Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Things Go Boom

Something that recently got me back to blogging was every story of people crashing into things and causing major damage.  I've tagged these type of posts Laredo's Greatest Hits.  Even if property destruction is not reported by the media, you can tell when a vehicle and driver have done wrong.  Heretofore I have found inspiration for my blog.

Photo above courtesy of KGNS.

In the first photo you see a gate that was destroyed at our local airport.  A young woman, drunk, smashed her way onto a restricted area.  Not really sure what the motivation was for the errant driver.

Next we see a fence that's been hit one too many times by careless drivers.  It's located on south Meadow Ave.  When the owner of the property talked to the media, he lamented having spent so much on putting up another fence.

A crash that wasn't reported is the one that took down part of the Meadow bridge railing (below).  This I noticed a couple of weeks ago.  The city will get to the repairs some time soon, I guess.  2015 is upon us and I'll be on the lookout for other crashes.  I just hope I don't get caught in the crossfire.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Task Force

Here's an idea:  if you're working to weed out corruption anywhere, perhaps it's better to keep the whole operation on the down low.  But if people know in which direction to blow the whistle towards, maybe it's something to know about.  I don't know.

Anyway, I was kind of disappointed that the story didn't include any mention of Laredo corruption.  We all know the details of what our local numbskulls did this year, so I won't bore you with the details.  There has to be a task force assigned to the Laredo area to look into corruption.  The Texas Rangers and the FBI were involved with local investigations.  We're all hoping they stay at it, and bring us more stories of political wrongdoing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Lemurs Debate

Mr. Armando Cisneros witnessed an event at the last council meeting: Leaders approved throwing more money at the Laredo Lemurs, even though attendance is poor.  He's dismayed at the lack of thoughtfulness regarding the operation of the baseball organization.  But at least one councilman was quick to give the Lemurs what they want.
Councilman Mike Garza took that brief silence as his cue.  Garza, ever the veteran politico, snuck in a sudden motion to approve with Esteban Rangel providing a quick second.  With almost lightning speed, Council member Perez, Narvaez, Vela and Liendo made it official.  The Lemurs had just succeeded in once again eating the taxpayers' lunch served up on a silver platter by our own city council.
Mr. Cisneros asks Mayor Pete Saenz to veto this decision.

The veto will likely not go anywhere, but questions have to be asked, especially when money is being poured into a venture that shows little sign of succeeding.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Media Outlets Acting The Same As Before

It's amazing how some people can change the world around us.  Via Texas Monthly, November 1984:
The News was barely a month old when, with the help of a maverick taxpayers’ group that the Times had ignored, it broke a story about serious discrepancies in the accounts of the city street department. Two weeks later it revealed that the street department, which possessed just 86 vehicles, had listed payments for 686 batteries. The effect was like seeing the emperor’s new clothes; as soon as the youngster talked, no one else could ignore the facts—not even the Times. Once aroused from complacency, the daily had no trouble scooping its semiweekly competitor on street department corruption stories. But while the Times stuck by Martin, the News attacked the mayor in front-page editorials. In late October Martin announced that he would not seek reelection. It had taken Tony Sanchez fewer than twenty issues to bring down the machine.
For all the props that Aldo Tatangelo gets in being a reformer in Laredo in the late 1970s, little is said about Lawrence Berry, The Laredo News, and Tony Sanchez. 

In 2009, when the story of Abraham Martinez (hospital CEO) broke, the Laredo Times and KGNS didn't speak about it.  Both media outlets relied on advertising money from Laredo Medical Center, so it makes sense that they wouldn't bring up their clients' dirty laundry.  It's disconcerting to see history repeating itself.    

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

No To Laredo MMD

Via the LMT:
The Central Municipal Management District was approved by the Legislature in 2013 through the passing of Senate Bill 1601.  The Senate author of the bill was Sen. Judith Zaffirini and the House sponsor was Rep. Richard Raymond.
Board of Directors Raul Perales, Viviana Frank, Rafael Torres, Larry Friedman, Roque Haynes, Rick Norton, Javier Santos, Jorge Verduzco, Anselmo Robledo, and Bill Calderon (management district executive director) had big plans for San Bernardo Ave., Chihuahua and Guadalupe street development; But apparently small business owners don't like it when a select few take matters into their own hands and decide to raise taxes on them.

Back to the drawing board.

Nixon Mustang Band Wins All-State Competition

The contest was held November 14-15, 1983 in Austin, TX.

(full-page article/photo cut in half, pardon the editing)

UPDATE on 5/6/2016:  Mr. Arturo Valdez recently attended a party at the Embassy Suites in Laredo.  (Photo via LMT)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Another Black Man Killed

It was two weeks ago that a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri handed down their decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson.  The prosecutor involved with the case made the announcement during prime time hours.  Michael Brown's mother was devastated by the news.  She, and the community, felt an injustice had been done.  The response thereafter to all the events relating to Michael Brown was mixed.  I took exception to comments that took on an insensitive and superficial tone.

Twitter comments about Ferguson were plenty the night of the non-judgement.  I was getting a sense of the mood mostly from celebrities I follow.  (There were a handful of people I follow that were voicing their concerns.)  On Facebook I can only remember one friend mentioning the Michael Brown decision.

