Carol Alvarado

House transparency committee co-chairs and state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, address the media after a meeting on May 12. The committee determined by a 7-1 vote that there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall's impeachment. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

After investigating Regent Wallace Hall for more than a year, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted 6-1 to issue him an "admonishment and censure" on Monday.

The decision came after the committee met for almost four hours in executive session. One of the committee's co-chairs, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, said Hall is the first regent on a public university governing board to be censured in the state's history.

"It will go with him the rest of his life. I don't know that anyone wants to have that mark on their business record," Flynn said to reporters after the meeting. "I think it sends a strong message."

In June 2013, the committee began investigating Hall, who had filed multiple large records requests to the University, after state legislators accused him of overstepping his authority as regent and working to remove President William Powers Jr.

The committee hired well-known Houston attorney Rusty Hardin as its special counsel and heard testimony from various System and University officials, including Powers and Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. Instead of issuing a subpoena, the committee invited Hall to testify. Hall declined and never testified before the committee during the investigation.

In May, the committee determined grounds for Hall’s impeachment exist in a 7-1 vote. While the committee had discussed drafting specific articles of impeachment against Hall following the vote, multiple members suggested issuing a public censure as an alternative at a July meeting.

The censure document, primarily written by state Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, finds fault with Hall's “ends-justifies-the-means approach" to investigating issues at the University and the UT System.

“The committee today at length sets out its understanding that Mr. Hall's actions have crossed the line from remaining informed and engaged to violating his regental and fiduciary duties," the document states. "Not only did Mr. Hall’s demands and conduct create a toxic environment on the University of Texas at Austin campus and within the System, but the manner in which that conduct was undertaken was simply not constructive taken as a whole."

The 28-page document also lists and describes some of the committee's findings on Hall's actions, including an incident in which Hall allegedy violated federal student privacy laws. Based on an earlier report from Hardin detailing the alleged violation, the Travis County District Attorney's office opened a criminal investigation into Hall in April.

In a statement, Hall criticized the document and said the state legislature's oversight of the System is "improper interference."

"The committee's findings are based on distortions, untruths, and intentional misrepresentations," Hall said. "Intimidation of non-paid public servants by an 'experimental' committee should not be tolerated by the public, the media, or other Texas officials."

Paul Foster, Board of Regents chairman, addressed his issues with the document in a statement released after the meeting, saying the committee's finding that the board "lost instiutional control" was inaccurate. Foster, who asked Hall to resign in May, also said the System does not believe Hall violated any state law or System rule.

"While I and others may not always concur with the style and methods employed by Regent Wallace Hall, I will affirm that he has always diligently worked to further what he sees as the best interests of the UT System," Foster said.

Gov. Rick Perry, who has expressed his support for Hall throughout the investigation, said he hoped the censure would end the matter in a statement on Monday.

"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," Perry said.

The committee's other co-chair, state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said pursuing Hall’s impeachment is not off the table.

"A vote of censure is not a vote against impeachment,” Alvarado said. “However, we believe our investigation would benefit by taking some formal action at this time.”

After the meeting, Alvarado said new evidence or the district attorney's investigation could prompt the committee to take further action against Hall.

If he were to be impeachmed, Hall would be the first nonelected official in the state's history to face such action. Hall's term expires in February 2017. Both Cigarroa and Powers will leave resign from their positions in Decemeber and June 2015, respectively.

According to the censure document, the committee will maintain "full jurisdiction and continuing oversight" of the System. Alvarado said while the committee will begin looking into to other matters for the first time since its invesitgation in to Hall began, state Reps. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, will be responsible for monitoring issues at the System.

State Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, gave the lone vote against the censure. After the meeting, Perry said he was cautious of the committee micromanaging the UT System. In May, he also voted against grounds for Hall’s impeachment existing. State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, was absent for Monday's meeting.

This article has been updated throughout since its original publication.

House transparency committee co-chairs and state Reps. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, address the media after a meeting on May 12. The committee determined by a 7-1 vote that there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall's impeachment. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Updated (2:56 p.m.): In a statement distributed by attorney Allan Van Fleet, Regent Wallace Hall said his impeachment would not solve the problems he has identified at UT System institutions.

