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Grand Jury Calls for Removal of Regent Wallace Hall

A Travis County grand jury is calling on the University of Texas System to remove Regent Wallace Hall, Jr. A four-page report released Tuesday fell short of indicting the UT system regent, but said, “we are appalled at the Regent’s unaccountable and abusive behavior,” and added that it “is in the best interest of the state” to remove Hall from office.

The grand jury had been asked to look into allegations of abuse of office, misuse of information and official oppression against Hall after he conducted a personal investigation into UT Austin President Bill Powers. The grand jury said Hall’s “abusive excess” overwhelmed the system with 800,000 pages of open records requests, and added he tried to avoid paying for the report that cost about a million dollars to complete.

“Outrageously, after requiring university staff to double their effort to fulfill these parallel requests, he actually requested not to be charged (like other private citizens are) for the cost of his private open records requests.”

The report accuses Hall of avoiding transparency and accountability by communicating orders verbally to avoid a paper trail, and said his actions led to leaks of confidential student information. The report says Hall’s “over leveraging of his power resulted in lost talent, lowered morale, exposure of student information and unreasonable expenses.”

The grand jury also recommended changes in protocols for regents in the future, including making regents pay for open records requests and establishing consequences for distributing confidential data. It also suggests requiring regents to use university email accounts for all official business like other employees.

A House Committee censured Regent Hall last year due to his investigation, and several lawmakers called for his resignation. Hall’s supporters, including then-Governor Rick Perry who appointed him, said Hall’s investigation showed irregular admissions practices at UT-Austin. Hall got some vindication from an independent investigation released earlier this year that said it did find some applicants who had been accepted to UT despite objections from the admissions office due to the insistence of UT-Austin President Bill Powers. But Powers defended those actions, saying it was a common practice at colleges around the country and was in the long-term interest of the university. System Chancellor William McRaven did not discipline Powers after that report.

Rep. Dan Flynn (R – TX House District 2), who was a co-chair of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, released this joint statement after the grand jury report on behalf of himself and fellow co-chair Rep. Carol Alvarado (D – TX House District 145):

The grand jury report that came out this morning demonstrates why our committee needed to investigate Regent Hall and his behavior. Taxpayers expect their elected representatives to provide oversight of state agencies and executive appointees. Such oversight is especially important when appointees abuse their office. With this investigation now complete and with an outstanding new chancellor and strong new regents in place, we are optimistic that the UT System is ready to move forward and focus on the needs of its students and our state.

Regent Hall released the following statement after the grand jury’s decision not to indict him was made public:

The campaign by Speaker Straus, Representative Flynn and Senator Seliger to criminalize my service as a Regent constitutes abuse of office.  Their use of the levers of political power to cover up wrongdoing by legislators should now be investigated, and those exposed for their abuses should be driven from office.

Perry Lawyers File Third Motion to Void Indictment

Governor Rick Perry’s legal team is taking another shot at having his criminal indictments thrown out. His lawyers filed a third motion Friday asking a judge to void both abuse of power charges against him.

A judge ruled earlier this week to uphold the indictments, but also asked Special Prosecutor Michael McCrum to correct vagueness in the description of both counts. Perry’s motion said the abuse of official capacity charge is too vague and fails to allege an offense. They say the second charge, coercion of a public official, fails to mention the manner and means of the alleged threat; whether it was spoken, written or delivered through a third party.

Friday’s motion read:

“Both counts against Perry should be voided for violating the U.S. and state constitutions’ requirement that defendants be given adequate notice of the ‘nature and cause’ of the allegations so they can prepare a defense.”

Perry faces charges of abuse of official capacity and coercion of a public servant over accusations he threatened to veto funding for the Travis County Public Integrity Unit after District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg’s drunk driving arrest and conviction. He then followed through on that threat with a line-item veto of Public Integrity Unit funding.

In addition fo Friday’s filing, Perry’s lawyers have also appealed Tuesday’s decision to the all-Republican third court of appeals in Austin.

 

Van de Putte to Run for San Antonio Mayor

After months of speculation, Democratic State Sen. Leticia Van de Putte says she’s running for San Antonio mayor.

The announcement comes just a couple weeks after Van de Putte suffered a huge loss to Republican Dan Patrick in the Lt. Governor’s race. But although she lost big to Patrick two weeks ago, Van de Putte won more than 50 percent of the Bexar County vote. The city election is May 9th.

Meantime, Van de Putte’s decision to run sets up a political “domino effect” among state lawmakers from San Antonio. State Rep. Mike Villarreal (D, District 123) is also running for mayor — and has resigned from the House.

And two other Texas House members from San Antonio have expressed interested in running for Van de Putte’s Senate seat. Today, State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer (D, District 116) officially declared he is a candidate. And State Rep. Jose Menendez (D, District 124) has already publicly indicated he would be interested.

Van de Putte plans let Gov. Rick Perry know today her intention to resign from the Senate, so he can call for a special election.

 

‘Big 3′ extend border surge

Governor Rick Perry, Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus have signed an agreement to extend the border surge through the end of August 2015.

Perry and other state officials said in a statement Tuesday that the’ll now await the approval of the Legislative Budget Board, which meets next month.

If members give the $86 million plan the go ahead, the move allows enhanced patrols by the Department of Public Safety, the Texas National Guard and other personnel to continue their response to a surge in immigrants entering illegally into the U.S. through the Rio Grande Valley.

Officials want to divert nearly $48 million in general revenue bonds and other monies to help cover the cost.

“Texas has proven beyond any doubt that this border can be secured, even if the federal government refuses to take the steps necessary to do so as required by the Constitution,” Perry said in a press release. “This agreement will ensure the hardworking men and women from DPS, the Texas National Guard and Texas Parks and Wildlife, who have been working with local and federal partners, have the resources they need to maintain a robust law enforcement presence along the border until the Legislature can act.”

According to the Governor’s Office, funds for DPS would include the addition of new shallow-water boats and other technological capabilities, “which would be used to extend tactical capabilities as well as the surge footprint beyond the Rio Grande Valley Sector.”