Wallace Hall

House Panel Votes to Censure UT Regent

The committee investigating UT Regent Wallace Hall handed down a reprimand Monday that falls short of calling for impeachment. The Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has been investigating Hall for what some lawmakers have called a “witch hunt” against UT Austin President Bill Powers. Hall is also accused of abusing his position and violating student privacy rights through public information requests.

The panel voted in May that grounds for Hall’s impeachment existed but they declined to draw up formal charges and send them to the full House. Instead, Monday, the committee voted 6-to-1 to censure Hall. However, members say the impeachment option is still on the table. Republican Rep. Charles Perry was the only ‘no’ vote.

Democratic State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer serves on the House Transparency Committee and helped draft the 26-page censure document. Martinez Fischer said while there aren’t articles of impeachment, the censure is serious.

“It’s important for us to take measured steps, but to set the tone,” he said. “And this censure document really does that. It’s not a slap on the wrist. It’s an embarrassing document.  If I was Regent Hall, I would be embarrassed to know that this is going to be a part of the public record.”

The Travis County Public Integrity Unit is also investigating Hall’s actions, and he could still face criminal charges.

Hall released a statement following the committee vote. He said, in part:

“The committee’s findings are based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentations. Speaker Straus and his committee have abused the public’s trust and money to cover up their improper interference in System operations, including to defend a university president who was repeatedly asked to leave.”

Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed Hall, released a statement of support. He said:

“Regent Hall has acted how I expect all appointees to act – in the best interest of Texas. He has rightly asked tough questions and held people accountable for their actions, even in the face of withering personal attacks. I hope today closes this ugly chapter and Regent Hall’s critics can stop wasting time and start focusing on what’s important, ensuring higher education is affordable, accessible and accountable to all Texans.”

 

Capital Tonight: A Lesson in Texas’ Rare Impeachment Process

A Texas House panel took another careful step forward Wednesday, beginning the process of drawing up articles of impeachment for UT Regent Wallace Hall. Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Perry expressed his support for the embattled appointee, calling the committee’s efforts “overwhelming opposition from bureaucrats.”

In Wednesday’s Capital Tonight, we heard more on how the impeachment process could move forward. Plus committee member Trey Martinez Fischer joined us in-studio to respond to the governor’s comments and talk about where things go from here.

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Perry issues statement of support for Regent Hall

Gov. Rick Perry today issued a statement of support for UT System Regent Wallace Hall. A select House committee is drawing up articles of impeachment against Hall, who has been accused of conducting a “witch hunt” against UT Austin President Bill Powers.

Here’s the governor’s statement:

“Wallace Hall should be commended for his persistence – in the face of overwhelming opposition from bureaucrats – in trying to ensure the institutions of higher education under his purview are operating effectively, efficiently and within the law. Hall is doing exactly what every regent and every appointee in the State of Texas should be doing: asking tough questions, gathering facts and searching for the truth. Even the chairman of the Board of Regents has said Hall did not commit an impeachable offense or a crime. Texans should be outraged by his treatment, and deeply concerned it will have a chilling effect on those who are tasked with the oversight of state agencies and institutions that they are responsible for.”

UT regent says he will not resign

An embattled University of Texas regent is standing firm, despite calls for his resignation.

According to his lawyer, UT Regent Wallace Hall sent a letter to Chairman Paul Foster today, in response to Foster’s suggestion that he step down. The contents of the letter haven’t been released, but Hall made his opinions clear in a statement released afterward.

“Which approach benefits the UT System, asking the Board of Regents to address wrongdoing, or asking regents who uncover the wrongdoing to resign? Will the public ever know the truth about problems in our institutions if legislators are allowed to impeach Board members who reveal them?”

Hall is accused of abusing the power of his office while investigating UT President Bill Powers. He’s also the subject of an investigation by the Travis County District Attorney’s Office for his handling of confidential student information. Last week, Board of Regents Chairman Paul Foster asked Hall to step down but stopped short of a board vote of confidence, which could force Hall out.

Hall’s response comes two days before a House panel is expected to draw up articles of impeachment, which they could then send to the full House. If lawmakers follow through, Hall would be the first non-elected official to be removed from office in state history.

Capital Tonight: Committee member opens up about UT regent investigation

May 12 could prove to be a fateful day for UT Regent Wallace Hall. That’s when state lawmakers say they’ll vote on whether or not to recommend Hall’s impeachment. Thursday, a House panel met for the first time since a draft report on Hall’s efforts to oust UT President Bill Powers was released.

Lawmakers met behind closed doors most of the time, but in Thursday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke to Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer for some insight into what action the committee is considering next.

CAPITAL COMMENTATORS

More behind-the-scenes negotiations are coming to light about Governor Perry’s veto of Public Integrity Unit Funding. Political strategists Harold Cook and Ted Delisi weighed in on what the latest twist could mean.

NET NEUTRALITY

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Report on UT regent referred to district attorney’s office

The legislative committee investigating UT Regent Wallace Hall has referred a draft report to Travis County officials for possible criminal prosecution. The report, released last week by special counsel hired to investigate Hall, accuses the regent of “gotcha! governance,” “bullying” and “tarnishing of the reputation of UT Austin.”

The Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations was originally convened to look into Hall’s request for massive amounts of documents from the University of Texas, part of what Rep. Jim Pitts referred to as a “witch-hunt” against UT President Bill Powers. But the draft report went much further, pointing out Hall’s actions during the investigation itself as possible grounds for impeachment. Among other things, the report accuses Hall of attempting to coerce witnesses and the disclosure of confidential student information.