"When a Board encounters problems, coverups, and intransigence at a taxpayer-funded institution, is the proper response to hold those who are responsible accountable, or to impeach the board member?" Hall said in his statement. “If the Transparency Committee desires transparency, it should not seek ways to interfere with investigations that would expose improper conduct at the University of Texas."

Hall said his role as a regent is to protect the individuals at the various UT institutions.

"My efforts as a regent are to serve the interests of our great educational institutions, the students, faculty, and staff who make them great, and the taxpayers who fund them, not to appease a privileged class who abuse them," Hall said.

Original story: In a 7-1 vote Monday, the House transparency committee voted there are sufficient grounds for UT System Regent Wallace Hall’s impeachment. The committee will meet on May 21 and 22 to try and determine the nature of specific articles of impeachment.

If the committee votes on specific articles, Hall’s case will go to the full Texas House of Representatives. If a majority of the members of the House approve of the case’s merits, it will go to the Senate, where members will convene as a court to make a final decision. If the Senate concurs with the committee’s recommendation, Hall will be the first non-elected official to be impeached in Texas history.

Rep. Carol Alvarado, committee co-chair and D-Houston, said Hall’s actions warrant extreme actions.

“Impeachment is an extraordinary tool to use in extraordinary circumstances,” Alvarado said. “I view Regent Hall’s conduct as extraordinary for an appointee.”

Rep. Dan Flynn committee co-chair and R-Canton, said he encouraged Hall to resign, and noted that if Hall were to resign before May 21, the committee would not have to convene.

The only committee member to vote against grounds of impeachment, Rep. Charles Perry R-San Antonio, said he did not feel all sides had been provided adequate chance to explain themselves.

“I think UT has lost some of its swagger,” Perry said. “I believe my opinion may have been different if I had heard testimony from all sides.”

After the committee voted, Rep. Lyle Larson R-San Antonio issued a request for Governor Rick Perry to ask for Hall’s resignation. Larson said he has asked Perry three times previously, with no response.  

"I’ve been contacted by just about every chairman of the UT system for the last four decades, all indicating that something needs to be done,” Larson said. “What this has cost us in recruiting deans, in recruiting a new chancellor, and the monetary impact…like [Martinez Fischer] said, there have been opportunities for the UT system to intervene.”

Senate of College Councils president Geetika Jerath said she felt the decision reflects the best interests of the University.

“We made our voice very clear in our letter to the governor,” Jerath said. “That’s definitely in line with what, as Senate, we have come up with in our letter, and so I’m pleased to see they agree.”

The House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations has investigated Hall since July 2013 for potentially overstepping his duties as a regent. He has been accused by some members of the state legislature, including state Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie,  as conducting a “witch-hunt” against Powers.

Hall was appointed to a six-year term on the Board of Regents by Gov. Rick Perry in February 2011. Before his appointment, Hall served on the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, which works with legislators and education officials to enforce various education initiatives.

Tensions between Powers and Hall have been ongoing since 2011, when Powers asked Larry Sager, former dean of the School of Law, to resign after concerns arose regarding the foundation's forgivable loan program. Sager awarded himself a $500,000 loan through the program.

Though Powers said he was not aware of the forgivable loan Sager awarded himself, Hall filed open records requests which yielded roughly 40 boxes of materials and claimed he had evidence Powers was aware of the forgivable loan but chose not to take action. Powers has repeatedly denied these claims.

After state legislators accused Hall of micromanaging the University and working with other regents to remove Powers from his position, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus asked the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations in June 2013 to investigate the actions of executive appointees and recommend articles of impeachment if necessary. The committee subsequently began investigating Hall.

In August 2013, the committee hired Houston attorney Rusty Hardin as its special counsel. Based on recommendations from Hardin, the transparency committee decided in September to not allow cross-examination of witnesses by Hall’s attorneys during the upcoming hearings in the investigation.

According to testimony from Kevin Hegarty, executive vice president and chief financial officer at UT, Hall filed open records requests for over 800,000 pages of information from UT. System officials, including outgoing UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, have said the actual number of pages is closer to 100,000.

Last November, the transparency committee heard testimony from Francie Frederick, general counsel for the Board of Regents. Frederick said Hall was mistakenly given access to private student information through his wide ranging open records requests.

