Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Claudine Anne Luera



A madman went on a killing spree that lasted over a week.  By Saturday afternoon, we learned that four people had been executed by a pyscho living among us.

One of the victims was the sister of a good friend.  I can't imagine what the family is going through.  Claudine Anne Luera got addicted to drugs and lived dangerously on the streets of this forsaken city.  Her loved ones will now have to live with the added insult of her life being take away so tragically.

(Image via New York Times)


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Where Are The Savings?


Local taxing entities have been following each other's lead in lowering their tax rates.  That may be because it's an election year (midterms) and because property valuations have skyrocketed in the last couple of cycles, leaving taxpayers stunned at their new property tax amounts.

Lowering the tax rate is admirable; it counters the rising property valuations.  BUT them lowering their rates to where we get a whole $3-per-year savings, per taxing entity, is sad.  They can brag that they are helping us out, but the end result is pitiful.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Mall Down By The River


A side-by-side comparison of what the Santa Maria terminus, at the River Drive Mall, looked like (on the left) and how it looks now with the Outlet Shoppes in place.  Same thoroughfare, different surroundings.

Demolition of the old River Drive Mall started 3 years ago.

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.