Sunday, September 30, 2018

Vote No On Laredo Convention Center


(LMT clipping from September 19, 2018.)

One of the proponents of a new convention center has been Councilman Roberto Balli.  His district includes the downtown area, so naturally he would be pushing for the new facility.  He was quoted in the Times as such:
Downtown is changing as far as nightlife.  So this conference center will support all of that.  Ask everyone to support this proposition, El Centro Si, because it's going to give us a better downtown, it's going to give us a better community, and this is something our citizens and residents need. 
Every time somebody (Balli) has brought up the construction of a convention center, I've imagined that a large space, with meeting rooms, was needed for actual conventions.  I thought Laredo needed a facility to host events that couldn't be had at the arena; again, actual conventions that would bring in visitors.  But the group pushing for the convention/conference center - Balli, La Posada, Fasken Oil & Ranch, Ltd, Chamber of Commerce, IBC Bank, etc. - is now trying to convince the Laredo public that it'll be a venue to serve us.


(another clipping, from today's LMT.)

The CONFERENCE center will be a great site to host weddings, quinces, graduations and so on, so says the new Centro Si advertisement.

Venues for those kinds of events already exist.  To host quinceaneras shouldn't be a selling point for building a convention center.  The arena, baseball field and golf course have been under-utilized, hardly used for their intended purposes.  Now our leaders are trying to sell us on the idea of a convention center; but they're telling us that the facility's calendar year will be made up of small events, supported by actual Laredoans.  Already they're revealing in their latest pitch that big conventions will be few and far between.

The convention center may be useful for the people of Laredo in terms of low-paying jobs, but it shouldn't be a site to host receptions that will benefit La Posada and other City of Laredo insiders.

Local activist Remy Salinas appeared on Beyond The Headlines (KGNS) last weekend to speak against the construction of the convention center.  He spoke in detail about the fact that convention centers in south Texas under-perform.  Check out part of the show below.  And come November 6, vote NO on the convention center.


  

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Moral Turpitude Case: Vidal Rodriguez


That time Vidal Rodriguez and Alejandra Sepulveda lost a civil case to Annette Ugalde Bonugli and were ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to the plaintiff.  That was July 27, 2018.

A new trial, however, is pending.  Rodriguez's attorney claimed there was a "miscommunication in the case," precluding his presence at trial.  So we wait some more.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Claudine Anne Luera



A madman went on a killing spree that lasted over a week.  By Saturday afternoon, we learned that four people had been executed by a pyscho living among us.

One of the victims was the sister of a good friend.  I can't imagine what the family is going through.  Claudine Anne Luera got addicted to drugs and lived dangerously on the streets of this forsaken city.  Her loved ones will now have to live with the added insult of her life being take away so tragically.

(Image via New York Times)


Saturday, September 15, 2018

Where Are The Savings?


Local taxing entities have been following each other's lead in lowering their tax rates.  That may be because it's an election year (midterms) and because property valuations have skyrocketed in the last couple of cycles, leaving taxpayers stunned at their new property tax amounts.

Lowering the tax rate is admirable; it counters the rising property valuations.  BUT them lowering their rates to where we get a whole $3-per-year savings, per taxing entity, is sad.  They can brag that they are helping us out, but the end result is pitiful.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Mall Down By The River


A side-by-side comparison of what the Santa Maria terminus, at the River Drive Mall, looked like (on the left) and how it looks now with the Outlet Shoppes in place.  Same thoroughfare, different surroundings.

Demolition of the old River Drive Mall started 3 years ago.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Money For Firemen

City council added a supplemental agenda item for tomorrow's meeting, where officials will have the opportunity to approve the contract for the firefighters, ostensibly.  Because of the item, firefighters may see salary increases for the next four years, among other things.

I looked into the city's budget to try to make sense of it all, since people have been bickering over dollar amounts and the need to reward our first responders.  (The following slides are from the City of Laredo website.)