A number of people on social media were characterizing Brown as a thug.  Others were astonished that Ferguson residents were destroying property, and looting.  This weekend I overheard a young man saying that the destructive aftermath was 'ironic' because the protesters were tearing down their own community.  As extreme and nonsensical as it seemed, I didn't think they had any other option.  People were angry at the system and they wanted to make it clear to the nation.  A candlelight vigil, or die-in was not going to be sufficient to convey the helplessness and frustration they felt.

Surely there were some individuals in Ferguson who took advantage of the situation simply for their own enjoyment.  And that muddled things more.  But when I saw buildings engulfed in flames, I wondered why fire units weren't there trying to put out the blazes.  There were plenty of cops in riot gear on standby, but where were the fire engines?  Where was the National Guard?

Critics were hasty in putting the onus on the black community.  Michael Brown would be alive if he hadn't challenged a police officer, they chimed.  Or the protesters were insane for acting in such a barbaric way.  And local leaders were not there to quell the tension.  If people are going to be quick to portray blacks as savages, as thoughtless, they should expect to see some anger directed their way.

It's interesting to hear Laredoans comment on issues of race when we live in a city that is made up almost entirely of Hispanics.  We practically live in a bubble, and life for us is pretty easy going.  The natives must think things are the same for people outside our area code.  As such, a lack of empathy will continue to thrive.  We will have no sympathy for those we cannot identify with.

I actually heard two people agree, in a podcast, that racism was non-existent because we now had a black president.  I don't know how to reach people with those sensibilities.  Forty years ago Richard Pryor was expounding on the things blacks had to contend with: the same things they're railing against now.  The Clinton administration tried to right the wrongs perpetrated upon African Americans.  But here we are in 2014 and blacks are being disproportionately killed by cops more than any other group.  How can we say that progress had been made when nothing has changed?

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Water Matters In Our Neck Of The Woods

Mayor Pete Saenz vetoed city council's selection of an engineering company because, supposedly, the process of awarding the contract was not carried out appropriately.  City council quickly overturned his veto Monday night.  The mayor acted after hearing concerns from local engineering firms.  Mayor Saenz (via the LMT):

“The purpose … was to verify local engineers’ allegations that the bigger contracts are being awarded
to out of town firms,” Saenz said.  “If that is the case, it seems very unfair to the local engineering
and architectural community.  Our university has a growing engineering program, and what message
are we sending that these bigger projects are going to out-of-town firms.”

The mayor's veto was probably doomed from the start, but it's good to have any and all city business challenged.  Props to Mr. Saenz.

Eighteen years ago, city council had another water line project called into question.  Not the same as what we have today, but the concern revolved around water, interestingly enough.

Bruni and Casso, for instance, have been especially harsh in criticizing what they term the “sweetheart deal” that resulted in the extension of the city’s waterlines to the Unitec Industrial Park north of the city limits. “Those developers could get water to their industrial park, but not to the colonias they own,” Casso sneers.

I wish I would've paid more attention to council meetings when Bruni and Casso were in office.  The drama back then was at a fever pitch.

And the trifecta of water worries for this post is the news of colonia residents not having access to water for several days.


Things Don't Add Up At Fleet Maintenance Division

Minutes from city council meeting on December 16, 1996.  Apparently there were discrepancies in maintaining police cars.

 B.  Requests by Cm. Louis H. Bruni

       1.  Discussion and possible action concerning the results of the
           internal audit conducted at the Fleet Maintenance Division with
           possible Executive Session pursuant to Section 551.074 of the
           Texas Government Code to discuss personnel matters in relation
           to this internal audit.

           Cm. Bruni stated that in January, 1995 he sent a letter to Mr.
           Vargas requesting an audit of the Fleet Maintenance Division,
           the audit was completed in June of 1995.  Recently, a year and a
           half later they got the final
           draft of this internal audit and this report has serious
           accusations and serious problems that he sees.  For instance, in
           the cost and repairs to some of our police cars, when they were
           purchased they spent $11,999.00 and some of our Police
           Department cars have a total investment of over $34,000.00.  He
           said this does not make sense that if you paid $12,000.00 and
           you have $34,000.00 invested in repairs something is wrong.  He
           added there are other vehicles that have repairs in excess of
           50% of the purchase price.  One vehicle had repairs in excess of
           200% of its purchase price.

           The report lists about 15 different vehicles where the fuel tank
           size allows for only 20-gallon capacity, but yet somehow someone
           manage to put 29.8 gallons in it.  He added that vehicle #1291
           has capacity for 25 gallons yet they manage to put 42.2 gallons
           in it.  He said that apparently there is a serious problem on
           how they can get this much gasoline in a gas tank.  He said that
           vehicle #1298 has a 25 gallon gas tank, but they managed to put
           72 gallons in it.

           On November 4, 1994 a vehicle was auctioned, however the
           maintenance records indicate that they have been fixing flat
           tires on it. How do we fix or repair vehicles that we don't own

           On one of the police vehicles, within a year and a half we spent
           $4,485.00 on transmission repairs and we have three different
           transmissions put in.

           Also mechanics spent six hours fixing a siren, why not buy a new
           one and move on.

           He concluded by stating that this report is full of serious
           problems, that it was a waste of taxpayers money and asked staff
           how all these things happened, why it took so long to get this
           report, and what we are going to do to safeguard the taxpayers

           Florencio Pe¤a, Interim City Manager, stated that he can't
           answer as to why it wasn't provided, anytime prior to July of
           1996 when he came on board.  He added that in the last five
           months they have been looking at this audit and have implemented
           many recommendations, there are still very serious problems, and
           he wants council to consider expanding the audit, the problems
           will be addressed and some changes have already implemented.

