170,000 (for couples) are now protected under this act passed by the House by a vote of 406 to 18.
If passed by the Senate, H.R. 3631 would move to the President for his signature and pending his approval the Medicare Premium Fairness Act would become law.
Currently, the bill is endorsed by groups such as AARP, the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, the Center for Medicare Advocacy and the Alliance for Retired Americans.
For more information on H.R. 3631, the Medicare Premium Fairness Act, please visit:
South Texas College to host forum on rail mass transit in Valley on Thursday, October 1
By HELEN J. ESCOBAR
South Texas College’s History Department and Futuro McAllen, a citizens’ organization dedicated to quality-of-life issues in McAllen, are hosting a forum on Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 7 p.m. entitled An Introduction to Rail Mass Transportation in McAllen in the Rainbow Room of the STC’s Pecan Campus Library, located at 3201 West Pecan Boulevard.
Local architect Sam García will make a presentation to inform and educate Rio Grande Valley residents about the value of adopting rail mass transit in the McAllen/Edinburg area. The forum is open to the public.
The proposed track starts at McAllen Miller Airport, continuing north through downtown McAllen, then along Bicentennial Boulevard, with stops at half-mile intervals. Each stop forms a unique node of mid-rise developments where people can live, work, and play. These pedestrian-friendly nodes will drive vertical growth in the city, expand the tax base and create new opportunities for business, tourism, urban living, arts, and entertainment. The line extends to Edinburg, stopping at the County Courthouse complex and The University of Texas-Pan American, making it a very different type of commuter school.
Historically, the Valley as we know it only came to be through the expansion of the railroad. Laying down tracks brought prosperity, diversity, and capital to the area. In a very real way, rail mass transit is in the Valley’s DNA. The public is invited to examine how a future system might line up, where rail connections make sense, and why rail can serve as the catalyst for the next hundred years of growth and development in this part of the world.
García is a licensed architect with the McAllen firm of Rike, Ogden, Figueroa and Allex. He earned his degree in Architecture from the University of Texas at Austin. He has worked at architecture and urban planning organizations in Boston, San Francisco, Austin, Corpus Christi, and Madrid, Spain.
For more information contact García at 512/680-8360 or [email protected].
Sen. Lucio cites UT medical school as latest top achievement, predicts more gains for South Texas
By DORIS SÁNCHEZ
Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, on Wednesday, September 23, offered appreciation to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst for delivering the keynote address at Lucio’s State of the District Conference in Harlingen.
“Gov. Dewhurst, thank you for taking the time to travel down here today. I am so proud to further acquaint you with our district. Your leadership and belief in this district will be an important part of moving District 27 forward,” said Lucio, who also thanked Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, agency representatives, other local leaders and officials, and area residents who attended.
The event was hosted at Texas State Technical College in Harlingen.
“It is no mystery that education is the long term solution for genuine economic progress,” remarked Dewhurst, who in turn praised Lucio for his outstanding service to the people of Texas.
“The future of Texas is being forged in our classrooms every day. Dynamic universities and fundamentally sound public schools are powerful engines for churning out jobs, as well as centers of intellectual and economic progress for our society,” said Dewhurst.
The senator’s aspirations for South Texas include “at least one Tier One university, a thriving medical school, a veterinary school and more local opportunities for those in pursuit of advanced degrees, such as business and law.”
Describing Senate District 27 as continuing to be challenged, Lucio said, “Too many of our basic needs are unmet, and it is unacceptable when so many of us can’t find a good paying job, lack basic infrastructure for our homes and are unable to afford treatment when we’re sick.”
Dewhurst noted, “Today, Medicaid costs consume roughly one-third of our state budget and they’re beginning to crowd out public education, higher education and other services you expect government to provide. We need to work now to control skyrocketing health care costs. Because the fact of the matter is we don’t have healthcare in America. We have sick care.”
Offering a more positive outlook, Lucio said, “In the last 20 years, we have also made great progress as a district, and we possess numerous assets that will make us a model of success, not just for the state, but for the country. We are blessed with natural resources like rich agricultural land and wind energy. We have major waterways and a relatively youthful population.
“I can promise you that one day District 27 will have premiere educational facilities competitive with the best institutions in the state. When I look to our future, I see a people with greater ability to afford health insurance. I see a community economically powered by a diversity of fields, including high-tech and green industry jobs,” Lucio continued. “I envision the creation of an interstate highway vital and essential to our economic development.