The Laredo Fire Dept. is made up of almost 400 firefighters.  (colored highlights are mine.)



 The fire department is composed of 14 stations.


For this fiscal year, that is on its tail end, firemen got $1.5 million in pay/benefit increases.  At tomorrow's meeting, they stand to get more for the coming year.

                                        

Here's a breakdown of the expenditures the city needs to cover for the fire department.  It includes more than $1.1 million to cover contract obligations.



Tax money that has gone towards the fire department has increased year after year.



The city listed, in their budget, the ambulance service fees that were collected for one year: $4,671,980.  That comes from billing residents every time EMS units and fire units respond to an emergency.  We the public get a bill.

Right now city staff, Mayor Pete Saenz and union president David Gonzalez are all presenting different figures and reasons for delaying or approving the salary increases.  I don't know that CONSTANT salary increases for police and firefighters are sustainable over the long run.  The appraisal district can only justify hiking property valuations for so long, enabling the city to collect more tax revenue.  Transfers from bridge toll fee collections can only do so much, and is not necessarily there to benefit those who can unionize locally.  And if the city is $1 billion in debt, we should really take our time to approve any potential budgetary constraints.

And because council members accept donations from the firefighters union, the thought of rushing through a contract with benefits that so few in Laredo are able to take advantage of, but comes at the expense of the greater community, then city council should delay the decision as long as it takes.




Sunday, July 29, 2018

This Is What We're Given


Julia Wallace wrote a story for the July 15 issue of the LMT concerning city council's travel costs.  The chart above includes expenses racked up by our current city manager: more than $28,000 for lodging, airfare, gasoline, per diem allowances and business meals.

City officials defended, as usual, their travels and the costs of doing city business around the country and in Mexico.  It was noted in the article that spouses that travel with city staffers or council members pay their own way.  I've always contended that they don't, not entirely at least.

The last two passages in the Times' story really irked me.

City spokesman Rafael Benavides added that spouses do not participate in official business or meetings.  "It's common for representatives from many sectors of the government to bring family if they have to travel because family shouldn't have to be separated due to work," he said.

That's funny because I was under the impression that work almost always separates us from our families.  I may be wrong but I even think that's a requirement, to be separated from family while you go on about your work.  Let's go to the first statement in the passage above, the one about spouses not participating in official meetings.  Earlier this year I highlighted a photo that was circulated by the City of Laredo on social media.  In a meeting at the White House (yeah, that one) the mayor, city manager and Charlie San Miguel are seen meeting with a federal official.  In the photo you also see Charlie San Miguel's wife sitting in on the meeting.

City council was set to meet the day after the LMT story came out, July 16.  Because of the ludicrous explanations given by city officials and their extensive travel schedules, I decided to go speak at city hall.  I signed up for public comments and made my case, sharing the photo of Mr. and Mrs. San Miguel attending a meeting in Washington D.C.

Councilman Charlie San Miguel interrupted my comments with, the mayor's wife goes on trips too.  I reminded the whole crowd that NOBODY'S spouse or relative should go on these trips.  And I stressed that it was shocking to see Mrs. San Miguel sitting in on an official meeting in D.C.  The San Miguel's inappropriate behavior in Washington is the extreme result of everyone allowing this seemingly harmless activity to continue.

Everyone allows relatives to travel with city officials, then those relatives feel entitled to take advantage of ritzy hotel rooms and official government business, and then city spokespeople lie about it to our media outlets.

  
Our Laredo featured the clip of my public comments at city hall on their Facebook feed.  Charlie San Miguel even got in on the conversation on Our Laredo's thread.

A true advocate and servant for the community does not get involved in political mudslinging because you become ineffective through bias and division.  In you case the ends justifies the means.  In other words you will do anything including wrong and evil to get there.

