Saturday, October 31, 2020

A Little Something For Everyone


Local print media has done a great job of exposing the suspicious relationship between Councilman Roberto Balli and the Laredo Fire PAC organization.  They are under scrutiny for allegedly assisting the Laredo Regional Food Bank with deliveries in District 8 and telling the food recipients that Councilman Balli was responsible for the assistance.  People who were paid a visit by the PAC members and Balli were asked for their votes.  The General Election, in which Balli is facing several challengers, is scheduled for November 3, 2020.  

The food that was packaged into bundles was purchased by the food bank with CARES Act funding.  City council approved that federal funding for the non-profit agency.  

Apparently, the Laredo Fire PAC had helped the food bank before, but what called this occasion into question was that the food deliveries were almost exclusively made to registered voters in Balli's district.  

In an affidavit presented to city council, people vouched that they were led on by the PAC members and Balli, either to misrepresent information or to reward Balli with votes.  The notarized statement was delivered to city hall by a local activist and posted on Facebook by Our Laredo.  

Props to the writers and local activists who have shed light on this matter, one that could have deleterious consequences for our community.  I can only bow to their masterful efforts and humbly compose a timeline of events, as a lowly blogger is prone to do.  I give you TIMELINE #8:

Summer 2020: city council discusses the disbursement of CARES Act funding.

Firefighters take leave hours and pay in order to help the Laredo Regional Food Bank. They also collect pay from the union for the off-duty activity.  Spouses, too, are hired by the union to deliver food. 

July 2020: Firefighter Daniel Perez offers Lorena Gomez the job of delivering food to people. Perez would prepare talking points for those who made food deliveries: vote for Balli

August 2020: Gomez was employed by the Laredo Fire PAC.

Perez also told Lorena Gomez, other PAC members, and their wives to take bags of food for themselves. 

Paychecks labeled with "Food Drive #8" were handed out by firefighter Andy Mendoza.

Apart from delivering food to private, needy citizens, it was also delivered to: Roberto Balli's wife; a campaign worker who lived at 1415 Sanchez; and Balli's campaign manager Martha Narvaez

August 10, 2020: Lorena Gomez was let go by the PAC, supposedly because she did not support Balli's campaign. That same day she was hired by the Alyssa Cigarroa campaign, a competitor to Roberto Balli.

The Laredo Regional Food Bank broke ties with the fire PAC after getting word of the nefarious details.

August 17, 2020  Laredo Times headline: Political ties questioned as Laredo Fire PAC, food bank team up.

City staff start an investigation into the misappropriation of funds

September 28, 2020: Veronica Villarreal (political precinct boss) told private investigators (Sepulveda and Winterroth) that she received several bags of food from Balli himself. She, however, did not support his re-election campaign. Villarreal gave the food to her neighbors, instead. 

Councilman Balli delivered bags of food to several locations. (food recipients attested to this in an affidavit)

October 5, 2020: investigators compared the list compiled by the fire PAC to the names of registered voters in District 8, Balli's district. An overwhelming majority of those on the PAC's list were voters from the councilman's district. 

Union President David Gonzalez avowed that PAC members were to identify themselves to homeowners as firefighters and that Roberto Balli asked for the PAC's help. Furthermore, he said that food deliveries were to be attributed to Roberto Balli. 

October 19, 2019 council agenda item: discuss the saga of the food packages and its delivery people.

City staff said it was not done with its investigation.  Council voted to NOT have city employees participate in partisan activities. Local activists helped to spread the word regarding the contents of the affidavit. 

October 25, 2020  Laredo Times headline: more questions emerge in food delivery partnership.

October 25  LareDOS headline: Sworn affidavit alleges fire PAC members delivered federal CARES Act food to District VIII registered voters rather than to elderly, disabled. 

October 30, 2020  City of Laredo dedicates remodeled building in downtown Laredo (District 8) to Roberto Balli's campaign manager Martha Narvaez. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Days Seem So Long


On the first day of early voting, October 13, 2020, there were a total of 4,056 votes cast.  People posted on social media photos of voters lined up at the Laredo Fire Department building on Del Mar and at the City Hall Annex.  While it's a decent number, it doesn't compare to the record-breaking counts that were seen in other Texas cities, such as Houston.  

Joe Biden has a double-digit lead in polls, over Donald the con artist.  Texas may be in play.  If the current White House occupant lost Texas, there would be no path to victory, whatsoever.  

