Sunday, August 5, 2018

Money For Firemen

City council added a supplemental agenda item for tomorrow's meeting, where officials will have the opportunity to approve the contract for the firefighters, ostensibly.  Because of the item, firefighters may see salary increases for the next four years, among other things.

I looked into the city's budget to try to make sense of it all, since people have been bickering over dollar amounts and the need to reward our first responders.  (The following slides are from the City of Laredo website.)

The Laredo Fire Dept. is made up of almost 400 firefighters.  (colored highlights are mine.)



 The fire department is composed of 14 stations.


For this fiscal year, that is on its tail end, firemen got $1.5 million in pay/benefit increases.  At tomorrow's meeting, they stand to get more for the coming year.

                                        

Here's a breakdown of the expenditures the city needs to cover for the fire department.  It includes more than $1.1 million to cover contract obligations.



Tax money that has gone towards the fire department has increased year after year.



The city listed, in their budget, the ambulance service fees that were collected for one year: $4,671,980.  That comes from billing residents every time EMS units and fire units respond to an emergency.  We the public get a bill.

Right now city staff, Mayor Pete Saenz and union president David Gonzalez are all presenting different figures and reasons for delaying or approving the salary increases.  I don't know that CONSTANT salary increases for police and firefighters are sustainable over the long run.  The appraisal district can only justify hiking property valuations for so long, enabling the city to collect more tax revenue.  Transfers from bridge toll fee collections can only do so much, and is not necessarily there to benefit those who can unionize locally.  And if the city is $1 billion in debt, we should really take our time to approve any potential budgetary constraints.

And because council members accept donations from the firefighters union, the thought of rushing through a contract with benefits that so few in Laredo are able to take advantage of, but comes at the expense of the greater community, then city council should delay the decision as long as it takes.




Sunday, July 29, 2018

This Is What We're Given


Julia Wallace wrote a story for the July 15 issue of the LMT concerning city council's travel costs.  The chart above includes expenses racked up by our current city manager: more than $28,000 for lodging, airfare, gasoline, per diem allowances and business meals.

City officials defended, as usual, their travels and the costs of doing city business around the country and in Mexico.  It was noted in the article that spouses that travel with city staffers or council members pay their own way.  I've always contended that they don't, not entirely at least.

The last two passages in the Times' story really irked me.

City spokesman Rafael Benavides added that spouses do not participate in official business or meetings.  "It's common for representatives from many sectors of the government to bring family if they have to travel because family shouldn't have to be separated due to work," he said.

That's funny because I was under the impression that work almost always separates us from our families.  I may be wrong but I even think that's a requirement, to be separated from family while you go on about your work.  Let's go to the first statement in the passage above, the one about spouses not participating in official meetings.  Earlier this year I highlighted a photo that was circulated by the City of Laredo on social media.  In a meeting at the White House (yeah, that one) the mayor, city manager and Charlie San Miguel are seen meeting with a federal official.  In the photo you also see Charlie San Miguel's wife sitting in on the meeting.

City council was set to meet the day after the LMT story came out, July 16.  Because of the ludicrous explanations given by city officials and their extensive travel schedules, I decided to go speak at city hall.  I signed up for public comments and made my case, sharing the photo of Mr. and Mrs. San Miguel attending a meeting in Washington D.C.

Councilman Charlie San Miguel interrupted my comments with, the mayor's wife goes on trips too.  I reminded the whole crowd that NOBODY'S spouse or relative should go on these trips.  And I stressed that it was shocking to see Mrs. San Miguel sitting in on an official meeting in D.C.  The San Miguel's inappropriate behavior in Washington is the extreme result of everyone allowing this seemingly harmless activity to continue.

Everyone allows relatives to travel with city officials, then those relatives feel entitled to take advantage of ritzy hotel rooms and official government business, and then city spokespeople lie about it to our media outlets.

  
Our Laredo featured the clip of my public comments at city hall on their Facebook feed.  Charlie San Miguel even got in on the conversation on Our Laredo's thread.

A true advocate and servant for the community does not get involved in political mudslinging because you become ineffective through bias and division.  In you case the ends justifies the means.  In other words you will do anything including wrong and evil to get there.

Mr. San Miguel looked me up through familiar circles and we eventually had a talk over the phone.  He wanted to meet me to discuss the issue of him and his wife traveling on behalf of the city.  I agreed to it with a couple of conditions: that he provide receipts for his wife and he, and that I could record the exchange.  He made some small talk and that was it.  Several days have passed and I haven't heard back from him.  I don't expect to hear from him again, just as I don't expect him to apologize for his actions regarding his jaunts to D.C.