Mr. San Miguel looked me up through familiar circles and we eventually had a talk over the phone.  He wanted to meet me to discuss the issue of him and his wife traveling on behalf of the city.  I agreed to it with a couple of conditions: that he provide receipts for his wife and he, and that I could record the exchange.  He made some small talk and that was it.  Several days have passed and I haven't heard back from him.  I don't expect to hear from him again, just as I don't expect him to apologize for his actions regarding his jaunts to D.C.

People are going to forget about this issue and things will continue as they have been.  The ethics committee won't do anything because we don't have an ethics committee to speak of.  And we will continue to get candidates like Charlie San Miguel, candidates that have had controversy following them around from the start.  It's unfortunate for all of us.


Friday, July 20, 2018

A New Dog Park In Laredo


A green space, with fencing, was christened by the city yesterday to provide an outdoor playground for our four-legged friends.  A happy occasion, maybe not for the Parks & Leisure employee in the background.  He's dropping a heavy dose of the stink eye on everyone.

Friday, July 13, 2018

It's All A Game To Them


(all courtesy photos)

Councilmember Alex Perez -- FBI target subject and person who gets prickly when you don't want to shake his hand -- welcomed Dallas Cowboy player Blake Jarwin to Laredo recently.  Jarwin MAY or may not have family ties to the Perez's.


Here you see Jarwin signing autographs for the peoples.  I had noticed a lot of activity at Slaughter Park on July 8, 2018, but didn't know what all the hubbub was about.


Apparently Blake Jarwin made an appearance at more than one city park in south Laredo, to the delight of faithful Cowboys fans.


On Monday, the Dallas baller was the featured guest at a pricey fundraiser, all to benefit Cristina Perez, candidate for City Council District 3 and current wife of sitting District 3 Councilman Alex Perez.

It must be nice to have a wide range of city resources at your disposal to advance the political campaign of your wife.  I don't know how civic-minded the park attendees are to remember the Perez's gesture and go vote in November; But these little publicity stunts should be examined with a closer look.  That's highly unlikely, however, since the ethics commission has members dropping like flies.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Who Is Next?


I took this shot of the Toys R Us on Friday, June 29, 2018, when the franchise officially went out of business and closed all of its stores nationwide.  You can tell it's the Laredo store by the potholes in the parking lot.  This store held some sentimental value for my wife and I since it's where we used to take our son shopping for Thomas the Tank Engine characters, or some odd type of Lego sets.


This interior photo I found online.  I recall many a time we had to stand in line to wait for the next available clerk to ring us up.

It's a peculiar thing to see longstanding landmarks come and go.  As much as they were part of Laredo's progress, their exit is sometimes a mark of decline for our fair city.  Usually the upside of retail spaces or service outlets that go belly up is that a new venture is bound to come in to replace it.  Good or bad, it precludes the possibility of urban blight setting in.

There has been a lot of change throughout the city:

CVS being built on Guadalupe and Logan
K-Mart liquidating all its merchandise
Holloway's Bakery former site getting a major upgrade
Demolition of the pawn shop at Lyon and Bartlett
Joe Brand at the mall selling off its stuff to move elsewhere
Construction on Bartlett and Bustamante
Big remodeling job at warehouse facility on Calton Rd. near HEB Mercado
etc.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Abandoned Dive Bar


On the corner of Tilden and Price Street, there used to stand a dive bar by the name of Bernal's Place. It was a wood frame house that was converted into a watering hole, it seemed.  It had not been in business for a while.  It's completely gone now, making way for some type of affordable housing.

I thought I had an old photo of the place, but I'm having trouble finding it.  For reference, here's a shot from Google Maps.


Tuesday, June 19, 2018

An Abomination

In 2014, when a wave of immigrants from Central America were coming to this country, the federal government was having trouble handling the overflow.  A lot of unaccompanied minors were part of the large influx of people.  Detention centers in south Texas were crowded.  The problem seemed untenable.  Henry Cuellar said this about the Obama administration:

The problem with the administration is they don't want to give information, he said.  In fact, there's times when they don't want to give information to members of Congress.  It's almost like they don't want the American public to know about the situation.


