bloggin' all things brownsville

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Brownsville Herald Editor Named

Sources close to this blog have confirmed that Marcia Caltabiano-Ponce, managing editor for The Monitor, has been named editor for The Brownsville Herald.

Former Herald Editor Rachel Benavidez left the paper several weeks ago and is now editor for San Antonio Magazine.

The announcement, along with expected structural changes within Valley Freedom Papers, will likely be made in Sunday's editions.

Guardian Reports on 'Structural Changes' at Valley Freedom Papers

The Rio Grande Guardian, an Internet publication that covers the Texas/Mexico border, has reported that major structural changes will take place at Valley Freedom Papers.

The I-publication reports: "Steve Fagan, editor of The Monitor of McAllen, is to assume the additional duties of Rio Grande Valley executive editor for the Valley Freedom newspaper group, the Guardian has learned.

"Under changes to be announced on Sunday, the Guardian understands, the editors of the Valley Morning Star, the Brownsville Herald and the other Valley Freedom titles will report directly to Fagan.

"As part of the same reshuffle, Benita Mendell, the general manager of The Monitor, is to assume the additional duties of Rio Grande Valley regional advertising director for the Valley Freedom newspaper group. The hope is that Mendell can win back lost advertising revenues for the group.

"Details of the changes were announced to staff members at the group's various newspapers via e-mail on Monday. The announcements are expected to be made public in Sunday’s editions of The Monitor, Valley Morning Star, and Brownsville Herald."

For the full article, click here.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

City Assessing Damage from Dolly

The City of Brownsville is collecting damage assessment information on its website. Damages to your property may be submitted at or e-mailed at

However, the online form does not state how the information will be utilized. I believe the info will be provided to FEMA so that it could be decided whether or not to declare our area a Category C Disaster. Category C allows for individual assistance from FEMA. A Category B Disaster Declaration was made for South Texas, which allows for FEMA assistance for damages to government/public property.

For general FEMA information, call the FEMA HOTLINE - 1-800-621-3362.

Monday, July 28, 2008

All in the Handshake -- Jack Colley

Today, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet Mr. Jack Colley, THE Chief of The Governor’s Division Of Emergency Management. He is someone I truly admire. I love this man. He stopped into our SPI Emergency Operations Center to thank our Team for the tremendous job we are doing. As the only woman on our team, that means a lot to me. He gave me one of the firmest handshakes I've ever had. Our team is a very capable team, but much of our confidence stems from the trust we have in his leadership.

I promise I'll get back to writing about Brownsville very soon once this "storm" passes.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

SPI On Its Way ...

The Island folks are in good spirits today despite another day without power. Today, AEP estimates some power by tomorrow with incremental restoration the rest of the week. Still, the Islanders are making the best out of a not-so-comfy situation by enjoying what they moved here for in the first place -- the beach and sunny weather. Here are a few pics of folks today at the Wanna Wanna Beach Bar and Grill. The entertainer was playing a -- you got it -- Jimmy Buffett tune. CLASSIC.

A couple of locals offered to buy me a beer ... I took a raincheck. Scratch that, not a raincheck. No more inclement weather, please.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

SPI Afternoon Weather Today

Partly cloudy, sunny day on South Padre Island. However, power remains out for the entire Island. ~MZ

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Good Bye, Dolly -- The Ultimate, Unpleasant Tourist

I'm writing from South Padre Island's Emergency Operation Center located at our municipal building. It's 1:40 a.m. on quiet South Padre Island. Our building is running on a generator, but the AC doesn't work. UGH! Note to self: Purchase oscillating fans for future emergencies. It's me and two other members of the Emergency Management Team staying in the building overnight.

The rest of the Island has no power and no water. The winds are whistling, but subsiding. The rain continues. There is significant flooding throughout the Island, but the flooding on Padre Boulevard has diminished some. There is significant damage to many, many buildings. More than 200 power lines/poles are down with many palm trees snapped in half.

We issued an 8 p.m. curfew today -- no reason for folks to be driving around in flooded, debris-filled areas. I drove out a couple of times, and the winds really shook my Town vehicle. Stepping outside of the vehicle, the rain feels like hundreds of needles poking you. In between wind gusts, you can walk OK, but once a gust hits you, hold on to something tight. I lost a couple of baseball caps. Just after two minutes outside, my clothing was soaked, and sandy, salty water covered my face and mouth completely.

