House panel censures Texas Regent Hall

JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas House panel on Monday censured a University of Texas System regent for misconduct and incompetence, but decided not to push for his removal from office.

The Select Committee on Transparency spent more than $500,000 investigating Regent Wallace Hall over his relentless efforts to push out the president of the Austin flagship campus and had previously voted that his behavior warranted impeachment.

Hall faced the prospect of potentially being the first governor-appointed official to be impeached and removed from office in state history. Instead, Monday’s vote was a far lighter punishment — a public scolding — for the multimillionaire businessman.

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Panel co-chairman Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, said the lesser punishment was still a strong statement from the panel.

“It will go with him the rest of his life. I don’t know that anyone wants to have that on his business record,” Flynn said.

Hall was accused of abusing his office to overwhelm the University of Texas with massive records requests, bullying staff and potentially violating federal privacy laws related to student records. Hall has denied wrongdoing.

Hall, who did not attend any of the panel’s meetings and declined invitations to testify, said the censure was “based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentation.”

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Hall said he would have testified if subpoenaed, an option the committee declined.

Committee members insisted they could later vote to draft articles of impeachment against Hall and could cast a harsher vote at a later date if they need to. Flynn and co-chair Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, noted Travis County prosecutors are conducting a separate investigation of Hall.

Monday’s vote “was not a vote against impeachment,” Alvarado said. “Make no mistake, the option of impeachment of Regent Hall still exists.”

The panel approved a 27-page censure statement that said “numerous wilful actions by Mr. Hall constitute either misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office.”

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Back in May, the panel determined that Hall’s behavior was bad enough that it would explore drawing up specific charges to send to the full House. The chairman of the board of regents even called on Hall to resign, which he refused.

The censure vote was a significantly lower punishment, one that doesn’t strip Hall of any voting power or authority on the board of regents.

It also came after significant changes among the key players in the Hall probe and could be taken as a sign the committee was ready to move on.

University of Texas President Bill Powers has agreed to step down in June 2015 and the board recently named Navy Adm. William McRaven as the sole finalist in the search to replace outgoing Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa.

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, which includes influential University of Texas alumni and donors and had rallied to support Powers, applauded the censure vote.

“Texans deserve to have confidence in their integrity and motivations. Regent Hall’s actions have shredded that confidence and today’s censure sends an important signal that the Texas Legislature will not stand for abuse of power by political appointees,” the coalition said.

Gov. Rick Perry, who appointed Hall, defended him and criticized the yearlong impeachment investigation an “ugly chapter” and waste of time.

“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,” Perry said.