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.


Monday, September 22, 2014

Did You Get One?

I discovered something new in the stack of junk mail relatives receive: applications for absentee ballots.  This I had not seen being offered in the past.

These mailers seem to be geared towards retired voters.  (I'm checking with friends and relatives to see who got this in the mail.)  The deadline to return this application is October 24, 2014.

This is part of the same application.  Near the resident's address (on reverse side), a disclaimer is included:  Paid for by the Texas Democratic Party.  On the TX Dems website, there is such a thing as a voter expansion project.

My mother received a different application in the mail, with a different return PO Box address from the one pictured above.  The only similarity the mailers share is the OFFICIAL ELECTION MAIL stamp that has a wavy background image.

This is a great resource for voters who have mobility issues.  In the case of my mother, I have to drive her to the polls.  But it's interesting that relatives who reside within blocks of each other got totally different absentee ballot applications in their mailbox.  Just the fact that they received unsolicited forms in the mail, in a red state, is curious.  And why the different PO Boxes?  This could all be on the up-and-up, with the democratic party trying to increase voter turnout; It's just that there is no uniformity in the process, and it's something we didn't expect.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Er, Uh, And So Forth

Even when addressing the media, Councilman Jorge Vera can't get his story straight.
I owe it to my constituents to, to come up and say something.  So I'm thinking in a week or two I should be, in a week or week and a half, I should be ready to have something concrete where I can explain, er, and uh, and  uh, and come up to the media, or to, uh, the constituents.
Mr. Vera turned himself in to police August 1, 2014 after cocaine was found in his truck, which was parked outside Average Joes on July 29, 2014.  The night he was questioned at the northside bar, he gave conflicting statements that went against a friend's claims.

He's still not doing a good job of trying to clear his name.

Monday, September 15, 2014

More Campaign Signs

Local campaign signs are a funny thing.  I noticed that early on.  For the most part, candidates fork out money to have some professional-grade signage made.  Usually they're huge, colorful, and they drown out the homemade campaign signs of others.  This year's notable sign has to be that of Dr. Pena, who is running for mayor of Rio Bravo.  It's a very busy sign.

On the upper left hand corner it reads SI SE PUEDE.  He sports his labcoat and stethescope, and poses with fellow supporters/candidates.  Right under him you see the words: El Doc.  But the cherry on top is the soundoff, VOTAS O TE VALE.  Because, of course, he's going in as the populist candidate.

Not sure if the doctor is a resident of Rio Bravo, or if people care.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Welcome To The West Side

Roberto Balli is running for city council District 8, which is the area covering downtown and neighborhoods north of the Civic Center.  He says he lives on 1719 Santa Maria, where his law office is located.  But a quick property search reveals that he has a 2014 homestead exemption for his Josefina Dr. home (see above) near Alexander H.S.  That's quite a ways off from downtown Laredo.

Okay, perhaps he's lived at the Santa Maria location for "(90) days preceding the last day for filing of an application for candidacy" as the city charter demands, but he just hasn't made the minor clerical change with the county appraisal district.  Or does he even have to?  The city charter also states that the candidate must reside in his/her district for the remainder of the term.  Welcome to El Siete, Mr. Balli!!!

This candidate is not the only one who has had residency issues come up.  When John Galo was councilman, he had a house near Chihuahua St.  Now, not.

It may seem like a triviality, these residency questions, but it makes me wonder why one would go to such measures to land a spot in city or county government.  Hell, even as a trustee!

(part of City charter below)

The Mayor and all City Council Members shall be registered voters of the City,
and shall have resided within the City for twelve months immediately preceding the last
day for filing an application for candidacy. Additionally, City Council members shall
have resided within the district for which they file for candidacy for ninety (90) days
preceding the last day for filing of an application for candidacy and must maintain their
residence in the district from which elected throughout their term of office.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Motorcyclist Vs Fence

It never ends well when a motorcyclist crashes.  The daredevil riders always take the brunt of the injuries.  Nevertheless, they do cause damage to property.  In this case, the motorcycle driver ran into an iron fence and busted it.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Yoly's Gets It

Yoly's Cafe on Market St. is missing one of its porch supports.  The beam was surely the casualty of another careless Laredo driver.  The damage doesn't look serious enough, but the destruction is there, nonetheless.  Just another one of Laredo's Greatest Hits.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Another Black Eye For Laredo

2014 has not been good for Laredo and Webb County.  Major controversy has filled this mid-term election year.  Early yesterday I heard that an official was going to be arrested.  Nothing happened until the afternoon when an update was posted on Twitter by an LMT reporter that local JP Ricardo Rangel reported to federal court downtown for his arraignment.

Details of the charges didn't trickle in until hours later.

Sixty days left before the November 4 election and I expect turnout to be low, as usual.  Apathy and cynicism will be rampant, which will coincide with the levels of local corruption.  For all the efforts that local officials are putting forth to better the community, it's news like this that will forever brand Laredo as a cesspool of corruption and stagnation.    

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Ignorance Will Be Mine

I used to enjoy listening to political discussions on t.v. and radio.  Unfortunately most exchanges took on an adversarial tone.  I left behind such shows as Crossfire, and Meet The Press.  In the late 90s I remember 1490 AM hosting a political talk show with local voices.  Oftentimes the commentary wasn't that smart, but still I listened.  My writings are antagonistic, and at times, not that thoughtful; so I don't begrudge anyone who dislikes me or my views.  That's why my blog is now more on the down low.  I can articulate my thoughts on issues without the expectation of approval or loyalty.

Getting back to adversarial and un-thoughtful, last night I watched part of the city council meeting where they discussed the used tire ordinance.  A female tire shop owner spoke to council of the $20 fee that would be imposed for every tire a customer decided to take home.  She thought the cost was exorbitant for her customers.  Clients patronize her establishment because they don't have a lot of money to spend, she lamented, and adding extra fees would not be helpful.  Councilman Alex Perez motioned to table the item to come up with another solution, but ultimately, the council agreed to lower the tax to $10 per tire.

I don't recall how previous talks developed on this issue.  But last night city council was ready to move on and they made a meaningless gesture for the working poor.  They all agreed on the motion, the mayor pounded his gavel, and it was over.  When the lady tried to speak again, the mayor flatly told her that the matter was done.  She was bewildered and slowly walked away.  Our thoughtless elders muddled on.

I contacted several council members via text to voice my displeasure of their hurried, insensitive demeanor.  A couple replied, one even dialing me up.  We had a serious talk about the night's event.  Ultimately they all chipped away at my sanity and the matter of discarded tires on city streets is no better off towards a solution.

Stay away, I must.  I don't have the patience for this.