Hidalgo County 449th District Court Judge Daniel G. Ríos of Edinburg, featured left in this file photo from last fall, has raised more than $67,000 in political contributions during the first six months of 2008, according to his campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission. Ríos, former Edinburg city attorney, was appointed last November by Gov. Rick Perry to the local district court, which has jurisdiction over juvenile matters. He joined his family to receive a House Concurrent Resolution, authored by Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, which honored the memory of Dr. Luis M. Ríos, Sr., a renowned plastic surgeon and the patriarch of their family, for his many contributions to the region. Featured during this presentation were, from left: Dan Ríos; mother Mary Ann Ríos; Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who sponsored the legislation; and Dr. Luis Ríos, Jr. See lead story on Ríos/Contreras campaign finance report later in this posting.
Jesús “Jesse” Contreras, featured left during a recent grand opening of his law office in Edinburg, is gearing up once again for a countywide campaign, this time against Republican Judge Daniel G. Ríos in the November 4 election. Contreras, a longtime Mercedes Municipal Court judge, defeated fellow Democrat Judge Maxine Longoria-Nash in the March 4 party party primary to face Ríos, who was appointed to the bench last fall by Gov. Rick Perry. Contreras is featured here with law partner Sergio Muñoz at their local office. The 449th District Court focuses on legal cases involving juveniles. See lead story on Ríos/Contreras campaign finance report later in this posting.
The Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club has awarded Dr. Gary L. Ahlman, featured center, an Edinburg optometrist, a certificate of appreciation for his many years of providing disadvantaged children with free eye exams and glasses. Ahlman has worked with Lions Clubs in Edinburg and the Hidalgo County Indigent Program to provide free eye exams and eyeglasses to children of families who are economically disadvantaged. Ahlman estimates he has helped provide free eyeglasses for over 5,000 Edinburg-area children. Featured with Ahlman are, to his left, Raúl M. Leal, secretary/treasurer for the Lions Club, and Joe Longoria, president for the Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club. See story later in this posting.
The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Leadership Edinburg Class is currently accepting applications for Class XX. Leadership Edinburg is a growing organization that strives to encourage a better Edinburg through strong leadership skills focusing on politics, education, and quality of life. There are more than 400 graduates who have taken the challenge and completed each program of work with pride and great accomplishment. Graduates of Leadership Edinburg typically continue to apply what they learned and demonstrate it by showing interest in community involvement including serving on committees and at times politics. Tuition is only $400 to participate and is due by August 29. Applicants should make arrangements to sign up as soon as possible; as there are limited spaces are available. The retreat will take place at South Padre Island, on September 12th & 13th at La Quinta. For more information on Leadership Edinburg or to register please call Letty González at the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956-383-4974. Featured from left are the 08-09 Leadership Edinburg Steering Committee: Cynthia Bocanegra, Pilar Corpus, Abel Leal, Naomi Peralez, Steve Crossland, Destiny Campos, Edna Peña, Jay Flores, Jerry Salazar, and Pamela Dougherty.
Judges Daniel G. Ríos, Jesse Contreras gearing up financially for top local race in Hidalgo County
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Daniel G. Ríos of Edinburg, who was appointed late last year by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as judge of the 449th Hidalgo County District Court, raised more than $67,000 in political contributions during the first six months of the year, according to his campaign finance report filed with the Texas Ethics Commission.
The 449th District Court focuses on legal cases involving juveniles.
Ríos, a Republican, is facing a challenge on November 4 for a full four-year term from Jesús “Jesse” Contreras, a Democrat and veteran Mercedes Municipal Court judge.
Their contest is the only countywide match-up featuring an area Republican and Democrat.
Contreras recently opened up a law office in Edinburg – Contreras & Muñoz.
His partner at the local office, Sergio Muñoz, Jr., is the son of former Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Sr., D-Mission.
Ríos finance highlights 2008
Ríos has spent $16,353.44 between January 1, 2008 and June 30, 2008. As of June 30, he had a balance of $51,186.56.
His largest expenditure has been for political consulting services provided by Jeff Butler, 722 Chase Drive, Corpus Christi. Butler has been paid a total of $8,800.
Butler also serves as the consultant for Javier Villalobos, a McAllen attorney who is the Republican nominee challenging Rep. Verónica Gonzáles, D-McAllen for the House District 41 legislative seat. District 41 includes southwest Edinburg.
Ríos did not face a Republican challenger during the GOP party primary, also held on March 4, in his first campaign for elected office.
Ríos lists his address as 4112 Hobbs Drive, Edinburg, 78539.
His campaign treasurer is Mrs. Mary Ann Ríos, 2634 Easy Street, Edinburg, and the campaign treasurer’s telephone number is 686-7931.
Mary Ann Ríos ran as a Republican state representative candidate against incumbent Rep. Eddie de la Garza, D-Edinburg, during the early 1990s, and although she did not win, she gave the veteran lawmaker a much-closer race than anticipated.
Contreras finance highlights 2008
Contreras defeated incumbent 449th District Court Judge Maxine Longoria-Nash in the March 4 Democratic Party primary, with almost 40,000 votes to Longoria-Nash’s more than 28,000 votes.
Contreras has filed three campaign finance reports covering political donations and expenditures by his campaign that occurred from January 1, 2008 through June 30, 2008.
His first report, which came while he was battling Longoria-Nash, covers January 1 through January 24, 2008.
