Wednesday, February 18, 2015

I Christen Thee

I thought I knew everything about crooked Webb County politicians, but apparently I was wrong.  In a Texas Monthly issue from January 1976, I read about the case of Alfonso DeLaGarza, a former county commissioner.  He and two other individuals got caught by undercover agents in the mid 1970s.  Via an AP release:

APi - Webb County Commisioner Alfonso De la (Jarza was indicted Friday by a 49th District Court grand jury on bribery charges Also indicted were former jail Sgt. Erasmo Rodarte. and current jailer Raul S Lugo

Apart from what's documented above, I couldn't find any local writings that detailed the case against DeLaGarza.  In the spring of 1979, however, information is presented in an appeal (DeLaGarza v State).

 The appeal judgement states that Alfonso DeLaGarza received 12 months of probation.  Whether he did any jail time is unknown.  DeLaGarza was not part of J.C. Martin's Partido Viejo, but it was a kickback free-for-all in those days, I imagine.  Political corruption was obviously ubiquitous.

That would be the end of the story -- local politician, indicted on bribery, loses appeal.  But there's more.  Fast forward almost 30 years to a commissioners court meeting, where those in power decided to name a building in - [[drumroll please!!!]] - Alfonso DeLaGarza's honor!  Skadush!  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, our elected officials thought it was a good idea to name a community center after a crooked politician.

Then-Commissioner Jerry Vasquez was quoted in the Laredo Times, praising Alfonso DeLaGarza as a man "ahead of his time."  I suppose time has a way of healing old wounds.

I was informed that Alfonso DeLaGarza had a son, but that he was not involved in politics.

You have to go inside the Rio Bravo Community Center to appreciate the honor bestowed upon DeLaGarza.

It's unusual how things happen around here.  You would think that certain things are off limits, like naming buildings after dubious characters, or after one's parents (Charlie San Miguel).  But apparently, in these hinterlands, anything goes.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Silver Roses Present

In an old Laredo Times clipping I found among a stack of old pictures, mention is made of an event that took place at Cigarroa High School:  Halftime Highlights.  The short announcement appeared in a Sunday issue dated September 4, 1983.  That day the Cigarroa H.S. Silver Roses were scheduled to perform at 2:00 p.m. in the school's gym.

The reason my family saved this cutout is because of the party announcement on the reverse side.  Friends celebrated a birthday earlier in the week and it made the pages of the Times.  I just now realized what was on the side that's pictured above.

Back to the Halftime Highlights.  The reason this is significant is because Cigarroa High School opened for its first-ever semester on August 1983.  The school was just a couple of weeks old and already they were hosting events for the public.

And that's a moment in time.  

Oh The Unfairness

News story pictured above is from November 2013.

Commissioners revisited the 'resign-to-run' rule at Monday's meeting.  Two new faces were a part of the discussion this time around: County Judge Cayetano Tijerina and Francisco Sciaraffa.  Apparently, in 2013, commissioners court couldn't come up with a resolution to the matter.

Watching the rerun of the meeting on public access last night, I was astounded at the confusion the issue created.  Tijerina and John Galo were ready to adopt the new rule of having directors resign if they decided to run for office.  Employees also seeking elected office would fall under the same policy, but because Commissioners Canales and Rosaura Tijerina couldn't agree with the proposal, the item fizzled.

Those that supported 'resign to run' argued that work relations would suffer within departments once a Webb County worker decided to run for office.  A staffer or director could not dedicate themselves to their work, and run for office, they said.  Frank Sciaraffa noted that he took time off during one election cycle to focus on his campaign.  What I remember Frank Sciaraffa not doing is showing up for debates.

Commissioner Galo was inconsistent from beginning to end.  He said he would prefer people familiar with county policies and procedures to run for office, instead of having a layperson come in, who didn't know the work required.  It makes sense -- if the county clerk's office, let's say, needed candidates, you would want somebody who is knowledgeable about the inner workings of the department.  But then he was a vocal supporter of having potential candidates relinquishing their county post if they decided to run for office.  So he wants strong candidates for office at county, but would rather have them quit in order to run.  That's not much of an incentive for qualified people to consider.

It's disgusting to think that people like Judge Tijerina and Galo would think all county employees are financially secure in their lives (the way they are) that each could easily quit their jobs, threaten their livelihoods, in order to run for office.

Jaime Canales pointed to his own experience.  He was a county employee when he ran for office.  Because there was no 'resign to run' policy in place, he was able to attain elected office, he noted.  Rosaura Tijerina disagreed with the policy proposal because, according to her, it would go against the democratic process.

There are countless scenarios at county where individuals have decided to run for office.  Commissioners were narrow-minded in their discussion.  Supporters of 'resign to run' basically wanted to have an all-or-nothing approach, except for elected officials.  But isn't it the case that people like the sheriff or the tax assessor always come under scrutiny for creating problems for staffers when election season arises?

With 'resign to run,' I think county employees are discouraged from challenging incumbents.  Meanwhile, incumbents can have their campaigns partly subsidized by taxpayers.  They could have free access to media outlets.  They could impose upon their subordinates fundraising tools.