“One of our most important assets is ourselves. We can and we will lead ourselves to a better tomorrow if the entire community is involved, and we embrace innovative thinking,” concluded Lucio.
Gov. Perry, former Mayor Guiliani, focus on new Texas programs to fight transnational gang threats
Gov. Rick Perry was recently joined by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and local law enforcement in San Antonio to reiterate the importance of border security and outline the state’s efforts to combat the increasing transnational gang threat in Texas communities.
“Texas continues to deal with the challenges arising from the federal government’s failure to secure our international border by implementing our own proven border security efforts,” Perry said on Tuesday, September 15. “In addition to the Ranger Recon Teams and funding for the Virtual Border Watch program announced (the previous week), I am proud that the Legislature has provided $110 million to equip our law enforcement community with the tools and resources necessary to fight the spread of transnational gangs in our state.”
The governor touted legislation passed in the 81st Session, including House Bill 2086, an omnibus gang bill that provides state and local law enforcement agencies with additional tools to combat the threat of transnational gangs. These resources include electronic monitoring of criminal gang members who have two or more convictions; penalties for engaging in organized crime activity in gang free zones; and enhanced surveillance capabilities, among others. Additionally, House Bill 2187 modifies the penalty for recruiting a person into a criminal street gang.
Transnational gangs such as Barrio Azteca, Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, Mexican Mafia and Texas Syndicate engage in a myriad of crimes, including human smuggling, robbery, assault, auto theft, drug trafficking, extortion, fraud, home invasions, identity theft, murder and weapons trafficking.
Increased security along the Texas-Mexico border has forced the Gulf, Sinaloa, Zeta and Juárez cartels to employ these violent transnational gangs to carry out and support their operations on both sides of the border. These highly adaptive organizations operate in every region of the state, recruiting from our schools and prisons and using the most up-to-date technology to thwart law enforcement efforts.
To address the growing threat of these gangs, Perry has implemented a multi-jurisdictional gang strategy that focuses on:
- Sharing vital gang information across the state and at all levels of law enforcement by integrating gang information databases and obtaining access to federal gang-related data from federal agencies
- Centralizing gang intelligence by establishing a multi-agency gang intelligence section within the Texas Fusion Center and maintaining a full time local and federal presence in the center
- Expanding local law enforcement gang operations in identified hotspots by providing grant funding that can pay for overtime enforcement in high-threat areas
- Increasing investigative and prosecutorial resources that target mid- and upper-level gang leadership
- Enacting legislation that arms law enforcement with essential gang fighting tools like license plate readers, suspended driver’s license penalties, electronic monitoring of paroled gang members and gang free zones
- Expanding gang prevention activities that educate parents, teachers and neighborhood leaders on the threats gangs pose to our schools and communities
Perry announced the expansion of the state’s homeland security strategy during the 81st Legislative Session, which the Legislature supported by allocating $15.4 million for gang operations, including funding for overtime and full time employees for Texas Parks and Wildlife and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, as well as funding to be allocated by the Governor’s Office for gang enforcement patrols, multi-jurisdictional investigations, gang prevention grants and gang-related prosecutions.
In October 2008, Perry announced the first round of funding to combat the emerging threat of transnational gangs by providing $4 million to local law enforcement in areas around the state known to be gang hot spots, including Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Irving. These funds were used as overtime pay for officers who patrol hot spots of gang activity.
For more information about transnational gangs and the governor’s border security strategy, please visit http://governor.state.tx.us/priorities/security/.
Pearl A. Mathis, former publisher of Edinburg Daily Review, to be honored along with other founding board members of South Texas Community College
By HELEN J. ESCOBAR
On the heels of the college’s 15th anniversary, South Texas College’s Valley Scholars Program will honor the college’s founding board members for their outstanding leadership in making STC the largest college south of San Antonio.
Pearl A. Mathis, former publisher of the Edinburg Daily Review, is one of the inaugural trustees who will be honored during the community college’s annual scholarship fund raiser, Night with the Stars, which will be held at the Cimarron Country Club on Thursday, October 8 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Tickets for the event are $50 each.
Mathis represented Edinburg, San Juan, and northeast Pharr.