The way I remember it from 2014, our local leaders didn't want to lift a finger to help the incoming immigrants.  And Henry Cuellar's only concern was how to deport these people back as soon as possible.


Immigrants are still coming to the United States, but team Trump is doing something severely egregious:  he's separating the children from their parents.  As I type this, MSNBC is reporting that the "Trumps administration is housing hundreds of babies and toddlers in at least 3 facilities in south Texas."

Far from showing any sign of outrage now, Henry Cuellar is instead smugly pointing to how he showed us proof of this back in 2014.


Cuellar has the gall to downplay the current humanitarian crisis and not challenge the evil actions of  Donald Trump and his minions.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Contests Begin


Tuesday, the day after Memorial Day, signaled the start of the races for the upcoming elections in November.  Mayor Pete Saenz held a press conference, with crooked mustache and all, to announce his re-election bid.  Not to be outdone, greasy-haired challenger Charlie San Miguel is doing things a little more adventurous.


San Miguel is again hosting his Meh*Run at North Central Park, but he's apparently sky diving into the event, all while having a boner for military veterans.  This guy, or the mayor for that matter, looks like he can't do much in regards to physical activity, so he'll fall from the sky instead.

Charlie will be vacating his District 6 seat in the fall.  Word on the street is that there may be up to 12 candidates vying for his chair.  One will definitely have to do something wild to separate him/herself from the pack.  La Sanbe does not recommend sky diving.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Same Song

Typical tweet from a typical politician after another school shooting, this time in Texas.


Monday, May 7, 2018

Nepotizzz Yo!


At least one runoff candidate has dropped by the Keyrose compound to remind us of the looming election, later this month.  His message straight and up front: Stop the corruption and nepotism.  Exclamation point.

Over the weekend, approximately 900 voters approved the LISD bond measure, which will allow improvements to existing schools and enable the district to build a new Cigarroa Middle School campus.  Ya veremos.

And the field is getting crowded for the spots that will open up at city hall this fall.  People are already starting to file their paperwork for-to get a chance at Charlie San Miguel's, and Alex Perez's (a La Sanbe favorite) seat.  Let's not forget that a certain FB celebrity is vying for the mayor's office.

Friday, April 20, 2018

El Perez Pendejo

(If you follow me on FB, you've probably already read this. It was posted April 17, 2018.)





Four years ago, then-Council Member Cindy Liendo stepped down to run for mayor. She had represented District 8 for six years. She was unsuccessful in her bid. In 2016, Esteban Rangel stepped down as council member to run for county commissioner against Jesse Gonzalez. Rangel unfortunately lost his bid too. When I asked if Council Member Alex Perez would step down last month to run for county commissioner, I was met with bewilderment, as if I had asked something that was totally unheard of.


Perez never hinted at the possibility of giving up his council seat to seek a different office. Given the current problem he’s facing, perhaps his withdrawal from city hall in March would’ve been the most prudent. An ominous cloud, a moral turpitude shadow, if you will, will hover over Perez until his second term ends later this year: He now faces an ethics probe, courtesy of city council, and a possible civil suit from a local businessman.

Alex Perez is being accused of orchestrating a heavy-handed inspection of a business on Clark Blvd. The proprietor of that establishment alleges that this was the result from him refusing to put up Perez’s campaign signs. Perez apparently saw red when the businessman didn’t comply with his wishes. The gentleman at the receiving end of Perez’s unpleasantness filed a complaint with police; A shrewd move on his part. The business owner was cited for a couple of minor infractions. He, however, categorized the occurrence as a raid and as retaliation by Mr. Perez for not offering his political support. 

It was discovered at last night’s council meeting that Council Member Alex Perez directed the Executive Director of Public Services to investigate the conditions at the business on Clark. It was previously mentioned that the inspection was hastened by an anonymous call. All signs point to an abuse of power on Perez’s part. The timing of the incidents, the fact that the business is not even located in Perez’s district, and his absence from council meetings all suggest a, oh...how you say, clusterfuk.  

