Featured, from left: Dr. Dahlia Guerra, D.M.A., Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, the University of Texas-Pan American; Edinburg Mayor Richard García; Kirk Clark and Jeri Clark, patrons of the UTPA arts, on Thursday, April 23, in the reception room of the $42.7 million Performing Arts Complex at The University of Texas-Pan American.
Photograph By MARK MONTEMAYOR
Edinburg’s unemployment rate for March 2015 was 4.8 percent, representing the second consecutive month that the city posted a monthly rate under five percent, with only McAllen being the other major Valley city to come under five percent, the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation has announced. The EEDC is the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg Mayor and Edinburg City Council. Edinburg’s unemployment rate, as reported by the Texas Workforce Commission, was the best showing for the city during that month since March 2008, when it was reported at 4.4 percent by the state agency. The city’s latest performance also was better than the U.S. unemployment rate for March 2015, which came in at 5.5 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. The latest data represents an increase of 457 jobs in Edinburg when comparing the employment figures for March 2015 and March 2014. In March 2015, there were 35,651 persons employed in Edinburg, compared with 35,194 in March 2014. Those most recent figures, released on Friday, April 19 by the Texas Workforce Commission, came about a week before the Grand Premier of the Performing Arts Complex at The University of Texas-Pan American. On Thursday, April 23, the latest ultra-modern complex in Edinburg formally opened to the public, with a free concert, which included faculty and student performers from both campuses, that attracted not only arts patrons, but also students and community members to the 1,000-seat, state-of-the-art performance hall. Dr. Dahlia Guerra, D.M.A., Dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, built on the economic impact theme of the new performing arts conglomerate. “The arts bring so much to a community. It is the heart and soul,” said Guerra, whose brother is Edinburg Mayor Richard García. “The artists bring with them a draw to the community because a city wants to have these opportunities to offer their citizens.” In addition to the cultural aspects of Edinburg that will be enhanced because of the new facility, the financial prosperity of the city also will be increased, she added. “A community that is rich in the arts and rich in culture, it draws business, it draws hotels, it benefits the local economy because people will come to Edinburg to see the events, concerts, art exhibits,” Guerra said. “A rich community will be rich in arts and culture.” The Performing Arts Complex is a $42.7 million investment by the Texas Legislature and the UT System Board of Regents which was the result of successful lobbying several years ago by the Edinburg Mayor, Edinburg City Council, and Edinburg Economic Development Corporation. City officials credit Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, for delivering on the state legislation that resulted in the funding, through the issuance of tuition revenue bonds, for the Performing Arts Complex. Hinojosa shared the praise with his fellow state lawmakers and UTPA leaders, past and present, and reflected on the significance of the Performing Arts Complex. “Today is a momentous day in the history of this campus and of our community. We are opening the most magnificent performing arts center you can imagine,” said Hinojosa, who participated in the public ceremony. “It is wonderful acoustics, incredible lighting and sounds. The most important part to me is that it is an academic performing hall. There are classrooms which are rehearsal halls for our students. Now, they will have the best facilities, and it really does makes a difference when it comes time for performing.” Guerra provided additional details that are designed to make all performances reach world-class levels. “On this stage, there is an incredible amount of clarity. The sound bounces from the stage through the entire auditorium, so the student is required to have very fine-tuning skills to listen carefully and make sure he or she is at the top of their game,” she said. “We will see an improvement in the musical skills of our students.”
Featured, from left: Dr. Cynthia Brown, Deputy Provost, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; Dr. Guy Bailey, Founding President, UT-RGV; Doug Matney, Regional Vice President, South Texas Health System and President, McAllen Medical Center Foundation; Dr. Matthew Johnson, Associate Professor of Medicine, South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute; Dr. Francisco Fernández, Founding Dean, UT-RGV School of Medicine; and Dr. Havidán Rodríguez, President Ad Interim, UT-Pan American, and Founding Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs, UT-RGV.
