Local News Headlines–9/2/2014

Tomorrow marks the first time in four months that the Texas A&M system Board of Regents is meeting. The agenda includes several personnel actions affecting the flagship campus.  The regents are being asked to select a familiar name as A&M’s next Vice President of Finance and Administration. Jerry Strawser recently stepped down as Dean of the Mays Business School. Strawser is being offered a salary, proposed at $362,000, up from his predecessor B.J. Crain who earned $330,000.  The regents are also being asked to give Interim President Mark Hussey the authority to extend  the contracts of head football coach Kevin Sumlin, head  men’s basketball coach Billy Kennedy, men’s golf head coach J.T. Higgins, and women’s tennis head coach Howard Joffe.

Tonight is the first of three opportunities to tell the College Station school board what you think about new elementary school boundaries.  As was the case when elementary zones were changed four years ago, there are no feeder patterns to the intermediate schools. Tonight’s public hearing is at the C-S-I-S-D board room, starting at 7:00. Comments will also be taken Thursday afternoon at 5:00 at the transportation center. The third public hearing is the following Wednesday at noon, also at the transportation center.

And, Bryan police and the Brazos County sheriff’s office have taken calls about a scam where people are being threatened with arrest for failing to report to jury duty. Bryan police officer Kelley McKethan says the scam calls for people to pay $400 fines over the phone with a prepaid debit card.  McKethan says the scammers are working nights, weekends, and holidays and she says you can always call local law enforcement to verify the information. The sheriff’s office does not solicit payments over the phone and the police department is not involved with the jury duty process in any way at all.

Local News Headlines–9/1/2014

The Bryan city council has given preliminary approval to its fiscal year 2015 budget. Councilman Rafael Pena asked City Manager Kean Register how spending could exceed revenue by $12-million.  Overall spending was set at $380-million while revenues are planned a t$368-million. Register says in each of the city’s funds there is a plan to increase revenue or spend down reserves.  Register told Pena he would send each council member the financial breakdown of each of the city’s 23 funds.  There is no change in the property tax rate next year in the city of Bryan, which means no change in that part of property tax bills if there was no change in valuation.

It has been a couple of years since the city of College Station has presented a historical marker.  At the last city council meeting, Tina Evans of the city’s historic preservation committee presented the 98th marker to Carla Fisher, the owner of the home at 1213 Winding Road. Evans noted the home was featured in a publication from the Architecture and Design Review of Houston.  The home was built with a unique black glazed brick and is the only one in the neighborhood built specifically for air conditioning.  The home, located in The Knoll neighborhood, was built in 1957. 88 homes and ten other buildings in College Station have historical markers.

And, the Bryan city council has scheduled a special meeting for tomorrow morning.  The agenda includes several items to be discussed behind closed doors.  The executive session topics include economic development proposals affecting the biocorridor and Texas Triangle Park north of town.  Tomorrow’s meeting starts at 8:30 at city hall.

Local News Headlines–8/28/2014

While local rainfall is only 1.5-inches behind normal, the recent return of 90-degree temperatures means water consumption is on the rise again.  Jennifer Nations at College Station Utilities says they’re pumping 20-million gallons a day, which is two-thirds of the city’s capacity. Nations adds some residents are doing their part to conserve as College Station water users are getting closer to the state’s goal of averaging 140 gallons a day per person.  Nations says the period of highest usage has moved from Labor Day to mid-July.

Brazos County commissioners are a step closer to coming up with an alternative plan for developing new computer software affecting the courts, prosecutors, and law enforcement. Eight weeks ago, the county sued a Virginia-based company after being notified they went out of business without finishing software for the local criminal justice system. Commissioners discussed ongoing negotiations with a possible replacement in executive session as requested by Assistant County Attorney Bill Ballard.  After the closed door meeting, Ballard told Commissioner Irma Cauley he will compose a contract for future consideration.  Brazos County paid AMCAD, the company that went out of business, $2.6-million to replace a 14-year-old software system.