During this period, Contreras reported $7,250 in contributions, and $30,000 in expenditures.
The expenditure was for consulting fees paid on January 11 to Rodd & Associates of McAllen.
He also reported taking out a $35,000 loan was taken from Texas National Bank of Mercedes on January 11, 2008, at 12 percent interest, with a maturity date of January 11, 2009. There were no guarantors listed for this loan.
Contreras reported no outstanding loans to his campaign for the period covering January 1 through January 30, 2008.
In the second report, covering January 25 through February 23, Contreras reported raising $9,500 in donations, spent $19,982.03, and secured a $40,000 loan from First National Bank of Mission on February 21.
He secured that loan at 12 percent interest, which is set to mature on February 21, 2009.
Contreras did not provide any collateral for the loan, and there are no guarantors, according to his January 25 – February 23 campaign finance report.
Contreras’ largest expenditure listed in his January 25 – February 23 report involved two payments, totaling $10,285.29, paid in February to Rodd and Associates of McAllen for political consulting.
As for his second campaign finance report, which covered January 1 through June 30, 2008, Contreras reported raising $1,500 and spending $2,000.
During that period, Contreras reported two expenditures, both in June and both for political consulting, totaling $2,000, to Mike Sinder, 1210 N. 10th in McAllen.
Contreras reported no outstanding loans during the report covering January 1 through June 30, 2008.
Contreras lists his address as 315 W. Business 83, Weslaco, 78596.
His campaign treasurer is Mrs. Monique L. Garate-Contreras, 315 W. Business 83, Weslaco, and the campaign treasurer’s telephone number is 973-9897.
The full reports also are available online at the web site of the Texas Ethics Commission.
Highlights of the major contributors to the campaigns of both men follow.
January 1 – June 30, 2008
- Mary Ann Ríos, Edinburg, on July 10, 2008;
- Edward Ríos, engineer, Austin, on June 1, 2008;
- John Millen, attorney, Millen and Ortiz, LLP, McAllen, on May 22, 2008;
- Jerry Conover, oil and gas services/owner, Jerry’s Tools & Rentals, Edinburg, on April 24, 2008;
- David Ewers, attorney/owner, Law Office of David Ewers, McAllen, on April 24, 2008;
- Kenneth Hausenfluck, electrical contractor/owner, Pharr, on April 24, 2008;
- Michael McCarthy, banker, First National Bank, Edinburg, on April 24, 2008;
- Dick Oates, investor/owner, McAllen, on April 15, 2008;
- Norberto Salinas, real estate developer, Mission, on April 15, 2008. Salinas is mayor of Mission;
- Michael Rogers, contractor, Edinburg, on April 9, 2008;
- David Rogers, Jr., banker/CEO, First National Bank, Edinburg, on April 8, 2008;
- Saúl Ortega, banker, First National Bank, Edinburg, on April 8, 2008;
- Dora Rogers, Edinburg, on April 7, 2008;
- Aurora Kitsu, Edinburg, on April 7, 2008;
- Glenn Roney, banker/CEO, Texas State Bank, McAllen, on April 4, 2008. Roney is the former chairman and founding trustee of the South Texas College board of directors; and
- Ken Everhard, CPA, owner, Ken Everhard CPA, McAllen, on April 1, 2008.
- Steve Mahan, contractor/owner, Cris Equipment, Pharr, on April 25, 2008; and
- Todd Arganbright, contractor/owner of Tega Construction, McAllen, on April 24, 2008.
- Ana Bergh, Law Office of Ana Bergh, Edinburg, on May 14, 2008; and
- Tom Wilkins, attorney, Wilkins and Associates, McAllen, on April 24, 2008.
- Tito Torres, attorney/owner, Torres, Cantu & Aliseda, McAllen, on May 28, 2008;
- Dr. José Aliseda, M.D., retired, McAllen, on May 22, 2008;
- Maribel Steward, McAllen, on May 22, 2008;
- Elliott Bottom, retired banker, Edinburg, on May 22, 2008;
- Dr. Alexander Feigl, physician, McAllen, on May 22, 2008;
- Noe Fernández, manufacturing, McAllen, on May 22, 2008. Fernández was appointed on August 8 by Gov. Rick Perry to serve on the Texas Medical Board District Review Committee. He also is a past member of the University of Texas Pan American and Texas State Technical College boards of regents, past vice chairman of the Texas Water Development Board and Texas Water Resources Finance Authority;
- Kenneth Wilkins, farmer, McAllen, on April 24, 2008;
- Richard Ruppert, real estate developer, Edinburg, on April 16, 2008; and
- Bill Burns, farmer, McAllen, on April 14, 2008.
- Bill Reynolds, landscaper/owner, Edinburg, on July 12, 2008.
- Edmundo Ramírez, attorney, Ellis Koeneke & Ramirez, McAllen, on June 4, 2008;
- Kirk Clark, automobile dealer, owner, Clark Chevrolet, McAllen, on May 29, 2008;
- Debbie Aliseda, Torres, Aliseda and Cantú, McAllen, on May 22, 2008. Aliseda’s husband is Ernest Aliseda, a lawyer and partner with Torres, Aliseda and Cantú;
- John Escamilla, attorney/partner, Watts Law Firm, McAllen, on May 22, 2008;
- Rick Villarreal, insurance agent, Rick Villarreal Insurance Agency, Edinburg, on May 22, 2008;
- Dr. Victor Haddad, physician/owner, McAllen Surgeons, on May 4, 2008;
- Billy Durbin, farmer, Raymondville, on April 24, 2008;
- John Fasano, farmer, Edinburg, on April 23, 2008; and
- Bobby Burrows, contractor, Burrows Construction, McAllen, on April 21, 2008.
