Thursday, May 29, 2014

We Lose Here

Paying a contractor almost all of the money he's asking for is not really a settlement, it's paying him in full, practically.  I realize this matter is at the lawsuit stage, and the county auditor wants to appeal the decision of a local judge, but ultimately there must be a loser.  Unfortunately, the losers are the residents of Webb County.  What bugs me the most about this is that we'll end up paying a contractor for sub-par work.

The report above was sent to Webb County officials by the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs.  (Obtained locally via a FOIA request)

That last part jumps out: 43 of the 71 units inspected revealed discrepancies between measures installed and measures invoiced and improper installation of weatherization materials.

UPDATE:  I spoke to Commissioner Galo today.  He told me the county (as in us) is paying the contractor for work that was deemed appropriate.  In other words, work that was sub-par is off the table and would not be paid for.  The commissioner took issue with Mr. Flores' actions, calling him disingenuous and insisting that he has no place in the negotiations taking place in this current lawsuit.

I can see how Mr. Flores is trying to avoid using public funds to pay for work that was done on private property, but perhaps this makes sense, as I'm trying to understand everything that's going on here:  we're paying for the lawsuit and the work that was actually done.  We need to put aside the fact that the weatherization program was handled so incompetently.

I still don't like that we have to foot the bill, but somebody has to pay.


Mr. Galo lamented that nobody was charged criminally for the botched weatherization program.  At the very least I would want to know more about those who signed off on the work, and how they were appointed to that position.  Also, I want to know if caulking and 2x4s really cost that much.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

More Action, Less Talk

The story of local volunteers banding together to help Mr. John Berry is heartwarming and inspirational.  The World War II veteran was found to be living in substandard conditions.  Upon learning about this, members of the community sprang into action to help the elderly gentleman.  Last I heard was that Habitat For Humanity was going to build Mr. Berry a home.  Excellent.

This story has so many layers, but I want to focus on the fact that Mr. Berry is a veteran, and fellow veterans and non-veterans are helping him out.  Those employing some elbow grease in this matter are showing us how to physically thank veterans, instead of just repeating some tired slogan like 'support our troops.'  We can all say 'we thank you for your service,' like politicians are prone to doing, but a select few in Laredo have gone above and beyond to see that one veteran gets his due.

Yesterday was Memorial Day so (almost) everybody on social media was saluting members of the military, past and present.  Today we have the runoff election for those who competed in the March primary but didn't quite get a majority of the vote.  A handful of people have been encouraging friends and family to get out the vote.  A good thing about the last two days is that the uplifting, religious social media posts have been kept at a minimum.  Instead we've been bombarded with rote expressions: two that I mentioned above, and the ever-present election day saying, 'if you don't vote, you can't complain.'

That last phrase makes me cringe because the majority of those who do vote only go on to complain, but never take any action apart from filling in a ballot bubble to change things for the better.  Or even worse, they vote and then totally disengage from local political happenings.  People who harp about the importance of voting need to have the same enthusiasm carry over until the next election cycle by contacting their local representatives, or actually going to city hall or commissioners court to voices their concerns.

We need to be like those volunteer veterans helping Mr. Berry, or the group VIDA, or those who spoke out for the plastic bag ban -- people sticking their neck out to try to make a difference.  Like a friend said during a recent neighborhood clean-up, 'mas accion, menos platica,' or something like that.  He was being facetious, I think, but that statement sums up what needs to happen here, both with veterans affairs and the political system.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Can't Delegate What You Don't Know

(Photo courtesy LMT)

Mid-term elections are interesting because, at the national level, the House or Senate could have a change in leadership.  Predictions so far point to republicans having the edge in taking over the U.S. Senate.  The only thing I can say about that prospect is: thank goodness the president has veto power.  The possibility of dealing with a republican House and Senate will show us whether Obama is truly a weak leader.

For Laredoans, what happens closer to home is more important, at least it is for a small percentage of voters.

Of all the primary races for Webb County, there were a couple that stood out this year: the race for county judge, and county treasurer.  The judge's race is always high profile, filled with heavy hitters, if you will, who have nice war chests and play a good game of politics.  Controversies from the last four years helped Tano Tijerina beat the incumbent, Danny Valdez.  I think that contest played out the way most of us expected.  Commissioners Court didn't take responsibility for all the scandals before them, but voters saw to it that someone was held accountable.  Sorry, Danny.  We'll see if voters keep the trend alive in deciding the Canales (I)/Valdez Jr. runoff race.

A more peculiar race, one that has made me throw up in my mouth on several occasions, is the county treasurer's.  I say that mostly because current mayor Raul Salinas is vying for the spot.  From the get-go I thought this was a very cynical move on his part.  He could've chosen to run for J.P., commissioner, or county judge, but he opted to take the easy road: go out for an office being vacated by Delia Perales and run against virtual unknowns.  Name recognition alone would mean smooth sailing towards the treasurer's office.  But then Delia Perales decided against retiring and put her hat back into the race.

(see hat below)

  Now the race has turned into a 'he said she said' drama.  Salinas says Ms. Perales would support him in his bid for office.  She says she never said that.  He says it's time for positive change and that he'll bring transparency, efficiency, and accountability to the treasurer's office.  She says practices are already in place that have made the department more transparent and efficient.

He says we're better off with her just riding off into the sunset.  She says she knows what he can do with his gavel.*

(Those last two statements are unconfirmed)

One hopeful sign in this is that Delia Perales has won a runoff before.  The downside is that people don't pay attention to detail and vote instead on instinct.  The only reason Raul Salinas won the mayoral position twice is because he wasn't the other guy (Galo, Belmares).  When you think about it, this gig he's shooting for is much like what he's used to: he doesn't have to make any hard decisions, or cast any votes; he can go around shaking hands and smiling for the cameras; and he can enjoy all the perks that come with the job, such as pay, allowances, and trips out of town on the public tab.

Mr. Salinas is running on the hope that his name and supposed accomplishments can carry him through.  Little does he realize that he's gotten by on luck the last eight years.  He fancies himself the great communicator, and a person of the people, but his political fumbling continues to this day, making it known to everyone that he has no idea what it takes to be county treasurer.

I wish Ms. Perales the best of luck, as well as all the other candidates taking part in the runoff election.