Sunday, September 30, 2012

Inspired To Vote?

37 days left till Election Day.
“He is such an idiot, man. And you can put that on the record,” Sheriff Cuellar said.
Sheriff Cuellar said he had had nothing to do with Mr. Flores not being able to run as a Democrat. “I don’t make the rules. Especially election rules,” he said.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Laredo, TX Natives

Amazing what some drought tolerant plants can do for this concrete jungle we call Laredo.

I should've gone in for a closer shot to see if there was any irrigation system in place.

The Plot Thickens

El Manana shares more details with us concerning Mud-Gate.  According to our Spanish-reporting friends, city officials counted the money collected from the 5K event, "No Mud, No Glory," and found that approximately $3,000 were missing.  The cash total did not match the number of registered runners.  Soon after, a person who helped organize the race showed up with the rest of the money.

City council will discuss the status of the ongoing investigation at Monday's meeting.  It remains to be seen what action will be taken against Councilman San Miguel.
Aunque no se ha determinado el tipo de acción que se tomará el lunes, todo hace indicar que el cabildo está dispuesto a sancionar a San Miguel, quien en un momento dado hasta podría ser removido de su puesto.
The possibility of San Miguel's removal remains open, although I don't remember that happening in my lifetime.  The council meeting starts at 5:30 p.m. Monday on Channel 13 (cable).

Maximiliano posted the agenda items for the meeting relating to the event's funds.

UPDATE:  Possible remedies

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Cemetery Lawn

Sunday we went out to the veterans cemetery to do a little lawn maintenance on a relative's plot.  It wasn't back-breaking work -- just a little TLC to tidy up the rough edges.  A gentleman, who looked like a private contractor, was out there on a riding mower, going up and down the area.  We watched him do his work after we were done.  He had to take frequent breaks because visitors kept coming and going throughout the time we were there.   

We didn't stay long enough to see how the grass between the markers was mowed, and if the grass debris was brushed away from the name plates.  Apart from the lawn, we noticed that there's a lot more maintenance that has to be kept up with, such as the dead trees that are being taken down.  In the upper right hand corner of the photo above you can see a large metal trash container.  It had large tree branches, and pallets for some reason.

A lady I spoke to from the cemetery told me that no volunteers help with the grounds upkeep.  And she didn't ask me if I was interested in helping.  Interesting.

Laredo Is Safe

We respect and understand the city's desire to protect its image, but we think there's a chance these billboards might backfire. After all, if you're driving along and see a gigantic advertisement for how safe a city is, won't you wonder why the city felt the need to convince you in the first place? Isn't there something else nice that Laredo could've said about itself? Even "Laredo Has a Nice Personality" would've been better.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mud Race Proceeds

So Charlie San Miguel takes the proceeds home, and Osvaldo Guzman is the one who gets suspended?

Last week, San Miguel described the event's turnout as "amazing."  Apparently he never anticipated that so many people would take part in the first-ever 5K mud race, and obviously he never anticipated what to do with the money collected from the registration fees.  This must set some type of precedent for the city.  It must be the first time any city-sponsored event has had to handle money.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Health Department Inspections

The Laredo Times website now has a link in place that lists food establishment inspections done by the Health Department.  Pictured above is a less-than-satisfactory score for El 66 bar in downtown Laredo.  I wouldn't expect them to be up to code on a lot of things, but it's disturbing to find out what's lacking when someone takes a closer look and points it out.

Why The Fee Increases...

...when Reuters makes these points?
  • Healthy reserve levels result from eight consecutive years of general fund operating surpluses.
  • Eagle Ford natural gas and oil drilling activity has bolstered employment and sales tax growth, which the city expects to continue and Fitch considers reasonable based on recent trends
  • The overall debt burden is manageable as growth induced capital pressures have been matched by solid TAV gains and the city's various enterprise funds.
  • Laredo's international trade activity has historically fueled strong growth in its property tax base, which increased by a compound annual average of 9% over the five years ending in fiscal 2010.
  • While TAV remained flat in fiscal years 2011 and 2012, the city anticipates modest growth in the next several years
  • The city consistently outperforms budget expectations, recording a general fund operating surplus in each of the last eight fiscal years.
  •  In fiscal 2011, the city posted a modest $574,000 net operating surplus, resulting in a large unrestricted general fund balance of $34.7 million (equal to 23% of spending), exceeding the 15% fund balance requirement
  • the general fund is projected to add $1.6 million to fund balance in fiscal 2012
(TAV - Taxable Assessed Valuation)