We had one major accident today with a 17-year-old male falling over a seventh-floor balcony. He's in stable condition. Witnesses reported that a wind gust caused his fall. That's why we urge folks to remain indoors.

We have significant damage to our Convention Centre and fire department. Folks are reporting missing boats, windows, doors, roofs, decks, docks, etc.

The owner of Amberjack's extended a special dinner invitation to our Emergency Management Team and emergency personnel. With the power out, he felt the best use of the food before it spoiled was to feed us. How cool is that? With no power, it was dinner by car lights; restaurant staff faced their car vehicles at our tables. We were very grateful, and a break from the sandwiches was a Godsend.

The bridge is open, but there are pelicans everywhere. They are using its concrete sides as a shelter from the wind. Now that's a sight to see.

Staying through this storm and watching it blow in, was probably one of the most memorable experiences I will ever have.

Met and spoke to some cool folks, too! Like Dave Price of CBS's The Early Show pictured aboved.

I hope folks are staying dry and safe in Brownsville. Thanks for all the kind emails and phone calls. All is well. I will post new photos of the Island tomorrow.

Time for sleep now. The other two team members are snoring already in their respective corners. Time for me to do the same in my corner.


South Padre Island: Padre Blvd

View from Town of South Padre Island City Hall's Emergency Operations Center -- 1:30 p.m. Hurricane Dolly flooding on Padre Boulevard. Click on photos to enlarge.

Mayor Disputes County's Warning of Possible Levee Breach



FROM: Sgt. Jimmy Manrrique / Public Information Officer
DATE: July 23, 2008
SUBJ: From Mayor Pat Ahumada

Mayor Ahumada asks residents to remain calm, disputes County Judge’s warning of possible levee breech(SIC).

City of Brownsville Mayor, Pat Ahumada, reacts after receiving several calls concerning the article published in the Brownsville Herald early Wednesday morning. The article mentions Cameron County Judge Carlos Cascos and Cameron County Emergency Management Coordinator, Johnny Cavazos warning residents to move to higher ground and away from the Rio Grande River levee, stating that they expect the river levees to be breached if Hurricane Dolly continues in it’s current path as it heads straight for the mouth of the Rio Grande River.

“On one hand you have the very knowledgeable and expert opinion from the National Weather Service (Meteorologist, Joseph Tomaselli) stating that we will have lots of rain and advising our residents to remain calm and that our area has experienced these types of storms before, urging residents not to get excited. But on the other hand you have County officials warning people of a possible river levee breach and creating panic”.

“We have a plan in place and those types of possibilities would have been discussed during our telephone conferences with the state and surrounding agencies. The experts are not telling us that our levees are in any kind of danger at this point and it doesn’t make any sense why anyone would want to create panic,” said Mayor Ahumada.

Mayor Ahumada urges all Brownsville residents that live in areas in close proximity to the river to remain calm and to continue to monitor the storm and news updates from Cable Channel 12.

Hello Dolly!

Dolly hitting South Padre Island. We're ready! My view from SPI City Hall as of 7 a.m. ...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Island Beach Cams

I'm staying at the Island La Quinta, folks. Here's a link to Island cams. They're working now, and let's see if they make it through the storm.


Monday, July 21, 2008

Brownsville Mayor encourages local residents to carefully watch Tropical Storm



FROM: Sgt. Jimmy Manrrique / Public Information Officer
DATE: July 21, 2008
SUBJ: Brownsville Mayor encourages local residents to carefully watch Tropical Storm Dolly

City of Brownsville Mayor Pat Ahumada would like to encourage all Brownsville residents to keep a close eye on weather conditions as Tropical Storm Dolly makes its approach to the South Texas coast. “Brownsville residents need to prepare themselves, and stay informed about approaching weather conditions,” said Mayor Ahumada. Monday forecast models showed Tropical Storm Dolly making landfall sometime Wednesday near the Brownsville area as a Category 1or 2 Hurricane. If the storm continues at its current path, the City of Brownsville could begin to experience rainfall and gusty winds as early as Tuesday evening. Local residents are encouraged to start making preparations now, such as boarding up homes and businesses, and topping off their disaster supply kits with non-perishable food, water, and other emergency supplies.

