Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Thursday, July 11, 2019
The city's ethics* commission met yesterday at 5:30 p.m. They started with roll call and then listened to public comments. At 6:00 or so they went into executive session. The meeting resumed at a quarter to 7.
Two members of the commission recused themselves from the proceedings because of a relationship with a family member and a sitting councilman.
The purpose of the meeting was to give Lakshmana Viswanath and Victor Gomez-Marquez an opportunity to state their case, to detail the validity of their previous complaints. The complaints that "Vish" and Victor submitted were dismissed by the commission last month. Last night it was ultimately determined that Viswanath's and Gomez's concerns were frivolous. "Vish" was hit with a $500 fine and an order to pay attorney fees for the city.
Both of our citizen activists got to this point because their plight fell on deaf ears: those of the mayor, city council and the acting city managers. I can't imagine that "Vish" and Victor ever thought that they would be the ones to be put on trial by the ethics commission, much less have to pay fees incurred by the city.
Acting Co-City Manager spoke to the LMT about the decision of hiring outside counsel:
The reason why we had to get an attorney is because typically it is the city attorney being the representative for the commission. But since she works for us, she had to step back, and we had to get an outside party to come in. So, when you make a claim against either one of us, we must get an outside party. And somebody has to pay restitution to the citizens because taxpayers are paying Henry with now.
Victor Gomez-Marquez complained to the city that Councilman M. Martinez left out important details in his campaign finance forms. And Lakshmana Viswanath complained to city officials that their decision to impose new water rates on the public for infrastructure expansion was wrong. Their contention was that individuals at the city level acted in bad faith, by ignoring sections in the City Charter. City officials acted unethically, if you will.
It's unclear what the members of Our Laredo ("Vish" and Victor) will do next. What I can do is petition my representative to put forth a motion to waive the sanctions against "Vish."
When Lawrence Berry and Aldo Tatangelo took on city hall in the 1970s, they had the backing of the Laredo News. They were able to make the case that city officials were mishandling public funds and abusing their power. What we have today is the Laredo Times sending their sports writer to report on a complicated case that could possibly result in the city facing a lawsuit.
This is a big story, one that should reach the ears of people outside of Laredo. It's obvious that our city government is dysfunctional, and yet, the only ones that are facing any serious backlash are those that are speaking out against it. There are a lot of bad actors at city hall, and we are at their mercy.
(section of Ethics Commission bylaws)
Victor Gomez and "Vish" thanking supporters at city council chamber.
Sunday, July 7, 2019
(photo courtesy of Google Maps)
Ground was broken on July 6, 2015 for the Clark/Loop 20 overpass. Overpasses had to be constructed on the Loop to placate the public beefs with traffic lights on the roadway.
Saturday, June 29, 2019
Thursday, June 27, 2019
I felt compelled to create my own list of tourist stops in Laredo, Texas, in order to give you a different experience of our sleepy town. The title of this post was inspired by the NYT travel suggestions.
The first stop is at the base of the Gateway To The Americas International Bridge. You can get there by heading south on Santa Maria Ave. When you see the bridge (image above) you're within walking distance of the Rio Grande River, the dividing line between the U.S. and Mexico. You're at the edge of the nation. Take a selfie to save the moment.
At the next point of interest you can stay in your car if you like: the 200 block of San Agustin Ave. There you'll see a cathedral and a building that used to be occupied. At this site is where Laredo was founded back in 1755. I won't bother you with the founder's name; It's only a select few that remember him every year.
Suggested eateries: La Reynera on 1819 San Bernardo
and El Meson de San Agustin (opens at 11:00 a.m.)
Murals can be found in Laredo's older neighborhoods. The tribute to singer Selena Quintanilla can be found at 1119 San Eduardo.
If blues music is more your fancy, there's a Stevie Ray Vaughn mural on the 2700 block of Springfield. It's on the inside of a garage.
The mural above is in the Azteca neighborhood. The guitarist off to the right of the painting is one of the members of Rene y Rene, a duo that appeared on American Bandstand in the 1960s.
Suggested restaurant: Obregons Mexican Restaurant at 303 Market.
and Briskets and Beer Smokehouse on 2002 Chihuahua.
For a dive bar experience, Lalo's Sportsman Club at 515 E. Lane is as dive as it'll get.
Kayaking can be had at Lake Casa Blanca State Park.
Tuesday, June 25, 2019
The All Seasons Meat Market used to be located on the corner of Pine and Zapata Hwy. Earlier this month, a new business opened up shop. (photo to come)
UPDATE: July 12, 2019
RNR Tire Express now stands where the meat market once was. It's been open for a couple of months.