So the City of Laredo wants to make improvements in the Solid Waste Dept., and for that they want to raise fees by 100 percent.  I don't see how those fee hikes are justified when I read words like "large unrestricted general fund balance," and "TAV gains." 

A Little Help From My Friends

The members of VIDA (Voices in Democratic Action) have been consistently appearing at city council meetings to make it known that conflicts of interest exist at city hall, and that they won't be tolerated.  If one is so inclined to keep up with VIDA, there are the city council proceedings on public access, the group's regularly-scheduled meetings, or its new website. 

A reader tipped me off to VIDA's take on the hiring of Gilberto Garza, nephew of Eduardo Garza, by Webb County.
According to Gilberto Garza's prior employment application with the City of Laredo, he worked 40 hours per week at DB Forwarding from 06/2004 though the date of the application on 08/12/2009. Before that, he worked for his uncle's company at Uni-Trade Forwarding for 40 hours per week from 5/2003 through 5/2005. Nowhere on his application did he list any jobs or responsibilities that would have qualified him for the Webb County facilities director position. No mention of Laredo Accurate Inspections Inc. and no mention of Junior Design and Construction LLC.
Gilberto Garza supposedly used different employment information when he applied for a city position, and recently for a county job.  And then, when interviewed by the Laredo Times as to his qualifications, in typical Charlie San Miguel fashion he dismisses any influence from his uncle Eduardo Garza in securing the position of facilities director with Webb County.

It must be nice to have connections when seeking employment locally.  Not only is Gilberto Garza related to Eduardo Garza, a faithful contributor to political campaigns, but he gets letters of recommendation from the likes of Charlie San Miguel, and Sheriff Martin Cuellar.  Que mas quieres?  I'm not sure a letter of recommendation from Cuellar would be relevant since Garza was applying for facilites director, but hell, you take what you can get.

What I find hilarious is that Councilman Charlie San Miguel has tried time and again to claim that his relationship with Eduardo Garza does not pose a conflict of interest, and that the times that his vote on city council agendas favored Garza were simply mistakes, as he didn't know that Eduardo Garza was involved with the business at hand.  Then the punchline comes:  he submits a letter of recommendation for Eduardo Garza's nephew.  For somebody who is trying to distance himself from Eduardo Garza, he's doing a pretty crappy job of it.

Check out the VIDA website (link above).  And also pick up a copy of the new issue of LareDOS, where Eduardo Garza's reach into local politics is examined.  If we'll learn one thing from all of this it's how to get ahead in Laredo.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Laredo's Image: Safe But....

Laredo's image might be unfairly characterized, but the helicopters constantly hovering overhead, reminding us of the violence nearby, don't help our case. 

Take away the worries about Mexico's violence, and Laredo doesn't have much of an image.  Local leaders keep talking about the thousands of trucks that cross our border every day.  That's good, but what does that do for tourism?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Loss For Words

I don't want to do this, but new rule:  just because you know a little Spanish doesn't mean you should do a bilingual presentation to a gym full of people.  At my son's meet-the-teacher event this week, several administrators went over testing policies, code of conduct, attendance, etc.  Taking Spanish-speaking attendees into consideration, presenters spoke both in English and Spanish.  Naturally there was the occassional tied tongue, and some gentleman kept using a weird pronunciation of the Spanish word for telephone.  Quiet chuckles quickly filled the space.

It doesn't make sense sometimes to go with both languages during a presentation because I find that people will elaborate a bit more in either language.  What should be an even oration eventually turns into a forceful tangent in one language.  Surely almost everybody in town understands Spanish, but the added speech just drags things along and people start to fade off.  One thing's for sure:  you can't go out there and wing it, especially if you don't know the Spanish word for 'subject.'  The fact that you're educators makes it a little more embarrassing.

