Harlingen officials’ decisions subject of comment

The community Olympic development program limped into Harlingen after scandal and charges of embezzlement ran the program out of Brownsville. The Harlingen Old Guard cynically put together a board of outcasts and misfits on whom I was included until one fellow board member began bad-mouthing me all over town and made all kinds of untrue accusations, but it’s led me to have other responsibilities, or should I say, as God planned, I was asked to write a business plan for the program, justifying funding of $25,000 a month from the Harlingen Economic Development Corp.

After completing the business plan and turning it over to the decision makers, I began to occasionally visit the program that they first installed at the Marine Military Academy and then relocated to a dilapidated old building on West Van Buren Street, where I observed that the business plan I had written was not being followed and that the people running the program had no clue. That included members of the Harlingen Chamber of Commerce who were given ultimate oversight as well as the date and day management. So being me, I began working with Hank Perkins, who at the time was the board chair, to raise money and to find ways to strengthen the program.

The first large donor I was able to secure was McHenry Tichenor, who encouraged my big ideas and told me he wanted the program to be located throughout the Valley. Since Harlingen already had boxing and judo, his mandate was to expand the program in other cities and other sports.

Sports tourism is an important and vital economic development engine, and because Valley cities are mostly poor and supporting Olympic sports often cost more than cities were willing to spend, I looked for ways the programs could become self-sufficient by centering each around event promotion. Mr. Tichenor was a great believer in doing things and business with organizations in Mexico, calling the Rio Grande just another street to be crossed. So hosting and promoting bi-national and even international competitions that would also bring in regional state high school and college competitors and their friends and family members was made.

Although my uncontrolled diabetes by that time had already begun to affect my health, things are going relatively well and progress was being made on all fronts until I made the unholy mistake of running for mayor of Harlingen.

Mind you, I never really wanted to be mayor. I ran because like the dilapidated old building where the program was located on West Van Buren, much of the city’s core and West Side were decayed and dilapidated and were an embarrassment when bringing out-of-town visitors to compete, see or train. So my whole purpose in running was to promote revitalization of Harlingen, once a leading community in the Valley that had been allowed to fall on hard times by leadership that was helping on staying in 1954.

The rest is history. What really matters is, what is the future going to bring? I want to see this new leadership revitalize, reenergize and bring the city back to its former greatness. Or will young guys continue to hold sway by threats intimidation, voter suppression and everything else that they have done lo, these many years?

The mall has been dying for years and Mrs. Norma Sepulveda has, like former mayor Rick Rodriguez, had her efforts stonewalled. She needs guys like Desi Martinez and other community activists to step up and help her, not blame her for problems that she most certainly did not cause.

Although she has never met or spoken to me, she has supported my revitalization ideas. God willing, maybe someday soon the Salvation Army store will be relocated to south F Street and a Macy’s outlet store will replace it downtown.

Many have been very disappointed in Norma, I hear from a lot of people. She does not seem to be able to take the helm and lead. But they need to say that and not blame her for stuff that she’s not responsible for. My guess is that Harlingen’s economic problems are directly tied to the debt that was accumulated due to the Bass Pro Shops deal and the sales tax give-back they received.

The property tax increase did more harm than good.

Kenneth J. Benton lives in Austin.