Saturday, June 15, 2019
(courtesy photo KGNS - June 13, 2019)
KGNS anchor Ann Hutyra read the news for the last time last night. She lead off the ten o'clock telecast, and went about the business at hand: reporting the day's events alongside Jerry Garza and Ryan Bailey. It was a straightforward presentation, except for the ending. For the last five minutes, Ryan and Jerry said their goodbyes, and ran a montage of clips and still shots from Ann's career in local TV journalism.
Afterwards, an emotional Hutyra thanked her colleagues and expressed gratitude for the viewers who shared their compliments and concerns with her in public.
I spoke to Ann today about the moments that lead up to her last newscast.
"I tried not to think about it too much. I knew that it was going to be an emotional evening for me, having been in that career for so long. I was trying not to hype it up for myself; I tried to treat it just like any other newscast. It was bittersweet from the beginning. As I started the opening line in the newscast, that thought did go through my head, that this is the last time I'm going to be doing this."
Before being a local media personality, Hutyra visited Laredo, TX with her then-boyfriend in 1998. At that time she couldn't foresee making a place for herself here. She was busy at Our Lady of the Lake in San Antonio, learning the skills to become a journalist, her lifelong dream.
That dream started with a childhood curiosity and a voracious need for news and information. The idea of becoming a writer arose in her teenage years.
"Watching the news with my dad, that was a regular thing we did in my house. We talked about current events. I was 13 or 14 when I said, I think I should be a (print) journalist. I didn't have an interest of being on TV. I've always been very shy. I decided eventually to major in broadcast journalism. The whole TV aspect came later on in college when I was in front of a camera."
Hutyra took part in an internship with TV Azteca in Queretaro, Mexico. During that process, she became immersed in the Spanish language. That training in part explains her ease with Spanish pronunciation. She said that it was also through relationships with friends who spoke the language that helped her.
"I got used to that early on, going to college with a majority Hispanic population, and most of my friends spoke Spanish. I knew it was important to learn a second language. With Spanish being a popular language, I thought it would be important for me and my career."
In 2004, while having sent out resumes for work, Ann remembers her husband speaking to Richard Noriega, who was then with KVTV, the CBS affiliate in Laredo. He told Noriega that Ann had been looking for work; Soon after, she would find herself as producer for the news station. Within a month of starting her new job, she would be anchoring the noon newscast. It was a newfound challenge, steeped with anxiety and issues that made it almost impossible to present good work for the public.
"I didn't know how to apply everything that I learned in college to an actual TV station. An internship only prepares you for so much. When you're thrown in there, you have to learn as you go along. Early on I was doing a lot of the behind-the-scenes prep work for the newscast. There were five of us; It was very small. Every day was a mad scramble to try to get a newscast on the air. I learned how to get a lot done with very little resources. Our cameras were horrible. We were always running out of tape. Our computers were always breaking down. We had challenges every single day."
Ann credits Richard Noriega with giving her her first chance at becoming a journalist. At KVTV she worked with Noriega, Cristina Castle-Garcia, Angel Ortiz, and Colin McElroy. After two years of gaining professional experience there, however, she was told that the station was ending their newscasts. Ann and the rest of the news team were out of a job. She was devastated.
Enter Mary Nell Sanchez, News Director at KGNS. She was the person who called Ann, almost immediately, to come work for Channel 8 (10 on cable). That was 2006. Over the next decade, Ann Hutyra would become a household name. It was at KGNS that she would help to host the Jerry Lewis Telethon, a fundraising event that helped kids with Muscular Dystrophy.
(courtesy photos - A. Hutyra)
And it's at KGNS where she -- along with Roger Uvalle (producer) and Renee Santos (reporter) -- received an Emmy nomination in the category of Team Coverage. They were recognized for their story: Donald Trump At The Border.
This honor was a first for the news station. Ann would travel to Ft. Worth for the ceremony.
Ann has seen a lot of changes in journalism over the years, one being the impact that social media has had on the industry, something that she says will continue to evolve. "You have to be ready for change." She's seen faces come and go through the newsroom, a reality that Ann says is due to people's perception about the border region, or their reluctance to engage and care for the community. She realized the kind of impact one can have as a journalist. An event that left an indelible mark on her is the severe flooding that affected the residents of west Laredo several years ago. She and the KGNS family would go on to host a week-long donation drive to help the people affected and displaced by the flood. She remembers the coordinated effort that was put together and the appreciation that the families gave in return.