And, former ambassador and current dean of the Bush School of Government Ryan Crocker updated chamber of commerce members this week about the current problems in the Middle East. After the presentation, Crocker described the power of the Islamic State group known as ISIS as being more dangerous than Al Qaida because it is larger, better funded and better equipped.  Crocker says the United States needs to be engaged in the region and use all available tools. But the former Ambassador says the form of the engagement has to be flexible depending on what’s going on in each country.  In the last three weeks, the American military has conducted more than one hundred airstrikes against ISIS targets in Iraq. And, the Obama administration is considering a humanitarian effort in northern Iraq where at least 12,000 have no access to food or water.

Local News Headlines–8/27/2014

The Bryan city council is moving ahead with the idea of a superpark. That followed a presentation from staff and a consultant during yesterday’s council workshop. Using Veterans Park as a measuring stick, at least 140 acres of land is needed. For demonstration purposes, architect Wayne Cooper, who is the mayor pro-tem of Pflugerville, showed what could be done at the municipal golf course. Three ideas were mapped over the municipal golf course.  The option the consultant says received the most staff support included 17 synthetic turf fields. Ten would be for baseball and softball, three for soccer, and four for either football or soccer. There would be 75 parking spaces for each of the fields, along with a skate park, disc golf, a playground, a trail system, and an amphitheater. The early cost estimate was $10-million.

A divided Bryan city council has given preliminary approval to giving $2.4-million for a conference center that’s part of a planned hotel and retail development in the area of Traditions golf course and the biocorridor.  Spencer Clements of Atlas Development, the group that owns Traditions, says without the conference center, there will be no boutique hotel. The chief executive of the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Doctor Brett Giroir, says it’s a critical component to create the environment necessary to be an international player in the pharmaceutical business.  Members of the Brazos County Lodging Association opposed the plan and spokesman Hunter Goodwin told the council it was subsidizing a competitor in an exploding market.  The council takes final action in two weeks. The money won’t be given until after the hotel and conference center is built and the private financing on the project is paid off. Another $3.8-million is going into the rest of building the Atlas Town Center.

And, a Brazos County native who has had various volunteer roles for more than 60 years was recognized at this week’s county commission meeting. Jack Donovan was honored with the Red Cross Presidential Lifetime Volunteer Service Award.  Donovan, who’s retired from the Texas A&M firefighting school, has been a volunteer with the county’s CERT unit, which stands for Community Emergency Response Team, for 13 years.  He’s also spent more than 4,000 volunteer hours with the Red Cross, currently as a member of the organization’s disaster response team.  In addition to the Red Cross, Donovan also volunteers for the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity.

Local News Headlines–8/26/2014

For the time being, there are no new restrictions on e-cigarettes in College Station. The city council following public comments voted last night to defer any action to September 11th. Chris Scotti of the Northgate Merchants Association says the proposed ban in businesses would hurt some members.  Jonathan Payne of College Station said during the public comments that he has experienced a medical benefit in that the use of e-cigarettes has allowed him to stop using his asthma inhaler.  James Benham and Karl Mooney were outvoted on a e-cigarette ban limited to minors only.

Bryan residents will have their opportunity to tell the city council tonight what they think of next year’s proposed budget and property tax rate.  The tax rate is expected to remain unchanged, which means for most paying more since property values were raised. City staff expects another $1.6-million in property tax revenue, but they’re projecting a decrease in sales tax revenue of $517,000. No rate increases are planned for Bryan water, solid waste, and wastewater fees. B-T-U residential customers inside Bryan will be paying less over the next three years for their electricity, while those outside the city limits are slated to pay 12 percent more over the same period. The budget includes adding six firefighters, another police officer, another police sergeant, and a program coordinator at the city’s animal center.

And, the census bureau estimates Spanish is the primary language of about 20-percent of Brazos County residents. With that in mind, Thursday night’s Texas A&M football game at South Carolina can be heard in Spanish on a member of the Bryan Broadcasting family.  The Spanish language broadcasts of Aggies games will be heard on The Zone HD 95.1-3.   Program Director Louie Belina also says the Spanish broadcasts will be available online with the Radio Aggieland smartphone app.

