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In Letter, Simpson Faults Committee Investigating UT Regent

In a letter sent to all House members on Monday, state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, shared his criticism of and questions for the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations.

State Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, on the House floor on June 29, 2011.

In a five-page letter sent Monday to all Texas House members, state Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, expressed concerns with the legislative committee investigating University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, warning his colleagues that they shouldn’t settle for what he called “tame transparency.”

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which launched its investigation of Hall nearly a year ago, recently voted that grounds to impeach the regent exist. Hall has been accused of abusing his office in the course of personally conducting investigations of the University of Texas at Austin administration. Hall has said that he was fulfilling his oversight role as a regent by uncovering questionable activities at the university.

Simpson, who is not a member of the committee but has attended several of its meetings, praised Hall’s efforts in his letter and took issue with how the committee’s proceedings have been held. And Simpson cautioned colleagues against taking action that “gives the appearance of openness but instead inhibits real government reform."

The committee is currently drafting articles of impeachment, which could be referred to the full House for further consideration. The Travis County district attorney's office’s public integrity unit is also conducting a criminal investigation into accusations against Hall, including those that he may have mishandled private student information. Hall's lawyers have said the regent has done nothing untoward.

Committee co-chairman Dan Flynn, R-Van, has said that it is important that observers view the investigation as "fair and thorough."

Simpson’s letter notes that he has not been permitted to ask questions at the committee’s hearings or to participate in the closed-door sessions. He also wrote that "the co-chairs relegating me to the position of a silent 'Hall Monitor' was frustrating."

The letter details a number of the questions that Simpson has sought to ask over the course of the process. Those include: "Are we afraid of the light shining in our direction? What really is motivating this investigation and impeachment proceedings against one regent? A vendetta? A desire to stifle, muzzle, and thwart those shining the light in directions that might cause the mighty to fall? Do we only believe in transparency when we can control it?"

"We need to ask more questions, not less," Simpson told the Tribune. "We need more light, not more opaqueness."

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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