I asked Ann for words of wisdom for anyone wanting to be a journalist.
"The most important thing to know is why you want to be a journalist. If your main objective is that you want to be on TV or you want to make a lot of money, you want people to know who you are, that is not a reason that you go into journalism. You have to know what your values and your ethics are; And you have to stand true to that or else people will see through you."
The next chapter for Ann Hutyra will be in the field of holistic nutrition, which she has studied for in recent years. This came as a result of her own 7-year battle with Celiac Disease. She heads a support group for the condition in Laredo that has grown to 90 members. In her new job, Ann will be helping clients with specific dietary needs, while maintaining her residence here. An out-of-town move may be in her future, however.
Ann will miss telling people's stories. Family, a new career and her love of the outdoors will keep her busy in the meantime. We wish her well.
Saturday, June 8, 2019
This small, unassuming restaurant is located at the corner of Corpus Christi and Springfield Ave. Its former name was Freddy's. My grandmother used to deliver tacos from here to me when I worked at Mercy Hospital. That was in the 1990s. I was the luckiest person alive, I thought.
This eatery is now known as Cantu's Tacos; It's been so for a good number of years. They even have a food truck to deliver tacos to remote places.
This spring I noticed that they started advertising their affiliation with Bite Squad, the service that delivers food to you through an electronic app. It's a handy way of getting your food in the age of smart phones. Twenty five years ago I would've never dreamed of something like this. Las Flautitas - which no longer exists - was in the vicinity, and they used to deliver food to hospital employees. Now it seems that everyone is getting in on the food delivery game with the use of apps like Favor, Uber Eats and Bite Squad.
Technology has offered us convenience. But it the realm of food-to-go, a person has to have a good paycheck to be ordering in all the time.
(The photo above I took on May 26, 2019)
Saturday, May 18, 2019
Tuesday, April 30, 2019
Disgraced Webb County Commissioner Jaime Canales and Johnny "I had to compensate for my height" Amaya were supposed to be sentenced on February 14 for their political dirty dealings. Their judgement would get delayed on that special day of love. This morning we learned that they may be free men for the summer, as their sentencing is once again postponed 3 months. Memorial Day plans HERE WE COME! (also Mother's Day, Father's Day & 4th of July)
For two years, "Canales accepted checks disguised as campaign contributions plus meals, entertainment and the use of a co-conspirator's Padre Island condo - together totaling in excess of $10,000 each year." (Julia Wallace, Laredo Times)
The Times writer mentions the process by which Canales, Amaya and a Dannenbaum Engineering representative carried out their scheme: the drafting of policy by the company stooge, request-for-qualifications votes by the commissioner, change orders, etc.
Canales voted for projects that would benefit the engineering company, including the Hachar-Reuthlinger Road project. Amaya acted as the middle man. (Quote below via the LMT)
Amaya allegedly provided these bribes to Canales and other officials which were all reimbursed by the corporate funds of the engineering firm, according to the feds.Underscore OTHER OFFICIALS!!!
We just passed the 2-year mark when city hall, as well as Canales' office, was raided by the FBI. But here we are with only Canales and Amaya facing jail time. Seven city officials were named as FBI target subjects back in 2017. Does the sentencing delay mean that more indictments are coming soon? Could it mean that Amaya is cooperating with federal officials and will end up naming names? Public comments on social media seem to suggest so.
Dannenbaum executive Louis Jones Jr. committed suicide in October. The only witness the feds may have now is Johnny Amaya, the go-between in all of this. He may be the metaphorical little bird that tells on the other crooks skulking about our fair city.
Wednesday, March 20, 2019
Saturday, March 16, 2019
Saturday, February 23, 2019
Nancy Pelosi was in town a couple of days to take in the sights and to speak out against Donald's plan for a border wall. The Speaker of the House: was a guest for students at TAMIU; gave statements at the Lincoln-Juarez Port of Entry; supposedly attended the Martha's ball; and took part in the abrazo ceremony on Bridge 2. Somewhere in there she did a little fundraising too.
U.S. House democrats have said that new funding for a border wall is non-negotiable. The project pushed by Individual 1 is impractical. Donald, nevertheless, called for a national emergency, hoping that it'll giving him a chance to implement the wall/fence/barrier plan. But Pelosi's presence in Laredo is a rebuke to his whims and lies.