I don't think that all Hispanics should speak Spanish, but preparation helps when you're going to address a big room of people.  Julian Castro speaks very little Spanish and I don't hold that against him.  But Spanish comes in very handy sometimes, like when you want to get annoying telemarketers off your back, or when you want to cuss out the Mexican national who is going 5 m.p.h. in front of you.  So please, Laredo, take the time to read the Spanish section of the Laredo Times.  If anything, you might learn something, like why you dressed up in traditional garb to celebrate the 16 of September. 


Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Mayor Travels

(Laredo, TX – Sept. 20, 2012)   City of Laredo Mayor Raul G. Salinas will travel to Dallas this weekend for the 2012 Fall Leadership Meeting of the United States Conference of Mayors where he has various leadership roles, including serving on the Advisory Board and as Chair of the Immigration Task Force.  The meeting is being hosted by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, Chair of the Mayor’s Work and Opportunity Task

Courtesy of the City of Laredo

Let's just hope he's primped and ready to go.  Via LareDOS:


Trouble In Paradise

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Truckin' For Votes

City council recently discussed the issue of giant political signs painted on block fences.  Limits on the size of the signs had to be applied, they thought.  The practice never bothered anybody until fence paintings started showing up in north Laredo.  Fear not, because candidates will still have other avenues to get their oversized messages across.  Fence signage will have limits, but they never said anything about trucks

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Higher Taxes For Laredo

I thought the "fee" increases were necessary to buy new equipment.
The highest increase in expenses for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, stemmend from a $7.9 million increase in additional city personnel costs.
The segment of last night's city council meeting that I found interesting was that of the mayor suggesting to city staff to raise awareness of the problem of driving while intoxicated, and the consequences associated with it.  Laredo has more DWI (DUI) offenses already this year than it had all of last year, according to the mayor.  In putting forth the details, he mentioned that anybody charged with such an offense would be denied a lucrative driving job that the Eagle Ford Shale has to offer, because, you know, it's all about the Eagle Ford Shale now. 

Whether or not a young Laredoan finds a job in the fossil fuel industry, they can always strive for a position in public service or law enforcement.  DWI offenses in those sectors seem to be brushed under the rug.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Misty Saturday Thread

The power went out late last night.  On my bike ride back home from La Reynera this morning, I found out why traffic was being diverted from Meadow Ave.  It turns out that somebody crashed into the light pole at the corner of Willow and Meadow, taking down the pole at the foot of the Chacon bridge and two others with it.  In the picture you can see a gravelly material laid down, possibly to contain spilled fuel or other liquids as a result of the crash. 

Anyway, I rode quite a bit this morning along Laredo's old neighborhoods, and San Bernardo Ave.  Saw a couple of familiar faces at the restaurant.  Then I went to say hi to a friend at the Farmers Market.  There I caught up with him and some other friends who were out to see the sights. 

Leaving downtown, I saw that the Bethany House Thrift Store was open so I decided to go in to see what they had in vinyl records.  I was surprised to see a former co-worker there that I hadn't seen in over ten years.  She volunteers at the shop.

A full weekend and it's not even lunch yet.  Good times. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Poncho Sanchez To Be Recognized

The Latin Recording Academy will honor Laredo's Poncho Sanchez this November in Las Vegas.  The percussionist will receive the recognition alongside other distinguished artists, such as Luz Casal, and Rita Moreno.

Earlier this year, two veteran musicians from Laredo lamented the fact that the community doesn't have a location to honor the artists that have gone on to experience success in the music industry.  A hall of fame of sorts could be established to recognize Laredo's talented people, and to inspire those with dreams of pursuing a music career, they thought.  I couldn't agree more. 