- Gary Burch, contractor, Burch Construction, Edinburg, on May 22, 2008;
- Loren Runnels, attorney, Looney Investments, Edinburg, on May 22, 2008;
- Dr. Phil Hunke, dentist (retired), McAllen, on May 22, 2008;
- Kenneth Dejarnett, engineer/consultant, Rhodes Enterprises, McAllen, on April 24, 2008;
- Lloyd Miller, farmer, McAllen, on April 24, 2008;
- Jerry Ahrens, real estate management, Kerrville, Texas, on April 24, 2008; and
- Pachyderms Advancing the County of Hidalgo, Mission, on February 12, 2008.
- Domingo Useda, physician, Useda & Associates, McAllen, on June 18, 2008; and
- Dennis Burleson, stockbroker/vice-president, Wachovia Bank, Mission, on May 22, 2008. Burleson, an appointee of Gov. Rick Perry, is chairman of the board for the Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority.
January 1 – January 24, 2008
- Felipe García, attorney, The Law Office of Felipe García, Edinburg, on January 22. García, brother to former Hidalgo County Judge Ramón García, is a former member of the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, the jobs-creation arm of the Edinburg City Council.
- Reynaldo Merino, attorney, The Law Office of Reynaldo Merino, McAllen, on January 22; and
- Sergio Muñoz, Sr., self-employed, Mission, on January 21. Muñoz is a former Democratic state representative from Mission;
- Sergio Muñoz, Jr., attorney, Mission, on January 22. Muñoz is the son of the former Democratic state representative from Mission;
- A loan was taken from Texas National Bank of Mercedes on January 11, 2008, at 12 percent interest, with a maturity date of January 11, 2009. There were no guarantors listed for this loan.
January 25 – February 23, 2008
- Sergio Muñoz, self-employed, Mission, on February 23. Muñoz is a former state representative.
- Bobby Huerta, self-employed, McAllen, on February 22, 2008; and
- Ricardo Lara, self-employed, Mission, on February 5, 2008.
- Genaro Fraustro, attorney, McAllen, on February 21, 2008.
A loan was taken from First National Bank of Mission on February 21, 2008, at 12 percent interest, with a maturity date of February 21, 2009. There were no guarantors listed for this loan.
January 1 – June 30, 2008
- Rogelio Garza, attorney, the Law Office of Rogelio Garza, McAllen, on May 23;
- Ernesto Silva, self-employed, Harlingen, on May 23, 2008;
- Ernesto Silva, self-employed, Harlingen, on May 5, 2008; and
- Memorial Funeral Home, Edinburg, on April 30, 2008.
Ricardo González remains as Edinburg city attorney through at least May 2009 city council elections
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
Ricardo González, who had served as the interim city attorney for Edinburg since January, was kept on a permanent basis by the Edinburg City Council – at least until the May 2009 municipal elections, when top city staff are traditional evaluated and decisions made on their employment.
González’ fee is $15,000 per month, which is what is currently budgeted by the city, he said.
The action was taken during the city council’s Tuesday, August 5 regular meeting, following deliberations by the elected leadership behind closed doors, as allowed by state law.
González and six other law firms had responded to a request for proposals for legal services, issued at the beginning of the year by the city council, following the departure of former longtime city attorney and current Hidalgo County 449th District Court Judge Daniel G. Ríos .
Ríos was appointed in late 2007 by Gov. Rick Perry to serve as presiding judge of the recently-created district court, which has jurisdiction over cases involving juveniles. Under state law, his appointment required that he leave the city attorney spot.
Ríos, a Republican, is facing Jesse Contreras, a Democrat and longtime Mercedes Municipal Court judge, in the November general elections.
The decision to keep González was unanimous, with Mayor Joe Ochoa, who usually does not vote unless to break a tie or express his intentions, not casting a ballot.
City Councilmember Noé Garza was not sitting with his colleagues at the city council dais, which is the raised platform from which the council conducts all its public actions, when the vote on González was taken.
He entered the city council meeting room seconds after the vote was made, and signaled to City Secretary Myra Garza that he supported the decision to keep González on a permanent basis. The city secretary’s office will be recording in the official minutes that Garza voted “yes” on keeping González.
González, who did not sit in on the executive session item dealing with the city attorney position, said later the vote is consistent with city council policies.
“They removed the label of ‘interim’ from my position,” said González. “Under the city charter, the city attorney, the city secretary, and the city manager’s jobs run concurrent, in terms of tenure and appointments. They are three-year, tenured appointments, and they run with the mayor’s election.”
The opening had drawn interest from other highly-qualified legal firms.
In addition to González’, proposals had been submitted by former Edinburg Mayor Richard Alamia; Cynthia Contreras Gutiérrez, whose clientele includes the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation; Bracewell & Guiliani of Houston; Ortiz & Millin of McAllen; The Law Office of Sofía Arizpe and Dahlila Guerra Casso of Edinburg; and The Salinas Law Firm, P.L.L.C. of McAllen.
The role of the city attorney is arguably the most influential in the local government, serving as top advisor to the city council on many major decisions that involve legal and financial strategies, particularly many of the more politically-charged actions, but also on other key matters, such as rezoning, which shapes where and how residential and commercial subdivisions are created and flourish.