Now, investigators are categorizing their findings as possible criminal violations. In a letter to the full committee, co-chairs Carol Alvarado and Dan Flynn said:

“As Co-Chairs, we believe that the Committee has a responsibility to do all it can to safeguard the credibility of its inquiry, the integrity of our state’s institutions of higher education, and the privacy rights of students at the University of Texas. The report notes that Regent Hall’s conduct with respect to protected student information is serious enough to implicate two possible offenses in the Penal Code. In addition, Regent Hall’s conduct may constitute a criminal offense under the Texas Public Information Act.”

Today, the House Sergeant at Arms sent the full draft report to Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg and County Attorney David Escamilla, along with the letter outlining those same charges.

The joint committee has not officially adopted the report. If they do, they could still refer their investigation to the Texas House for impeachment proceedings. If the House passes articles of impeachment, the Senate would then conduct a trial.

Cigarroa steps down as UT System chancellor, says fight over Powers unrelated

The head of the University of Texas System formally announced he would end his five-year tenure to return to transplant surgery.

In a press conference Monday, UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa said he had accomplished everything he’d set out to do as chancellor, and that it always had been his intention to return to medicine full-time. Cigarroa has accepted a job as head of pediatric transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Cigarroa touted his accomplishments as chancellor, including the establishment of two new medical schools: the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley and the Dell School of Medicine at UT Austin. He also cited his Framework for Advancing Excellence, which the UT Board of Regents adopted in 2011. The plan called for increased engineering education, expanded online learning and the Horizon Fund, which provides seed money for the commercialization of UT research.

The chancellor’s departure comes during a tumultuous time for the Board of Regents, UT Austin President Bill Powers and the Texas Legislature. In December, Cigarroa announced Powers would stay on as president, but cited strained tensions with the board. Meanwhile, a joint committee of lawmakers is investigating UT Regent Wallace Hall, who has been accused of a “witch hunt” against Powers. Cigarroa said the controversy surrounding the UT Austin president had nothing to do with his decision.

“I evaluate all presidents as I’ve always done, based on facts and performance,” Cigarroa said. “I support President Powers, and I will continue to evaluate presidents every day — not only President Powers but all 15.”

Sen. Judith Zaffirini, who has been supportive of Powers, says she believes the decision has more to do with the fight over leadership than Cigarroa would admit.

“Although I am confident that he will deny any disharmony, I am equally confident that his decision was influenced by the continued negative circumstances at hand. His action personifies the harmful repercussions of the current attack on those who pursue excellence, protect the privacy of students and strive for true transparency for all,” Zaffirini said in a statement.

Cigarroa said he will remain as chancellor until his replacement is found, a process UT Board of Regents Chair Paul Foster says will likely to take 4-6 months. He will also continue to serve the board as an adviser for the UT Rio Grande Valley medical school.

 

Capital Tonight: Lawmaker weighs in on regent investigation, voter ID

The investigation of a University of Texas regent continued Wednesday, with damaging testimony from a former UT system employee. Just down the road, another high-profile hearing wrapped up after final arguments regarding a controversial new abortion law.

LAWMAKER RESPONDS

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer is part of the eight-member panel looking into UT Regent Wallace Hall. He joined us for a one-on-one interview about the committee’s fact-finding mission, voter ID law and recent controversy over his legal name.

AGGIES IN ISRAEL

Gov. Rick Perry continued his visit to Israel Wednesday, joining President Shimon Peres for a signing ceremony to formalize plans to bring a Texas A&M campus to the Middle East. Perry and the university announced plans for a Nazareth branch earlier this week. Click the logo below to watch Wednesday night’s full episode.

Coach controversy ‘fair game’ in regent hearing

A state representative says last month’s controversy over a phone call to Alabama coach Nick Saban’s agent is “fair game” in the investigation of a UT regent.

Speaking to Capital Tonight’s Paul Brown, Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer said if University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall did set up contact with Saban’s agent while representing himself as a regent, it could become part of the hearing process.

“This inquiry is about Wallace Hall, whether it be his acts or his omissions, things he should have done and things he should not have done,” Rep. Martinez Fischer said. “And quite frankly, I believe it’s fair game and I intend to ask questions on it.”

Hall has admitted to taking part in a phone call between former regent Tom Hicks and Jimmy Sexton, who represents Saban, about whether the Alabama coach might replace UT’s Mack Brown if he retires. Hall told the Associated Press he simply made the introduction between the two, then withdrew from the process. 

Rep. Martinez Fischer is part of an eight-member panel looking into Hall’s conduct as a regent. Hall is accused of using his office to oust UT President Bill Powers and of misrepresenting himself in his application for the regent position. Hall’s lawyers contend their client is being targeted for doing his job.

 

 

Capital Tonight: One-on-one with UT Regent Wallace Hall

He’s been the subject of controversy since 2011, and now he’s at risk of being the first governor-appointed official to be impeached in state history.

In Tuesday’s Capital Tonight, we spoke one-on-one with UT Regent Wallace Hall. Click the logo below to watch an extended interview with Hall about UT President Bill Powers, the accusations against him and the future of higher education.

EVOLVING CONVERSATION

The State Board of Education was back in the spotlight Tuesday, and back on the issue of science curriculum and how evolution will be taught in public schools. It’s a heated topic that dates back to 2009 when the board approved new science curriculum standards, but due to legislative changes, some say the stigma that surrounds the board is changing.

CAPITAL COMMENTATORS

Plus, a comment from Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst is drawing flack from a fellow lawmaker. Our Capital Commentators weighed in on that development and more.