Local News Headlines–8/25/2014

The first day of school means the return of motorists paying more attention to traffic. Lieutenant Chuck Fleeger of the College Station police department says to add more time to your commute because of the heavier volume of traffic, especially near schools and around Texas A&M and Blinn College.  Reminders from Officer Kelley McKethan of the Bryan Police Department include school buses being back on the streets.  McKethan reminds drivers not to go around school buses that are stopped for loading and unloading and says it’s one of the largest traffic fines handed out.  Also, pay attention to children around schools, your speed and stay off cell phones in school zones.

Blinn College trustees have set their budget for the new academic year. Brazos County campus president Sylvia McMullen says that includes $4-million in unallocated money. 13,000 students were on campus last fall and that number is expected to grow to 15,000 in three years. Blinn full-time faculty will be receiving a two-percent cost of living pay raise and longevity pay and staff salaries are being adjusted to bring them closer to market averages.  Blinn’s budget also includes an increase of about $1-million to assist with capital and master planning needs in Brazos County, along with money for a chief of staff to be based in Bryan.

And, the College Station city council considers final action tonight on restricting the sale and use of e-cigarettes.  Mayor Nancy Berry supports the ordinance, noting right now a seven-year -old can legally buy them.  In College Station, e-cigarettes will be banned in the same places as tobacco products. College Station would join at least 30 other cities in Texas in having a minimum age and restriction where e-cigarettes could be consumed.

Local News Headlines–8/22/2014

For the second time in three years, a College Station software company is looking to expand.  The College Station city council has been asked to approve an economic development agreement with StataCorp, which is located on Lakeway Drive along the east side of the freeway south of William D. Fitch. In 2011, the company purchased nine acres of land from the city. Now, it wants the city to fast track development plans, convert 30 acres to parkland use and vacate the back half of a side street, Technology Way. In return, StataCorp has seven years to construct and occupy a $3-million building and hire an additional 15 employees generating an additional payroll of at least $1-million. The council will consider the agreement Monday night, moving up their regular meeting from Thursday in part due to the Texas A&M football season opener.

The Bryan police department has issued a public awareness notice that applies to those in the downtown area Saturday between 11 and 2. At the corner of William Joel Bryan and Main Street, there will be people participating in a demonstration holding long rifles and pre-1899 black powder revolvers or replicas.  Current state law allows for both types of firearms to be displayed in public. The BPD news release states members of the Brazos County Sub-Chapter of Open Carry Texas will be promoting first and second amendment rights.

Three days this week, the College Station city council held budget workshops. Mayor Nancy Berry says one of proposed changes is reducing the number of additional fire department employees from seven to five, in order to fund a three percent pay raise for existing firefighters in order to keep good firefighters from moving to other cities that pay more.  Berry also says it’s a battle to hire and retain city employees because of the explosion in oil and gas production in Texas is making it tough to retain city employees.  A public hearing on next year’s College Station public budget will be held September 11th.

And, there have been two weather phenomenons this summer, no 100 degree highs and no hurricanes in the Gulf of Mexico.  Texas A&M climatologist Robert Korty says due to climate changes, the action has been in the Pacific.  Korty expects the gulf to stay calm, something borne out in history since hurricanes have hit Texas after September 24th only three times in the last 165 years.

Local News Headlines–8/21/2014

A Navasota man accused of murdering his wife was in and out of jail yesterday. Kelly Armstrong surrendered at noon yesterday and was released in less than two hours after posting a $150,000 bond.  A news release from Grimes County District Attorney Tuck McLain states an autopsy confirmed Autumn Armstrong died of a gunshot wound to her right thigh. One shot was fired and a firearm was found on the bed next to the victim. McLain says Kelly Armstrong called 9-1-1 early Monday morning to report his wife had been shot. The couple’s teenaged son was also in the home at the time of the shooting. Kelly Armstrong was charged with first degree murder.

College Station Mayor Nancy Berry is among those issuing reminders to reduce the mosquito population.  Berry reminds residents to remove standing water wherever possible and encourages the use of mosquito dunks which are placed in water to kill larvae before they hatch.  College Station crews will be fogging areas where mosquitos have tested positive for the West Nile Virus. Fogging operations will continue in College Station as long as positive tests are received about mosquitoes carrying West Nile.