Mr. Perez was not present during council proceedings yesterday. Big surprise. He can’t hide forever. Unless he resigns, this problem will plague him until he terms out.

Political pettiness aside, Perez’s command to Mr. Executive Director of Public Services doesn’t fall into uncharted waters. Council Member Charlie San Miguel was chastised by former City Manager Carlos Villarreal for taking mud run proceeds home. He apparently interfered with city administrators the day of the race. When Jorge Vera was busted for alleged drug use at a local bar, he tried to get out of his predicament that night by contacting and urging a police supervisor to look into his matter. Again, interfering with administration. Vera’s wasn’t so lucky in the end. He was recalled from office.

And now we have Perez, an impulsive bully who apparently has no political acumen after being on council for more than 7 years. It appears he doesn’t know, or doesn’t care that a council member is supposed to run things by the city manager’s office if he/she wants anything done. You don’t take matters into your own hands, especially in the reckless manner that he did. He led the raid on a local business and now he’s facing the consequences, sort of.  

City council has opted to send the problem to the ethics commission. I didn’t know we still had one. They are as predictable and impotent as ever. But perhaps it’s for the better. If they chose to judge one of their own, and possibly oust the motherfucker, it would tear apart the already-divided council even more. It’s best, I guess, to let Perez sink into the hole he’s dug for himself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

The Taj Majal That Canseco Built

Latest on Canseco house garden via KGNS:

City Council approved a non-profit organization that will implement the food policy and urban agriculture in the City of Laredo.
The Canseco House will serve as the base where the organization will run its operations.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Spring Time For Charlie

How do you say 'moment of Zen' in Spanish?


(courtesy photo, sort of)

Friday, March 9, 2018

Unprincipled


I did not vote in Tuesday's primary election.  I was very clear about it on social media.

My absence from the polls was inevitable.  It was only this month that I followed through with my self-imposed ban from voting.  It comes from years of disillusionment with Laredo's political figures.  It comes from shared stories of acts of pettiness on the part of council persons and commissioners.  It comes from the defensive tone that pols take when they're challenged.  And it comes from countless reports of undeserving city and county leaders who do things that are less than honorable.

When you look at the photo above, you notice that there has been a turnover of elected officials.  We can thank term limits for that, perhaps.  Nelly Vielma, George Altgelt and Pete Saenz are seen meeting with federals staffers in Washington, D.C.  The three have settled in nicely to their first term as city representatives.  In the background, to the right, you see Charlie San Miguel and a lady who is strategically positioned behind him.  Through a trusted source, I found out that the lady is his wife.

You have a family member sitting in on official city business inside the White House.  You have a spouse who is taking advantage of fancy lodging in our nation's capital, courtesy of the Laredo taxpayer.  I find this utterly unacceptable.

What's worse is that Vielma, Altgelt and Saenz tacitly approve of San Miguel's actions while away from Laredo.  We have politicians not looking out for our best interests and others looking the other way.

It's a futile battle when the electorate has to go up against the so-called political machines, the uninformed citizenry that blindly casts votes and the vote harvesters who wrangle people's support in return for some type of gain.  Add to all of that the willingness of those who seem honest to go along with the worst of Laredo and Webb Co.

Ni los buenos sirven.

If the well-meaning officials are there to prop up the bad ones, then what effect can my measly vote actually have.

    

Friday, February 9, 2018

What's Going To Happen?


It's almost ten months since FBI agents went all up local government's ass.  It happened on a clear day in April of last year - the 26th, to be exact.  I recall tweeting up a storm that day, and looking out for media updates in the days following.

The only story I posted on this blog was a local lawyer's take on what transpired and what we should expect.  


It would be nice to know who is going to go to jail.  But for now, all I can do is look at the personnel changes that have taken effect in local government and wonder if they have something to do with the ongoing FBI investigation.

