After listening to hours of testimony and reading thousands of documents related to the actions of embattled University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, concluded that the regent's behavior does not warrant impeachment.
The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which Flynn co-chairs, has been investigating Hall — and has been accused by some lawmakers of being on a "witch hunt" to oust UT-Austin President Bill Powers — for months and is expected to vote on whether or not to recommend articles of impeachment against him as soon as Monday.
In an interview on Thursday, Flynn acknowledged that his view might not prevail when it comes time for a public vote. "I tried to lay out the facts as I saw them, and we will have a discussion of those facts to see how other members feel," he said, noting that he had asked the committee members to respond with their own comments and suggestions and had already received some feedback.
Based on documents obtained by the Tribune, not all of that feedback has been positive.
Last month, Houston Attorney Rusty Hardin, acting as the committee's special counsel, turned in a report making the case for four potential bases for impeaching Hall: the regent's allegedly burdensome demands for information from UT-Austin, his handling of private student information, and his alleged encouragement of negative employment action against individuals who testified before the committee, and allegedly abusive behavior during a disagreement about the university's capital campaign totals.
The matter relating to private student information was referred to the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County district attorney's office, where officials have opened an investigation. Hall's lawyers have denied any wrongdoing on his part regarding that or any other issues.
On May 6, Flynn wrote a letter to his fellow committee members, which was obtained by the Tribune, that makes no bones about the co-chair's negative impressions about Hall or his behavior. Flynn described the regent's actions as being "not unlike those of a small grade school bully throwing out barbs against others then running to hide behind his mother's skirt (legal counsel), all the while continuing to throw rocks."
Hall refused to testify before the committee in lieu of a subpoena, but Flynn said his lawyers repeatedly requested special treatment for the regent and described Hall's refusal to cooperate with the investigation as "a slap in the face."
Even so, Flynn concluded that "as much as individuals may want to see Mr. Hall impeached, his overbearing, obnoxious attitude and blatant disregard for procedure alone is simply not a reason to impeach, nor does there appear to be legal ground to do so."
He also expressed concern about setting a precedent of impeachment that could discourage future gubernatorial appointees from ferreting out bad behavior at state agencies. While Flynn makes clear that he disagrees with Hall's tactics, he also indicates that he believes that some of the regent's concerns about UT-Austin may have merit.
He specifically highlights the university's relationship with Accenture, a private consulting firm.
The university hired the firm to provide support services to a group called the Committee on Business Productivity, which recommended strategies that university officials could use to generate savings. The committee was also chaired by an Accenture executive. And the company was tapped to help implement the strategies the business productivity committee recommended to the university. The UT System is conducting its own inquiry into the Accenture contracts.
"If mismanagement exists at the University of Texas, and this committee chooses to follow through with articles of impeachment, it would send the wrong message to Regent Hall and the rest of the board," Flynn wrote.
In his letter, Flynn recommended an "immediate investigation" in the Accenture contracts. He also called for mandatory changes — or the development of action plans for changes — on the part of the UT System to address the committee's concerns about its governance.
Instead of recommending Hall's immediate impeachment, Flynn proposed delaying a vote to allow time for these changes to be made. He also suggested that the committee issue a strong letter of censure to Hall calling for his resignation and that it send a letter to Gov. Rick Perry asking him to seek Hall's resignation.
He further suggested that the committee issue a statement saying it may vote on impeachment if, by a certain date, changes haven't been made and Hall hasn't resigned — and that, in that case, the UT System would get stuck with the bill for impeachment proceedings.
At least one member of the committee, state Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, found Flynn's comments "somewhat confusing," as Johnson wrote in a response on Thursday, which was also obtained by the Tribune.
Johnson took issue with a series of rhetorical questions from Flynn, such as "If the University or System felt Regent Hall was out of control, why did the Board of Regents allow this to go on?" and "Why didn't the Chancellor or Chairman of the Board show the strength of character and leadership to simply just say no?" and "Why did it take a legislative committee spending hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars to do something that would, in the business world, not be tolerated?"
Johnson said he found these questions from Flynn "odd in light of the task that the committee has been charged with and also in light of the facts." That task, he said, is to investigate the actions of Hall, not the university system president or university system chancellor. He characterized the actions or inactions of non-regents as "wholly outside the scope of the committee's investigation."
Further, he took issue with Flynn's complaints about the taxpayer money being spent on the matter, since the committee co-chairs were the people that hired Hardin's firm. The firm has been paid almost $210,000 to date, but that total is expected to rise.
Given these issues of the investigation's scope and expense, Johnson said he found Flynn's call for yet another investigation of the Accenture contracts to be a "totally inconsistent and, frankly, bewildering recommendation."
"It concerns me greatly that a tremendous amount of money has been paid to counsel," Flynn said in an interview. "On the other hand, if the public and the Texas House wants to have a thorough and fair investigation, that’s what we need to do. "
As for the upcoming vote, Johnson signaled a desire to delay it. "It is important that the committee not squander its hard work up to the point by acting with too much haste," he wrote.
He suggested that no vote on impeachment should occur until the Travis County prosecutors have made their final determination and the committee has adopted a final report. In his letter, the Dallas representative indicated that there is some question among committee members as to whether a final report needs to be officially adopted. He said it was necessary for posterity.
In an interview, Flynn said he considered the criminal investigation being conducted by law enforcement officials and the committee's investigation to be separate. He said he looked forward to discussing the matter further with members at Monday's committee meeting.
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Rusty Hardin was a major donor to the Tribune in 2012 and 2013. Accenture was a corporate sponsor in 2011, 2012 and 2013. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.