One of the lawmakers on the legislative committee currently mulling articles of impeachment against University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall believes he has found a way to calm the controversy. He thinks Hall should resign.
As a member of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, sat through two days of testimony in October about Hall's time as a regent, during which he has been accused by other lawmakers of being on a "witch hunt" to oust Bill Powers, the president of the University of Texas at Austin. Little of the testimony was favorable toward Hall.
In a letter Larson subsequently wrote to Governor Rick Perry, which was obtained by the Tribune, he appears to agree that Hall has been on such a mission. "Governor Perry," he wrote, "neither of us may agree with everything Bill Powers has done as President of UT-Austin, but watching Wallace Hall conduct a Salem-esque tribunal of Bill Powers is unprofessional, undignified, and unbecoming of a gubernatorial appointee."
Hall and his attorneys have contended that in the course of carrying out his duties as a regent, Hall uncovered issues that warranted further investigation. They have insinuated that the pushback against the regent is an effort to cover up favoritism in the university's admissions process and other matters.
Neither Hall nor his attorney, Allan Van Fleet, immediately responded to requests for comment.
Perry has expressed support for Hall, whom he appointed to the UT board. "I think the idea that a regent or an appointee at any place in government is being stymied from asking questions about the operation of a particular agency is very, very bad public policy,” the governor recently told reporters. “I think it is sending a horrible message to the public.”
Larson called it an "embarrassing distraction" and said the the governor's legacy is "threatened" by the ongoing controversy. While Larson noted Hall's "business acumen and commitment to public service" and said his talents might be better put to use elsewhere in Perry's administration, the representative concluded, "I truly believe Wallace Hall's resignation is the best way to move forward."
Meanwhile, the committee's next hearings are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday. There was a possibility that Hall might be among the witnesses, but that appears increasingly unlikely.
Hall's attorneys had previously indicated that the regent was ready and eager to testify and provide his side of the story on Tuesday, but that he would only do so in response to a subpoena. According to Rusty Hardin, a Houston attorney who is serving as the committee's special counsel, Hall's team wanted to be notified by the middle of this week as to whether or not the regent would be testifying. After the committee failed to send notice by the deadline, it was told that Hall would not be available.
"He’s chomping at the bit to make his public presentation, but he just wants to do it on his own terms," Hardin said. "He’s like the kid in the playground that says, 'I get to make my own rules, and if you don’t go along with it, I get to take my bat and ball and go home.'"
Hardin had already sent a letter to Hall's attorney, conveying his opinion that discussions of Hall's appearance before the committee were "premature." Sent on Oct. 30, the letter, which was obtained by the Tribune, indicated that the committee had yet to receive documents it had requested from Hall. "Once we have received all of the responsive material from your client, we will be prepared to schedule his appearance," Hardin wrote.
The committee, he wrote, views the failure to produce documents responsive to requests it has filed as "problematic, grounds for sanction, and, potentially, contempt." He also noted that the committee has invited Hall's attorneys to submit witness recommendations but had yet to receive any.
On Thursday, Hardin told the Tribune that Hall's team had since sent some documents along, but not enough to change his opinion that the time is not yet right for Hall to appear before the committee.
"We didn’t want him there. Now he says he’s not coming. It’s about the only thing we’ve agreed on," Hardin said.
At the October hearing, some committee members had actually expressed a desire to hear from Hall before Thanksgiving. After next week's hearings, there are not any more currently planned until December.
Though, Hardin noted that just because Hall said he's not available does not mean the committee cannot demand his presence.
"It’s up to the committee to decide whether we play by his rules or treat him like any other witness that is subject of an investigation by the Legislature," Hardin said.