Monday, October 31, 2005

Forget Waldo ...

... where's Omar?

Challenger Laura Hinojosa, who announced her campaign for Hidalgo County district clerk last year, opened fire against incumbent Omar Guerrero.

If you noticed bumper stickers around town asking, "Where's Omar?" they refer to the incumbent's less-than-stellar attendence at his taxpayer-supported job. As an elected official, of course, Guerrero doesn't have any boss other than the taxpayers. So if he doesn't show up for work, the only sanction he faces comes on election day.

Guerrero, of course, wants to impose sanctions of his own on Lone Star Shredding and Document Storage, the company that stores records for the district clerk's office. He said several court files had gone missing. He told county commissioners the firm misplaced 215 files, but the company said all but five of them were accounted for. One of the company's owners said the move comes because he isn't supporting Guerrero's re-election campaign; the district clerk said he's just looking out for the taxpayers.

Which sounds more likely to you?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Eyes on government

One of the problems with small-market journalism is the lack of resources. Often a newspaper or broadcast outlet doesn't have the personnel (or the money for overtime pay) to cover local government the way it should. All too often, a reporter will just listen to a recording of the meetings or read over the minutes -- or even worse, just ask an official over the phone if anything newsworthy happened at the meeting that time.

Not only is this lazy, sloppy journalism, but it allows the city commission or school board to dictate the news coverage. In the end, the officials benefit by being allowed to operate in the dark and the public loses out.

When reporters don't show up to let taxpayers know what their elected officials are doing, those officials tend to take actions that their constituents might not like, such as awarding contracts to their political supporters or appointing their cronies to influential boards or committees. By the time the story appears in the newspaper (if at all) it's too late; the damage has been done, and the only ones who know or care about it are the cranky retirees who sat through the whole meeting.

But you don't have to be on a fixed income to worry about how your tax money gets spent. The University of Texas-Brownsville recently started a program called Students for Public Awareness. Students in this project plan to attend local school board and city commission meetings and report on them over the Internet. According to the group's website:

The Communication Council, a student organization at the University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, will produce regular community-based electronic newsletters and web casts that will report on these various boards and commissions. Our purpose is not to editorialize, but rather to report and allow the community to decide. We are calling this effort the Students for Public Awareness.

They plan to "report news in an unbiased and timely matter" -- something that will benefit the whole community. Good luck, folks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

The scapegoat

Sorry it's been so long since an update; I've been under the weather lately.

Anyway, the latest on the scapegoat in the Dallas bus crash that killed 23 Hurricane Rita evacuees: The Dallas County District Attorney's office says Juan Robles Gutierrez has NOT been charged in those deaths. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the DA's office says it didn't get the required paperwork from the Dallas County Sheriff's Office. Deputies, of course, say they did file the right papers with the district attorney. Meanwhile, the driver, who's also being held on immigration charges, sits in San Antonio, says he's not to blame, his relatives tell the Dallas Morning News.

This looks like a sheriff trying to score political points off someone who certainly isn't the only person that should be facing criminal charges in this tragedy. What about the company that owned the bus? Pharr-based Global Limo Inc. was the subject of a string of complaints over the past decade; the federal government recently shut it down. Why haven't the owners of this firm been charged?
ADDENDUM: President George W. Bush's hometown paper, the Lone Star Iconoclast, has an editorial blaming the bus crash on deregulation. I don't necessarily agree that deregulation's to blame, but the publication has a point when it asks "how Global Limo Inc. of Pharr ... kept its satisfactory rating for 20 months ...."

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Proyecto Libertad

The Valley sees so many immigrants, and too many get taken advantage of as they try to make a better life for themselves and their families. Thankfully, some people try to help and look out for these vulnerable individuals.

Proyecto Libertad, a nonprofit community organization that promotes and defends human rights among the immigrant community, is one such group. Proyecto will hold its fourth annual fundraiser at 7 p.m. this Saturday in South Padre Island. The event includes food and music from Conjunto Aztlan.

These folks do a lot of good for a group that's all too often easy pickings for the unscrupulous, so go out and support them.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Bus driver update

Channel 5 reports that the Mexican consulate is getting involved in the case of the bus driver arrested in connection with the deaths of 23 Hurricane Rita evacuees after the vehicle caught fire. Meanwhile, he's supposed to testify before a federal grand jury in Houston this week, the Houston Chronicle says.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Is this justice?