In addition to those duties, the city attorney also is responsible for serving as legal counsel to the Planning and Zoning Commission, and for handling civil lawsuits for and against the city, plus prosecuting criminal cases which are assigned to the Edinburg Municipal Court, which is under the jurisdiction of Municipal Court Judge Toribio “Terry” Palacios.
Another power comes from the authority wielded by the city attorney to make the call – or defend the decision – on which items get to be hammered out behind closed doors, called executive session, where only the city council, the city attorney, and a handful of elite city bureaucrats are allowed inside.
González is a partner in the Law Firm of Oxford & González, 124 South 12th, Edinburg (Phone: 383-5654).
González, a Rio Grande City native and McAllen resident, earned a bachelor’s degree in 1981 from Texas A&I University in Kingsville, and a law degree in 1985 from Texas Tech University School of Law in Lubbock.
In addition to his current and previous legal work on behalf of Edinburg, González has served as counsel for Hidalgo County and the Edinburg school district. Currently, he is the attorney for the La Joya Teacher’s Federal Credit Union and for the cities of Alton, Granjeno, Peñitas, and for the Hidalgo County Head Start Program.
City property tax rate could remain the same, public hearings on formula set for August 19 and August 22
By DAVID A. DÍAZ
For the past 13 years, the city property tax rate – the formula which determines how much property taxes will be paid by home and business owners to help pay for city government – has remained the same: 63.5 cents per $100 assessed valuation.
Now, City Manager J.J. Rodríguez, who is drafting the upcoming city budget that will become effective on October 1, is proposing that the city tax rate remain the same, and two scheduled meetings – on Tuesday, August 19 and Friday, August 22 – will give the public their chance to express their opinions.
The recommendation to keep the city property tax rate at the same level was made by Rodríguez during the city council’s regularly-scheduled bimonthly meeting, held in the International Trade and Technology Building (IT2) at the University of Texas-Pan American on Tuesday, August 5.
State law requires the city council to hear from its constituents before the take any action on the recommendation.
“A record vote must be recorded on the proposed tax rate along with the governing body scheduling two public hearings on the proposal,” Rodríguez explained in his memorandum to the city council.
He also recommended — and received approval — to schedule the first public hearing on Tuesday, August 19, at 7 p.m. in the IT2 Building, located in the 300 Block of Dr. Miguel Nevárez Drive on campus, and the second public hearing for Friday, August 22, at noon in the City Hall Conference Room, 210 West McIntyre.
Although the property tax rate will not increase, because the local government will be receiving more revenue, state law requires the public hearings.
A government’s property tax revenue can increase under numerous situations, such as if the value of homes and businesses go up because of improvements made to those facilities, if the tax appraisal district, based on current market values, hikes up the market value of structures, and/or if new homes and businesses are built.
An example of how to calculate the city property tax bill follows:
The owner of a home or business that is valued at $50,000 by the Hidalgo County Tax Appraisal District – and after taking any other allowed deductions as allowed by law – would get a tax bill from the Edinburg city government for $305.50.
That figure is calculated by taking the $50,000 value, dividing it by $100, which equals $500, and multiplying $500 by .635 (63.5 cents).
Mike Braun, Jr. of Edinburg among four finalists to lead Hidalgo County Elections Department
By CARI LAMBRECHT
At a meeting of the Hidalgo County Elections Commission on Friday, August 15, the panel’s chairman, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, announced that out of 66 applicants for the position of the Elections Administrator, the commission has narrowed it down to the final four.
- Mike Braun Jr. of Edinburg;
- Froylan Garza of Alamo;
- Yvonne Ramón of McAllen; and
- Simón Sáenz of Austin.
The final four candidates will undergo a second round of interviews on the Wednesday, August 20 meeting of the commission. A decision could be made immediately following the meeting.
“Making decisions in haste leads to waste,” Salinas said at the conclusion of the August 15 meeting. “We are putting the candidates for this very important position under the microscope. Today, we deliberated further on the merits of each candidate, but decided that we’d like to speak to them one more time before making our decisions.
“Background checks are not yet complete. Furthermore, I have not had a chance to personally interview these candidates thanks to Hurricane Dolly. As a commission, we want to ask some tough questions on Wednesday so we can select the most honest, knowledgeable, capable and hardworking Elections Administrator Hidalgo County deserves,” Salinas continued.
The Elections Commission also voted to ask the Hidalgo County Commissioners’ Court to approve a request for the Secretary of State to help administer the November elections or to consider the hiring of a private elections administration firm.
“Voters will be picking who they want for what’s arguably the most powerful position in the world. Whoever we choose for Elections Administrator will have a learning curve, and this is not a slight to them, but we simply want the November election to go off without a hitch. We are requesting help to administer this election,” Salinas said.
The item suggested by the Elections Commission will be placed on the Tuesday, August 19 Commissioners’ Court agenda for consideration.
According to the McAllen Monitor’s website, highlights of each of the candidates follow:
Braun of Edinburg: Bachelor’s, political science, University of Houston, special projects director of Easy Access Inc., a computer software developer for voter registration;
Garza of Alamo: Bachelor’s, political science, University of Texas-Pan American, U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar, Hidalgo County area coordinator;
Ramón of McAllen: Masters, educational leadership, University of Texas-Pan American, Mission School District, assistant principal; and
Sáenz of Austin: Master’s, demography, University of Texas, Travis County Elections.