Just last month, Dante Schwebel performed on Late Night with his band Hacienda.  Miles Zuniga of Fastball can boast about selling a million records.  And singer Pete Astudillo can add actor to his list of credits, having appeared in the movie "Selena."  There are surely others that can be added on to this list; perhaps you can help me with that.  For now, let's give it up for Poncho Sanchez.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

If You Say So

Calorie Counts

Having the numbers in front of you doesn't necessarily mean people are going to start making healthier choices.  But it'll be nice to know what a sausage biscuit and a small coffee adds up to anyway.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nice And Easy

Pockets of interest and beauty exist locally; they're just tucked away from the population at large. 

"Esos Son Ovarios"

By now you've probably heard about the fracas that took place at the Papi Chulos drive thru several days ago.  Apparently, the place was held up, but the attendants didn't back down.  They went all medieval on the perp's ass.  Naturally, such a bold act of defiance requires an eloquence to describe it.  Via La Tarde:

Este fin de semana en un servi car de birongas en el Laredo pocho, negocio llamado “Papis Chulos”, un bato enfuscado se propuso atracar ese negocio que se distingue por tener un grupo de empleadas muy buenas y bastante ligeritas de ropa,
(lo de buenas no es sinónimo de la Madre Teresa de Calcuta). Las chicas desarmaron al peladito y casi le metieron de supositorio la pistolita.

¡PAZ, PUM, ZAZ, MOLE! Y las chicas vestidas en puro Victoria´s Secret, con sus afilados tacones del 22 (22 centímetros de largo), le dejaron la carátula y la maceta como queso gruyere.
Cuando llegaron los chotas pochos, una morra tenía encañonado al malandro con su propia matona, mientras las demás chicas le daban a llenar.
Al final lo mandaron al hospital, tinto en sangre y con un plomazo en una pierna. IGUALITO QUE ACÁ…MABARO Ese ejemplo debería seguirse en este pueblo, cuando se meten a un changarro, tragadero, mini super o


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

That's The FBI Talking

The mayor on Laredo's lack of diversity.
"In Laredo, it's a unique border city...a great city. The minority is actually the majority."
It's definitely a unique city -- all the stray dogs will tell you as such.  Mayor Salinas speaks of the Hispanic population majority in Laredo with a sense of pride, as something that has evolved over the years.  It's his way, I suppose, of putting a positive spin on our census.  It's PR and nothing else.  I'm confused, however, at him challenging the city to combat the problem of obesity. 

Via the City of Laredo:

The competition consists of Mayor Raul G. Salinas signing the pledge, making a video in which he challenges another community mayor to take the pledge, and facilitating a community wide health event. With these activities, Laredo will earn points. . “The more the entire community gets involved, the more points Laredo scores.  Also and more importantly, we will hopefully positively impact and improve the health of our Laredo community,” said Mayor Raul G. Salinas.

OK then.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fallen Trees

Another story that caught my eye in today's paper is that of one of Tyler's majestic trees, the ginkgo.  It's such a great tree that somebody has actually taken the trouble to add it to the state's registry.  But not only that, people recognize trees' significance.
"Some of these trees point us back toward the land," he said. "(It's important) we don't discount the value of our wild lands or of these trees."
Locally we have some very impressive trees, but I don't know if they're "tagged" as historic structures.  An interesting point a blog reader made some time ago was that you can tell different parts of Laredo by the trees that reside there.  It made sense.  It's common to see some species that are particular to certain sections of town.

Lately, however, trees have taken a beating from the severe weather we've had.  And it's all made worse by our indifference to them.

I've seen a lot of trees completely dried up from the extreme heat, both in public spaces and in residential areas.  And the ones that still have some leaves hanging on visibly show that they're feeling the effects of this year's drought.  Pictured above are tree trunks that were left behind for some unknown reason.  They're located near bridge II, between San Dario and Santa Ursula.

Could it be that somebody will get around to taking inventory of our dead trees?  The scene above is unsightly; it's an embarrassment that this is on display for everyone to see.  But it's a perfect example of the lack of vision around here.  This green space, and the others like it at the terminus of I-35, could be focal points to feature Laredo's beauty, but instead it sits there neglected with no hint of creativity, planning, or landscape design.

