UT-Austin Cancels Regent's Records Requests

Over two dozen boxes containing open records requests from the University of Texas system have been retrieved for use by UT Austin.
Over two dozen boxes containing open records requests from the University of Texas system have been retrieved for use by UT Austin.

Kevin Hegarty, the chief financial officer and custodian of records for the University of Texas at Austin, informed the University of Texas System on Monday that all pending records requests from embattled Regent Wallace Hall are considered "cancelled, effective immediately."

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations is in the process of investigating Hall's behavior as a regent and considering whether or not to file articles of impeachment against him. Hall has famously filed several large open records requests with the system's flagship university, the fulfillment of which have caused a significant strain between the school and the system.

In July, the committee's co-chairs, state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, and state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, sent a letter to Gene Powell, the chairman of the board of regents, requesting that all documents relating to Hall, including his records requests, be preserved until the committee concludes its investigation.

On Monday, Hegarty sent a letter to Dan Sharphorn, the system's interim vice chancellor and general counsel, noting his displeasure with the system's previous handling of documents that had been provided to Hall.

"As you have been made aware both verbally and in writing, I remain deeply concerned that prior TPIA document files sent to the System were returned to the campus having been altered while in UT System possession," Hegarty wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Tribune. "Further, the document files that were returned to campus were not kept in the original order as transmitted to the UT System; rather, some seem to have been tossed back into the boxes at random."

Because of this, Hegarty continued, he cannot be certain that he is providing the legislative committee with exactly what he provided the system — so unless he is directed by the committee to do otherwise, he has decided to stop turning records over.

"To be clear," he wrote to Sharphorn, "please know that the request made by you on behalf of Regent Hall dates July 19, 2013, requesting June TPIA files and any other related requests for new documents and/or clarifications of prior requests that are pending are considered by this campus as cancelled, effective immediately."

A UT-Austin spokesman declined to comment further on the matter.

Hall and the system will have to resubmit the requests once the preservation notice has been lifted, Hegarty wrote — though with regard to other requests, he added, "The campus will continue as normal to fulfill requests received invoking the Texas Public Information Act."

This likely includes a series of large requests filed by Michael Quinn Sullivan, the president of Empower Texans, a conservative advocacy organization. Among other things, Sullivan requested evidence of meetings between UT officials and numerous state lawmakers, emails from lawmakers regarding the admissions process, and communications with certain university boosters.

Sullivan has also filed requests with Texas A&M University and Texas Tech University.

Empower Texans board member Jeff Sandefer, whose higher education reform proposals sparked significant controversy in 2011, also recently waded into the ongoing records wars.  He attempted to launch an inquiry regarding the business dealings of state Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, a vocal opponent of Sandefer's ideas and staunch defender of UT-Austin who has, herself, filed many large records requests with the UT System regarding the regents.

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