“Transparency” Committee Lurks in the Shadows

At the last meeting of the Texas House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations — the committee that has been tasked by Speaker Joe Straus with impeaching University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall — the committee’s outside counsel, Rusty Hardin declared that, “for those concerned whether the transparency committee will be transparent; it will be transparent.”

It turns out Mr. Hardin is as good at keeping promises as the politicians he now represents.

After the hearing, pursuant to the Public Information Act, Empower Texans sent a request to the committee’s Co-Chairs, Dan Flynn (R–Van) and Carol Alvarado D–Houston), asking for a list of “potential witnesses” that was prepared by the committee (while it met in secret) and that was mentioned at the hearing by Mr. Hardin.

The committee’s response? They refused to turn it over and sent a long letter to the Attorney General arguing that the “transparency committee” shouldn’t be subject to our state’s laws regarding open government — even citing statutes that they are entitled to waive.

What makes matters worse is that Mr. Hardin stated that his staff plans to interview potential witnesses before they are asked to testify. Without a proposed list, we, and more importantly Mr. Hall’s attorneys, may never know who the committee was interested in calling but who they decided not to call publicly after conducting interviews. It is precisely these people — people connected to Mr. Hall whose testimony didn’t fit the narrative of the committee — who could be the most compelling witnesses in Mr. Hall’s defense.

In a civil trial, parties are entitled to use a routine discovery device called a “request for disclosure” to ask for the names of potential witnesses who the other side believes might have knowledge of relevant facts. But from the committee’s previous decision to violate House Rule 413 and deny Mr. Hall’s attorneys their right to cross examine witnesses, it should come as no surprise that the “transparency” committee believes that proper civil procedure would get in the way of their witch hunt.

At the hearing last month Mr. Hardin referred to transparency as a “buzz word.” From their response to our request, it is clear that Chairman Flynn and Chairman Alvarado share Mr. Hardin’s flippant opinion of the public’s right to know what is going on in their committee.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tony McDonald serves as General Counsel for Empower Texans. A licensed and practicing attorney, Tony received his J.D. in 2012 from UT Law School. While in school, Tony served as Senior Vice Chairman for Young Conservatives of Texas and helped manage its legislative affairs. During the 83rd Texas Legislature he served as Chief of Staff for Rep. Jonathan Stickland. Tony resides in Austin and attends St. Paul Lutheran Church.

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