           Mayor Ramirez stated that he wants to see the definitive steps
           that have been taken on the part of Mr. Joe Guerra to safeguard
           a lot of these things happening now, and expand the audit to get
           more detail into the audit.  That we proceed to prosecute to the
           full extent of the law because we will not tolerate people
           scheming of any of our operations because it is not conducive to
           good government.  On the third component we should hold our
           comments to generalities and let staff and the internal auditors
           work on the specifics and details and as soon as they are
           prepared to come with us on a thorough report that they do so,
           but whenever they feel they are ready to proceed with filing
           charges at the District Attorney's office, that by consensus at
           this time, they authorize them to proceed in filing those
           charges at the D.A.'s office.

           Cw. Montalvo requested that the Audit Department gives a
           report to council directly instead of the City Manager.

           Mayor Ramirez stated that we should get the reports or whatever
           comes out, when it comes out and that it come to them (Mayor and
           Councilmembers) at the same time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Se Aprovecha El Balli

Early voting started today for the handful of races that were left undecided last month.  December 20, runoff election day, can't get here fast enough.

In the meantime, at least one candidate is keeping tabs on what the other is doing.  Rachel Ibarra, running for City Council District 8, posted her opponent's flier on social media.  (see picture to left)  The announcement is for a social gathering at a downtown pool hall.  Free food, music and gifts are offered.

Pachangas, as political meet-and-greets are known in Laredo, are nothing new.  I've gone to several meet-ups in recent years in hopes of learning more about a particular candidate.  It's basically a cookout and the candidate goes around introducing him/herself to people.  You listen to their platform, their ideas, eat, and then go home.  What's different about what Mr. Roberto Balli is doing is that he's basically offering people gifts for votes.  And as you can see in the next picture, he's doing it with Laredo's most vulnerable, the elderly.

People from an adult daycare are being led into the El Punto Night Club, where Mr. Balli is hosting his event.  In 2008 I posted on one campaign leading elderly voters to the polls.  We don't see Mr. Balli personally taking these people to the polls, but it's worth mentioning that two polling sites are within blocks of his party.

It's really sickening to see something like this.  J.C.Martin Jr., in talking to Bill Moyers about the patron system, detailed how this kind of solicitation was employed decades ago.  It's crass opportunism and Balli should know better.  (I'll refrain from making any lawyer jokes so as not to offend upstanding lawyers out there.)

Roberto Balli is one unique creature.  He says he lives in the district which he hopes to represent, but he gets a homestead exemption for a house to the north side of Laredo.

A decade ago he was a member of the DA's anti-domestic violence team, yet he was slapped with an assault charge by his ex-wife.

Too many conflicts with this man.

According to him, he's the best candidate now because he's paid taxes on his home(s), and therefore he knows the struggle people go through on a daily basis.  Populist campaign takes on a different form in Laredo, obviously.  Laredo and Webb County has seen its share of cynical campaigns before, but this one seems to take the cake.  Just when we think we're getting rid of malandrines like Jorge Vera and Alex Perez, otro pendejete comes into the fold.  Gawd help us.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Radio Personality

Last week I saw that a Mr. Duarte passed away.  I didn't know him personally.  The only thing I knew was that the Duarte name was somehow associated with local musicians.

When I mentioned the name to my mother, she recalled that Mr. Duarte was a well-known personality.  And my mother in-law mentioned listening to his radio show "Serenata Noctorna."  She would frequently call in song requests to Mr. Duarte.

A blog reader tipped me off to a story the Laredo Times did on Mr. Duarte back in 2005.  (see clipping below)  The admiration fans bestowed upon "Lucky" Duarte over the years is immeasurable.  What I was impressed by was that he was doing his Z93 show in his 80s.  Unbelievable.

LaredoTejas made mention of "Serenata Nocturna" three years ago.

A person I talked to years back was disappointed that Laredo didn't have a music hall of fame.  For now we'll have to settle for the memories of local musicians who left their mark on the community.

RIP, Mr. Duarte.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Boom Goes Downtown

It was November 6, 2014 that downtown Laredo turned into a scene straight out of an action movie.  Fire and smoke was shooting out from underground tunnels and (some) people were running for cover.  That was six days ago and some businesses in the area are still without power today.

Store owners interviewed by KGNS lamented the fact that they were losing tens of thousands of dollars each day their stores couldn't open for business.  Surely it's frustrating for them, especially since Black Friday is just over two weeks from now.

Downtown is no stranger to exploding streets.  In 2010 a pedestrian was injured from a flying manhole cover.  And that same year, retailers were upset that underground work was impeding shoppers' access to some stores.  Add to all of this the lagging economy that has limited buying power for customers, and long wait times at the bridge that deter Mexican shoppers.  Downtown has definitely seen better days.

Construction of an outlet mall should soon be a reality.  Getting people in and out of downtown will be a major concern.  Retailers and shoppers can't have things exploding at any given time; it's not good for anybody.

No more explosions!!!


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Historic Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow will be an historic day in Laredo: city hall will canvas the votes of last week's election, and Pete Saenz will be sworn in as our new mayor.  Three city council seats are still up for grabs, including that of incumbent Alex Perez.  The runoff election is scheduled for December 20, 2014.