In south Laredo, near a ditch, trees have fallen victim to somebody's saw.  I'm not sure if the area is being prepared for development, or if it's simply the result of an overzealous proprietor.  Here we have several native trees that can decorate the site, but for some people they've grown to be a nuisance.  What's more disturbing is that the cuttings have spilled over into the drainage ditch nearby, creating a problem for water flow along Zapata Hwy.

The fallen tree branches to the right are of the Cypress variety, I believe.  I'll keep an eye on the site to see what becomes of it.  For our trees I can only shed a tear.  Perhaps some day we'll collectively consider their contribution to our lives.    

We Need This

Saturday I posted the news of the proposed fee increase for 8-liner machines in Laredo.  It looks like we have some of the lowest fees in the state for gambling, err, amusement center machines.
The home of about 2,000 residents has collected about $800,000 in the 18 months since it started enforcing its $1,000-per-machine game room ordinance. The town's annual budget is about $1 million.
As long as the city collects revenue from maquinitas, they'll allow amusement centers to set up shop.  Sure they'll appear more garish on our public landscape than Javier Santos' den, but they serve a purpose:  provide money for city services at the expense of working, and retired people.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

More Fee Increases

El Mañana reports that each 8-liner machine will cost $400 to operate, up from $350.  I want to see that agenda item discussion in action.  It will probably pass with nothing more than a whisper, but I'm glad that maquinita owners are getting squeezed a little more after they scam people out of their money.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

How's This?

 The picture above is not the clearest.  I'll try to edit the shot later using better tekmology.

Pictured above are two mailboxes being held up with scrap pieces on concrete.  There may be several explanations for this.  One could be that the receptacles were weak and needed some support.  Another explanation could be that the resident doesn't like to throw anything away, but instead incorporates throwaways into the landscape design.  (It's like I have a twin)  Or it could all just be a coincidence and somebody is waiting to have the cement pieces hauled away.  At any rate, the shot points to Laredo's knack for do-it-yourself worksmanship.

In related news, KGNS brings us a story about locals unable to afford to fix their A.C.  LaredoTejas compares our water fees with those of McAllen's.  Here's a hint: they're not the same.  And El Manana reports that gasoline is expensive in Laredo.

Laredoans are feeling the pinch one way or another.  Naturally, our city leaders think it's a good idea to raise fees for an assortment of services.  Good day, Laredo!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Higher (Taxes) Fees For Services

Council once again nonchalantly tackled the business of raising fees for its citizens.  Trash pick-up, recreational center use, and opening up a business will cost more.  The two most timid city leaders raised questions for (Mr.) City Manager Carlos Villarreal, but alas it made no difference.  Mr. Villarreal was quick to point out that Laredo has the lowest fees around the state.  That would be acceptable if it wasn't the only argument being discussed. 

In the end, the new fees were passed unanimously, even though Councilman Alex Perez spoke up for his older constituents, the ones on fixed incomes.  Mr. Perez couldn't even be moved to vote nay after appearing to show concern for the public.  It boggles the mind what inspires this council to vote the way it does even after people show up to voice their displeasure with new fees.

I especially like the last comment that Ms. Mary Lara made where she called out council.
Your community feels that speaking to you will not change your minds.  Prove them wrong.  Reconsider.
Of course, her pleas fell on deaf ears.  But what can the little ol' council do when they have some committee approving new fees, and the city manager barking at them?  They vote at will thinking that nobody is paying attention.

Mr. Villarreal had this response for Esteban Rangel:
Councilman, again, you know, and I can understand Ms. Lara, the lady that spoke previously about....we haven't done this in some cases in 20 years, sir.  And I'll tell you one thing, you go out to any store and you ask them if you had prices here since 1992 that you haven't changed, and they're going to tell you, "what's wrong with you?"  So it's not like we're doing this every year.  It happens to be that we're trying to make sure that we're at least, you know, within the ranges as other communities.  If not, we're going to get into the state that other communites are and then we're going to be in a worse shape.
All Mr. Rangel needed to do after that was bow to Mr. City Manager.