19 days to go until the General Election.  There is a pandemic going on.  Flu season is upon us.  (Already got my flu shot.)  And a mediocre female judge is on the verge of being installed to the Supreme Court, to fill the position left vacant by Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Crazy times. 

UPDATE: October 31, 2020 (Saturday)

Yesterday was the last day of early voting in Texas.  A total of 54,000 votes were cast in Webb County during early voting.  Webb has almost 138,000 registered voters.  Texas overall has seen record turnout; and younger voters, between the ages of 18 and 29, are fueling the current surge.  The 2nd/3rd wave of the Coronavirus pandemic is in progress, so it's impressive to see people standing in line, for hours in some cities, to cast their vote.  

Sunday, August 30, 2020

They Come And Go


Jaime Canales was sentenced to prison on August 20, 2020.  The details of the case paint a bleak picture of politics in Laredo. 

(Edits to follow)

And just as that happened, we learn of the new spate of candidates seeking office in November.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Twelve Weeks To Election


This clipping is from August 9.  Alyssa Cigarroa is running against Robert Bali in November.

A person by the name of Dorantes is also running.  This is the corner of Sanchez and San Dario.

I don't know if Alberto Torres has a challenger, but his signs have been plenty in central Laredo.  Apparently he has money to spend on air-brushed images of himself.  These things started popping up in late July.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Justifying Death With Language

I am pissed that the local media says covid deaths with underlying health conditions. This makes people think they're immune from it. Guess what people, underlying health conditions: high blood pressure, diabetes, over weight..... Everyone has underlying health conditions. (Comment via Twitter)

I fully understand where that sentiment is coming from. Laredo officials pop up on our social media feeds to give us the new tallies of those affected by Covid-19. As of early this afternoon, 2,163 Laredoans have tested positive for Coronavirus; and the new death toll is at 36. The practice of having our leaders go through a presentation by roll call has become rote. Worse yet, they remind us that those who have perished had some sort of underlying condition.  

It's useless information for the layman, really. Death should be death. It shouldn't be qualified with vague language. And underlying conditions can be any host of medical ailments. You turn 40 and you automatically join the underlying condition peer group. If I jump onto a scale right now and refer to a BMI chart, I'll be reminded that I fall into the obese category. I don't consider myself obese. However, researchers have come up with a system to help me gauge my well being. They're saying, watch your weight and eat better for improved results over the long term. Still, I gorge on chips and down them with a sugary soda, because I still haven't crossed the event horizon. I'm doing okay and I have plenty of time to make corrections. That's my thought process.

The messaging that's echoed by our leaders and media outlets is doing the same: it's reassuring us that this new virus has an ugly fate for the weakest among us. Those with unmanaged comorbidities, those who are frail are the ones with one foot in the grave. The others will die, not us! Our doctors have never uttered the words underlying condition to our face, and thus, we should be fine.

We rationalize death to assuage our own fears and neglect to think that anyone with a medical condition can live a productive life.

In looking at inspirational thoughts for people with cancer, I came across this one: Cancer is a word, not a death sentence. In our current public health crisis, Covid-19 plus underlying condition equals death sentence. At least, that's what the wording tells us. Uttering underlying condition time and again is repetitive and vacuous. Meaning is stripped away from a person's death.  

36 Laredoans have died -- they probably didn't have to. But because of our lack of leadership, they did. Our response has been inefficient and marred by bickering. Medical treatment is reactive and there's no telling when we'll have a useful vaccine to combat our virulent enemy. Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately affected by Covid-19. All of this should be flagged as the contributing cause of death, not underlying condition(s).

There's too much confusion, however. The only consistent messaging thrown at us is underlying conditions. We'll use it as a salve for the psychological wound inflicted upon us. It's all we've got at this point.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Bland Comments From City Leaders

The tweet from Congressman Henry Cuellar makes no mention of police brutality.  His thoughts on the current crisis around the country go as far as the Twitter character count rule. 

I unequivocally support our country's law enforcement, who work every day to protect our communities.  However, supporting law enforcement doesn't mean we can't have transparency & accountability.  We must do better to provide liberty & justice for all, including #George Floyd.

LPD Union President Rogelio Nevarez sticks to the noble causes of police officers.  It's tone deaf, among other things. 

We've been out in the community for six decades now, and we've given thousands of dollars in scholarships and have provided thousands of backpacks, we've done Christmas presents for all of the kids, so we've been doing things in the community, and part of the union is community service.  I don't know what perception they have of it, but our whole purpose is to make sure that we are here for our officers and their rights as employees and that they are equipped and trained properly.  (Another role the union plays is negotiating salaries for officers, making sure compensation is commensurate with the dangers that come with the job.)

