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October 4, 2022

House transparency committee votes to censure Regent Hall

Amy Zhang

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.

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House transparency committee votes to censure Regent Hall