Perry backs re­gent who's un­der fire

Gover­nor’s sup­port of Wal­lace L. Hall Jr. comes on same day House panel starts im­peach­ment process.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ralph K.M. Hau­r­witz rhau­r­[email protected]­man.com

Gov. Rick Perry on Wed­nes­day broke with one of his ap­pointees to the Univer­sity of Texas Sys­tem’s gov­ern­ing board — who hap­pens to be his hand-picked chair­man — to back an­other of his ap­pointees on that board, who hap­pens to be the sub­ject of an im­peach­ment ef­fort and a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

In the lat­est twist in a multi-act play in­volv­ing the sys­tem’s Board of Re­gents, ar­guably the most pres­ti­gious board or com­mis­sion in state govern­ment, Perry is­sued a strong state­ment of sup­port for Re­gent Wal­lace L. Hall Jr., a busi- ness­man from Dal­las whom he ap­pointed to a six-year term in Fe­bru­ary 2011.

The gover­nor’s writ­ten state­ment came on the same day that a Texas House panel be­gan draft­ing ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment against Hall and six days af­ter the chair­man of the UT board, Paul Fos­ter, a ma­jor donor to Perry, called on Hall to re­sign. Travis County prose­cu­tors are in­ves­ti­gat­ing Hall, who has been ac­cused of abus­ing his power by de­mand­ing vast quan­ti­ties of records from UT-Austin to cull for dirt on univer­sity Pres­i­dent Bill Pow­ers and his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Perry has de­fended Hall be- fore, but never as force­fully.

“Wal­lace Hall should be com­mended for his per­sis­tence — in the face of overwhelming op­po­si­tion from bu­reau­crats — in try­ing to en­sure the in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion un­der his purview are op­er­at­ing ef­fec­tively, ef­fi­ciently and within the law,” Perry said.

“Hall is do­ing ex­actly what ev­ery re­gent and ev­ery ap-

pointee in the State of Texas should be do­ing: ask­ing tough ques­tions, gath­er­ing facts and search­ing for the truth. Even the chair­man of the Board of Re­gents has said Hall did not com­mit an im­peach­able of­fense or a crime. Tex­ans should be out­raged by his treat­ment, and deeply con­cerned it will have a chill­ing ef­fect on those who are tasked with the over­sight of state agencies and in­sti­tu­tions that they are re­spon­si­ble for.”

Mean­while, the House panel set­tled in Wed­nes­day for what could be a long slog to de­cide whether to rec­om­mend Hall’s im­peach­ment by the full House.

The Se­lect Com­mit­tee on Trans­parency in State Agency Op­er­a­tions met in pub­lic, mainly for a tu­to­rial from House staff mem­bers on the im­peach­ment process, be­fore go­ing be­hind closed doors to be­gin draft­ing ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment — es­sen­tially writ­ten ar­gu­ments for his re­moval from of­fice.

The com­mit­tee can­celed a meet­ing for Thurs­day and isn’t sched­uled to meet again un­til July 7.

Once the ar­ti­cles are fin­ished, the com­mit­tee will vote pub­licly on them, said the panel’s cochair, Dan Flynn, R-Can­ton. If the mem­bers vote to re­fer the ar­ti­cles to the full House, that cham­ber would then con­duct its own pro­ceed­ings, pos­si­bly with wit­ness tes­ti­mony.

A re­port by the com­mit­tee’s spe­cial coun­sel, Rusty Hardin, a prom­i­nent lawyer in Hous­ton, found four grounds for im­peach- ment: Hall’s re­quests for mas­sive amounts of records from the Austin cam­pus, his han­dling of con­fi­den­tial stu­dent in­for­ma­tion, his neg­a­tive ac­tions to­ward Pow­ers and other univer­sity of­fi­cials, and his ad­vo­cacy be­fore a na­tional stan­dards-set­ting group against the univer­sity’s po­si­tion in a fundrais­ing dis­pute.

The panel doesn’t have to fol­low Hardin’s lead. But it voted 7-1 onMay 12 to find that grounds for im­peach­ment ex­ist, sug­gest­ing that there likely are suf­fi­cient votes to re­fer one or more ar­ti­cles of im­peach­ment to the full House.

If the House votes to im­peach Hall, the case would go to the Se­nate for a trial to de­ter­mine whether the re­gent should be ousted from his un­paid po­si­tion. Whether such a trial ac­tu­ally takes place, and its out­come, could de­pend in part on the tim­ing of pro­ceed­ings and the elec­tion for lieu­tenant gover- nor, the Se­nate’s pre­sid­ing of­fi­cer.

State Sen. Dan Patrick of Hous­ton, in the runoff for the GOP nom­i­na­tion for lieu­tenant gover­nor, told a fo­rum Tues­day evening that Hall should be com­mended, not im­peached. His ri­val, Lt. Gov. David De­whurst, de­murred on the grounds that he needed to main­tain neu­tral­ity in the event of a trial. Last year, De­whurst de­fended Pow­ers against ef­forts by some re­gents to oust him.

Hall has re­jected UT board chair­man Fos­ter’s sug­ges­tion that he step down, and Fos­ter says he won’t press the point. Asked on Tues­day whether he con­sulted the gover­nor on the mat­ter, Fos­ter said, “No com­ment.”

Re­gen­tWal­lace L. Hall Jr. was com­mended for his per­sis­tence in a writ­ten state­ment by the gover­nor.

ERIKA RICH / AUSTIN-AMER­I­CAN STATES­MAN 2013

Gov. Rick Perry said in a writ­ten state­ment that Re­gent Wal­lace L. Hall Jr. was try­ing to en­sure that the in­sti­tu­tions of higher ed­u­ca­tion­were op­er­at­ing ef­fec­tively, ef­fi­ciently and within the law.

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