And, Oil and gas production in the Brazos Valley isn’t going away anytime soon. That was among the statements made during a panel discussion hosted by the B-CS Chamber of Commerce. Five men involved in the industry spoke to more than 300 attending the economic outlook briefing.  Len Legate, who works with nine trade organizations through a statewide oil and gas initiative, pointed out that hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling has increased production from here on south through the Eagle Ford Shale.  Legate says the United States is importing the least amount of oil from OPEC countries since 1991.  In the last six months, there have been 323 oil and gas permits issued in Brazos, Madison, Burleson, and Grimes counties.

Local News Headlines–8/20/2014

The College Station school board has been given recommendations to redraw elementary school boundaries to accommodate the opening of the Spring Creek campus a year from now.  Superintendent Clark Ealy says the consensus opinion of 25 community members is most of the 578 students at Spring Creek will come from Greens Prairie elementary.  The population at Greens Prairie is expected to drop from 849 to 592.  Some students from three other schools would also transfer. That includes those at Creek View who live on Alexandria south of Barron Road, Forest Ridge students from the Shenandoah development, and South Knoll students who live in the area bordered by Krenek Tap, Dartmouth, Southwest Parkway, and Texas.  With the exception of Pebble Creek and Southwood Valley, the remaining elementaries would have what were described as minor changes.  The first of three public hearings about the boundary changes is scheduled for a week from Tuesday.

Most of the time taken at this week’s Bryan school board meeting was promoting the upcoming $132-million bond issue.  Superintendent Tommy Wallis was asked how he would spend money from the sale of vacated buildings after administrative offices were moved to what is now Stephen F. Austin middle school.  Wallis recommended more construction projects because only a fraction of the work that needs to be done around the district is addressed in this bond issue.  Almost $47-million would go into a new three story S-F-A classroom building between the civic auditorium and the football stadium, renovating the auditorium, and moving administrative offices to the current S-F-A building. A new auxiliary gym would be built and the current one would be turned into classrooms and a library.  The board also discussed how the rebuilding of Sul Ross Elementary would impact traffic on Carter Creek Parkway and playground needs for students during construction.

And, Texas Governor Rick Perry turned himself in on charges of abuse of power yesterday.  Before surrendering to authorities, Perry spoke to supporters in front of the Travis County justice complex.  Perry brought up what he believes is larger issue at stake behind his indictment.  If successful, Perry says the power of all future Texas governors would be eroded.  After leaving behind a mugshot and fingerprints, Perry and his lawyers went to a nearby restaurant for ice cream. The governor’s Twitter account posted a photo with Perry, an unidentified woman, and two of his lawyers.

Local News Headlines–8/19/2014

Filing for local city council and school board positions ended yesterday with the two final candidates seeking positions on the College Station council. Linda Harvell is running for the place five seat now held by Julie Schultz, and a Texas A&M student, Gabriel Pereira, has filed for the place one seat now held by Blanche Brick.

The Brazos County health department says mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus were caught east of Sue Haswell Park in Bryan. The capture was two weeks ago on May Street, around the same time as infected mosquitoes were caught on the Texas A&M golf course.  Officials again issued a reminder to drain standing water to reduce mosquito populations, wear long sleeves and pants when outdoors, use insect repellent containing DEET, and stay indoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitos are most active.

Anyone who has been a patient or referred to a doctor affiliated with College Station Medical Center over the last five years is supposed to be getting notification of a cyber-attack.  The parent company of The MED says information on four and a half million patients was taken earlier this year by a group based in China. Community Health Systems says patient names, social security and phone numbers, birthdates, and addresses were taken. C-H-S says no credit card or medical records were stolen. Those affected will be offered identity theft protection services. The MED is among 18 C-H-S facilities in Texas and 206 in the United States.

And, Blinn College students taking classes in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering, and math can apply for up to $2,500 in free money.  Interested students can apply at the Blinn College website.  Scholarships are available for high school graduates with a 3.0 grade point average in math and science who are enrolled as a full-time student in Blinn’s STEM program.  Blinn spokesman Richard Bray says only 35 of the 225 scholarships have awarded so far. They’re available on a first come, first served basis.