The Dallas County Sheriff's Office has charged the driver of the bus that caught fire in Dallas last month, killing 23 elderly evacuees from Hurricane Rita. Juan Robles Gutierrez faces 23 charges of criminally negligent homicide.

This poor guy came over from Mexico to work, and after the crash, he stuck around instead of heading back across the Rio Grande, and the feds arrested him on immigration charges. He may not be blameless, but it looks like he's being made the scapegoat for this disaster.

Meanwhile, what about holding the owner of the bus, Pharr-based Global Limo Inc., accountable? Sure, the government shut the bus company down, but the firm still should answer for those deaths.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Cartoon time

Ramon Ramirez used to do cartoons for The Monitor. He's still keeping his pen busy, as you can see. His take on state Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa's press conference after his arrest (and get-out-of-jail-free card-playing) for carrying a handgun through the airport security checkpoint appeared on the Channel 4 newscast the other night. Here it is in case you missed it:

Also, a story in The Monitor compares Hinojosa's case with that of another man caught with a gun at McAllen's airport six years ago. This poor guy, who also made an innocent mistake, didn't get his charge dismissed out of hand. Meanwhile, McAllen Mayor Richard Cortez says, what's with the different standards?

Speaking of the cartoonist, please visit his website and tell him hello or, better yet, offer him a commission.

Round 2?

According to Channel 5, police arrested six students today at Alamo Middle School after a hallway fight. Superintendent Arturo Guajardo told the station that the students were suspended and that he won't tolerate fighting on campuses.

This follows on the heels of last week's fight that sent a girl to the hospital. Is there a problem with student violence in the PSJA school district, or is the leadership on top of things?

Another question: The middle school students in this latest brawl could get expelled. Should that happen, or is this just a case of kids being kids?

Spammers suck

Yes, I'm aware of the contents of the first comment ever posted to my blog. That's why I just enabled that word verification feature for all comments.

Be afraid ...

... be very afraid.

It's not that I think that J.D. Salinas isn't qualified to run for Hidalgo County judge. It's that, as radio station KURV 710 reported on its website: "Salinas making his annoucement before family members and supporters -- a gathering that included all four county commissioners." (emphasis added)

Folks, that's just like having one political party in charge of the White House and Congress. Can you imagine what this nation would be like if that happened?

Oh. ...

The commissioners haven't been getting along lately with current County Judge Ramon Garcia, mainly because he offers a reality check every now and then. If they're all pulling for Salinas, you got to wonder.

Whenever a group of elected officials all hold hands and sing Kumbahya like this, you better hold on to your wallet.


The watchdog organization Grupo PODER is keeping tabs on the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district. They're concerned about the recent fight at PSJA North High School. They've got a website up; go check it out. Not very much content yet, but send 'em an email and let 'em know what you think.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Girl fight

So a fight breaks out at PSJA North, and a girl ends up in the hospital. Channel 5 reports on it, quoting PSJA Superintendent Arturo Guajardo as saying the campus is safe and incidents like this are normal in schools throughout the area.

Well, the parents at PSJA North didn't take too kindly to that, slamming the superintendent on radio station Wild 104's morning call-in show. The superintendent, in blame-shifting mode, called in to the show to say that the TV station took his comments out of context. So the station aired a report comparing the unedited footage with the story in question.

Sometimes this guy can be his own worst enemy. Still, it makes for interesting reading.

Have gun, will travel

Texas Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa got caught with a gun in his bag as he tried to get through security at the McAllen airport.

If it had been you or me, we'd still be in jail, but a McAllen municipal judge dismissed the charges before his arraignment. It's nice to see the senator gets special treatment from the city of McAllen.

Hello there

I lived and worked in the Rio Grande Valley for five years. As opinion editor at The Monitor newspaper, I got to see just how self-serving and idiotic public officials can be. Even though I'm now in San Antonio, I still can't stop talking about those fools.

This blog will be my little attempt to keep tabs on the area I still love. Of course, given my short attention span, it may not last too long.