At this time there are no evacuation plans being implemented due to the category of the storm. Local officials are working closely on contingency plans for the opening of shelters and sandbag sites, and will make appropriate announcements in the coming hours.

Due to the potential for quickly changing weather conditions, local emergency management officials will be keeping a close eye on weather forecasts and will remain in close contact with the National Weather Service and other county, state, and federal officials.

Mayor Ahumada would like to encourage local residents to monitor cable access Channel 12 for the very latest information on the City of Brownsville’s response to the weather, and for up-to-date information on the local efforts. Additionally, residents are encouraged to use care while using hammering plywood and making other preparations to their homes and businesses.

Contact Sgt. Jimmy Manrrique at 956-459-6214 for further information and updates.

Sgt. Jimmy Manrrique

# # # # #

Emergency Management Websites

City of Brownsville Emergency Management, click here.

Cameron County Emergency Management, click here.

South Padre Island Emergency Management, click here.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Tropical Storm Dolly

SOURCE: NOAA, NWS (Note: I'm on the Emergency Management Team for South Padre Island. This is our latest update. ~MZ)

Tropical Storm Dolly has formed in the Northwestern Caribbean. Initial intensity is 45 mph. Initial movement is northwest at 17 mph.

The current forecast will bring Dolly across the Yucatan peninsula tonight and into the southern Gulf of Mexico during the day Monday. Dolly is forecast to make landfall near or a little to the south of Brownsville as a strong Tropical Storm (59 to 74 mph ) late Thursday afternoon. The forecast intensity keeps Dolly a Tropical Storm through landfall although it is possible she could make Category 1 strength. There is a good possibility Dolly's movement will slow before landfall and there is a great deal of uncertainty with both the timing and intensity of Dolly beyond 48 hours.

Sustained winds - The radius of tropical storm force winds is 175 miles from the center. This will bring tropical storm force winds from well south of Matamoros to Kenedy County over the course of the storm. Winds of 35 mph will reach land areas late Tuesday and increase through the night and day on Wednesday. Sustained winds in excess of 50 mph with higher gusts are likely across the most populated areas of the Lower Rio Grande Valley along and south of US77/83 beginning Wednesday evening and into Thursday. Winds of 20-30 mph with higher gusts will reach the outer edge of the coastal waters (60 miles offshore) Tuesday night and increase through the day Wednesday and into Thursday.

Rainfall - Scattered to numerous thunderstorms beginning Tuesday. Rainfall amounts of 3 to 5 inches with isolated totals over 8 inches are expected over the Lower Rio Grande Valley through Thursday. Heaviest rains will be in the populated areas of the valley along and south off US77/83 on Wednesday into Thursday. Higher totals are possible if Dolly slows more than forecast. Beyond Thursday rainfall amounts will depend on the track of the remnants of the storm which is uncertain at this time.

Waves and Seas - Open ocean seas will begin to increase to 3 to 5 feet on Monday reaching 10 feet and higher by Wednesday. Breaking waves near shore will be 6 to 8 feet or higher on Wednesday...10 feet or higher at the jetties and breakwaters. Some beach erosion is possible and rip current risk will be high. A Coastal Flood Watch is likely.

Please see the graphic forecasts for details at your particular location at:
and the Point-and-Click forecasts at

Storm and track information are available at:

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Campaign Contribution, Expenditure Reports In

Campaign contribution and expenditure reports for the period of Jan. 1-June 30 were filed July 15 with the Texas Ethics Commission. Reports for state and district elected officials/candidates are available online at the TEC website.

Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr.
Campaign Treasurer: Paul Cowen
Total Contributions: $84,062.25
Total Expenditures: $94,124.22
Major, notable contributions:
-Border Health PAC; Pharr, Tx.: $25,000
-Texans for Economic Development PAC; Austin, Tx.: $10,000
-Charles C. Butt; San Antonio, Tx.: $5,000
-The Chickasaw Nation; Ada, Ok.: $5,000
-William Reagan Sr.; Austin, Tx.: $5,000
For the full report, click here.

Rep. Eddie Lucio III
Campaign Treasurer: Dr. Ruben M. Torres
Total Contributions: $32,727.83
Total Expenditures: $68,123.93
Major, notable contributions:
-Charles C. Butt; San Antonio, Tx.: $5,000
-Val Peisen, Partner-L&F Distributors, McAllen, Tx.: $2,500
-Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC; Austin, Tx.: $2,500
-AT&T Texas PAC; Austin, Tx.: $2,000
-The Chickasaw Nation; Ada, Ok.: $1,000
For the full report, click here.

