If state Rep. David Simpson is upset about being excluded from an executive session of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, of which he is not a member, he needs to take it up with the House parliamentarian, the committee’s co-chairs say.
State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, and state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, sent a letter to the Longview Republican on Monday in response to concerns he recently raised about the committee's plans to investigate whether University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall's actions warrant impeachment.
In their response, which was obtained by the Tribune, Alvarado and Flynn say they "welcome and encourage" the attendance of House members at their meetings and anticipate that, going forward, "some level of participation will be allowed." However, as far as not allowing nonmembers into the committee's executive sessions, they indicated that they were following the advice of the parliamentarian, who told them that the rules are clear that such gatherings are for members only.
"If you have questions or concerns about the Parliamentarian's position, you may wish to discuss them with the Parliamentarian," they say in the letter to Simpson.
Simpson attended the committee's meeting last month but was not allowed to participate in the hours-long executive session that made up the bulk of it. In a subsequent letter requesting that he be allowed to participate in future meetings, Simpson raised a number of other issues.
He noted with concern that there is no cap on the amount that the committee can pay its special counsel, Houston-based attorney Rusty Hardin. Simpson also observed that no standard for impeachment has been determined and took issue with the committee's decision to not allow Hall to cross-examine witnesses during its investigation.
"The financial implications for the taxpayers of Texas combined with the murky procedural issues create many questions and few answers," Simpson wrote.
Regarding the lack of a cap on Hardin's payment, Alvarado and Flynn said that such a limit could not be set because they did not yet have a sense of how long his services would be required. But they assured Simpson that Hardin's invoices would be carefully reviewed and that his contract allows for cancellation with seven days’ notice.
The co-chairs indicated that they would address the legal standard for impeachment in the future and anticipated that Hardin "will provide the committee with his research and advice on this question at the appropriate time." But the last meeting, they said, was purely for planning purposes.
As for cross-examinations, Alvarado and Flynn reiterated their position that allowing it would slow down their work, which they said is not adversarial in nature. "The committee is conducting an investigation, not a trial," they wrote. "The purpose of the investigation is to determine facts."
As part of that investigation, they said that Hall and his lawyers will be able to present "any and all evidence" they desire.
Should the committee determine that Hall, whom some lawmakers have accused of being on "a witch hunt" targeting University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers, has behaved in a manner that warrants the recommendation of articles of impeachment, and a majority of House members approves them, the Senate will convene as a court to consider the matter.
At that point, Alvarado and Flynn wrote, they anticipate that Hall will be allowed to cross-examine witnesses.
The committee's next meeting is expected to occur in about two weeks. The parliamentarian indicated that the co-chairs have discretion over allowing nonmembers to participate in their public meetings and hearings. While they expect some participation will be allowed, they wrote that they have not determined the extent to which nonmember participation will be allowed and are still considering Simpson's request that he be allowed to join in.
Texas Tribune donors or members may be quoted or mentioned in our stories, or may be the subject of them. For a complete list of contributors, click here.