Senate panel requires new certification from nominees

Action follows revelation that prison agency’s chairman tried to get sister-in-law to join his board

Stung by the recent revelation that the chairman of the state prison’s board tried to get his sister-in-law appointed to serve with him, the Senate Nominations Committee on Monday voted to increase the verification of background information it gets before deciding whether to confirm gubernatorial nominees.

The panel voted unanimously to require for the first time that all nominees provide up-to-date information on their applications and personal financial statements, and certify in writing that all the information is correct, before they will be considered for approval by the Senate.

The change took effect immediately, and immediately ensnared the reappointment of San Antonio businessman Terrell McCombs to the Texas Board of Criminal Justice after he acknowledged he had not listed all of his business interests on his paperwork.

“We are not going to move his nomination forward until he corrects it,” said Committee Chairman Glenn Hegar, R-Katy.

Prison officials promised that McCombs’ paperwork would be corrected quickly.

The changes come after it was revealed that the sister-in-law of Oliver Bell, chairman of the Texas Board of Criminal Justice, was nominated to serve on the same board. She was also a former business associate of Bell’s.

Outraged senators immediately held up the nomination of business consultant Annette Raggette of Austin, and Gov. Rick Perry promptly withdrew her nomination. He instead nominated Mission attorney Thomas Wingate, a former state district judge.

Under law, gubernatorial nominees for state boards and commissions must be confirmed by the Senate. Bell on Monday for the first time publicly broke his public silence on the matter, insisting that he erred in proposing his sister-in-law for the post. He noted she had previously served on two other state boards.

“I have to take responsibility,” Bell told the committee. “No excuse. I should have been paying more attention.”

McCombs, who appeared before the committee along with Wingate and Highland Park attorney Eric Gambrell, who was up for reappointment to the prison board, was asked by Sen. Sylvia Garcia, D-Houston, about two business entities that did not list on his application. He said both mistakes were “oversights on my part.”

Hegar said the applications and financial statements must be up to date and include all the required information. “The burden needs to be on them to make sure their information is correct and up-to-date,” he said.

Other committee members agreed, quickly approving the new rule and a requirement that nominees must certify in writing that their paperwork is accurate and complete as of the date they are nominated.

The committee then recommended that the Senate confirm Gambrell and Wingate, but not McCombs — just yet.

“He will remain pending until our next meeting,” Hegar said.

In investigating the Raggette nomination, senators said they were disturbed to find out that her application and others submitted by nominees had not been fully filled out, that some information was more than a year old and that many nominees’ backgrounds had not been verified or only undergone a cursory check.

Raggett’s relation to Bell became public only after a Google search turned up a Louisiana obituary of her mother, noting that she was Bell’s sister-in-law. Raggette listed Bell as a reference and noted “bro. in law” next to his name, but that notation was obliterated on copies of her application that were forwarded to senators because it was written in a margin.

She checked “no” on the application form when asked if she was related to any state official.

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