The historic first board of trustees for then South Texas Community College were appointed by Gov. Ann Richards in 1993.
In addition to Mathis, other honorees include persons from across the Rio Grande Valley who helped establish STC as a premier center for learning, including Congressman Rubén Hinojosa D-Mercedes, who served as the chair of the board, representing Edcouch-Elsa, La Villa, Mercedes, and northeast Alamo.
Also, Glen E. Roney served as vice-chair of the board, representing south McAllen, Sharyland, and northeast Mission.
Current board member Gary Gurwitz served as secretary of the board, representing the interests of the citizens of north McAllen, Alton, and Pharr.
The late Manuel Benavidez, Jr. was originally named to the board to represent the citizens of Starr County and western Hidalgo County. He won reelection twice and faithfully served the board until his passing in March 2009.
Dr. Amparo Cárdenas was a member representing Alamo, Donna, and Weslaco.
Rosalinda González represented La Joya, Mission, Palmview, Sullivan City, Granjeno, Hidalgo, and Las Milpas.
“STC is extremely fortunate to have such a faithful and esteemed group named as our founding board and their hard work and dedication laid the foundation for STC to become what is it today – one of the top colleges in the nation,” said Marie Olivarez, coordinator of STC’s Valley Scholars Program.”
All proceeds from the event will benefit STC’s Valley Scholars Program, which was founded in 1997 to provide the financial assistance, academic support services, mentoring, and leadership development to help academically talented and highly motivated students be successful in college. More than 350 students have graduated through the program and gone on to study at premier universities around the nation including The University of Texas-Pan American, Texas A&M University, The University of California and Emerson College.
For additional information about the event and to purchase tickets visit http://www.southtexascollege.edu/nightwithstars/index.html or call 956/872-6440.
Governor Ann Richards’ legacy alive in the Rio Grande Valley, says South Texas College leaders
By HELEN J. ESCOBAR
South Texas College has broken its enrollment record with a 23 percent increase for the 2009 fall semester. And so it’s apparent that the legacy of former Gov. Ann Richards continues to thrive in the Rio Grande Valley.
Cecile Richards, daughter of the late governor, recently visited the campus and agrees with her brother Dan, who attended the dedication of the Ann Richards Building ceremony in September 2008, that their mother would be very proud to see how far STC has come and to know that so many South Texans are getting a chance at a better life.
“She cared a lot about the Valley and I feel like there are a couple of places her spirit lives on, and one of them is here,” she added.
Richards, a former teacher herself, understood the world of difference education has in a person’s life. In her years in office, she placed education as a matter of upmost importance in her agenda. In June 1993 she signed legislation, Senate Bill 251, for the creation of STC to serve Hidalgo and Starr counties.
Senate Bill 251 was authored by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, and sponsored by Rep. Roberto Gutiérrez, D-McAllen.
To commemorate Richards’ contributions to the region, STC’s Pecan Campus Administration Building was named in her honor. And Cecile Richards’ visit the campus allowed her to witness how her mother’s vision for the Valley has come to fruition.
“There would be nothing that would please mother more than knowing you are working to spread opportunities and education to the young people of the Rio Grande Valley,” said Cecile Richards.
The former governor passed away from esophageal cancer on September 13, 2006. She served as governor from 1991 to 1995, as she was the second female governor in the state’s history. She was Texas State Treasurer before being elected governor, and before that, she was a long-time Travis County county commissioner.
Before STC, nearly half a million people in the two-county area did not have access to a community college, and unemployment rates were very high. Now, 16 years later, STC is providing 27,132 Valley residents the opportunity to obtain a higher education.
UT-Pan American, Edinburg city officials celebrate 10 years of GEAR UP successes on September 24
By MELISSA C. RODRÍGUEZ
Ten years ago, Alyssa Reyna never imagined she would be where she is today – a junior at The University of Texas-Pan American who plans to pursue a master’s in public administration after graduation. She credits Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP) for showing her that higher education opportunities beyond high school were possible, even for someone from a small town like Monte Alto.
As part of the first cohort of GEAR UP students that began the program in 2000, Reyna said the program changed her life.
“GEAR UP not only opened the door for me, it let me know what was behind the door,” she said. “GEAR UP taught me that college was a tool to help you succeed in life and to better yourself.”