Mr. Perez is asking for a recount, because he was, supposedly, six votes away from victory.  He garnered 1,161 votes (49.89%) to Abey Lugo's 945 votes (40.61%).  Ulises Salinas got 221 votes.  It's obvious that Alex Perez wants to avoid a runoff, but I'm not sure if he can request a recount.  Perhaps if he pays for it, it's possible, but does he really have a say?


According to the TX Secretary of State website, there are grounds for a recount.  Abey Lugo could request a recount because the vote margin between him and Perez is less than 10 percent.  I don't know if Perez is allowed a recount because he was six votes shy of a win.  Again, it could happen if he pays for it.

In the runoff election, Ulises Salinas' 221 votes are up for grabs.  That's enough to tip the election.

Monday, November 10, 2014

La Avenida

I came across this art piece on the steps of what used to be the Pan American Courts Cafe on San Bernardo Ave.  It's an odd display, but a creative use of old tires, all to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.  Hat tip to the ones trying to add some interest to the old drag.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Stunting Progress

Jorge Vera placed this item on the city council agenda:  Discussion with possible action for recall procedures to go before an oversight committee to validate claims.  Vera is facing a recall after being arrested for cocaine possession and making a false report.  The merits of his item I'll discuss later, but first I want to speak of how the council behaved last night.

Vera introduced his two items at the end of the meeting.  However, when he got to the one I included above, he decided to table it.  George Altgelt was already at the podium ready to speak.  There was some back-and-forth between council members, and they had to clarify that a comment couldn't be allowed because the item was now tabled.  Jorge Vera did an honorable thing and un-tabled the matter so Altgelt could speak.  But as soon as the local attorney started his presentation, he was interrupted by the city manager, and chastised by Roque Vela Jr.  Via the LMT:
"You had your time during public comment ... All of a sudden Councilman (Vera) is here ... cameras are rolling.  Now you want to talk?"
First thing, cameras are rolling during public comments too, and second, Roque Vela, you're an asshole!  What difference does it make when George Altgelt, or anybody for that matter, decides to speak?

The mayor interjected to let Altgelt speak, but mentioned that he had a minute and a half left.  The speaker protested the interruptions, but he wasn't allowed more time to voice his concerns.  It didn't make any difference because a request to table the item was made again, and council approved it.

It got testy, and Altgelt had some parting words for Jorge Vera:  "You had a brief moment of bravery, Councilman Vera."

It's embarrassing how city council and the city manager bully people that show up to challenge them and their policies.  And what's equally frustrating are the ones who sit by and let it happen, not defending people's right to speak before city council.

At any rate, Jorge Vera is facing a recall vote tonight.  People in his district signed a petition, that was partly spearheaded by George Altgelt, to have him removed.  But even though we know that Vera contacted the assistant police chief, and the night commander the night of his arrest, and that cocaine was found in his vehicle, he is remaining steadfast in proclaiming his innocence.

He interfered with administration the night of his arrest; He submitted his statement of innocence to the ethics committee; and now he's trying to interfere with anyone trying to put forth any efforts to have a city official recalled.  For somebody who is supposedly innocent, he's working very hard to put up roadblocks to any pushback coming his way.

This is the government we deserve.  Not because we don't vote, but because our voices aren't heard.  We could have our voices heard, but what good is it if we have a city government that doesn't allow our speech?

Monday, November 3, 2014

New Person In Charge

The Laredo Times reported a hike in the number of registered voters in Webb County.  However, early voting ballots cast show a decrease from four years ago.  This could be for a number of reasons: voter apathy, voters being unaware of the election, local corruption, Ebola, etc.  It's disappointing to see less voters going out to the polls, but given the remarkable year we've had in terms of public officials being busted for various transgressions, it's no surprise that people would decide to stay home.  If people don't have faith in their leaders, why vote?

Proven stories of corruption just give people more reason not to get out to the polls.  It's not the only thing keeping voters away.  Campaigns don't advertise long before the election, and when they do, it's usually to a very targeted section of the population.  Would be voters have a tough time making up their minds about all the candidates; limiting their access to information doesn't help.

There is some interest in a handful of seats.  Frank Sciaraffa has a chance of regaining his old spot as commissioner.  And Tano Tijerina will become the new county judge come January.  The county is not at a loss for controversy.  They need a strong leader to sort out all the drama and make things right.

At city hall we'll have a new mayor.  We'll have one councilman who might face jail time for drug possession.  And Mike Garza is on his way out.  Both District 8 and 1 will have a new person in charge.  Whether real change happens remains to be seen.

The Laredo Lizard recently conducted a straw poll for the mayor's race, with Pete Saenz getting a majority of the vote.  However, with seven candidates in the mix, I doubt Saenz will get most of the vote to garner a win tomorrow night.  Given the lackluster early voting numbers, this will be an election of low expectations, and I don't expect any surprise outcomes.  Pete Saenz might win, but I'm predicting a runoff.  Frank Sciaraffa will return to office, if only by luck.  And Jorge Vera will beat the recall.  Again, low expectations.

The midterms of 2014.  Meh.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

We Can Laugh Now

Any time I update my long-running series Menso Not Mensa, it's usually one person that gets the spotlight for defying the tenets of evolution.  But today we are brimming with knuckleheads.

(Property destruction is also a theme in this post so we will file it under Laredo's Greatest Hits as well)

The first case involves two dummies who are lucky to be alive after stealing a car, leading police on a chase through central Laredo, and ultimately crashing into a trailer.  The car they stole (red Chevy Cobalt) appears totaled.  They might be lost causes, but just the thought that they could end somebody's life in the blink of an eye is scary.  Mensos.

