Transparency Committee to Take Up Regent Impeachment

Despite the end of the special session, some legislators will stick around to investigate the actions of Regent Wallace Hall.

Transparency Committee to Take Up Regent Impeachment

Though the details are still sparse, one thing is clear: some legislators will stay in Austin to investigate the possible impeachment of UT System regent Wallace Hall. The House government transparency committee will review the possibility of removing the controversial board member, following calls for impeachment from powerful House budget chair Jim Pitts, a Republican from Waxahachie.

House speaker Joe Straus announced the move Tuesday, the final day of the legislature’s special session. It seems to be an alternative to Pitts’ HR230, a resolution that would have created an entirely new committee to mull the possibility of impeachment. Much of the regular and special sessions of the legislature were dominated by concerns from Pitts and others over perceived micromanagement of UT-Austin, and rumors that regents, including Hall, are attempting to fire its president, Bill Powers.

Legislation filed during the regular session by Amarillo Republican Kel Seliger and other senators designed to limit the power of regents was vetoed by Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed Hall and every other UT System regent.

Explaining the move Tuesday, Straus read from a proclamation to the House.

“Over the last year, members of this House have consistently expressed concerns about the conduct of the University of Texas Board of Regents.”

“Over the last year, members of this House have consistently expressed concerns about the conduct of the University of Texas Board of Regents,” Straus said. “These concerns warrant further inquiry, as well as a broader look at the role of all executive appointees in the agencies they oversee.”

The committee held a brief organizational meeting Tuesday and clarified that the actions of Hall—the most recent of which was a request for Post-its from Powers’ office—would be a focus of their investigation.

News of the assignment comes on the same day as an interview with Hall in the Texas Tribune. In the interview, Hall said his motivation in making massive document requests was part of system-wide analysis and improvements but has since transformed into a search for evidence of “financial malfeasance” regarding the UT Law School’s relationship with the Law School Foundation.

He also claims that the threat of impeachment has been “very destructive.”

“They are making the price for doing one’s duty exceedingly high. I think that is tragic,” Hall said. “I will continue perform my duties, and if I think I need to make more requests, I will do so.”

In response to the interview, former UT Law dean Lawrence Sager, whose “forgivable loan” was the genesis of the controversial investigation, indicated that he may take legal action against Hall for defamation.

Committee co-chair Carol Alvarado, a Houston Democrat, says she wasn’t surprised that the committee was taking up the charge to look into the regents’ actions, but that it was never a forgone conclusion. She says her fellow members, who are specially selected to serve on the committee, will bring plenty of energy and conduct a “full and fair” investigation.

She also notes that it is still very early in the process. “This is the first time we’ve taken up anything like this,” Alvarado says.

 Photo of Speaker Joe Straus courtesy the Texas Tribune via Flickr Creative Commons.

 

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