A press conference was held at UT-Pan American on Thursday, September 24 to celebrate National GEAR UP Day 2009 and to commemorate the 10 years of student success stories similar to Reyna’s.
GEAR UP is designed to increase the number of low-income students who are prepared to enter and succeed in post-secondary education, and provides six-year grants to states and partnerships to provide services at high-poverty middle and high schools.
UTPA Interim President Charles A. Sorber welcomed GEAR UP staff members and students from across the Rio Grande Valley to the event and praised both UTPA and Region One GEAR UP for their success.
“We are proud of our students and of the leadership that has helped this program mature and be the quality program that it is,” Sorber said.
Jack Damron, executive director of the Region One Education Service Center, also spoke at the event and talked about the strong partnership with Region One and UTPA.
“What a great effect two GEAR UP programs can have when they work hand in hand,” Damron said. “Together we can do great things. Together we have done great things. And, together we will continue to do great things.”
Damron said GEAR UP is changing the way students and parents in the Valley think in regard to getting an education.
“We are altering a portion of that culture, which is the desire to see more and more of our children go on to college, and in many cases go on to college outside of the Valley, although, we have wonderful institutions of higher education available to our students locally,” Damron said.
In a geographic area from Port Isabel to Zapata, UTPA and Region One GEAR UP serve 44 high schools and nearly 18,000 students.
Dr. Martha Cantú, director of UTPA GEAR UP, said approximately 60 percent of students in the first GEAR UP cohort transitioned into a post-secondary setting.
“This is no small accomplishment,” Cantú said. “The state average of high school graduates transitioning to college was only 41 percent of Hispanic students.”
UTPA GEAR UP is the second largest grant award in the nation and serves 9,000 students in 22 high schools in the Rio Grande Valley. Region One Education Service Center GEAR UP is the third largest grant award in the nation and serves 8,900 students in 22 high schools.
Tina Atkins, director of Region One GEAR UP, said the program has partnered with business and industry icons and also sponsored thousands of students, teachers and parents for UTPA’s Hispanic Engineering, Science and Technology (HESTEC) Week which is scheduled for Sept. 27-Oct. 3 at the UTPA campus.
“HESTEC exposes the constituency of the Rio Grande Valley to cutting-edge technology in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” Atkins said.
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, praised the GEAR UP programs in a video message that was aired during the press conference.
“We have seen the power and effect of this federal education program in South Texas,” he said. “With our first generation of GEAR UP partnerships, we have seen high school graduation rates and college preparedness soar for GEAR UP students.”
Edinburg Mayor Richard García signed a proclamation that was presented at the press conference which declared Friday, September 18 as National GEAR UP Day in the three-time All-America City.
For more information about UTPA GEAR UP, call 956/292-7501.
Former KGBT-TV 4 reporter/anchor Patricia Guillermo named communications director for Congressman Hinojosa
Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes, has named former Rio Grande Valley television newscaster Patricia Guillermo as his new Communications Director.
Guillermo, who was residing in Edinburg, was scheduled to begin her work later this week at Hinojosa’s Washington D.C. office.
Guillermo is a Valley native from Brownsville. She was recently a news writer for The Fox News Channel and WPIX-TV Channel 11 in New York City.
Guillermo was also an investigative news reporter and anchor for KGBT-TV Channel 4 in Harlingen for many years. She also appeared on CNN Headline News and The Fox News Channel as a live news reporter while working at KDFW-TV in Dallas, Texas. Guillermo also served as the Deputy Press Secretary and Legislative Liaison for the Office of the Attorney General in Austin, Texas.
“We are very pleased to have Patricia on our staff. She is a highly experienced professional who will certainly be an asset to the team. Her Rio Grande Valley roots are also a big plus, as she can definitely relate to the issues here at home,” Hinojosa said.
Guillermo succeeds Teno Villarreal, who excelled at the position. Villarreal has taken a position with the Department of Labor.
Guillermo is a graduate of Texas State University with a Bachelor of Science in Education and Journalism.
She has two sons, U.S. Army Captains Austin and Cameron Maples. Both young men are graduates of Texas A&M University and were members of the Army Corps of Cadets.