In the next story, we have a couple who stole a bakery van.  Somehow the driver lost control of the vehicle and crashed into a pole.  Residents were without power after that.  The torpid duo left the scene before authorities arrived.  But upon realizing that a bag was left behind in the vehicle, they returned and tried to create a diversion.  The cops weren't having it and the couple was arrested.

Menso y mensa.

Gawd knows why these miscreants did what they did, but again, it's a miracle nobody died.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

In Large Part

The Slaughter Park is getting a nice tree house-looking playground amenity.  New trails are also in the works, as well as a water feature.  Ground-breaking for Slaughter goes back to early 2008.  Soccer and baseball fields were the first to be installed.  

It's a nice place for some outdoor play.  I highly recommend people visiting it in the Chacon neighborhood.

What is bound to come is an announcement that the new playground equipment was added in large part by Councilman Alejandro Perez.  I got word that a playground was installed in or around Ryan Elementary School, and that Perez placed a sign (like the one pictured above) on it, taking credit for the project.  No doubt the finished product at the Slaughter Park will end up on his Facebook feed too.

The "Another District 3 Project" sign (pictured) is out of place, it seems.  Why is it on, what looks like, private property?  Did somebody take liberty with the placement of the sign?  Who knows.

I know I ask people to put their best foot forward, sometimes moreso than what I ask of myself, but wouldn't it be nice to see a sign that gives credit to the community development department, parks and leisure, and maybe even to the taxpayers of Laredo for having varied amenities added to all of its neighborhoods?  Alex Perez should be given his due, but he couldn't have possibly done it all by himself.

Just a simple shoutout is all I ask for, that's all.  


Monday, October 27, 2014

Standing Strong

(Photo via El Manana)

City officials recently dedicated a recreational facility to Marcos Aranda, a firefighter who lost his battle to cancer.  A nice gesture, of course.  My only concern is the presence of Jorge Vera, the councilman who is currently under indictment for drug possession and making a false report to police.  (Vera at far right wearing red tie.)

Vera was supposed to make an appearance at the public forum held at TAMIU on Thursday, but instead chose otherwise.  Media outlets didn't specify why the councilman backed out of the event; but I'm guessing it's because of the possibility of having loaded questions lobbed at him by attendees.

On his FB feed, Jorge Vera rails against those who are trying to malign his character.  He is standing strong and his friends are right there to support him.  So it's natural that he continue, unabated, with the business at hand, what with everybody in your corner.  The photo ops only add to making Mr. Vera the good guy.  Yet, everybody ignores the fact that a police report makes note about cocaine being found in his truck, and then him making a false report to authorities.

Jorge Vera knows full well that the recall election to remove him from office is not going to succeed.

He, and Johnny Amaya, and Mike Montemayor, and Frank Sciaraffa are going to go on about their lives like nothing has happened.  (Montemayor is actually awaiting sentencing)  As long as we keep propping up these ne'er-do-wells with support, they are not going to go away.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

This Is My House

The LMT did some snooping into the residency status of two city council candidates.  Recently I questioned why somebody would go through the trouble of (allegedly) saying they live in one place when overwhelming evidence exists that he/she lives elsewhere.

I don't know what Mr. Balli's or Mr. Lugo's true intentions are; They could have the community's best interest in mind.  But this reeks of carpetbagging.  A candidate has to have lived within the district 90 days before the deadline for filing an application for office.  The city charter is written that way, and some people may take advantage of that loophole.  However, Balli can't make up his mind which property to call home.

Via the LMT:

Balli said he's spent time going back and forth between his Santa Maria and other West Laredo properties.  "My wife spent time in San Antonio so we've been back and forth between the properties we own," he said.

Oh for crissakes!!!!  I don't know whether to be upset about his boasting of all the properties he owns, or the tremendous spin he places on the matter at hand.

His case sounds too opportunistic, in my (cynical) opinion.  It's like the mayor running for county treasurer:  instead of running in a race that could be competitive, like that of county judge, he runs for treasurer against people with less name recognition, and the chance of the incumbent retiring.  Balli probably thinks he's got a good shot at winning because he's been on t.v. and probably is chummy with those who can garner some support for him.

When Gene Belmares ran against Raul Salinas four years ago, questions arose about Belmares' ability to connect with south side residents.  He stressed that he and his family had roots in south Laredo.  I don't have numbers of how Mr. Belmares fared at the polls with regards to District 8 support, but he didn't prevail in his running for mayor.  Mr. Balli could be following in Belmares' reasoning -- having confidence in the voters of a district that really don't identify with you.

Good luck to the candidates.  13 days to go until Election Day.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Things They Do

Councilman Alex Perez got himself into something of a pickle the other night.  He was arrested for allegedly stealing his opponent's (Abey Lugo) campaign signs.  I believe it was KGNS first to report on Mr. Perez's arrest.  I'm kind of surprised with the swift manner in which he was caught.  Apparently it was Mr. Lugo who notified police of the criminal activity after he got a tip.

The details were pretty straightforward: Mr. Perez was seen taking campaign signs that didn't belong to him; the cops were called; his opponent's signs were found in his vehicle; Mr. Perez was hauled off by the cops.  The value of the signs was placed at less than $50; the crime a misdemeanor.  He just has to pay a fine and be done with it.  But no.

