Photo by Gabe Hernandezfirstname.lastname@example.org
If 2015 sees as much news as the past year did in the Rio Grande Valley, there will be plenty more for the Monitor to cover.
In the past year, we’ve seen a wave of migration that brought reporters from around the world to McAllen to cover the story. Hidalgo County’s once popular sheriff saw his power crumble to the point that he’s now in a Florida prison cell. Bursts of prolonged gunfire gripped a La Joya neighborhood in July.
With all the negative stories came promise, as well.
Continued progress on uniting the region’s two public universities into one with its medical school moved forward. And confirmation that a launch pad will be built near Brownsville will send rockets into space in the coming years.
So as we start this new year, let’s look back at the Monitor’s top 10 stories of 2014.
1. IMMIGRANT INFLUX
The last year’s top story dominated national broadcasts and headlines throughout the summer of 2014, when tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and other Central American families — mainly from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — flooded into the Rio Grande Valley.
Unlike most immigrants smuggled into the U.S. illegally, this wave of migration mostly surrendered to Border Patrol agents or other law enforcement upon their arrival, thinking that President Barack Obama had granted a “permiso” allowing them to stay. New arrivals were allowed to be released, but only with a “promise to appear” notice for their immigration court hearing, typically several months away.
The Valley, particularly McAllen, has been the epicenter of the migration, as the area is the shortest route for migrants to traverse Mexico from Central America.
Catholic Charities set up an immigrant assistance center that continues to operate in downtown McAllen. In need of donations and volunteers, the center at Sacred Heart Church provides immigrants with a shower, clean clothes, food and basic medical attention before they board buses elsewhere in the country.
2. SHERIFF LUPE TREVIÑO’S DEMISE
Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño prided himself on being visible and accessible to his constituents. But by late summer, that visibility came in a federal courtroom as he learned how long he would be sent behind bars.
Elected to a third term in 2012, Treviño abruptly resigned in March amid a federal investigation that had already enveloped Jose Padilla, one of his trusted commanders, and his chief of staff, Maria Patricia Medina.
Focusing on illicit campaign donations from Tomas “El Gallo” Gonzalez, a convicted Weslaco drug trafficker who worked under the guise of a produce brokerage, federal prosecutors charged Treviño with money laundering in April. The same day Treviño appeared to hear his charge in U.S. District Court in McAllen was the day he pleaded guilty.
In August, Treviño went before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, who sentenced him to five years in prison. The former sheriff has since appealed his sentence, arguing the judge did not base the punishment on evidence or what had been agreed upon with prosecutors.
3. SPACEX COMING TO VALLEY
What perhaps was the Valley’s worst-kept secret finally came out of the shadows in August.
SpaceX, the space exploration company owned by billionaire Elon Musk, finally announced after years of speculation and regulatory hurdles that it had chosen Boca Chica Beach as its spot to build its rocket launch site.
The $100 million project came with $15 million in incentives from the state and more from local governments, hopeful that the site will be a game-changer in the types of high-paying jobs for well-educated people that had in the past eclipsed the Valley.
Construction broke ground in September, with work to continue throughout this year.
4. NEW UNIVERSITY LEADERS MEET MASCOT CONTROVERSY
With a new university came a new president and a new mascot — and a new controversy.
In April, the University of Texas Board of Regents named Guy Bailey as the sole finalist for UT Rio Grande Valley — leading to the resignation of Robert Nelsen, who’d served as president of UT-Pan American and had interviewed for the job.
The announcement came months after regents had named Francisco Fernandez as the inaugural dean of the new university’s medical school.
Progress has been swift on the union of the UTPA in Edinburg and UT-Brownsville, with naming of key administrators and donations coming throughout the year.
But the most contentious choice for a key university player came not from an actual person. Rather, it was with the Vaquero — the mascot Bailey announced would represent the new university.
The choice caused an uproar among UTPA students and alumni, demanding the beloved Bucky the Bronc remain as the mascot.
The situation reached an impasse, with Bailey insisting he would not back off of his decision to choose a new mascot for a new university.
In August, UT-RGV is set to enroll its first class.
5. LONGTIME DISTRICT ATTORNEY RENE GUERRA DEFEATED
Hidalgo County voters ousted DA Rene Guerra in the March primary, choosing Ricardo Rodriguez, a former district judge, to oversee the county’s criminal prosecutors for the first time in 32 years.
In his time, Guerra, 69, has been one of the county’s most prominent, and, perhaps, polarizing figures, overseeing several high-profile cases that took down other county officials in his time.
Rodriguez, a member of the politically powerful Palacios family of Edinburg, is set to take office New Year’s Day.
6. McALLEN CITY COMMISSIONER SCOTT CRANE DIES
McAllen City Commissioner Scott Crane died unexpectedly in December of what his brother described as a massive heart attack after the McAllen Marathon. News of Crane’s sudden death at age 50 shocked the region.
Thousands attended a memorial service for the late commissioner, who was an avid runner and described as instrumental in organizing the marathon, which celebrated its second year.
The day of Crane’s death — Dec. 14 — McAllen Mayor Jim Darling said a special election to replace Crane on the commission could be held as early as May 2015. The city plans to re-visit the issue in January, spokesman Teclo Garcia said Wednesday.
7. HIDALGO COUNTY JUSTICE OF THE PEACE CONVICTED
What could be Hidalgo County’s next prominent corruption scandal came to light in November, after Justice of the Peace Ismael “Melo” Ochoa resigned and was indicted in the 370th state District Court on bribery charges.
Key to Ochoa’s case was Julio Davila, a bail bondsman employee accused of bribing the judge to reduce bond amounts for defendants after their arraignments. Davila, facing federal charges himself, was described in court as the middleman between “El Gallo” Gonzalez and the former sheriff.
No other charges in the case have been filed, but Ochoa already pleaded guilty and was sentenced to probation in December.
8. HIDALGO COUNTY PROPOSITION FAILS
A countywide referendum on the November ballot that would’ve brought a hospital district to fund the UT-RGV medical school and a portion of local hospitals’ indigent care expenses failed.
The hospital district would have added an initial 8 cents per $100 of valuation to county property taxes.
Supported by most of the county’s legislative delegation, commissioners court, hospital leadership and others, the campaign nonetheless lacked a true point person. Anti-tax activists, meanwhile, got a jolt from Mission Mayor Beto Salinas, who consistently and vehemently criticized the proposition as a money-and-power grab.
State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, is expected to tweak the statute affecting a potential future hospital district during this year’s legislative session. Then, proponents of a hospital district — a vehicle that is employed to maximize federal tax dollars in every other county in Texas with a medical school — could give a referendum another try sometime in the next two years.
9. SHOOTOUT GRIPS LA JOYA NEIGHBORHOOD
A capital murder suspect and reported gang member wounded two Edinburg police officers on a…….read more here.
By JARED TAYLOR AND JACOB FISCHLER | STAFF WRITERS