Photograph By JOSUE ESPARZA
The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the South Texas Diabetes and Obesity Institute have gained another partner in the fight against diabetes. The McAllen Medical Center Foundation, a nonprofit wing of the McAllen Medical Center, on Monday, April 27, announced that it is funding a $100,000 professorship for the institute, a UT-RGV research, clinical and education program that will conduct advanced research on diabetes and obesity and, ultimately, help develop better treatments. During a press conference Monday at McAllen Medical Center, UT-RGV Founding President Guy Bailey thanked the foundation for its support and said partnerships with area hospitals are key to the success of UT-RGV and its School of Medicine. “It’s really kind of a second red-letter day,” Bailey said. “Last week, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board gave its stamp of approval for our M.D. (degree). We followed it up this week with an extraordinary gift.” The partnership established with this endowment will allow UT-RGV to tackle an increasingly pervasive health issue for the Valley and the nation. About 30 percent of people in the Valley have diabetes, Bailey said, and it is the seventh-leading cause of death in the United States. “Together, we’ll go forward. We’ll combat diabetes,” Bailey said. “It’s not something we’ll solve tomorrow, but the research that happens will be something that will address and ameliorate it in the future.” Doug Matney, Regional Vice President of South Texas Health System and President of the McAllen Medical Center Foundation, said the foundation traditionally has awarded scholarships to students pursuing degrees in healthcare-related fields, but decided to start the endowment with UT-RGV to support its work in researching diabetes. “We will look to a large degree to UT-RGV to do the research and to come up with some of the solutions that, hopefully, we’ll be able to implement face-to-face with the patients,” Matney said. “Our area of expertise is providing health care. When it comes to education, educational institutions are in a better position on how to select, how to spend those dollars. From our standpoint, we wanted to put those dollars in the hands of who we thought would be the best steward of them and, as a result, we chose to work with UT-RGV,” he added. “Diabetes research is something that certainly adds value to this community.”
Featured: University of Texas-Pan American senior Sabrina Herrera in the Science Building Laboratory where she conducts her research that hopefully one day will result in more effective treatments of cancer.
Photograph By JOSUE ESPARZA
Taking a trip to Austin to present her research at the “Texas Undergraduate Research Day at the Capitol” was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Sabrina E. Herrera, a 23-year-old senior at The University of Texas-Pan American. “It was all hustle and bustle and a very different environment for me,” said Herrera, who had never visited the Texas Capitol before. “I was honored to represent UTPA. I was able talk to and learn the different research backgrounds of other students there and to hear the challenges and insights from distinguished faculty who were there. The overall experience gave me confidence.” In addition to Herrera, three students from The University of Texas at Brownsville – Isaiah Díaz, Iram Lerma and Forrest Shriver – displayed their research posters for review by state lawmakers and visitors in the Capitol Ground Floor. The March 4 event showcased the diverse and cutting-edge research by 67 students representing 57 Texas universities. The students’ research poster presentations were on display in the Capitol, where they told legislators and other visitors about their findings and the skills they have attained as researchers. The trip included a tour of the Capitol building and panel presentations by faculty researchers. Former Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen, who now serves as Vice President for Governmental and Community Relations at The University of Texas-Rio Grande Valley, coordinated the Austin event for the for Valley students. Gonzáles arranged for the students and professors to meet with Valley legislators and members of their respective staffs, including Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg; Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen; Rep. Ryan Guillén, D-Rio Grande City; Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, D-San Benito; Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco; and Rep. René Oliveira, D-Brownsville.
Featured, from left: Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, and Rep. Morgan Meyer, R-Dallas, reviewing legislation earlier this spring at the Texas Capitol.