In her testimony, Frederick said regents can have access to information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act if they have a valid, job-related reason to see it.

In December, Powers and Cigarroa testified on subpoena in front of the committee. Powers said Hall’s open records requests cost the University well over $1 million, but insisted he could not provide an exact number at the time. Both Cigarroa and Powers testified Hall’s actions were a distraction to UT and the System.

At the request of the committee, Philip Hilder, outside counsel to the System, submitted a report to the transparency committee in January, stating there was “no credible evidence” Hall violated any state laws regarding the release of data. In his report, Hilder said Hall requested all information protected by FERPA be redacted from the documents, but UT failed to completely remove all potentially problematic information when providing Hall with the requested documents.

Hardin prepared a report on the committee’s investigation which concluded Hall likely committed impeachable offenses. The report lists a variety of basis for Hall’s impeachment, including his handling of confidential student information, his treatment of UT-Austin and UT System officials and his large number of open records requests. The report also suggests Hall attempted to interfere with testimony.

Following the release of Hardin’s report, the Travis County district attorney's Public Integrity Unit opened an investigation into allegations that Hall violated privacy laws in distributing private student information obtained in one of his open records requests.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

In an email to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, Paul Foster, chairman of the UT System Board of Regents, suggested Regent Wallace Hall accused Cigarroa of not doing his job weeks before Cigarroa announced his resignation. 

Foster praised Cigarroa in the email, which was originally obtained by The Dallas Morning News, and said “virtually all” of the regents appreciated the work he did as chancellor. 

“I absolutely do not agree with [Hall’s] tactics in trying to pressure you into taking an action that you do not feel is in the best interests of UT-Austin or of the UT System,” Foster said in the email. “It is clear what he hopes to accomplish, but to disparage your reputation in the process is neither fair nor is it appropriate.”

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, a member of the legislative committee investigating Hall, submitted a letter Friday to State Reps. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, after he saw the email, asking them to reconvene to hear testimony from Cigarroa and Foster. 

Flynn and Alvarado are co-chairs of the House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which is trying to determine whether Hall overstepped his duties as a regent and whether he should be recommended for impeachment. Hall filed open records requests with UT for more than 800,000 pages of information and has been accused of conducting a “witch hunt” to oust President William Powers Jr.

Martinez Fischer said Foster’s email raises questions about Cigarroa’s true motive for resigning, and testimony from Cigarroa and Foster could provide the committee with answers. In December 2013, Cigarroa testified in front of the committee and said Hall’s actions were disruptive to the System and caused a drop in morale.

Alvarado said the committee will consider Martinez Fischer’s request, but no decision has been reached about reconvening.  

“I have not talked to the other committee members or my co-chair about [the letter], but it’s something that I hope we will have discussions about,” Alvarado said. “We were hoping our report would be done soon, but, again, we have stressed all along that we are not in a rush. We want to make sure that we’re being thorough and that we don’t leave anything uncovered.” 

In February, Martinez Fischer sent a different letter to the committee co-chairs addressing his concerns about Cigarroa’s true motives for stepping down, especially in light of other System employees resigning — including Barry Burgdorf, who resigned as the System’s general counsel in March 2013.

“I am concerned that, without proper leadership and experienced staff, there will be continued communication and administrative issues between the Board of Regents and the component institutions of the System,” Martinez Fischer wrote in February.

In February, Cigarroa said he is resigning as Chancellor in order to pursue medicine full time. He said the existing tension between the board and Powers did not factor into his decision.

“As it relates to President Powers, this decision is completely separate from that,” Cigarroa said. “I will continue to do my work as chancellor every day until my last day, as I’ve always done, based on facts and performance. I support President Powers, and I will continue to evaluate all presidents every day.”

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations’ ongoing investigation seeks to determine whether Regent Wallace Hall overstepped his duties as a regent and whether he should be recommended for impeachment. Hall declined the committee’s invitation to testify and stated through his attorneys that he will only do so in the future if a subpoena is issued.

Photo Credit: Joe Capraro | Daily Texan Staff

In a letter to UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, the committee investigating the actions of Regent Wallace Hall stated it will continue to “exercise its oversight authority” over the System even though testimonies for the investigation have concluded.

