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Divided Committee Poised to Vote on Hall Investigation

The legislative committee investigating University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall could take a vote as soon as Monday on how to proceed. But the committee's members have not shown any consensus on the matter.

A legislative committee investigating University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall is expected to take a major step as soon as Monday in its inquiry. Exactly what that step would be, however, remains unknown.

"I could not tell you," state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, co-chairwoman the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, said Thursday about what would happen, "because members have different opinions about what needs to take place next."

Hall, who has conducted extensive investigations of the University of Texas at Austin, has been accused by some lawmakers of being on a "witch hunt" targeting UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Hall's attorneys say that he has done nothing wrong and has only fulfilled his duties of looking into actions of administrators that he believed to be questionable.

The committee, which is scheduled to hold a hearing Monday, has the authority to recommend articles of impeachment against Hall to the full Texas House, which would consider them before voting on whether to send the matter to the Texas Senate for a trial. The committee could also opt for a reprimand or do nothing.

In April, Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, who was hired to serve as the committee's special counsel, issued 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, 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.

Hall’s lawyers have accused the committee of being "engaged in a process to manipulate official proceedings for the purpose of interfering in the board's investigations, personnel matters and other activities."

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.

In the weekend leading up to the committee’s expected vote, newspapers have featured prominent voices weighing in on the subject.

In the Austin American-Statesman, former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson reminded readers that the standards for impeachment in Texas are lower in Texas than in Washington, D.C. The committee must determine whether Hall's actions as a regent constituted "misconduct, malfeasance, misfeasance, abuse of office, or incompetency,” he wrote. 

"This is not the same as asking whether those are appropriate grounds for impeachment," Jefferson added. "That determination has already been made."

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal ’s editorial board argued that Hall's "real offense has been to expose a cozy and possibly corrupt relationship between politicians and the university." Hall's lawyers have cited two emails from state lawmakers to Powers as evidence of potential favoritism in the university's admissions process.

Heading into the transparency committee’s Monday hearing, the panel’s eight members are divided on how to proceed.

In documents first reported by The Texas Tribune, committee co-chairman Dan Flynn, R-Van, indicated that he did not support Hall’s impeachment, but was supportive of pressuring Hall to resign. State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, has asked Gov. Rick Perry three times to call for Hall's resignation— and directly appealed to the regent at least once — to no avail.  

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, has indicated a desire to postpone a vote until the Travis County prosecutors conducting a criminal investigation Hall have announced their findings. State Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, told the Tribune it was his desire and intent to "bring closure to this matter and the process that provides nothing positive to the educational institutions, the taxpayers, the appointment process or the Legislature."

Alvarado said she is hopeful that there will be some sort of vote Monday.

"I think the committee has done everything we can do shy of a vote," he said.

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. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/05/12/transparency-committee-expected-vote-hall/.

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