Photograph By HOUSE PHOTOGRAPHY
Thousands of Texans who purchase their homes through non-traditional financing known as contracts for deed would be better safeguarded from losing their investment under legislation by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, which was approved on Thursday, April 23, by the House of Representatives. “I am honored to announce that House Bill 311 has passed the Texas House,” said Canales. “This important legislation will help protect Texas homebuyers from unscrupulous sellers. For most Texans, our home is the most expensive purchase we will make in our lifetime and it is paramount that we protect that investment.” Contracts for deed oftentimes are used when traditional financing, such as mortgages through a financial institution, is not available. Many of the estimated half-million Texans who live in colonias are at risk because they buy their homes through contracts for deed. Contracts for deed, also known as executory contracts, are contracts for the sale of land – usually residential property – where the seller keeps title to the property until the buyer has paid the full contract price. “Most of these contracts are long-term arrangements, lasting eight to 10 years on average,” Canales, an attorney, explained. “In that time, lots of things can go wrong. Sellers die, get divorced, or just disappear. Buyers have a difficult time getting homestead exemptions for their taxes, buying insurance, refinancing, or doing other things property owners with a deed can do.” A deed is a written instrument that, when executed and delivered, convey (transfer) title to or an interest in real estate. HB 311 would automatically require contracts for deed to convey (transfer) the title to the homebuyer, and would encourage these contracts to be legally recorded, which establishes ownership of the residence. Canales said HB 311 would help improve an outdated system of property transactions. “Unfortunately, contracts for deed are structured in a way that allows for abusive practices to arise,” the House District 40 lawmaker explained. “Buyers who complete their payment are not guaranteed the conveyance of title, and if the buyer defaults, they may lose any payment that they have already paid. When not recorded, buyers face less protection and risk losing their property.” Problems caused by contracts for deed, especially in colonias in Texas, were highlighted in a feature article, Colonia Contracts, published by UTLaw Magazine in its December 2012 edition (www.utexas.edu/law/magazine/2012/12/10/colonias-contracts/). Key excerpts from Colonia Contracts follow: Many of Texas’ poorest residents, perhaps half a million according to some studies, live in colonias – a Spanish term referring to informal housing settlements located near the Texas-Mexico border. Similar communities, known as “informal homestead subdivisions,” exist on the outskirts of cities in the interior of Texas. Residents of these communities often endure difficult conditions such as the lack of reliable plumbing or electricity and shoddy housing construction. But they also often endure the risks and financial dangers that come with a lack of a bank-financed mortgage on their property. Many colonia residents buy their land through “contracts for deed,” which are often issued by the original property owners as “pay to own” contracts, and may be as informal as a handwritten deal written on notebook paper. In 2011, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission requested that the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs commission a study to assess the prevalence of contracts for deed in colonias. Peter M. Ward, C.B. Smith Sr. Centennial Chair in US-Mexico Relations at the LBJSchool; Heather Way, ’96, director of the Law School’s Community Development Clinic; and Lucille Wood, 2011–2012 Research Fellow at the WilliamWayneJusticeCenter for Public Interest Law, were contracted to direct the study. The informality of contracts for deed means that colonia residents are often at risk of unclear title to their homes, which can complicate sales immensely and put property owners at great risk. “Buyers risk losing their properties, their homes, and all of the money they’ve put into those properties and homes,” said Wood. “Everything.”
Featured: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, addressing colleagues in the Chamber of the Texas Senate.
Photograph By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES
The Texas Senate on Tuesday, April 21, passed legislation by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, that would shed light on the compensation paid to attorneys and guardians who are appointed by courts to represent a person, such as a minor, an elderly person or a person with disabilities, who is deemed unable of representing himself or herself. “Two decades ago a Supreme Court task force found evidence that some state judges abused their discretionary authority by using appointment income to reward campaign supporters. Since then, there has been little reform, and the media has continued to report on problems,” said Zaffirini. “When even the appearance of abuse undermines the public’s confidence in the entire judicial system, it is critical that we do more to promote transparency in the ad litem system.” SB 1369 would require courts appointing attorneys, guardians and mediators to submit to the Office of Court Administration data including the name of each person appointed by the court, the rate and total amount of compensation paid to each attorney in that year and the number of hours each attorney served ad litem for the appointed case. The information would be posted on websites accessible to the public and physically at the courthouse. “It appears that more than $25 million in taxpayer money has been spent on these appointments through 2014,” Zaffirini said. “The true cost is likely much higher, however, especially because many courts have not reported the information. SB 1369 will help us gain a clearer picture of the costs and discourage potential abuses.” If a court fails to report the data, it would be made ineligible for state grant funding for a two-year period. Zaffirini, who previously served as Chair of the Senate Government Organization Committee and Co-Chair of the Joint Oversight Committee on Higher Education Governance, Excellence and Transparency, long has promoted legislation that would increase transparency in state government. This session she has filed legislation enhancing the transparency of university system Boards of Regents’ meetings, improving oversight of state contracting, promoting “Truth in Taxation” and centralizing state grant information in a searchable database. Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, are co-authors of Zaffirini’s SB 1369.