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations is trying to determine whether Hall overstepped his duties as a regent and whether he should be recommended for impeachment. Some accused Hall of conducting a “witch hunt” against President William Powers Jr. after he filed open records requests with the University for more than 800,000 pages of information. At a December meeting, the chancellor said he would not recommend Powers’ firing to the regents, despite the “tense relationship” between Powers and the regents. 

The letter, written by State Reps. Carol Alvarado and Dan Flynn, co-chairs of the committee and sent at the end of last month, said there are no future hearings scheduled, but the committee will continue to monitor the System to observe the System’s responses to the investigation.

The committee’s letter listed seven directives, which consisted of requests for a variety of information, including a list of any open-records requests that will be filed by regents or System employees within the foreseeable future and several descriptions of how the System has changed — and plans to change — as a result of the investigation.

At the last hearing in December, the committee moved to have a report prepared, cataloging the findings of the investigation. The letter to Cigarroa said the directives are intended to “help the Committee as it works with counsel to produce a final report,” and stated “the report may be expanded to include additional information in the future.”

At one committee hearing in November, UT System lawyers testified Hall was mistakenly given access to private student information — possibly in violation of federal privacy acts — which he subsequently shared with his private attorney. At this hearing, Francie Frederick, general counsel to the UT System Board of Regents, said regents are only allowed to view documents with information protected by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act if they have a “legitimate
educational purpose.”

At the same hearing, State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, motioned to have Rusty Hardin, legal counsel to the committee, review Hall’s actions in sharing confidential documents and determine whether Hall committed a crime. At the last hearing in December, Hardin had not finished his review.

Powers testified at the final hearing in December, and estimated that Hall’s actions cost the University more than $1 million. Cigarroa testified the same day, and said Hall’s actions were incredibly disruptive and upsetting to several System employees.

Even though he is the subject of the committee’s investigation, Hall declined the invitation to testify, and said through his attorneys that he will only do so in the future if a subpoena is issued. 

“Mr. Hall has said time and time again that he was anxious and more than willing to tell his side of the story,” Alvarado said at the last hearing. “I believe he could have provided this committee with matchless testimony that would have helped us set the record straight. Transparency requires cooperation. As my co-chair and I have stated, our invitation to Regent Hall to testify still stands.”

House to begin investigation into UT Regent Wallace Hall

Updated at 3:43 p.m.

In an interview with The Daily Texan, Representative Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said she did not have a timeline for when the investigation into UT System Regent Wallace Hall will be complete.

"This is something new to the committee," Alvarado said. "There is no set time frame at this point. I anticipate that as we get further into the investigation, that we will have a better idea."

If the committee completes its investigation and feels Hall should be impeached, they will propose an article of impeachment. The Senate would then vote on the impechment.

Alvarado said she did not have a comment on Hall's actions, or if she thought he might have been engaging in practices that harm the UT System or the state of Texas.

"I am not prepared to say at this point. I am going to wait till we start the hearings," Alvarado said. "We are looking forward to having a full and fair investigation."

Original story:

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations had a preliminary meeting today to begin an investigation into UT System Regent Wallace Hall, which could ultimately lead to his impeachment.

According to a press release from Dan Flynn's office, House Speaker Joe Straus expanded the committee's jursidiction this morning to include regents. If Wallace Hall is impeached, he will be the first impeached Texas regent in history.

"These impeachment proceedings will be both thorough and impartial, and we intend to use all necessary resources and powers at the Committee's disposal to ensure an effective investigation," said Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, who co-charies the transparency committee. "I am confident the Committee will bring new, nonpartisan insights on what has been a contentious series of events."

More details coming soon.

Gov. Rick Perry reaffirmed his support for freezing four-year tuition rates for incoming freshmen in his biannual State of the State address yesterday.

Perry first proposed fixed four-year tuition rates Sept. 21 at the 2012 Texas Tribune Festival as part of an effort to lower the cost of attending college.

Speaking to a joint session of the Texas Legislature, Perry said fixed tuition rates would provide students and families with an expected cost of attendance.

“This will also encourage them to graduate on time, which is a problem we simply can’t ignore anymore,” Perry said.

