Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Influence Peddling

Last month, the Laredo Times raised the question of why a local attorney was pimping himself out to local officials, and to a private legal professional who happens to be married to Senator Judith Zaffirini.  The unknown attorney and the Zaffirinis dismissed any and all concerns about the communication, saying that it's normal procedure for a candidate to introduce him/herself to the world when a selection process is about to take place.  A coveted seat needed to be filled and any mention of impropriety was to be brushed aside.

The Webb County Court at Law II had a vacancy.  Judge Jesus Garza resigned in January, and is currently facing an indictment of soliciting a loan.

Enter Victor Villarreal, the person who nobody has ever heard of before, but apparently had the Zaffirinis on speed dial, so to speak.  Everyone will know the name Victor Villarreal now, for he's been chosen by the all-wise Commissioners Court to lead the County Court at Law II.  He will restore order to Jesus Garza's beleaguered court and all will be good in the world.  But, in what should've been an appointment devoid of any political influence, and an office regaining its integrity, instead has turned into a mockery of the local judicial system.

Hell, what am I saying?  This is Webb County.  It wouldn't be Webb Co. if it all wasn't a sham.

The Zaffirini's meddling in this matter is a joke.  Judith Zaffirini acknowledged that it was the Commissioners Court's ultimate responsibility to select a person to succeed Jesus Garza; But she saw it fit to influence the court's decision by making a case against the former judge.  Our state senator chimed in with what she thought was best for the Court at Law II, all while her husband had business with that same court.  Carlos Z. would stand to benefit in that court with the help of Judith Z.'s influence.

But there's no conflict here, right?  Judith Zaffirini just happens to have buildings named after her in Webb County, but her influence is tempered.  Victor Villarreal emailed Mr. Zaffirini with his qualifications in January.  No biggie.  But in today's Times, Judith Zaffirini was quoted  as saying that she's known Villarreal since he was a law student at the University of Texas.  There is no appearance of questionable behavior here; everyone is beyond reproach.  They are all so far separated from the interests of the Court at Law II.  Except that they aren't.

The Commissioners Court selected Mr. Villarreal yesterday.  I could say that they had no knowledge of the relationship between the Zaffirinis and Villarreal, and of Mr. Zaffirini's matters before the Court at Law II.  But we won't know because, as Julia Wallace (LMT) wrote, the commissioners and the county judge selected Victor Villarreal "unanimously and without public discussion."  County Judge Tijerina said that "Everything was taken into consideration."  But will we ever know?

From my point of view, this all sounds like the old lament: it's not who you are, it's who you know.

People get ahead in this town by the company they keep.  They'll smile and wave to the cameras.  When we're not looking, the favors that were granted to them will have to be returned, and none of us will be none the wiser.  

UPDATE: July 27, 2019  Courtesy photo above.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Will It Spill Over?

Julia Wallace writing for the Laredo Times today:

This would be a secular prayer, she said, not catering to any particular religion.  Vielma said this idea was inspired by City Council's recent trips to Washington, D.C. and Austin, where meetings typically begin with an invocation.  

Ms. Vielma was sworn in as council member in late December 2016.  Three months in and she proposes starting city council meetings with a prayer.  Charlie San Migeul, who sits next to Nelly Vielma, was almost a year into his first term when he suggested prayer before meetings.  That was in 2011.  San Miguel mentioned, as Ms. Vielma is doing now, that prayer was used at the state capitol.

Then-Mayor Raul Salinas approved of praying at city hall, but deferred to the legal department to acknowledge the limitations of doing so.  The practice was started at one point, but it proved to be more of a distraction for city council.  Some people didn't want to take part in it, and at least one person who led the invocation was met with disdain.

Some people came out in support of prayer, and some did not.

At Monday's meeting it was agreed by council to start meetings with a moment of silence.  I'll see if Ms. Vielma's item spills over into the editorial pages of the Times, like it did six years ago.

UPDATE: January 7, 2020.

