Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vote No On Laredo Convention Center


(LMT clipping from September 19, 2018.)

One of the proponents of a new convention center has been Councilman Roberto Balli.  His district includes the downtown area, so naturally he would be pushing for the new facility.  He was quoted in the Times as such:
Downtown is changing as far as nightlife.  So this conference center will support all of that.  Ask everyone to support this proposition, El Centro Si, because it's going to give us a better downtown, it's going to give us a better community, and this is something our citizens and residents need. 
Every time somebody (Balli) has brought up the construction of a convention center, I've imagined that a large space, with meeting rooms, was needed for actual conventions.  I thought Laredo needed a facility to host events that couldn't be had at the arena; again, actual conventions that would bring in visitors.  But the group pushing for the convention/conference center - Balli, La Posada, Fasken Oil & Ranch, Ltd, Chamber of Commerce, IBC Bank, etc. - is now trying to convince the Laredo public that it'll be a venue to serve us.


(another clipping, from today's LMT.)

The CONFERENCE center will be a great site to host weddings, quinces, graduations and so on, so says the new Centro Si advertisement.

Venues for those kinds of events already exist.  To host quinceaneras shouldn't be a selling point for building a convention center.  The arena, baseball field and golf course have been under-utilized, hardly used for their intended purposes.  Now our leaders are trying to sell us on the idea of a convention center; but they're telling us that the facility's calendar year will be made up of small events, supported by actual Laredoans.  Already they're revealing in their latest pitch that big conventions will be few and far between.

The convention center may be useful for the people of Laredo in terms of low-paying jobs, but it shouldn't be a site to host receptions that will benefit La Posada and other City of Laredo insiders.

Local activist Remy Salinas appeared on Beyond The Headlines (KGNS) last weekend to speak against the construction of the convention center.  He spoke in detail about the fact that convention centers in south Texas under-perform.  Check out part of the show below.  And come November 6, vote NO on the convention center.


  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Moral Turpitude Case: Vidal Rodriguez


That time Vidal Rodriguez and Alejandra Sepulveda lost a civil case to Annette Ugalde Bonugli and were ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the plaintiff.  That was July 27, 2018.

A new trial, however, is pending.  Rodriguez's attorney claimed there was a "miscommunication in the case," precluding his presence at trial.  So we wait some more.

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.