Sen. Hutchison announces $2.45 million to aid South Texas workers dislocated by Hurricane Dolly
By MATT MACKOWIAK
U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, on Tuesday, August 13, announced $2.45 million in U.S. Department of Labor Workforce Investment Act National Emergency Grant funding to create temporary employment for workers dislocated by Hurricane Dolly and to aid in recovery efforts.
“Hurricane Dolly battered South Texas in a matter of hours, but the impact of the storm will continue to be felt by Texans as they work to put their lives and communities back together,” Hutchison said. “This funding will help in the recovery process by assisting workers who were displaced by the storm.”
The Department of Labor awarded the grant to the Texas Workforce Commission, which will administer funds in the counties of Aransas, Bexar, Brooks, Calhoun, Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Kenedy, Kleberg, Nueces, Refugio, San Patricio, Starr, Victoria, and Willacy.
According to the Labor Department, the project will create temporary employment to assist in clean-up and recovery efforts resulting from Hurricane Dolly, as well as provide food, clothing, shelter, and other humanitarian assistance for disaster victims.
Hurricane Dolly, the first hurricane to hit the U.S. since September 2007, made landfall as a category 2 storm on South Padre Island on July 23 and caused flooding and storm damage along the southwest coast region of Texas.
Congressman Hinojosa to address legislative luncheon in Edinburg on Thursday, August 21
By EVANA VLECK
The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce Public Affairs Committee, under the direction of Ramiro Garza, executive director for the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation, cordially invites the public to attent an Edinburg Legislative Luncheon on Thursday, August 21, that will feature Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes.
The event, which begins at 11:30 a.m., will focus on congressional issues that impact Edinburg and deep South Texas.
There is a nominal fee of $10 required per person, which will help cover the costs for the luncheon meal, or $100 for a table of eight. The gathering will take place at the ECHO Hotel and Convention Center in Edinburg.
Reservations are encouraged as there is limited seating available; please RSVP 956-383-4974 by Tuesday, August 19.
Hinojosa was first elected to Congress in 1996 and is currently serving his sixth term as the representative of the 15th District of Texas.
The 15th Congressional District stretches from the Rio Grande Valley to historic Goliad County and the Coastal Bend region. Much of the region is rural, however Hidalgo and Cameron Counties are part of the third-fastest growing metropolitan statistical area in the country.
Prior to his election, Hinojosa served 20 years as President and Chief Financial Officer of a family-owned food processing company, H&H Foods.
He earned a Bachelor in Business Administration and a Master in Business Administration from the University of Texas in Austin and Pan American University, respectively.
He is married to Martha Lopez Hinojosa and has one son, Rubén Jr., and four daughters: Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa; Iliana; Kaitlin; and Karén.
Please visit the official page for full bio at: http://hinojosa.house.gov
The Edinburg Legislative Luncheon is generously sponsored by Edwards Abstract and Title Co., and Rio Valley Realty.
Dr. Gary L. Ahlman, who has provided eyeglasses to thousands of needy area children, honored by Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club
By RAÚL “JAY” LEAL
The Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club has awarded Dr. Gary L. Ahlman, an Edinburg optometrist, a certificate of appreciation for his many years of providing disadvantaged children with free eye exams and glasses.
Ahlman has worked with Lions Clubs in Edinburg and the Hidalgo County Indigent Program to provide free eye exams and eyeglasses to children of families who are economically disadvantaged. Ahlman estimates he has helped provide free eyeglasses for over 5,000 Edinburg-area children.
“We work with school nurses to identify children who are having difficulty seeing the board and come from low income families. The Lions Club then refers them to Dr. Ahlman, who provides a comprehensive eye exam and eyeglasses, if required,” said Joe Longoria, president of the Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club.
The Lions Club and Ahlman share the cost of the program, with the Lions Club conducting fund raisers throughout the year to expand the program.
“I started my practice in Edinburg in 1968. I got involved with the Lions Club that same year. We have helped more than 100 kids each year. It has been great to help so many children,” said Ahlman.
“Without Dr. Ahlman providing these services, thousands of kids would not be able to see well and would be unable to do their best at school,” said Raul Leal, Secretary/Treasurer of the Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club. “We truly appreciate all that he gives to the children of Edinburg.”
Ahlman attended the University of Nebraska and the University of Houston where he received his Doctor of Optometry degree. He recently celebrated his 40th anniversary providing eye care in Edinburg. Ahlman, Dr. Kriselda Garza and Dr. Luis S. Navarro practice at the Edinburg Vision Center, where they provide eye examinations, contact lenses and eyeglasses in an hour.
The Edinburg Early Risers Lions Club is a part of Lions Club International, a network of 1.3 million men and women in 202 countries and geographic areas who work together to answer the needs that challenge communities around the world.
Known for working to end preventable blindness, Lions participate in a vast variety of projects important to their communities. These projects range from cleaning up local parks to providing supplies to victims of natural disasters.
UT System regents praise parties for negotiating settlement, authorize $1 million for Border Wall
By MATT FLORES
The University of Texas System Board of Regents on Thursday, August 14, authorized up to $1 million to help construct a border fence along the UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College campus as part of a recent agreement with the federal government.
The money, which will come from the UT System’s Intermediate Term Fund, will be used to construct a 10-foot-tall fence along a portion of the campus to help enhance campus security and stem illegal immigration into the United States. In the settlement with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the UTB/TSC and UT System agreed to augment a current fence in place on the campus – and outfit it with high-tech monitoring devices – by December 31.