Converting border wall into levee system, helping communicate with hard-of-hearing, earn awards for Hidalgo County government
By ELNA CHRISTOPHER
Hidalgo County is one of 13 counties around the state being honored this year by the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) Leadership Foundation for Best Practices involving innovative programs that deliver quality services and protect taxpayer dollars.
Hidalgo County received two prestigious Best Practices awards.
The programs were selected to receive high honors for innovation, achievement and delivery of service in the 2009 County Best Practice Awards, which recognize county initiatives that serve as a model to others and save taxpayer monies.
The awards were presented on on Tuesday, September 22, 2009, in Hidalgo County’s Commissioners Court. Representing TAC was field services representative Mary Ann Sáenz.
“People in counties across Texas are coming up with such creative solutions,” said Brazos County District Clerk Marc Hamlin, who also is TAC past president. “Counties have so few streams of revenue, and every good idea that can be shared is terribly important.”
The first award was for achievement in community improvement for the county’s effort in working with state and federal decision makers to renovate its levee system as part of the federal border fence project.
“It was not an easy thing to do,” the selection committee said. “The (border fence) was horribly controversial for the residents, but (county officials) turned it around.”
The second award honors Hidalgo and Cameron counties for delivery of services in health and human services for the Deaf Link program, which uses local TV stations to provide 140,000 deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals with emergency alerts in American Sign Language. These two counties spearheaded a national precedent and worked collaboratively with the private sector and other government agencies for this important service.
Web site launched to help simplify student transfers from community college to public universities in Texas
By MATT FLORES
Higher education officials from The University of Texas System, Texas A&M University System and the 50 community college districts across the state on Monday, September 21, announced the launch of a new Web site devoted to simplifying the transfer process from Texas’ community colleges to public four-year universities – Transfer 101: From Community College to University.
The Web site (http://www.transfer101.org), which is packed with user-friendly information and step-by-step instructions on how to successfully transition from community colleges to universities, will be prominently featured as a link on community college Web portals from all 50 public community college districts.
The interactive site includes direct links to specific departments within universities, such as student advising, financial aid and transferring. Links to other higher education resources, including checklists for applying for admission, transfer and financial aid, are included on the site, as well as links to success stories from students who successfully transferred to four-year institutions from community colleges.
The Transfer 101 campaign also extends to social media networks Twitter and Facebook, which will be used for announcements and reminders on application deadlines, among other things.
“We know one of the challenges to getting more students to transfer is in extending to them reliable information in an easily accessible and digestible format – and this new Web site addresses that,” said Martha Ellis, the UT System’s associate vice chancellor for community college partnerships. “It’s all about demystifying the process.”
Currently, detailed information on transferring to four-year institutions within the UT and Texas A&M University systems is available on the site. A process is being developed to include information on transferring to other Texas universities as requested.
The Transfer 101 initiative is a collaborative partnership of the UT System, the Texas A&M University System and the Texas Association of Community Colleges, which is a nonprofit organization that includes all 50 public community college districts in the state.
The campaign aims to improve the pipeline of college transfers to help Texas achieve its goals of producing significantly more college graduates and enhancing its workforce.
The University of Texas System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems, with nine academic campuses and six health institutions. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $11.9 billion (FY 2010) including $2.5 billion in sponsored programs funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Student enrollment exceeded 195,000 in the 2008 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 84,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.
RSTEC members pledge regional collaboration for shared vision of a vibrant economy for South Texas
By CARI LAMBRECHT
The Rio South Texas Economic Council — a non-profit alliance of local governments, economic development organizations and stakeholders committed to working toward regional prosperity in the four southernmost Texas counties of Cameron, Hidalgo, Starr and Willacy — recently signed a “collaboration resolution.”
The resolution marked the members’ commitments to move the economic development collaboration process forward by working together on issues that make the region competitive; promoting the benefits of regional collaboration locally; and by assisting each other to land catalyst projects.
“We are collaborating to compete,” said Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, RSTEC chairman. “We are no longer a string of small communities. Together, we are the largest border region in the United States, 2.3 million people strong. We’ve got a young labor force, we are a geographic gem, and we have a deep commitment to business development. It’s time we let go of that Friday night football mentality and work together as a team. When one of wins, we all win. Today, we’re taking a step forward to find a way to make life better for the people of the Rio South Texas region.”