Rep. Rene Oliveira
Campaign Treasurer: None listed
Total Contributions: $ 43,687.94
Total Expenditures: $ 75,731.97
Major, notable contributions:
-House Democratic Campaign Committee; Austin, Tx.: $5,000
-Jack Pratt, Lobbyist; Dallas, Tx.: $5,000 (Note: I did not find him on list of registered lobbyists for 2008)
-Texans for Lawsuit Reform PAC; Austin, Tx.: $4,000
-Texas Friends of Time Warner; Houston, Tx.: $4,000
-Valley Trucking Company; Brownsville, Tx.: $3,000
-Texas Energy Future Capital Holdings PAC; Austin, Tx.: $2,500
-Charles C. Butt; San Antonio Tx.: $2,500
-The Chickasaw Nation; Ada, Ok.: $1,000
For the full report, click here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Dannenbaum Settlement Agreement Released

To access the Dannenbaum Engineering Corp. Settlement agreement released Monday as reported in The Brownsville Herald, click here.

Former BISD Superintendent Resigns from Tulsa Public Schools

Michael Zolkoski, former superintendent for the Brownsville Independent School District, resigned Monday from Tulsa Public Schools' top post.

According to the Associated Press, Zolkoski gave a 90-day notice and officially leaves as superintendent on Oct. 8.

His contract will be settled at $400,000.

Zolkoski left BISD to join Tulsa Public Schools in Oklahoma in 2006.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ahumada Pushes for Amtrak Service from San Antonio to Rio Grande Valley

Mayor Pat Ahumada told News Radio WOAI of San Antonio in a report released today that he's pushing to establish a direct passenger rail link between San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley.

“We have to find out what we can do as communities to make it happen,” Ahumada told WOAI. “How can we help Amtrak to be able to provide this service.”

Ahumada said that the League of United Latin American Citizens has "thrown its support behind it."

However, the article fails to gain input from an Amtrak representative.

For the full report, click here.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Starbucks at Boca Chica Location on Closure List

Starbucks, located at U.S. Expressway 77/83 and Boca Chica Boulevard, will close its doors at the end of the month, according to a recent statement posted on

The store is one of about 600 company-operated U.S. stores on the Starbucks closure list. The company will release a list of closures monthly through the first half of FY09.

The Brownsville location is one of five Texas locations on the first closure list released July 1.

"Much thought and consideration was given to each location, because we know the impact this has on our dedicated partners, customers and the communities where we operate," the website states. "Starbucks is listening to customers, partners and the communities where we operate and is working to address their questions while we continue to transform the business."

The Brownsville Starbucks opened in April 2006 and closed in November 2006 due to a mold problem with the building. It later re-opened its doors in June 2007.

Looks like Starbucks junkies, so far, can still order an Iced Single Vente, 7 pump Peppermint, Caramel Sauce Top and Bottom, Light Ice, No whip, Mocha at the 802 and Target locations.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

On Vacation, Be Back Soon!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

'DHS Walking on Thin Ice'

"If you are reading this, I encourage you to ask yourself what more you would be doing on this issue if you had no fear." - John Moore

John Moore, pictured above and contributor to the Web site Nonviolent Migration: Opening Borders Through Nonviolent Civil Disobedience, submitted the following comment. Moore is an English teacher at Raul A. Besteiro Middle School who participates in the Teach for America and Americorps programs. Moore begins law school in the fall at the University of Pennsylvania, where he will study immigration law. Moore is a veteran of the U.S. Army who was previously stationed in El Paso, Texas.


Congress has mandated DHS to build 370 miles of fencing before 12/31/2008. Congress has not stipulated which 370 miles, nor has Congress burdened the City of Brownsville with the deadline. The onus is on DHS to get it done on time, not on Brownsville.

I truly believe that if we put up the hardest fight, DHS will go somewhere else. And if they don't, DHS will be held responsible, not us. Judge Hanen said this week, "I'm not going to hold DHS in contempt, but..." and we all know what that means. DHS was a hair's breadth away from being held in contempt and they are still walking on thin ice.