As you know, our supporters, volunteers, campaign workers, family, and friends have been working tirelessly over the last couple of months, block walking, going to events, and putting up signs.
Our volunteers are eager to help and are zealously performing their assigned tasks. Throughout the campaign our campaign workers, volunteers, family and I have block walked almost all of our district. It is mostly during these block walking periods that hundreds of our district 3 residents request “Alex Perez” signs to be placed on their property. We are excited and appreciative of their support.
Our campaign team has been instructed what the rules are regarding the placement, installing and removing of signs. Some of these rules can be confusing to some of our campaign workers.
This past weekend one of our volunteers made a mistake, when he took down a very small sign and inadvertently placed it in the campaign vehicle. Although the incident happened without my knowledge, I take full responsibility for my campaign workers’ conduct occurring during the campaign.
Our campaign worker was under the understanding that the property owner wanted only the “Alex Perez” signs on her property. He was under the belief that the property owner wanted the small sign removed from her property. Despite cooperating and giving this information, we were all cited. We should not have been cited but I respect the officers decision.
At the end of the day, the citation issued is a simple “speeding ticket” like citation that we will be contesting.
We will meet with our volunteers and supporters once again and remind them of the rules and the proper protocol that should be followed.
In the mean time, we will continue to work tirelessly and convey our message as to all of the improvements we have made to our district and the City as a whole and all the future improvements already in the works and that are planned. We humbly ask for your support.
-Alejandro “Alex” Perez, Jr.

Mr. Perez released a statement on his Facebook page, basically saying that his campaign workers were the ones who took down the signs, and that it was a property owner in the Chacon neighborhood who wanted the signs removed.  That may very well be true, but the signs were found in his vehicle.  He agreed to take responsibility for the supposed actions of his assistants, but vows to fight the citation.

I'm reminded of the line from "The Contender" where Laine Hanson says, I'm guilty but not responsible.

Mr. Perez's friends showered him with support on FB.  They're clearly ready to move on from this event.  And perhaps we all should.  His character is suspect now, but maybe it's not necessary for him to lose his place at city hall for pulling off such a stupid, senseless, idiotic stunt.  What's annoying is his defiant attitude towards the whole thing.

Abey Lugo released video footage he personally took the night of Alex Perez's arrest.  The two argued.  In the exchange, Lugo asks Perez what his signs are doing in the vehicle.  Perez then accuses Lugo of stealing his signs.  He proceeds to admit taking Lugo's signs.
I'm doing what you're doing to my signs, bro.
Mr. Perez says, in the video, that his signs are being cut down and left on the ground.  He has no proof of that, but tries to get out of the problem by telling Lugo to take back his sign and "call it even."

Perez tries to squirm his way out of a mess, and throw everybody under the bus, even though the evidence is in his vehicle -- a white SUV with ALEX PEREZ scrawled across the back windshield.
The theft and destruction of signs is not new.  Alex's response, however, is less than honorable.

UPDATE on 4/28/2016:  drug test results for Alex Perez.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

80 Days Before Year Closes Out

Laredo's political corruption timeline:

October 13, 2014 - Alex Perez arrested for stealing his opponent's (Abey Lugo) campaign signs.

October 8, 2014 - Johnny Amaya booked for tampering with government records.

September 24, 2014 - charges of sexual harassment dismissed against Frank Sciaraffa (stature of limitations).  Claims of retaliation still stand against county.

September 4, 2014 - Ricardo Rangel appears in federal court for a count of extortion.

August 1, 2014 - Councilman Jorge Vera turns himself in for drug possession charges.

March 19, 2014 - Mike Montemayor arrested for accepting bribes.

[*October 4, 2014 - It's reported that Esteban Rangel is receiving city council salary illegally]

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Worst Of Times

Another shoe has dropped in Laredo in what has turned out to be an extraordinary year in terms of public corruption discovery.  Yesterday afternoon the news broke on social media that former Water Utilities Manager Johnny Amaya was booked for allegedly tampering with governmental records and engaging in criminal activities.  Along with Mr. Amaya, seven other water plant staff members were arrested.

Mr. Amaya resigned as manager on August 21, 2013 after reports of E.coli contamination were released.  A boil water alert was set in motion for residents of Rio Bravo and El Cenizo.  Public outcry was swift, with residents teaming up with the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid to sue the county for its lack of urgency in handling the matter.

Mr. Amaya had been handed countless reprimands over the course of a decade for failing to carry out his duties.  And at one point he was eligible for termination.  Why wasn't he dealt with more severely before he resigned?  Amid the boil water period, both the county and the city provided drinking water for the residents of southern Webb County.

I can't help but wonder if Mr. Amaya would still be employed by the county if the media and the public didn't put enough pressure on county officials.  The DA's office has to be given some credit for pursuing this case, but I think things got more compelling for the county when citizens showed that they were fed up and were taking legal action against them.

The case against Johnny Amaya and his subordinates in noteworthy, not only because of the fact that peoples' lives were jeopardized, but because of the systematic malfeasance that allegedly took place at the water department.  These are amazing times for our community, and all for the wrong reasons.  It's imperative that we take action to make things right.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Setting The Example For Us

Kudos to local activist Humberto Trevino Jr., and El Manana, for shedding light on a matter concerning Councilman Esteban Rangel.  Laredo's other newspaper explains that when Mr. Rangel was promoted to the position of LISD Director of Transportation, he did not inform city staff.  Because of his new position, and the salary he receives from the state, he cannot qualify for compensation as an elected official under state law.  He apparently had been doing so for a year.