In today's grand parade, members of the Rio Grande International Study Center marched with a banner that read, where's the emergency. Living in this sleepy town, people don't get the sense that we're in crisis mode, not the way the Liar-in-Chief says. We're not overrun by criminal immigrants. We're not constantly watching over our shoulders, afraid that some new Central American arrival is going to jump us. We just go on about our days dealing with trivial stuff: bills, family, Oscar nominees, etc.
(Last courtesy photo)
To believe that there is a crisis on the border is to hear it told by alarmists, usually on conservative radio or television. In the past 20 years, local officials have warned of spillover cartel violence landing in our community. That has lead to a militarization effort along the Rio Grande. The build-up has only gotten worse. Federal law enforcement agencies now prep for some type of doomsday scenario, putting forth a vulgar display of power (borrowed that from Pantera) towards our neighbors to the south.
A lot has changed since the days we used to freely go to Nuevo Laredo. With the fear that is peddled around today, it's no wonder nobody wants to come to our town anymore.
Wednesday, February 13, 2019
Whataburger, one of Laredo's favorite burger joints, put out an old photo in Sunday's paper. The fast food franchise is celebrating 52 years, and it's still going strong.
The photo above is of the first Whataburger in Laredo, located on Bartlett Ave.
Sunday, February 10, 2019
Available for public viewing is the Washington's Birthday Celebration Association's (WBCA) yearly magazine ByGeorge, a publicity handout which includes ads, dates for each and every festivity, and a telling of how the month-long party came to be.
In its current iteration, the journal describes the festival with the usual grandiose and imaginative tone. One familiar WBCA character, however, has taken on a more central import, that of Princess Pocahontas. In February of 1898, Nettie Matherne played the part of Pocahontas. (The name Nettie Matherne doesn't exactly scream native Laredoan.) The actual "peacemaking princess" called Virginia home in the early 1600s and mingled with the early colonists. That's the one we all know from historical and animated movie accounts. She was the daughter of a tribal chief who was never in line to inherit any power among her people. The title of Princess is an honor that has been bestowed to Pocahontas by us, or rather, the people who push this theatrical event.
In the article pictured above, organizers concede that the beloved WBCA event started in 1898 with a mock raid. Unfamiliar to most people today is that everything that took place in the initial commemoration was a mockery, cooked up by Laredo's Anglo elite. Dr. Jerry Thompson, in his book "Laredo: A Pictorial History," tells of a burlesque show being part of that first celebration. The farcical elements of the Washinton's Birthday celebration are different nowadays. Instead of a mock battle between made-up players, icons are marched out in bedazzled costumes with no historical accuracy or context whatsoever.
Dr. Thompson details how the WBCA was actually the idea of Samuel M. Jarvis, Mayor of Laredo.
On February 22, 1870, Jarvis had handbills distributed announcing a Washington's Birthday Celebration "in honor of the Birthday of the first President of the Unites States."
The mayor apparently wanted more American holidays celebrated in Laredo. In 1872, Jarvis relinquished his duties as mayor and his brainchild fizzled away. Fast forward 25 years and that's when the local Yaqui Tribe took up Jarvis' challenge. A committee was named to start the ball rolling. What comes next is nothing short of ridiculous.
In 1897, the Yaqui Tribe No 59 of the Improved Order Of Red Men planned a celebration. The Red Men created characters to put on a show. They were:
Miguel Benavides - Hot Booze, Man Afraid of Fire Water
Justo Penn - Spotted Tail, The Dude
Robert McComb - Painted Plover
Henry Deutz - Little Wounded Knee
Thomas Dodd - Joseph Weasel Bear
George R. Page - Man Afraid of his Squaw
Francisco Fierros - Walking Cloud
Reverand J. Ward - Great Prophet
Sam Howard - Hail Stones in his Stomach
Charlie Ross - C. Capias, of Brief & Capias
Will C. Long - John Timmid, a Pale Face
Johnny Thompson - Samuel Brief, Esq.
The inane roles the fraternal brothers gave themselves, coupled with the organization's name, the Improved Order of Red Men, is more of a dig at Native Americans than a tribute. What we have is a co-opting of cultures. With the help of the Improved Order, we have appropriated the honorable traditions of Native Americans and mangled them for our delight.
In the mock battle of 1898, troops from Ft. McIntosh were included to defend City Hall. Today the only troops that partake in the festivities are Border Patrol agents. The raid of 1898 had a military prop: a Gatling gun. Last year, Councilman Charlie San Miguel rode in a Jeep that was rigged with a Browning M2 50 caliber machine gun.