There are so many things that are suspect with Mr. Villarreal's rant, for example, his remark about fees not increasing every year.  Fees will in fact go up every year from now on, all because they've been stagnant for twenty years, according to him.  Forget for a while that they'll be increased yearly, it's the fact that they'll be throttled sky high.  He defends his point with a half-assed, cavalier comparison. 

At no point did any council member question how much the blue bin (recycling) program will cost to implement.  At no point did the Solid Waste budget come up.  Nobody asked how the department has grown, and what growth is expected in the coming years.  Nobody suggested going to once-weekly trash pickup.  All that was agreed upon was that Laredo has the lowest garbage fees in the state.  And that was enough for everybody to vote on. 

This is your city council, Laredo.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Always A Reason To Celebrate

By some miraculous circumstances, the Laredo Lemurs are headed into the playoffs after clinching the American Association South Division.  That couldn't have come at a better time as we were in desperate need of political photo ops.  Lord knows they're few and far between.

The excited energy is clearly palpable in the image above as our city leaders get ready to host the first playoff game at Uni-Trade Stadium on Wednesday.  It's not so clear with Mr. Olivares on the far left as he's sporting a dark, slimming coat.  But his loafers scream with anticipation.  Mr. Eduardo Garza, seen wearing a snug lilac polo, attended the event to make sure everything runs smoothly at his facility.  Mr. Rendon (green top) seems to be distracted -- perhaps thinking of his looming retirement.  And Mr. Schuster.....yes, he was there.

Go out and get drunk and support the Lemurs as they make baseball history tomorrow.  And don't forget to take a picture with Pancho the Lemur.  He's neutered, microchipped, and ready to go.   

You Are Here

I noticed these new yellow signs on park spaces at Lyon and San Francisco Ave.  Apparently Parks & Leisure has money for branded pieces of wood, but not so much for one lick of landscaping.  Anyway, I'm fascinated by the fact that city officials, or any elected officials for that matter, want to name facilities after people.  I'm starting to think that that's the only reason people run for office around here:  to have something named after them.

Recently, city council discussed naming streets after people who have served the community.  I don't mind that, but I'm thankful I don't have to live on Raul Salinas Dr.  If that was the case, every time I would have to fill out an application, I would be reminded of somebody too lazy to discard of LareDOS issues by himself at the airport.

Get out and enjoy your public parks before the chilly 80-degree temperatures set in and keep us from going outside. 

Monday, September 3, 2012

Trash Schedules Changing

OK, now they're just making stuff up as they go along just to irk us.

Announcement appeared in yesterday's LMT

Exporting Natural Gas

Proponents of natural gas drilling in the Eagle Ford Shale suggested that the enormous reserves found within shale would make us less dependent on foreign sources of fuel, and that energy prices would drop as well.  I don't know how that happens if we're sending supplies to Mexico, and looking to increase those exports.

The world is knocking on our door, hoping to take advantage of inexpensive natural gas inventories.  Don't look for gasoline prices to go down anytime soon.  We were made to believe that relief was on the way, but it's looking like the only ones who'll benefit from the recent drilling boom are the oil and gas companies themselves.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

VIDA Meets

Yesterday I had a chance to sit in at the VIDA (Voices In Democratic Action) meeting where they went over agenda items such as freedom of information requests, city council conflicts of interest, and their website development.  I like to consider myself informed when it comes to knowing what goes on around here, but after hearing the back and forth between VIDA members and private citizens, I realized two things:  I am mostly out of the loop, and it's less than a handful of politicians who are interested in making Laredo a better place.

At the last city council meeting, VIDA invited councilmembers and the mayor to yesterday's meeting.  The only elected officials who made it out there were Jose Valdez Sr. (LISD), Mike Montemayor (Webb County), Hilario Cavazos, and Rene De La Vina (LCC).  I realize that people are busy, and if you have plenty of politicos attending, the risk of creating a quorum arises.  But to have no representation from other taxing entities is very telling about how progress is valued in this community.

VIDA is having another meeting in two weeks.  Anybody is welcome.  If you want to learn a little about how things are run in Laredo, I recommend you attend.  If not, you can see them in action at city council.  You can go there too to support them.

Video below courtesy of Public Access (early August)