Perry said less than 30 percent of full-time students at state universities graduate in four years and 58 percent graduate in six.

After the address, state lawmakers expressed both support for the initiative and skepticism over the details of implementing fixed tuition rates. 

State Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, former Senate Higher Education Committee chair, said fixed rates would prevent students from facing tuition increases while attending college but students would pay higher tuition overall.

“The only way to make it work is to make it sufficiently high that the costs will be covered for four years,” Zaffirini said.

Zaffirini said the Legislature should examine how different universities would be impacted by implementing fixed-rate tuition because it may not work as well at one university as it does at another.

“While it has been effective at UT-Dallas, it may not be as effective elsewhere,” Zaffirini said.

Two bills filed in the House of Representatives propose fixed tuition rates, but the bills take different approaches toward implementation.

One bill, filed Friday by Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, would prohibit universities from charging students who graduate on time a tuition rate higher than the one charged during their first semester or term at a university. Tuition rates would remain locked in for a four-year period for undergraduates enrolled in a four-year degree plan and for a five-year period for those enrolled in a five-year degree plan.

A second bill, filed by Rep. Dan Branch, R-Dallas, would require universities to offer students a fixed-rate tuition plan as one option among other payment plans.

Branch said he does not agree with mandating that higher education institutions offer only fixed-rate tuition because it does not account for the different needs of separate institutions.

“To me, to have that narrow of a pricing structure may be unwise,” Branch said. “I think the more options we give students and citizens,
the better.”

Alvarado said she is open to working with Branch, who chairs the House Higher Education Committee, to find consensus.

“If we get the job done and it’s somebody else’s bill, that’s fine, but I think that the main point is that we’ve got to get control over the rising cost of college tuition,” Alvarado said.

Since the Legislature deregulated tuition in 2003, the statewide average designated tuition cost rose from $625 for 15 credit hours in fall 2003 to $1,818 in fall 2011, according to data provided by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. 

82nd Legislature

In its first vote this session, the Texas House easily approved a bill Monday that would place new restrictions on a woman’s right to obtain an abortion by requiring her to undergo a sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure. Monday’s vote marked the House’s final approval for the bill, which requires physicians to provide the woman an opportunity to see a sonogram and hear a fetal heartbeat. The woman may turn her head or ask the doctor to turn off the heart beat, but still must listen to a description of the image. The doctor is also mandated to describe the abortion procedure and related risks. The bill passed the House with 107 members voting in favor. The Senate will now review the amendments the House added and then form a joint committee which will eventually draft the copy the governor will review. “We saw an overwhelming majority support the bill, and I am very pleased,” said Rep. Connie Scott, R-Robstown. “Right now the House and Senate bills are very different, and the task now is to come up with a final bill.” Last week, representatives voted on a preliminary measure and amended the bill 34 times but left most of the original language in tact. Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said she voted against the bill because the Republican majority is neglecting the pressing fiscal issues facing the state, including a multi-billion-dollar budget shortfall. The bill will become law eventually because of the support of Gov. Rick Perry, who declared the issue an emergency item that allowed lawmakers to address it immediately, she said. “I am very disappointed in the outcome today,” Alvarado said. “I feel there are much more important items to focus on, like the budget.” During last week’s debate, Alvarado brought a trans-vaginal ultrasound instrument to show her colleagues what the sonogram bill would require, she said. “It’s not just the jelly-on-the-belly ultrasound, it’s more intrusive,” she said. “Even some of the members were not aware of that until I mentioned it at the meeting.” Victoria Heckenlaible, president of University Life Advocates, said the bill grants women the right to know the facts involved in an abortion while giving the option of receiving a sonogram. “We’re excited and happy to see this pass and feel that this allows women to have complete information about the procedure,” said Heckenlaible, a rhetoric and writing junior. “[A woman] should have access to complete information despite her doctor’s bias or the level of medical care that she can afford.” Heckenlaible said the pro-life group will continue following at least four other abortion-specific bills that have been filed, including the “Choose Life” bill, which would make pro-life license plates available and ban hospital funding for abortion. “With the sonogram bill, particularly, we have been lobbying during pro-life day [at the Capitol] and writing letters to our representatives and senators,” she said. “There are several pro-life bills going through the Legislature and we will follow those as well.”