I really hope this resign-to-run rule is squashed.  Commissioners court has to realize that it's an unfair proposal, and one that has a lot of unintended consequences.  

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Little Things About Our Day

The price of regular unleaded gasoline this week went up to $2.11 per gallon.  A couple of weeks ago, a gallon of unleaded reached a low of $1.81.  The new 30-cent difference is disheartening, but it's better than what it's been in previous years.

Where Do I Sign?

Story via the Victoria Advocate

On April 29, 1979, former Laredo Mayor J.C. Martin Jr. was released from jail.  The sentence came after he was convicted of mail fraud.  Authorities discovered a misuse of funds and resources within the City of Laredo.  Corruption was widespread.  Martin, however, got off easy.

His sentence was to spend 30 weekends in jail.  People familiar with the facts of the Martin saga sadly remember the man only going to the jail to sign in, so as to show proof that he was there, and then go on about his life, without doing time for his transgressions.

Those are the perks of having money and influence.  

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Large What?!

A weird thing once appeared in the pages of the Laredo Times:  the story of a large worm carcass.  On March 5, 1993, the newspaper featured a tale that recounted how authorities were baffled by the presence of an unidentified river monster.  It created a stir in the community.
Because federal environmental guidelines do not outline the proper disposal method for large, earth worm carcasses, authorities have left the creature in the Target store parking lot until Monday, when zoologists and EPA officials are expected to arrive from Washington.
Carol Huang, staff writer for the Times, was dismissed for writing the piece.  I don't know what her motivation was, other than wanting to get fired.

The story didn't compare to the panic people felt when Orson Welles went on the radio and talked about an alien invasion; But Laredoans bought Ms. Huang's story enough to go have a look.  I wonder what she's doing now.

UPDATE (March 5, 2015):  A reader shared his experience about the huge carcass that made waves 22 years ago:

The story that you mention, about the worm, was going to be on the April 1st a April Fools joke. Apparently the editor at the time, Tom Sanchez, over-looked the article/page and approved it for printing. I was working for a talk radio station at the time, and I had AL Rubio call in as a worm expert from Corpus Christi. We did a live bit which was so hilarious...that it got both Sanchez and Huang fired. The idiot that didn't get fired was the one that did the copy and paste/layout for the page.

UPDATE:  this story reached corpus when I lived there, I believe one of the news stations even did a piece on it lol (Alex Cano)

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Conduct Unbecoming

Screen grab via KGNS

A ruckus occurred at Monday's city council meeting.  At issue was, as KGNS reported, a conflict of interest involving a member of the Regional Mobility Authority.  The group's chair, Reuben Soto Jr., presented this matter to council members.  Roque Vela, however, grew frustrated at the thought that this review of RMA members would stall road projects on Loop 20.

His suggestion was to get a waiver from the TX Attorney General.  Mayor Pete Saenz proposed to appoint somebody else to the committee.

Mr. Soto continued to challenge the combative Vela, and that led the councilman to take on a more derisive tone.  That's when the mayor tired of the badgering towards the speaker at the podium.  (video link)

Mayor:  Let him answer, please councilman.

Roque Vela:  Sir, my mic is on; I'm in a discussion with this man!

Mayor:  And I'm the chair here!

Vela:  And I'm the councilman sitting next to you!

Mayor:  (talking over each other) You're out of order!

Vela:  You're out of order, mayor!


Mayor:  Councilman, please...

Vela:  The only way to be able to get back...

Mayor:  (pounds gavel)  You don't have the right to speak!  He's got the right to speak at this point!

Vela:  (scoffs) I guess we're making unilateral decisions left and right.

Mayor:  Yes I am!  I'm the mayor, I'm the chair!

Vela:  (sarcastically) right.

Mayor:  When you're the mayor, you're the chair, you make that decision!  

I applaud the mayor for putting the brakes on Vela.  It's gross when a member of the community goes before city council, only to be met with contempt.  Vela should publicly apologize to Mr. Soto and the mayor for his egregious behavior.  I won't hold my breath on that.    

Roque Vela Jr. is not the only one that has gotten snippy with meeting attendees.  Others come to mind:  Mayor Raul Salinas, Juan Narvaez, Charlie San Miguel, Roque Vela again.  Perhaps the city charter should include an item to deal with conduct unbecoming a council member.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Walk In Nature

Crews have been busy in recent months laying the foundation for trails at Slaughter Park.  A large playground feature was installed in October.  The trails head off from the playground and soccer fields into the wooded areas.

The trails have a nice array of native trees with just enough cover for wildlife.  Even though the walkways aren't completely finished, people have already started to explore the new amenity.

Monday, February 2, 2015

To Hollywood By Way Of Laredo

A Laredo native does our city proud.  Alfonso Gomez-Rejon scored big at this year's Sundance Festival.  And wouldn't you know it, he gives a shoutout to Laredo filmmakers.
Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s Me and Earl and the Dying Girl took home both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Saturday’s Sundance Film Festival awards ceremony in Park City, Utah. “I want to dedicate this to all the young filmmakers in my hometown of Laredo, Texas,” Alfonso Gomez-Rejon said onstage after receiving his award.