Last week I posted the letter that Mr. Trevino circulated through several media outlets.  The city attorney was also contacted.   It's concerned citizens like Humberto Trevino Jr. that have the courage to stand up for what's right.  He didn't have to do this; and the city would've just gladly swept the matter under the rug.  But Mr. Trevino put his name on the line to make an honest man of Esteban Rangel.  He is paying attention to what's going on, and he's setting the example for what true civic duty is.  Hat tip to you, sir!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Out With The Old

Word came down recently that the Nixon HS Annex building was going to be torn down to make way for tennis courts.  It was reported that the building itself was approximately 20 years old.

The project is part of the LISD bond plan that will also have the magnet school (music) move from the downtown area into a brand spanking new edifice across the street from the high school on Malinche Ave.  Good deal for the kids.  But where were the new facilities for us?  [I digress]

I noticed an old building on Chihuahua was torn down this weekend.  The two-story structure used to be a retail outlet for school supplies, if I remember correctly.  And more recently a local artist rented out the bottom floor to use as his studio.  The property that extends from the building pictured towards Guadalupe St. was also cleared.  It's a big enough piece of land for commercial space, but we'll wait and see what becomes of it.

Pretty soon the old Riverdrive Mall will be torn down to accommodate the outlet mall.  When will the day come when the old Mercy Hospital meets the wrecking ball?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Business As Usual

KGNS followed up yesterday with Jorge Vera's case by basically saying that there's nothing new to report.  Mr. Vera spoke with a station reporter, saying he's letting voters decide next month whether he should be recalled or not.  Judging by public comments on his Facebook page, it looks like his constituents only care about what he can do for them right now.  I don't know if he's filtering out any negative comments, but Mr. Vera and the people of District 7 are pretty much letting the legal process work itself out.

I strongly believe a person should be considered innocent until proven guilty; But the report that was submitted by police against Jorge Vera looks very damaging.  I would venture to guess that nobody around him has told him that this looks very bad.

He's probably expecting to be offered a very generous plea offer.  And he's hoping his constituents can look past his private foibles, as long as he promises to keep the streets clean.  Surely he knows that his peers at city hall will just look the other way and not utter a word about his actions.  But everybody from the DA's office to his colleagues, possibly giving him a pass, tells us that he and others like him should not be held to a higher standard.

The outcome of this saga will speak volumes about our community.  Again, judging by the police report, witness accounts, and Councilman Juan Narvaez saying that Mr. Vera's arrest should come as no surprise, it really looks like Jorge Vera has an addiction problem and should be dealt with appropriately.  It's looking more and more, however, like all the key players are not taking a zero tolerance attitude with this issue.  Nothing to do now but wait.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A Journal Of The 956

Readers of LareDOS were surprised this week with the news that the current issue would be the last.  Publisher Meg Guerra bid everyone farewell with a heartfelt telling of the struggles the paper has endured over the years.  It wasn't an easy decision for her to finally let go, but she knew it was coming.
It has been far more difficult to turn the page on this, the final chapter of this news journal, than it was to start it in December 1994 with my then-partner Richard Geissler.    
Meg's followers expressed their dismay on social media, along with words of gratitude.  What I'll miss from LareDOS are the intelligent, thoughtful stories that Meg provided.  With her mighty pen she drew for us a beautiful picture of the world near us.  She also gave us a monthly helping of muckraking that was articulate and intriguing.  The few times that we spoke in person were more impressive, not only because of the wealth of information she has on local history, but simply because of the way she spoke.  Her words are genuine, smart and flow with ease.

It's unclear what Meg will do from now on.  I can only hope that she will have some type of presence in the community.  I fully appreciate the feat she has accomplished these last two decades.  I wish her the best.  Much love, Meg!      

UPDATE on 4/28/2016:

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It's All Just For Show

Two years ago the City of Laredo approved a code of ethics, and with it, an ethics commission that would "review allegations" of wrongdoing.  But the commission itself was slow in getting off the ground, and hasn't really made much hoopla since it was set in place.  Now the city seems preoccupied with flaws pertaining to elected officials after Councilman Jorge Vera turned himself in on August 1, 2014 for alleged drug possession and making a false report to police.  Last month city council volunteered to take drug tests, and now they are looking at instituting background checks for elected personnel.

I previously posted a section of the city charter that clearly states that the city council can judge the qualifications of its members.  It can call forth witnesses in conducting its own investigation.  So, for instance, if Charlie San Miguel or Jorge Vera interfered with administrative staff, they could look into that and sanction each person accordingly.  Or if one of their own committed some other serious misstep, they could, again, call in witnesses and get to the bottom of any and all wrongdoing.  But they haven't.  Instead they've taken worthless drug tests, and now are considering background checks.
The city's code of ethics speaks of gifts that elected officials can accept, and conflicts of interests they may have; It doesn't say anything about a council member being caught with cocaine, allegedly.

These examples, however, are not the only issues that should be before city council, or the ethics commission.  One local activist reached out to me about the concern he has with elected officials who are employed by state agencies, and receive compensation as councilmen.  Submission below:

There seems to be a real disconnect from reality when it comes to ethics on the part of some people currently sitting on our city council. This administration in the opinion of many reflects the failure of leadership and vision so sorely needed if Laredo is to succeed in ridding itself of the stigma of corruption and all the ills that accompany this type of behavior.

It exists because we allow it to exist when we don’t exercise our right to Vote!!