In October, Commissioner Jaime Canales announced his campaign for re-election.  Canales' office was one of many that was raided last spring.  Then last month he suspended his campaign, citing health issues and the future of his career.  The timing of his move is all too peculiar.  Is the hammer about to fall?  And what about his brother, Roel Canales, and his short stint as County Court at Law Associate Judge?  Connection?

Among the supposed 'target subjects' of the FBI, Jesus Olivares is no longer the city manager.  The City of Laredo also has a new city attorney.

Who is talking to the FBI?  And who is mounting their legal defense?  The waiting game continues.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Mens Suits Laredo


Sulak's announced last week on their Facebook page that they're closing up shop.  I wasn't a regular patron of this downtown institution.  I did buy a suit there a couple of years ago as a Father's Day present to myself.


Yet another nail in the coffin for downtown.  So long, Sulak's.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

This Is Where We Are


City staff hosted a special guest at its property on Chihuahua and Seymour this week.  The purpose of the event was to promote urban gardening.


Veggies were there for the picking.  A fence will eventually block access to the garden.


I spy LMT photographer Cuate Santos getting a group shot.


The garden setup is well done.  Some plants are more mature than others.


The old house that sits on the property is in a state of disrepair.


Props to the workers who help maintain this project.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Oh LCC

It was last May that LCC carried out its "reorganization plan."  Administrators' contracts were not renewed and the college was done having the Health Services Department around anymore.  [Full disclosure: I was part of the Health Services Dept.]

Almost a year after, I've come to terms with the decision made by those at the helm at LCC.  However, I can't understand how the college is still charging students a fee for something that doesn't exist there.



Apparently LCC is charging $5 per student, per semester, for Health Service(s).  I don't know how college brass can justify this fee.  There must be something that I don't know.

Campus police officers were tasked with responding to medical emergencies when Health Services staff wasn't on campus.  But if somebody in their custody was hurt or had a medical issue to address, they would call us to assist.  I have no idea how campus PD is faring now without the resources that were there once.  

I'm sure LCC heads can give us a clever answer as to why they're taking money from students for a phantom line item on their printouts.  And I'm sure they can explain why they still have a fee for Health Service for a department specifically called Health Services, the one that is not there today.

Only they know.


Ricardo Solis described Health Services as a luxury.  I hope he enjoyed his time at La Posada, courtesy of the college district taxpayers.  The president's house on campus wasn't up to his standard, supposedly, and thus needed particular accommodations.  

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Hat Though


This flier was delivered to my doorstep a couple of weeks ago.  I set it aside for a while.  Then I noticed the peculiar grammar, which prompted a new game for me: fun with arrows.

Good luck, Judge Veliz.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

White Hair Matches The White Collar Crime


(Image via KGNS)

Dr. Francisco Pena, longtime Laredo physician and Chief of Staff at Laredo Medical Center, was indicted on January 10 on charges of money laundering, healthcare fraud, making false statements to the FBI and obstruction of an investigation.

Word on the street was that Dr. Pena developed chest pain when he was about to be taken into custody.  He was evaluated by medical staff at LMC, but ultimately cleared for authorities to haul him in.  He was wheeled out, wearing a gown and possibly the look of shame on his face.  

The good doctor attended a meeting at the Rio Bravo City Hall last weekend.  It was thought that his removal or exit from office as mayor of Rio Bravo would be acted upon.  Alas, Pena made no effort to vacate the seat and the item is in limbo for the time being.

His attorney, Keko Martinez, spoke to the media.  He said that the doctor's alleged crimes have nothing to do with his duties as mayor.  Thus he sees no reason why Pena should step down as an elected official of Rio Bravo.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Housing Centrally Located


The Russell Terrace housing units are being torn down to make room for modern living quarters.  That's me in the lower right hand corner.



The Russell Terrace community was built in the late 1950s.  Relatives of mine have lived here.  The meeting hall is where the Cub Scouts had one event or two.  Ah, my youth.