Today, seven members of the deceptively named Texas House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted to move forward with impeaching UT Regent Wallace Hall. The vote took place while the committee refused to release an audio recording which vindicates Mr. Hall in his efforts to investigate political corruption at the University of Texas.

The vote is a warning to gubernatorial appointees throughout Texas: don’t ask tough questions or demand transparency. If you do, the cronies in the legislature will tear you down. But don’t trust me on the effect of the vote, look at the words of the Committee’s Republican Chairman, State Representative Dan Flynn.

After allowing his committee to be co-opted by its liberal members for months, Flynn surprisingly exposed himself as opposed to Hall’s impeachment in a letter to a fellow Democratic committee member last week. He wrote that there did not “appear to be legal ground” to impeach Hall. But today Flynn reversed course and voted along with Democrats Carol Alvarado, Trey Fischer, Eric Johnson, and Naomi Gonzales, as well as liberal-leaning Republicans Lyle Larson and Four Price to find that there were grounds to impeach Hall. Conservative Charles Perry, the one lone voice of reason on the Committee throughout the process, was the sole “no” vote.

This vote came just six days after Flynn made the case against such an impeachment. In his letter, Flynn wrote:

“[A]s much as individuals may want to see Mr. Hall impeached, his … attitude and … disregard for procedure alone is simply not a reason to impeach, nor does there appear to be legal ground to do so. [name-calling omitted] The precedent set by doing so would subject everyone on a board or committee throughout the state to be subject to a level of scrutiny that would make their tenure more about personality than performance; that simply is not the purview of the Texas Legislature.

If mismanagement exists at the University of Texas, and this committee chooses to follow through with articles of impeachment, it would send the wrong message to Regent Hall and the rest of the board. It would suggest that taking on the hard discussions and investigations, such as insular University behavior, the battle of research versus educating children, rising tuition costs, and mismanagement, would result in their being vilified in the media, vulnerable to Legislative investigation, and possibly forced to spend tens of thousands of personal dollars defending their efforts.

A ruling of this magnitude would send a message to all Regents serving our state universities, dissuading any efforts to thoroughly, and fairly, investigate alleged wrong doings, questionable mismanagement of finances or otherwise, and turn a blind eye to allegations of special favors or favoritism. This precedent would hinder the ability of regents to uphold their fiduciary responsibilities and exercise integrity and decorum during moments of crisis or upheaval. Who would want to be a Regent if that is the case? Interference with the Regent’s responsibilities to deal effectively with a crisis via energetic and in-depth board oversight would result in researching outweighing education, with tuitions rising and far too many tenured professors teaching far too few classes. In the end, students will continue to pay too much and learn too little.

It is clear that Regent Hall was frustrated because he was unable to retrieve from the University of Texas leadership, the public records he believed he needed to do his job. Regent Hall felt he had no choice but to make an open records requests of public institutions under the Texas Public Information Act. That a regent was forced to resort to this method to get information that otherwise should have been promptly made available to him by the institution is quite troubling.”

Remember, these comments came not from someone like Charles Perry, but from Flynn himself. Flynn was echoed during the vote on the matter by Democratic Representative Carol Alvarado. She commented on the historical precedent set by the vote, saying that the committee will be “setting a standard for years to come.”

Flynn continued later in his letter:

“[T]his committee must remember that if not for Regent Hall the ‘payola’ scheme that provided more than 6 million dollars in forgivable loans from the University of Texas’ Law School Foundation, prompting the investigation into legislative favors, would not have been uncovered. While the University seemed to be holding that investigation’s findings from the committee, we do know that Rep. Jim Pitts, Chairman of the Appropriations Committee – who was the first Legislator to call for Hall’s impeachment – and others wrote to President Powers and the Dean of the Law School creating at least the appearance of favoritism. Why are the investigations results being withheld form the committee?

Independent of this investigation, this committee has yet to conduct a legislative review of President Powers’ questionable decision to direct more than $1 million in contracts to Accenture, a move that seemed to have failed to receive approval from the Board of Regents, in addition to an embarrassing accounting scandal surrounding the University’s fundraising efforts. We continue to hear about issues that appear to suggest a lack of leadership at the University, and University System, compromising the University’s ability to be recognized as one of the best in the country.”

Flynn continued in his letter to specifically rebut several of the grounds put forward by committee attorney Rusty Hardin as grounds for impeachment of Wallace Hall.

Flynn’s reversal in six days’ time, from articulating the reasons why there were not grounds for impeachment of Regent Hall to voting to find that there were grounds for impeachment is puzzling. It is rendered even more puzzling given that Flynn did not acknowledge his reversal during the vote.

The entire ordeal suggests the possibilities that either Flynn was bought-off by House Leadership or that he is being blackmailed into supporting a position that he does not really believe. Either way, it is clear that Mr. Flynn is unfit for service in the Legislature.

Tony McDonald

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel to Texas Scorecard. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony specializes in the areas of civil litigation, legislative lawyering, and non-profit regulatory compliance. Tony resides in Austin with his wife and daughter and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.