Mayor Aldo Tatangelo and city council once approved a resolution stating that life begins at conception.  I found the clipping at the public library's microfilm files.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

We're In There

From "On The Road" by Jack Kerouac -

Laredo was a sinister town that morning.  All kinds of cab drivers and border rats wandered around, looking for opportunities.  There weren't many; it was too late.  It was the bottom and dregs of America where all the heavy villains sink, where disoriented people have to go to be near a specific elsewhere they can slip into unnoticed.  Contraband brooded in the heavy syrup air.  Cops were red-faced and sullen and sweaty, no swagger.  Waitresses were dirty and disgusted.  Just beyond, you could feel the enormous presence of whole great Mexico and almost smell the billion tortillas frying and smoking in the night.  We had no idea what Mexico would really be like.  We were at sea level again, and when we tried to eat a snack we could hardly swallow it.  I wrapped it up in napkins for the trip anyway.  We felt awful and sad.  But everything changed when we crossed the mysterious bridge over the river and our wheels rolled on official Mexican soil, thought it wasn't anything but carway for border inspection.

Our hot, dusty hamlet is mentioned in this 1950s classic.  (Thanks to Maximiliano of Laredo Tejas fame for the tip.)  All I knew about On The Road, apart from its literary standing, is what I'd heard in an episode of "Freaks and Geeks."  The students were not impressed with the book, and the teacher was disappointed with their assessment.

Kerouac doesn't exactly shine a flattering light on Laredo.  Granted, it's an era before my time, and he describes our small town after a hazy stop before moving on into our sister city.

I was so exhausted by now I slept all the way through Dilley and Encinal to Laredo and didn't wake up till they were parking the car in front of a lunchroom at two o'clock in the morning.  "Ah," sighed Dean, "the end of Texas, the end of America, and we don't know no more."  It was tremendously hot: we were all sweating buckets.  There was no night dew, not a breath of air, nothing except billions of moths smashing at bulbs everywhere and the low, rank smell of hot river in the night nearby - the Rio Grande, that begins in cool Rocky Mountain dales and ends up fashioning  world-valleys to mingle its heats with the Mississippi muds in the great Gulf.

A brutal experience for Kerouac, but I can relate.  Our surroundings can be unforgiving; Just ask Sara Walls.  Laredo, I've thought, is a sort of pit stop for many -- a waystation with limited opportunities.  But for all its faults, the gateway to Mexico does manage to hold its own with all its unique history.  It's not one of the great cities of the world, but we made the fuckin' pages of On The Road!  How 'bout that?  

It's not saying much, but I'll take it.

Friday, March 10, 2017

It's Always Been

KGNS interviewed a local member of the Kickapoo tribe, Santos Polendo.  He founded the Native American Student Association at TAMIU.  Polendo takes issue with the authenticity of Laredo's Pocahontas celebration and its organizers.

The Princess Pocahontas Council responded with a written statement. (excerpts)

As a symbol of natural beauty and simplicity, Pocahontas epitomizes the virtues of those first Americans.  Dressed in traditional costume and accompanied by her court of Indian Princesses, Pocahontas is presented with the key to the city and rides on horseback in the parade.
The group which formed in October 1980, gathered initially as a result of Ms. Velia Uribe's interest in the role which Pocahontas played in the annual celebration.

The group said that they've never had any issues up until now.  I think there's a reason for that and it has to do with our community's complacency.  Nobody questions why we do the things we do, and the public is clueless as to how the whole WBCA event started.  Why do we celebrate George Washington?  Quien sabe!  What's the significance of Pocahontas in the parade?  Sepa la bola!

The whole reasoning for the WBCA's cosplay events is that that's how it's always been done.

Apparently it's okay with the natives - the Mexican-Americans, I mean - to promote distorted images of historical figures, spend outrageous amounts of money doing so, participate in a parade where they are followed by the local Border Patrol outfit, and then not question any of it.

I applaud Mr. Olendo for speaking out.  There is a lot to be said for cultural authenticity, both for his tribe and for ours.  It's okay to absorb the rituals of this great country, but we can't totally shed ours and become something that we're not.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Opens Next Thursday

When my mom took us to the Riverdrive Mall, she would drive down Main Ave. to get there.  The route probably helped her avoid much of the traffic on Laredo's other, much busier streets, but Main also took us straight to the J.C. Penney parking lot entrance. (see photo above)

El Penney had good stuff, and they had lay-away, a valuable service for a single, working mother.  

