University of Texas System Regent Alex Cranberg fired back Friday at a critic who wants him and three other regents to resign. And the chief budget writer in the state House continued mapping a strategy for impeachment proceedings against Regent Wallace Hall Jr.
The developments signal ever-rising tension involving the UT System Board of Regents, the Austin flagship, the Legislature and Gov. Rick Perry.
Rep. Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, said Thursday that he wants to impeach Hall because of the regent’s continuing and extensive demands for records from UT-Austin, as well as Hall’s failure to disclose some lawsuits on his application to become a regent — a shortcoming that Hall has already corrected.
Pitts, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, is seeking to institute impeachment proceedings before the special legislative session ends Tuesday.
Perry, who named all of the regents to their unpaid but prestigious positions, hasn’t weighed in on the prospect of one of his appointees being impeached. But Perry spokesman Rich Parsons said, “It is as appropriate for a university’s board of regents to demand transparency from member schools as it is for the Legislature to demand transparency from a board of regents.”
Parsons added that it would be very alarming if Pitts’ efforts “could be motivated by attempts to conceal emails that include information about members of the Legislature requesting admission to the UT Law School on behalf of others.”
In a statement, Pitts said: “There is strong evidence suggesting Regent Hall misrepresented his qualifications and concealed information in his signed and certified application to become a regent. It is our responsibility in the Legislature to ensure that gubernatorial appointees to positions of power and influence are qualified to hold public office and are not abusing that power for ideological or political purposes.”
Hall did not respond to an email seeking comment.
For his part, Cranberg questioned Fort Worth attorney Gordon Appleman’s call for him, Hall, Brenda Pejovich and Gene Powell to resign from the UT board.
Appleman has faulted the regents for demanding voluminous records from UT-Austin. Appleman, who said he was speaking strictly for himself, is on the executive committee of the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, which has defended the Austin campus in its disputes with regents regarding tuition, faculty productivity and other matters.
Cranberg noted that Appleman had submitted extensive open-records requests to the regents.
“He’s within his rights,” Cranberg said, “but if he believes such extensive requests are abusive, perhaps he should consider resigning from the Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education. I’m not calling for it, but I think he might want to call for his own resignation.”
Appleman said, “I appreciate Mr. Cranberg’s interest in my activities, and I’ll take his suggestions under advisement.”
As for the prospect of Hall’s impeachment, Cranberg said, “If diligence is cause for impeachment, then he should be impeached.”
Impeachment is tantamount to an accusation, akin to an indictment. If the House were to impeach Hall, the Senate would then conduct a trial of sorts to determine whether to remove him from office.
An official of the Texas Legislative Reference Library said a review of its historical resources did not turn up a previous impeachment of a regent. Impeachment leading to removal of an official from office has been relatively rare.
O.P. Carrillo, a state district judge in South Texas, was ousted in 1976 for a bogus rental scheme. Gov. James “Pa” Ferguson resigned a day before he was convicted by the Senate in 1917 on 10 charges, including three relating to a quarrel with UT; he had vetoed nearly all of the school’s budget.
Senate Higher Education Chairman Kel Seliger, R-Amarillo, said it’s “way too early” to speculate on Hall’s fate. “Because of the great respect members in the House and Senate have for Mr. Pitts,” he said, “one has to think impeachment is a credible possibility.”