Members also unveiled the new Rio South Texas web site, http://www.riosouthtexas.com, and publicly presented the organization’s logo and slogan. These components will become integral parts of a national marketing campaign and brand identity.
“We’re serious about working together to create new jobs in this region. We hired one of the best economic development consulting teams in the nation to help us develop our strategy. The marketing plan, logo and website they developed will help the Rio South Texas region stand out in the minds of expanding companies and site location consultants,” said Bill Martin, president of the Harlingen Economic Development Corporation and RSTEC vice chairman.
The logo, which in its most basic concept is a star reaching across a river, stands for so much more. The star creates a bridge between two countries, symbolizing the regional infrastructure, the desire to collaborate, and the bi-national aspect of this massive undertaking. The river is a wave of change, signifying a distinct shift in mentality taking place in the Rio South Texas region: less infighting, more cooperation.
The logo taken with the slogan, “Two Countries, One Region, Many Choices,” signifies that the region can unite their marketing and economic development efforts to find solutions to the challenges facing the communities of the Rio Grande Valley and compete for jobs and investment against other regional markets in Texas and around the world.
“As a rural community, this partnership highlights an opportunity to promote the assets that make us a more viable and competitive region,” said Rose Benavidez, executive director of the Starr County Industrial Foundation. “This is something that can’t be done alone by any one community. As a ‘bookend’ community, we know that we can add something to the mix—such as our quality of life traits, the hunting, fishing and eco-tourism — and we, too, can reap the benefits when big industry locates in this region.”
RSTEC fashions itself as an organization that produces results for its members. Miki McCarthy, executive director of the San Juan Economic Development Corporation sees the tangible benefits of being a member.
“Besides creating a strategic alliance among all Rio Grande Valley cities, RSTEC provides smaller communities valuable resources such a property database which usually is too expensive for their limited budgets,” she said.
The RSTEC website will eventually grow to house regional data concerning workforce statistics, demographics, tax structures and incentives, education resources, and a property database complete with interactive maps. The site is geared toward site selection firms and will be promoted heavily at state and national splash events, conferences and in publications. Other marketing collateral such as targeted mail outs, reports and publications, and business and industry case studies, will soon follow, keeping with the themes and messages adopted by the organization. Developing a brand identity is a core component of this regional effort.
“This region has a lot of assets that can make us competitive with any area of the country. Regional collaboration has helped us to identify what those assets are and has allowed us to understand how we can use our strengths,” said Eduardo A. Campirano, director and CEO of the Port of Brownsville. “Creating and maintaining a vibrant economy for years to come is a mutual goal of all the RSTEC partners.”
Robert Luis Loya, 43, of Rio Hondo, pleads guilty to criminal civil rights violations involving female prisoners at federal facility
Robert Luis Loya, 43, of Rio Hondo, a former Port Isabel Detention Center contract guard, on Tuesday, September 25 in Houston, pleaded guilty on to a six-count criminal information charging him with three counts of deprivation of rights and three counts of abusive sexual contact pertaining to three female detainees of the detention center.
The Port Isabel Detention Center is located in Los Fresnos.
The announcement was made by United States Attorney Tim Johnson and acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Loretta King.
At a hearing on Monday, September 21, before United States District Judge Gray H. Miller, Loya admitted that while on duty at the detention center in March and April 2008, he ordered a female detainee at the Port Isabel Detention Center to disrobe and touched her breasts, buttocks and inner thighs adjacent to her genitalia in a sexual manner. On another occasion, Loya also admitted to ordering another female to remove her underclothing and touched her breasts, nipples, abdomen and legs in a sexual manner and to ordering yet another female detainee to lift her shirt and touched her abdomen and arm in a sexual manner. Loya’s conduct constitutes a deprivation of the civil rights and sexual abuse of each of the three female detainees.
Loya faces imprisonment of not more than one year and fine of not more than $100,000 for the three counts of deprivation of civil rights convictions and another maximum two-year-term of imprisonment a $250,000 fine for the abusive sexual contact convictions.
Loya remains on bond and is scheduled to be sentenced on Friday, December 11, 2009, at 10:30 a.m.
The charges are the result of an investigation conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office of Professional Responsibility. Assistant United States Attorney Rubén R. Pérez and Civil Rights Division attorney Michael J. Frank prosecuted this case for the government.