The Red Men of yesteryear drove off the soldiers that were defending the municipal stronghold. The mayor hoisted a white flag and a key to the city was passed around. Pocahontas made a cameo. Nowadays we have an abrazo ceremony between people of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo. And we have a president who is putting up barbed wire all along our border. That same dingus (real name Donald) mocks a U.S. senator by calling her Pocahontas.
Laredoans don't know why we celebrate George Washington every February. Perhaps that's a good thing. When you look at the inspiration for the festival that we know today, it looks like a bad Mel Brooks movie. The famed movie-maker did satire. What our people do is somehow taken seriously, even though the elaborate galas are tacky and misguided.
Professor William Nericcio said of the WBCA: Nothing warped my imagination more as a child than the George Washington's Birthday Celebration. The GW gala basically freaked me out. An annual event that mimicked the "glamour" of plantation-style debutantes fused with South Texas sexy culture. It left this future cultural critic of the border with a lifelong case of frontera schizophrenia.
LaredoTejas blogger Maximiliano Laredense was more succinct: I think the whole thing is absurd.
I've always thought that the WBCA celebration came to be out of a nationalist fervor. The Improved Order of Red Men gave it some pizzaz, albeit at the expense of Native Americans. The costumes got more gaudy and the bandas de guerra from Mexico took the place of the original marauding cosplayers, I guess. Our whole spring festival is absurd, like Max said. It's Laredo's giant-ball-of-yarn attraction. It's our Mount Rushmore, without the gravitas. The only constant in this whole sham has been that Laredo's elite have dictated how history is told. They drive the narrative and we spectators sit idly by.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
City Manager Horacio DeLeon announced his retirement last night at the first council meeting of the year. The surprise announcement was made after executive session.
DeLeon took over for Jesus Olivares, who also retired during a council meeting on May 15, 2017. Olivares stepping down came almost three weeks after city hall was raided by FBI agents in a corruption case that may still be ongoing. "Chuy" Olivares was named as a target subject in the federal probe. Nobody from the municipal side of local government has been formally charged yet.
County Commissioner Jaime Canales is set to be sentenced soon in connection with that same investigation.
Carlos Villarreal retired on November 2014. Of the three city managers we've had in the past five years, DeLeon is the one with the most amiable personality. Luck to him in his newfound retirement.
Sunday, January 6, 2019
Before the runoff election took place last month, a video surfaced on FB that featured a chaotic scene at a local establishment. An employee of the newly-opened PlaMor filmed a shouting match between chef Louie Bruni and businessman Roque Vela Jr. (photo above taken FB post/video)
Bruni and Vela yelled their heads off at each other. The chef was then quick to post the video on social media for us to see.
What's interesting about the video is that you had two grown men in each other's face, and it dropped as one of them was in the running for the office of mayor. Vela ended up losing the race against incumbent Pete Saenz. The video was not the deciding factor for voters, I think. It was, however, a glimpse of Roque Vela's storied volatile behavior.
Making the rounds before the general election was a flier that listed Vela's run-ins with the law. It was dirty laundry galore, courtesy of none-friends of Roque Vela Jr. The info. made for great water cooler talk. And it may be what future campaigns look like: third parties making their voices known through push ads.
But gutter politics aside, I want to mention one more thing about the viral video. As the rogue videographer taped the fight on his phone, a lady tries to put an end to it. She wags her finger at the employee while saying no! She puts her hand on the phone, interrupting the visual. She's then heard saying, don't touch me! It's funny to me because she's invading an employee's space, getting physical, but demands not to be touched. Everything that takes place in the clip is a lesson in what NOT to do in that type of situation.
Laredo politics don't disappoint. If it's not the corruption that jars our sensibilities, it's the relationships that are made and the antics that come with it.
Wednesday, January 2, 2019
On the way into town, you pass the Tumble Inn, so named because it seems imminent that the whole place will crash into the arroyo over which it is built.
That passage is from an old issue of Texas Monthly. The Tumble in was a restaurant/dance hall that no longer exists. The arroyo the writer mentions has to be the Chacon Creek, which is near the 3 Points neighborhood. I can't tell you exactly where the restaurant was located, because of the scarcity of information about it.
An ad that I found in an old yearbook lists the Tumble Inn as being located on Corpus Christi Highway.
Photo: an ad for the establishment that appeared in a February 1960 issue of the Laredo Times.
And a photo that a friend sent me via Twitter, showing the actual address of the restaurant: 2803 Cortez.