State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, is not a member of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, but he attended its last meeting. And according to a letter he subsequently wrote to the committee's co-chairs, he was bothered by what he saw.
The transparency committee, which most recently met on Sept. 16, is investigating whether articles of impeachment should be filed against University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, whom some lawmakers have accused of being on a "witch hunt" targeting University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers.
"My observations during the meeting confirmed — and further heighten — my pre-existing concerns regarding the Transparency Committee’s budget and procedures for its investigation," Simpson wrote to state Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, and state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, on Sept. 26.
Most of the meeting Simpson attended, which was largely for planning purposes, was conducted behind closed doors in executive session. The representative was not permitted to join his colleagues in the closed session, which came as a surprise to him. In his letter 10 days later, he formally requested to participate in any and all future committee meetings.
At the Sept. 16 meeting, the committee chairs announced six tentative hearing dates for testimony spread out over the next three months. Rusty Hardin, the high-profile Houston defense attorney the committee has retained as its special counsel, also recommended — and the committee subsequently adopted — a policy of not allowing Hall or his lawyers to cross-examine witnesses.
Simpson also raised concerns over the money being spent on Hardin, his associates, and their travel to and from Austin.
"I fear that with a seemingly unlimited budget the Transparency Committee is starting down a path that ends with a legal bill in the high six- figures (or more) that will be dropped at the feet of our constituents," Simpson wrote, also noting that he expected such a legal team to come prepared with a sense of what constitutes an impeachable offense.
Hardin, who has said the investigation process is only in its preliminary stages, said at the hearing that the committee would be endeavoring to determine what Hall did — and did not — do as well as to what standards a regent should be held. The state's laws do not lay out any specific standards for what constitutes an impeachable offense, and there is little to work with in terms of precedent. A nonelected official has never been impeached in Texas before.
"The integrity of the entire Texas House is on the line," Simpson wrote, adding, "The financial implications for the taxpayers of Texas combined with the murky procedural issues create many questions and few answers."