Local News Headlines–7/25/2013

Five years ago, the College Station city council spent nearly $10-million to buy what is now the nearly vacant Chimney Hill shopping center on University.  Since then, the council dropped plans for building a convention center.  Mayor Nancy Berry says the property could be sold this fall.  The money would return to the hotel occupancy tax fund, where it could go towards a proposed natatorium.  The mayor, who agrees with the thought the city “grossly overpaid” for the property, hopes to recover 75 to 80 percent of the cost…which doesn’t include additional expenses since the original purchase.  The mayor hopes to get $7-million for the property.  One remaining tenant is on a month to month lease, and the council will consider action tonight to reduce the lease time for a second tenant from five years to 18 months in exchange for paying less rent.

The Planned Parenthood regional office that includes a clinic in Bryan has reached a settlement with the Texas Attorney General’s office for fraudulent billing.  Yesterday’s announcement calls for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, whose home office is in Houston, to pay $1.4-million to a whistleblower, the state, and the federal government. A-G spokesman Jerry Strickland says the group was overbilling.  State investigators began their probe following a whistleblower lawsuit alleging improper billing of the Texas Medicaid program.  Among the findings were that P-P-G-C falsified information in patients’ medical records in order to support fraudulent Medicaid reimbursement claims.  Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast issued a statement saying the allegations were baseless, but were ending the lawsuit in order to devote their energy to delivering health care.  Last week, the agency announced the closing of clinics in Bryan, Huntsville, and Lufkin August first; citing funding cuts and the new law placing stricter regulations on abortion providers.

And, the U-S House has voted to allow the National Security Agency to continue the collection of hundreds of millions of Americans’ phone records in the fight against terrorism. The proposed measure would have ended the program’s authority. Congressman Bill Flores of Bryan says two key people in national security should be fired.  Flores wants Attorney General Eric Holder fired, who heads the N-S-A, along with James Clapper, the Director of the F-B-I.  But Flores complements the work of most people in the F-B-I and the National Security Agency.  Flores was part of the House vote that rejected a measure to end the program’s authority by a margin of 12 votes.