“On behalf of the Board, I would like to express our sincere appreciation to the many individuals who worked so diligently to find a compromise outcome that would satisfy the responsibilities of both UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security related to the construction of the proposed border fence,” Regents’ Chairman H. Scott Caven, Jr., said.
The settlement, reached July 31, ended all court proceedings between the university and Homeland Security/U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which had sought to condemn portions of the university and to erect a larger barrier. As part of the settlement, DHS/CBP agreed to end condemnation actions against UTB/TSC, effectively allowing the institution to retain ownership over all its property.
On Tuesday, August 5, UTB/TSC officials defined the construction schedule for the fence with a deadline of 10 days to design what university officials call a “friendly fence.”
The agreement allows UTB/TSC to add facilities on the land and federal officials from both agencies have indicated they would support the university’s long-term efforts to move and enhance a flood-control levee to the edge of the Rio Grande.
UTB/TSC and DHS/CBP will also collaborate in the establishment of a center to study border issues including security. It would examine, among other elements, the use of technology for securing the border. The southern perimeter of the UTB/TSC campus will be part of a laboratory for testing new technology and infrastructure combinations.
Regents approve $11.5 billion annual operating budget for UT System
By MATT FLORES
The University of Texas System Board of Regents today (Aug. 14) approved a $11.5 billion operating budget for the 2009 fiscal year, which begins Sept. 1. The new budget represents a 7.9 percent increase, or $845 million, over the previous fiscal year.
“The Board’s approval of this budget reflects the System’s continuing commitment to outstanding education, research, and health care,” UT System Interim Chancellor Dr. Kenneth I. Shine said. “We have done our best to ensure that all System institutions do their work in an efficient and cost effective manner. We believe the budget will accrue to the benefit of all Texans.”
Significant areas of growth include instruction expenses (6.9 percent, $171 million), research (9.6 percent, $156 million) and hospitals and clinics (9.8 percent, $266 million).
Increases in instruction and hospital and clinical expenses are primarily associated with new faculty and staff positions needed for rising student enrollment and growing patient care. Growth in research expenses results from a continued commitment by UT System institutions to developing research activities and the majority of the increase results from the System’s health-related institutions.
Revenue from health care, sponsored programs, state appropriations and tuition and fees represent about 84 percent of budgeted revenues. Budgeted state appropriations ($1.9 billion) were relatively flat, increasing by $9 million or 0.5 percent over 2008 levels. State appropriations represent 16.9 percent of the System’s expense budget, down from 18.2 percent in Fiscal 2008.
The UT System’s six health institutions account for 65 percent of the overall operating budget. At $2.80 billion, U.T. M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has the largest budget of the System’s 15 health and academic institutions. The institution with the second-largest budget is U.T. Austin ($1.98 billion), followed by U.T. Medical Branch at Galveston ($1.61 billion) and U.T. Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas ($1.49 billion).
For Fiscal 2009, flexible tuition at academic institutions will generate about $74.5 million of new funding, which will be distributed in the following areas:
- 46.1 percent for new and existing faculty
- 21 percent toward grants, scholarships and financial aid
- 15.1 percent toward academic and student services initiatives
- 13.6 percent for existing staff merit and benefit increases
- 4.3 percent for campus infrastructure
The portion of the budget that will fund the UT System’s general administration functions rose 1.7 percent to $35.8 million for Fiscal 2009. General administration is funded mostly from public endowment income generated by the Available University Fund. The increases in administration will go primarily toward staffing for new strategic initiatives and merit increases for existing staff and related benefits.
The Faculty Science and Technology Acquisition and Retention (STARs) Program is budgeted for $10 million for System academic institutions and $10 million for health institutions in FY 2009. Program funds, which come from bond proceeds of the Permanent University Fund, are used to purchase state-of-the-art equipment and to renovate laboratory facilities to help attract or retain researchers in health, mathematics, computer sciences, biological sciences, physical sciences, engineering and liberal arts.
Launched in 2004, the STARs Program has aided in the recruitment and retention of top-flight faculty, who in turn have generated more than $200 million is sponsored research at UT institutions. Since the program’s creation, the UT System has allocated roughly $124 million in grants to the institutions.
About the University of Texas System
The UT System is one of the nation’s largest higher education systems, with nine academic campuses and six health institutions. The UT System has an annual operating budget of $11.5 billion (FY 2009) including $2.5 billion in research funded by federal, state, local and private sources. Student enrollment exceeded 194,000 in the 2007 academic year. The UT System confers more than one-third of the state’s undergraduate degrees and educates nearly three-fourths of the state’s health care professionals annually. With more than 81,000 employees, the UT System is one of the largest employers in the state.
Comptroller Comb’s report examines “tremendous economic opportunities” in the South Texas region
By R.J. DeSILVA
Only two weeks after Hurricane Dolly, South Texas is on the road to recovery, and economists expect the storm to carry no lasting negative impact on the region’s economy, Texas Comptroller Susan Combs has announced.
“Overall, South Texas fortunately escaped the widespread, catastrophic impact a hurricane can bring to a coastal area,” Combs said. “While some businesses in the region did experience significant damage, the economic outlook for the South Texas region as a whole remains excellent.”
Indicators point to a tremendous economic outlook for South Texas, Combs says in a new report that explores the opportunities and challenges facing the region in the coming years.