And finally the city.  Mayor Pete Saenz and City Manager Robert Eads give the killing of George Floyd a little more thought.  There are hints of reassurance towards the public, that acts of violence from police can be reported.  See if you can spot them.

The City of Laredo firmly believes in the right to peacefully assemble and have your voice heard. The tragic death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the death of countless people of color throughout history, has spurred nationwide protests and reignited the dialogue about institutionalized racism and justice in this country. We send our condolences to the family of Mr. Floyd during these most difficult times.

We are not silent on this issue. Our city leaders have taken progressive approaches to protect the rights and safety of our citizens and have a zero tolerance approach to racism.

Our police force is composed of a highly trained, experienced, and diverse group of men and women who reflect the faces of our citizenry. 

The Laredo Police Department has consistently engaged the community residents in a meaningful way that show not only are police officers here to protect them, but that they are also available and within reach so that they can communicate any concerns, make suggestions and network with their police department to make their community safer and more progressive.

Public activities such as Coffee with a Cop, bike rodeos, collaborations with our local university and community college are just a few of the many ways that we invite and open lines of communications with our citizenry to allow them to get to know us and understand the specific issues in our city.

Citizen engagement through our social media channels, which gives alerts and news updates 24-7, and the Laredo PD app which allows citizens the opportunity to participate in the reporting 

of crimes with complete anonymity, have become meaningful venues of communication.

New technology and continued citizen engagement opportunities are the progressive, proactive paths to better communication and citizen engagement.

All of this is done with the well-being of every citizen in mind and inclusive of new innovative ideas and adopted best practices which make the Laredo Police Departments one of the best police departments in the country.

We welcome this opportunity to have a city-wide discussion about injustices in our community. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, City Hall and all public buildings have been closed to the public since April 14, 2020. Online, phone and drive-thru services remain uninterrupted.

Given the current COVID-19 safety precautions that are in place, anyone can request a virtual meeting with the Mayor, the City Manager, or any elected official by contacting their office and going through the proper channels.

Our city and our employees continue to work for the safety and justice of all Laredoans.

(I emphasized some words)

No mention is made of past lapses by local police.  And there is no emphatic denouncement towards police brutality.  There is no mention of the process by which a person can submit a complaint of police abuse and the recourse that one has. 

A rally was held at city hall, on May 30, relating to the death of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement.  No city officials were present at the event.  And when rally organizers attempted to speak to city officials this week, nobody from a position of power made themselves available.  They can meet with the media, face to face, but they can't make time for their own citizenry. 

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Rally At City Hall

A local activist group, Red Wing United, held a rally outside city hall yesterday afternoon.  The focus of the event was to call attention to the death of George Floyd, the black man who died on May 25 as a result of a Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for several minutes.  Laredoans converged peacefully to ask for justice and policing reform.  

Critics wondered why locals would speak out on the death of a man we didn't know, and who wasn't part of our community.  One of my social media followers even said that cases of police brutality didn't exist in Laredo.  To him I pointed to the case of Frank Carter, the former Laredo police officer who assaulted a person that was handcuffed.  Carter was sentenced to prison in 2013 for violating the person's civil rights. 

In 2014, Laredo police unloaded dozens of rounds on Jose Walter Garza at a truck stop on Santa Maria Ave.  As he laid dead, officers approached Garza's body, fist-bumped and then handcuffed him.  His demise was determined to be suicide by cop.  The incident was recalled at the event yesterday.

Priscilla Villarreal, aka La Gordiloca, turned herself in to authorities in 2017.  She was charged with misuse of official information.  A court ruled that the statute used against her was vague.  Villarreal claimed that police and the district attorney pursued charges against her as a form of intimidation.

An immigrant woman from Guatemala, Claudia Patricia Gomez Gonzalez, was gunned down by Border Patrol in 2018 in nearby Rio Bravo, TX.  An BP officer fired at Gomez Gonzalez because officers were being attacked with "blunt objects."

Our community does not have a significant African-American population, but we should relate to instances where officials overstep their authority.  Brown people have also died at the hands of police officers.  Because it doesn't happen here doesn't mean we shouldn't comment on police brutality or call for justice.  People of color are disproportionately mistreated by police, when compared with whites offenders.  Laredo seems to be far flung from the rest of the nation, a town that most people can't find on a map.  But we shouldn't go about our lives thinking that we are immune to the ills of society.  Shit happens here too and we shouldn't be silent or willfully ignorant of it.