From the top to the bottom, this fight takes individual courage in whatever sphere of influence we have. Judge Hanen is holding DHS responsible for it's lawlessness (quite a growth since his first rulings), which takes courage. The city commission voted to table the issue, which takes courage. It takes courage for homeowners along the levee to tell the city commission about their homes and families, like the woman from La Moria. And if I can laugh at myself a bit, sometimes it takes courage to walk past the "Beware of Dog" sign in search of a signature on the Texas Border Coalition Affidavit (I was bit by a dog last year and haven't been the same since). If you are reading this, I encourage you to ask yourself what more you would be doing on this issue if you had no fear. And that's only fair, since it takes courage for the monolingual Ohio native who was raised by racist parents to accept the fact that their new dark-skinned, Spanish-speaking neighbors aren't there to do any harm, even if they did overstay a visa or swim across the river (despite what DHS and CNN tells them).

I commend the commissioners for allowing public comments prior to voting (regardless of the issue or your position, that is a huge win for democracy), and for tabling the issue even though powerful, monied interests were pushing them hard to make this deal with DHS.

-John Moore

Former Cameron County DA Indicted, TRO Rejected


Former Cameron County District Attorney Yolanda de Leon was indicted Monday by a grand jury for 10 counts of tampering with government records and two counts of aggravated perjury, according to the District Attorney's Office.

An arraignment hearing was held today in Judge Limas' 404th state District Court. Limas granted a two-week postponement for the arraignment and set for that time a personal recognizance bond of $5,000 for each of two indictments, according to District Attorney Spokesman Jason Moody.

De Leon also has pending three misdemeanor charges regarding disclosure of confidential information to the public (two charges) and perjury (one charge).

De Leon's attempt at a temporary restraining order has been rejected at a hearing this morning before Judge Rose Reyna of Hidalgo County, according to Moody.

The Brownsville Herald is reporting that because Peter Zavaletta is a "cooperating witness," the District Attorney's Office asked that his named be removed from the indictment.

"In all cases, we attempt to negotiate resolution, and this case will be treated no differently," Moody said.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Cisneros: No Border Wall

BATB NOTE: The City Commission majority voted Tuesday to table the border fence agenda item and make another good-faith effort to negotiate with DHS. Below is Commissioner Carlos Cisneros’ short, yet succinct, comment on the decision. I contacted the other Commissioners and Mayor for a response, too. For Commissioner Charles Atkinson’s response, click here.

“The only deal that I will make with DHS is a No Border Wall!” – Commissioner Carlos Cisneros, District 3

Atkinson: Voting No to Border Wall Green Light for DHS

BATB NOTE: The City Commission majority voted Tuesday to table the border fence agenda item and make another good-faith effort to negotiate with DHS. Below is Commissioner Charles Atkinson's defense of the Commission's decision. I contacted the other Commissioners and Mayor for a response, too.

"For those of you who feel tabling this issue was a bad idea let me enlighten you.

First, we are still looking for a viable alternative solution that the citizens of Brownsville can live with. By voting no to the Border Wall would have given DHS the greenlight to start constructing because they would have convinced some judge that Brownsville is not interested in working with them in good faith.

In a court of law we would have no leg to stand on. Sending the message that we expect DHS to come to the table and work with us is in our best interest.

UTB prolonged the inevitable, because they showed that DHS does not want to work with them in good faith. The judge ordered more negotiations. If there would of been a vote of NO, it would of stopped negotiations, and a judge would blame us for being unreasonable.

If DHS starts the building of the fence, why not put the floating fence anyway showing America that they are compassionate to the people on the border. The ball is in their court. They introduced the floating fence, not us.

If they are going to force a barrier, why change their view out of spite and put a steel fence? Just a thought."

-Commissioner and Mayor Pro-tem Charles Atkinson, District 2

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

City of Brownsville Meeting: Border Wall Live Blog

Allstate Report: Brownsville Drivers Safest in Texas

According to a report released today:

Residents of Brownsville are the safest drivers in Texas and are among the safest drivers in America according to the 2008 Allstate America's Best Drivers Report. Brownsville drivers are roaring in at No. 1 in Texas and 21st nationally in Allstate's list of cities with the safest drivers.

Alrighty. This one's hard for me to believe.

SOURCE: PR Newswire