People are going to forget about this issue and things will continue as they have been.  The ethics committee won't do anything because we don't have an ethics committee to speak of.  And we will continue to get candidates like Charlie San Miguel, candidates that have had controversy following them around from the start.  It's unfortunate for all of us.


Friday, July 20, 2018

A New Dog Park In Laredo


A green space, with fencing, was christened by the city yesterday to provide an outdoor playground for our four-legged friends.  A happy occasion, maybe not for the Parks & Leisure employee in the background.  He's dropping a heavy dose of the stink eye on everyone.

Friday, July 13, 2018

It's All A Game To Them


(all courtesy photos)

Councilmember Alex Perez -- FBI target subject and person who gets prickly when you don't want to shake his hand -- welcomed Dallas Cowboy player Blake Jarwin to Laredo recently.  Jarwin MAY or may not have family ties to the Perez's.


Here you see Jarwin signing autographs for the peoples.  I had noticed a lot of activity at Slaughter Park on July 8, 2018, but didn't know what all the hubbub was about.


Apparently Blake Jarwin made an appearance at more than one city park in south Laredo, to the delight of faithful Cowboys fans.


On Monday, the Dallas baller was the featured guest at a pricey fundraiser, all to benefit Cristina Perez, candidate for City Council District 3 and current wife of sitting District 3 Councilman Alex Perez.

It must be nice to have a wide range of city resources at your disposal to advance the political campaign of your wife.  I don't know how civic-minded the park attendees are to remember the Perez's gesture and go vote in November; But these little publicity stunts should be examined with a closer look.  That's highly unlikely, however, since the ethics commission has members dropping like flies.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Who Is Next?


I took this shot of the Toys R Us on Friday, June 29, 2018, when the franchise officially went out of business and closed all of its stores nationwide.  You can tell it's the Laredo store by the potholes in the parking lot.  This store held some sentimental value for my wife and I since it's where we used to take our son shopping for Thomas the Tank Engine characters, or some odd type of Lego sets.


This interior photo I found online.  I recall many a time we had to stand in line to wait for the next available clerk to ring us up.

It's a peculiar thing to see longstanding landmarks come and go.  As much as they were part of Laredo's progress, their exit is sometimes a mark of decline for our fair city.  Usually the upside of retail spaces or service outlets that go belly up is that a new venture is bound to come in to replace it.  Good or bad, it precludes the possibility of urban blight setting in.

There has been a lot of change throughout the city:

CVS being built on Guadalupe and Logan
K-Mart liquidating all its merchandise
Holloway's Bakery former site getting a major upgrade
Demolition of the pawn shop at Lyon and Bartlett
Joe Brand at the mall selling off its stuff to move elsewhere
Construction on Bartlett and Bustamante
Big remodeling job at warehouse facility on Calton Rd. near HEB Mercado
etc.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Abandoned Dive Bar


On the corner of Tilden and Price Street, there used to stand a dive bar by the name of Bernal's Place. It was a wood frame house that was converted into a watering hole, it seemed.  It had not been in business for a while.  It's completely gone now, making way for some type of affordable housing.

I thought I had an old photo of the place, but I'm having trouble finding it.  For reference, here's a shot from Google Maps.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

An Abomination

In 2014, when a wave of immigrants from Central America were coming to this country, the federal government was having trouble handling the overflow.  A lot of unaccompanied minors were part of the large influx of people.  Detention centers in south Texas were crowded.  The problem seemed untenable.  Henry Cuellar said this about the Obama administration:

The problem with the administration is they don't want to give information, he said.  In fact, there's times when they don't want to give information to members of Congress.  It's almost like they don't want the American public to know about the situation.


The way I remember it from 2014, our local leaders didn't want to lift a finger to help the incoming immigrants.  And Henry Cuellar's only concern was how to deport these people back as soon as possible.


Immigrants are still coming to the United States, but team Trump is doing something severely egregious:  he's separating the children from their parents.  As I type this, MSNBC is reporting that the "Trumps administration is housing hundreds of babies and toddlers in at least 3 facilities in south Texas."

Far from showing any sign of outrage now, Henry Cuellar is instead smugly pointing to how he showed us proof of this back in 2014.


Cuellar has the gall to downplay the current humanitarian crisis and not challenge the evil actions of  Donald Trump and his minions.