“South Texas’ strengths include vibrant international trade, a young and rapidly growing population and impressive gains in education and work force development,” Combs said. “The region’s rate of job growth will outpace that of the state through 2012, and South Texas has a young work force to grasp those opportunities.”
The Texas in Focus: South Texas is the third volume in a series of reports highlighting economic development issues statewide and for individual regions of Texas. The South Texas report focuses on 28 counties between the Rio Grande River and the Gulf of Mexico, including the cities of Corpus Christi, Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, Laredo, Eagle Pass and Del Rio. Like other reports in the series, The Texas in Focus: South Texas examines economic development, demographics, infrastructure, health care and education — key issues that present both opportunities and challenges for the Texas economy.
According to the report, the projected employment growth in South Texas from 2002 to 2012 will be about 29 percent, well above the projected statewide growth rate of about 25 percent. The McAllen-Edinburg-Mission area and Laredo will likely see the highest employment growth at 38.5 percent and 34.5 percent, respectively. The most significant growth is expected in educational and health services, financial activities, professional and business services and the trade, transportation and utilities sectors.
The South Texas region is perfectly located to benefit from rapidly expanding international trade. Trade between Mexico and the South Texas region totaled nearly $162 billion in 2007, up 28 percent since 2004. South Texas has five major seaports and eight inland ports moving train and truck cargo across the border. The busiest seaport is Corpus Christi, which ranked in 2006 as the nation’s sixth-largest port in cargo tonnage, handling 77.6 million tons. Nearly 70 percent of this cargo was involved in international trade. Laredo, the busiest inland port, handled nearly $83 billion in truck trade and more than $27 billion in rail trade with Mexico during 2007.
Moving goods to and from the ports and transporting the region’s economically important agricultural products — cattle, sugar cane, grain sorghum, cotton, citrus, onions and other produce — to market make transportation a major industry and economic engine in South Texas. But rapid economic growth also presents a challenge: strain on the area’s highways. To alleviate traffic congestion, promote economic development and better connect the South Texas region’s agricultural, trade and economic centers with markets throughout the state and nation, plans are developing for several Texas trade corridors in which highways will be expanded and improved. Developers also see rail service expansion as key to moving goods more efficiently.
The region produces and will continue to produce an educated and effective work force to support continued economic growth. South Texas schools are making rapid gains in academic performance, ranking above the statewide average on several educational benchmarks. In 2006, more students graduating from South Texas high schools took the SAT or ACT college entrance exams than the statewide average. The higher education landscape in South Texas is undergoing a dramatic change. South Texas has 13 higher education institutions that operate 26 campuses in the region, including several Texas A&M and University of Texas campuses, and six community college districts have 12 of these campuses. These institutions are seeing significant increases in enrollment and in the number of degrees awarded. Enrollment in South Texas universities rose by 37.1 percent between 2000 and 2007, compared to a statewide growth rate of 19.9 percent. Enrollment in two-year colleges in the region rose by 44.7 percent.
As in other regions, health care is both a high-growth sector of the South Texas economy and an economic challenge. Limited access to health care in some counties, high rates of the uninsured and a higher-than-average rate of chronic diseases, such as diabetes pose significant challenges. The region has adopted innovative solutions to improve access, and South Texas colleges and universities offer training programs that help meet the need for health care professionals.
The South Texas region’s population increased at an annual rate of 2.1 percent from 2002 to 2007, slightly faster than the state as a whole. Growth in the metropolitan areas of McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, Laredo and Brownsville outpaced both the region and the state. Population growth in the region is expected to slow to 1.4 percent annually during the next five years, but will continue to exceed the statewide average.
“How South Texas meets the opportunities and challenges ahead will determine the magnitude of continued economic growth,” Combs said. “We hope local government officials, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations and many others will use this report as a tool to stay on top of important issues as they work to keep their local economies thriving.”
To help local governments and other groups plan for growth, the Comptroller’s office provides economic development information, as well as analysis of demographics, labor force and other factors that affect economic development. Using its Texas EDGE (Economic Data for Growth and Expansion) Program, the agency runs economic models and provides analyses that identify occupational and industry trends and their effects on the local economy. The Comptroller’s office also identifies opportunities for local governments to raise funds for economic development through property, sales and franchise tax revenues, exemptions and credits.
“One role of state government is to create an environment in which a healthy economy can flourish,” Combs said.
The Texas in Focus: South Texas report can be found on the Comptroller’s Web site at http://www.window.state.tx.us/specialrpt/tif/southtexas. The statewide economic report, Texas in Focus: A Statewide View of Opportunities, and the first regional report in the economic series, Texas in Focus: High Plains, are also posted online.
Consumer alert: New ID theft scam targets Texas Debit Card, used to access child support payments
Parents who use the Texas Debit Card to access their child support payments should beware of a new identity theft scam that targets EPPICard users. The Texas Attorney General’s Office and government agencies in 14 other states use EPPICards, which are known locally as the Texas Debit Card, to disburse child support payments.
According to the Internet Complaint Center, EPPICard users nationwide have reported receiving e-mail, voice and text messages falsely indicating problems with their accounts. Card users are directed to update their accounts or correct a problem by clicking on a Web link included within the message. The link directs the individuals to a fraudulent Web site where their personal information, such as account number and PIN, is compromised. Recipients of these messages also may be directed to call a phone number.