When one is elected to office, as in this case our mayor and city council members, one would expect them to know the City Charter from A-Z and be able to recognize right from wrong. Our elected officials have an obligation to themselves and more importantly to the people of Laredo they serve, to provide their best for the community not their worst.

We currently have two councilmen employed by both UISD and LISD, Mike Garza and Esteban Rangel respectively. Both serve in administrative positions in their employment and as such are compensated either in whole or part from state funds.

 Which brings into question their eligibility to serve as a member of a local governing body? The answer is yes however, the underlying question here is can they be compensated for their public service NO!!  Article XVI section 40 of the Texas Constitution  states “if the compensation of a public employee, is directly or indirectly funded in whole or part from STATE FUNDS, the public employee (may not) receive any compensation for his or her service as a member of the governing body of a city, school district or other local government district.” Furthermore, “compensation is only permitted for reimbursement of actual expenses, provided the reimbursement is limited to the amount contained in actual receipts or other proof of expenditures.” Currently councilman Rangel receives on a monthly basis- $1000 in salary, $750.00 for home office, $750.00 for transportation (gasoline) and $150.00 for cell phone. Mike Garza on the other hand receives no salary but does receive $750.00 for home office, $750.00 for transportation (gasoline) and $150.00 for cell phone. They both receive the perks but only one receives a salary, why? If you follow the letter of the law as outlined by Texas Dual Office Holding Laws from the office of the Attorney General I think one can safely assume that the compensation of both of these gentlemen is improper.

I look forward to an explanation from the city attorney and/or councilman Esteban Rangel or Mike Garza, I’m certain that the citizens of Laredo deserve it and may also allow them to dispel any appearances of impropriety on their part.


Humberto Trevino Jr.

(end of letter)
It's interesting that Councilman Garza would forego his salary, and just depend on his allowances for mileage and home office supplies, especially when state law prohibits anyone from declining compensation in return for serving on a governing body.  (an officer cannot return the pay or benefits of the second office, or simply refuse to accept them, to avoid being considered to hold two civil offices of emolument.)  See Texas Dual Office Holding Laws.

It's a legitimate issue, the salaries of state employees/council memebers, that should be looked into.  For now the ethics commission and city hall do this and that without actually accomplishing anything.  They will, nevertheless discuss the merits of having background checks at tonight's meeting, but what good will that do?  

Aldo Amato (LMT) quoted Assistant City Attorney Kristina Hale:
The recommendations would likely be passed on to a city charter review commission, which has yet to be established, Hale said.
Pus chinga' madre!  

Let's say background checks for council candidates become the norm.  What will the city be able to do with them?  Will they be able to deter people from running?  Here are more concerns that a blog reader shared in regards to background checks:

What specific information will be included in background checks?
Who will have access to them?
Will they be made public?
What about confidentiality?
Will this deter participation by otherwise qualified candidates who don't want their unpaid hospital bill to be made public?
Would any of the recent bad actors have been flagged by a background check?
Were background checks done on these bad actors?
Is there something specific on background checks that city wants to know as opposed to others?

City council should stop with the theatrics and use the city charter to actually judge their own qualifications, and put to rest any questions/allegations of nepotism, compensation, or illegal activity.  When they actually start demanding more of themselves, then maybe the public will regain confidence in the system and get out to the polls to vote.  The ethics commission would do well to get its  act together too.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Rambler In Chief Goes To DC One More Time

Raul Salinas spent some time in Washington this week.  He was supposedly invited by Vice President Joe Biden to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month at the nation's capital.  The mayor was going to tout Laredo's economic influence, and urge the administration to stay on track with immigration reform so millions of immigrants could "come out of the shadows."

Under Barack Obama's leadership, more than 2 million undocumented immigrants have been deported.  Raul Salinas can talk a good deal about immigration reform without really saying anything.  I don't know how convincing he's going to be to an administration that has placed immigration reform on the back burner until after the midterm elections.

Let's not pretend like Raul Salinas is a champion of immigration.  After all, this is the man who said that the city would "not spend a penny" to aid with the influx of Central American immigrants.  He made a cursory visit to the Greyhound station downtown where a lot of people were being dumped off by Border Patrol agents.  But that's it.

He's gone to the valley to see how McAllen has handled the immigration problem.  He's appeared on Greta Van Susteren's show to speak of the supposed strain the city is under in dealing with immigrants.  And now he went to the White House to ask for help.  All of this and he hasn't lifted a finger to go thank the people who have given their time at the Holding Community Center.

The Laredo Humanitarian Relief Team keeps helping those in need, all in the spirit of true public service.  The mayor, meanwhile, stokes his ego.

It's mixed messages all around.  Henry Cuellar beats the drum on Twitter to turn TX blue, but in reacting to the large number of immigrants he made it clear that everybody from Central America was going to be sent back sooner than later.

Henry Cuellar and Raul Salinas are supposed to be our voices, the ones we have chosen to represent us.  But their stand on multiple issues is confusing.  Raul Salinas' vision for everything seems to be 'we have to be reimbursed for our efforts.'  His words, however, seem to yield little in return.    

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"Promote Aesthetic Enhancement"

The local firefighters union has put up a bunch of signs for candidates they're supporting.  Nothing wrong there.  It's not pleasant, however, to see multiple yellow signs grouped together, all for different office seekers.  I almost have to turn away because of the glare.

If you're wondering about sign placement rules, the city is more than happy to remind you.