When we accessed the mall's lower level parking lot, our exit route was usually the Davis St. thru-way.  That took us back towards the St. Peters neighborhood.  My mom also shopped at the stores downtown, like Bealls, Richters, Sears, and so on, but I don't recall if we toured the entire business district all at once to make our purchases every weekend or so.  

Just as we came in, we had to go out through the narrow streets of downtown.

The new outlet mall, which opens next Thursday, will have access roads on its periphery, but only one direct road that looks to serve as an entrance: Santa Maria Ave.

We'll find out next week if Santa Maria will have the capacity for egress, and whether it will provide access for motorists heading to bridge 1, into Nuevo Laredo.  Stay tuned.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Texas Association of Realtors Flier

I got this flier in the mail a couple of weeks ago.  It was sent by the Texas Association of Realtors.  If you want more information, you can go to: HiddenPropertyTax.com

Local politicians have bragged repeatedly that they've avoided raising taxes.  Yet, from what I've noticed, they're collecting a little more revenue every year from property owners.  This happens because home and property valuations are raised, thanks to the appraisal district, and we end up paying that little extra.

Thanks for the T.A.R. for confirming my suspicions.  

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Logistics Are A Bitch

The city manager asked council to consider scrapping the finance, and operations committees because they've had a hard time convening a quorum.  From last week's meeting, and I quote:  

The Finance, and Operations Committee meetings, we've not been able to make.  We've had a lot of cancellations.  We see that there's been a change in the council; everybody's busy working.  Possibly this is not a viable route anymore, like it was before.  Staff is having to produce agendas, two, three times, every time we meet.  Then we don't have a quorum, so staff has to come to city hall, back and forth.  My recommendation, if council is willing, is to possibly implement a consent agenda that all of you are familiar with.

City Manager Jesus Olivares highlighted Charlie San Miguel's business obligations that take him out of town.  CSM is absent a lot from committee, apparently.  To avoid their brain trust responsibilities, Mr. City Manager thinks it's best to just do away with the committees and their dumb meetings.

Let's take a look at the composition of the finance and operations boards.

Nelly Vielma made a comment after the city manager spoke, but her words were inaudible.  The councilwoman's mic may have been off.  Councilman Torres also made a comment, but all I heard in their exchange was Mr. Olivares saying, yes, other cities do it.  And that seems to be the depth with which any subject is handled at city hall, how other cities handle their business so we can follow their lead.

It's probably a good idea that we do away with the committees.  I mean, it seems like the foxes are minding the hen house, so to speak.  So really, what's the use?  And from what I've seen and heard recently, each committee has resulted in the formation of cliques.  The Operations Committee's band of brothers seem to have each other's back when things get tense at council meetings.

When it comes to the city's finances and its operations, I figure it's a good thing to hash things out a few times, maybe even have fresh, independent eyes go over things in order to legitimize them.  Alas, I'm just a bystander and city hall would likely not like me going over their financials.  They're the elected ones and they know best.  

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

It's Okay

This sign is up at the Mami Chulas doorstep on south Meadow.  It's been in place for several weeks.  Apparently the owners are okay with the spelling.