EPPICard users have also reported receiving an e-mail message offering payments to those who complete an online survey. At the end of the survey, users are asked for their EPPICard account information so that funds can be credited to the account. By providing the requested information, users put their financial information at risk.
EPPICard providers indicate they are not affiliated with survey Web sites and do not solicit personal information via e-mail or text messages.
Texas Debit Card users should be vigilant and avoid this new twist on old e-mail scheme. Parents should never open unsolicited e-mails or click on Web links that appear in an unsolicited e-mail. Doing so could activate hidden viruses or other malicious software or direct users to a decoy Web site that allows identity thieves to collect the information they need to empty the users’ bank accounts and ruin their credit.
Texas Debit Card users who have questions about their account should call the program’s toll-free hotline at (866) 729-6159. Customer service representatives are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Parents also may call the toll-free number to check account balances and obtain transaction histories.
More than 280,000 Texas parents served by the child support program use the Texas Debit Card as a convenient alternative to receiving child support payments by cash or check. Parents who receive fraudulent e-mails regarding account information or survey requests should notify the Internet Complaint Center by filing an online complaint at http://www.ic3.gov.
Quarter of U.S. Hispanics get no health information from medical professionals, new survey finds
By MARY SEABORN
More than one in four Hispanic adults in the United States lack a usual health care provider and a similar proportion report obtaining no health care information from medical professionals in the past year, according to a report released today by the Pew Hispanic Center and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
At the same time, the report finds that more than eight in 10 receive health information from alternative sources, such as television and radio. This includes most of those who get no information from doctors or other medical professionals.
“Nearly as many Hispanics get health information from television as from doctors and medical professionals,” said Susan Minushkin, Pew Hispanic Center deputy director and one of the report’s authors. “What’s more, Hispanics who don’t have a usual health care provider are more likely to get health information from television than they are from medical professionals.”
The report is based on a nationally representative bilingual survey of 4,013 Hispanic adults. It is unique in the breadth and depth at which it questions Hispanics on health care access and information issues. It also examines Hispanics’ knowledge of diabetes – a serious chronic disease that is more prevalent among Hispanics than non-Hispanic whites.
Unlike previous research, this survey examines how different sub-groups within the U.S. Hispanic population access health services and information.
“When it comes to meeting the health needs of Hispanics in America, one size does not fit all,” said Debra Joy Pérez, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “National and community health experts need to factor in differences between sub-groups, such as language spoken, assimilation and country of origin, and develop innovative solutions that meet the diverse needs of the Latino community.”
Among its key findings:
- As with the general population, Hispanics who are male, young, less educated and without health insurance are least likely to have a usual health care provider.
- Foreign-born and less-assimilated Latinos – those who mainly speak Spanish, lack U.S. citizenship, or have been in the United States for a short time – are less likely than other Latinos to report that they have a usual place to go for medical treatment or advice.
- But a significant share of Hispanics with no usual place to go for medical care are high school graduates (50 percent), were born in the United States (30 percent) and have health insurance (45 percent).
- When asked about why they lack a usual provider, a plurality of respondents (41 percent) say the principal reason is that they are seldom sick.
The Pew Hispanic Center is a nonpartisan research organization that seeks to improve understanding of the U.S. Hispanic population and to chronicle Latinos’ growing impact on the nation. The Center does not take positions on policy issues. It is a project of the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan “fact tank” in Washington, DC that provides information on the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world, and is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, a public charity based in Philadelphia.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change.
For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime. For more information, visit http://www.rwjf.org.
Senate committee hears criticism, defense of more than 40,000 roadside billboards used in Texas
By SENATE MEDIA SERVICES
The Transportation and Homeland Security Committee met in Irving on Tuesday, August 12, to hear from both sides of the often contentious billboard issue.
Critics of roadside billboards say the thousands of advertisements negatively impact quality of life and scenery along state highways. Supporters counter that billboards are a necessary and important marketing tool and increasing regulation impacts property rights.
Margaret Lloyd, policy director for Scenic Texas, an organization that stands in favor of a general ban on billboards, testified that Texas has more billboards along its roads than any other state, more than 40,000. Many of these billboards, she said, are erected in defiance of state regulations. Outside of city jurisdictions, she testified that there is little or no regulation of billboards.
Texas Department of Transportation official John Barton testified regarding state regulations of billboards. The federal government passed a law in 1968 that required states to regulate the construction and placement of billboards. Barton said that many billboards are built illegally for a number of reasons, including a lack of understanding of existing laws, and dispute over what areas can be defined as industrial or commercial, locations that billboards are restricted to. He went on to say that his agency is working to streamline and clarify existing regulations, to improve compliance.
Lee Vela, who represents the Outdoor Advertising Association of Texas, testified that the vast majority of billboards are constructed in appropriate areas, and outdoor advertising remains a critical marketing tool. He said that the number of billboards are actually decreasing: since 2006, more billboards permits have been terminated than new permits issued. His organization, he said, is in favor of a balance between commercial and aesthetic interests.
Billboards have long been a contentious issue, and Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands said that the principle stakeholders need to come to a compromise soon, or neither party would like the decision on the issue that may come down from the Legislature next session. Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, seconded this sentiment.
In addition to Carona and Williams, the senate panel includes: Vice-Chair and Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin. The committee is comprised of: Sen. Kim Brimer, R-Ft. Worth; Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville; Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio; Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso; and Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano.
Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website’s audio and video archive pages.