Laredo History: March Edition

March 1991 Lake Casa Blanca opens under state ownership.
March 1, 1997 Pete Astudillo wins Tejano Music Award for album of the year. ("Como Te Estrano")
March 1, 2016 Commissioner Frank Sciaraffa misses runoff race, comes out in fourth place.
March 2, 2015 Richard Noriega returns to the news on KGNS morning show.
March 2, 2016 Mayor Pete Saenz appears on Fox Business News. Does not rule out voting for Trump in November.
March 3, 1956 Martin Tigers win state basketball title.
March 3, 1849 Camp Crawford established. Later named Ft. McIntosh
March 3, 2015 UISD broke ground on the United South HS 9th grade campus.
March 4, 1995 Quiet Riot played at the Laredo Civic Center.
March 5, 1993 Big worm story in LMT: “Agents Recover Huge Carcass” (blog post)
March 6, 2017 City spokesperson starts tweeting, posts photos from Washington trip. 
March 7, 2016 Roque Vela Jr. nominates Carlos Villarreal to the Ethics Commission.
March 8, 1937 Martin H.S. opens (Park and San Bernardo).  First full year starts Sept. 9, 1937.
March 9, 2015 Two young girls killed by neighbor outside their home on Convent Ave.
March 9, 2018 Judge George P. Kazen retires. 
March 10, 2005 Sheriff Rick Flores terminated two employees (brothers in law to sheriff) when claims of nepotism arose.
March 10, 1986 Gaby Canizales becomes WBA bantamweight champion
March 12, 2003 Joe Rubio Sr. denied house arrest (video: Classic segment of Pro8news)
March 12, 2021 Police Investigator Roberto R. Ramirez arrested for abuse of official capacity. 
March 13, 1944 Sculptor Armando Hinojosa is born. 
March 13, 2016 Alexander HS student dies in fiery crash on Santa Maria, near Del Mar.
March 13, 2008 El Centro Motel. (photo)
March 14, 2016 Regular unleaded gasoline $1.79 per gallon.
March 14, 2016 LMT headline: Harassment violations: (new) complaint filed against ex-city secretary.
March 15, 2010 City council agrees to rename arena Laredo Energy Arena.
March 15, 2003 Juvencio de Anda passed away. (Sande, Juvencio’s Mens Wear)
March 15, 2013 Sheriff Martin Cuellar names Luis “Bird” Rodriguez as chaplain.
March 15, 1947 Federico Pena born. Former Secretary of Transportation/Energy.
March 16, 1928 City approves construction of Heights Fire Station (1600 Guadalupe)
March 16, 2017 Outlet Shoppes open in downtown Laredo. 
March 17, 1973 Girl Scout House dedicated to Vera Enckhausen (first GS executive director)
March 17, 1899 Deed for St. Peters Church filed with Webb County.
March 17, 2009 Uni-Trade donates $500 to City of Laredo for Washington trip.
March 17, 2015 Renewed domain subscription to LaSanbe.net. (mensonotmensa.blogspot.com)
March 18, 1864 Battle of Laredo. Col.Santos Benavides fought Union soldiers
March 19, 1899 Smallpox Riot. Fight between barrio residents and TX Rangers.
March 19, 2011 A gallon of gasoline was $3.50.
March 19, 2014 Mike Montemayor arrested on bribery charges
March 20, 2019 Dr. Joaquin Cigarroa Jr. passed away. 
March 21, 1999 Rogelio Hernandez died of cancer on death row. Convicted for killing “Curly” Herrera.
March 21, 1997 “Selena” movie released. Pete Astudillo cast in movie.
March 21, 1975 Webb Commissioner Alfonso DelaGarza indicted on bribery scam. Sgt. Erasmo Rodarte and Raul S. Lugo also indicted. 
March 21, 2016 Mayor vetoed appointment of Carlos Villarreal to ethics commission. Veto was not overturned.
March 22, 1999 Webb County elected officials take part in voluntary drug testing after Nvo. Laredo politicos tested positive for drugs.
March 23, 1983 Eddie Macon’s Run released.
March 23, 2017 Lyft service launches. City of Laredo tells company that it's operating illegally. 
March 24, 2015 Jesus Olivares picked as new city manager. (District 7 seat still vacant)
March 24, 2018 Tecolotes of Los Dos Laredos start play at Uni-Trade Stadium. 
March 25, 2005 Commissioner David Cortez pleads guilty to bribery.
March 28, 2012 Guadalupe St. overpass opened heading westbound.
March 28, 2016 City of Laredo introduces new assistant city manager: Robert Eads.
March 29, 2010 Eduardo Valenciano passed away.  Owner of Valenciano Cleaners.
March 29, 2017 Two judges, court staff trapped in elevator at Webb Co. Justice Center. 
March 31, 1927 “Cowboy’s Lament” recorded by Ewen Hail. Song later known as “Streets of Laredo.”
March 31, 1899 David Barkley Cantu born in Laredo, TX. Medal of Honor recipient.
March 31, 2010 Jose Valdez Jr. kicks off campaign for mayor.

March 31, 2016 Children’s Advocacy Center executive director arrested for assault.