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UT Regent Secretly Taped Closed Door Meeting

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The latest example of the UT-Austin Board of Regents not always playing well with others has a Regent secretly taping the members in executive session.

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

The continuing saga involving the UT System Board of Regents, the State Legislature and UT-Austin President William Powers has taken another soap opera turn.

Apparently a UT System Regent secretly taped a closed door session in August. The Texas Tribune is reporting that Alex Cranberg is the regent in question.

UT Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa was also involved in the executive session, and was there to discuss the dispute between President  Powers and several members of the UT Board of Regents.

That conflict has led to a state legislative committee to look into the possible impeachment of UT-Austin Regent Wallace Hall for abuse of power. The committee has turned over its report to the Travis County' District Attorney's office to see if any of his actions (including massive open records requests), led to any breaking of the law.

As for Cranberg's taping of the August meeting, the Texas Tribune reported the reaction of two former Chairmen of the Board.

James Huffines, who chaired the UT System board from 2004 to 2007 and again from 2009 to 2010, did not mince words. "Any appointee on any state board that records part of an executive session without the knowledge of other appointees has lost the trust and confidence and should consider resigning," he said.

Charles Miller, who was chairman of the board from 2001 to 2004, said that it was "unusual, but not necessarily wrong." He said it was important to consider the context: that the August board meeting where the recording occurred featured "a review of a president who has continually had trouble with his board, individual regents and the previous chancellor as well."

Earlier this week the UT system released notes from the meeting taken by regents Hall and Cranberg. The notes indicate that Cranberg felt President Powers was "essentially insubordinate," and that Chancellor Cigarroa had previously asked President  Powers to resign and he had refused.

Last December Chancellor Cigarroa recommended that Powers remain in office provided that he work to improve his relationship with both the Chancellor and the board.

This past February Cigarroa announced his resignation later this year to become the head of pediatric transplant surgery at the UT Health Science Center in San Antonio.

As for the surreptitious taping, the UT System is seeking permission from the Texas Attorney General to not release the contents to the public.

"Unfettered written exchanges and dialogues help facilitate decision on policies that improve visibility, economic performance, and international prominence of UT System and its institutions," they wrote. "The ability of these individuals to opine, investigate, explore potential problems and suggest changes is an invaluable internal management tool that actively promotes constructive checks and balances throughout the system."

Then there is the matter of the  legality of taping such a meeting.

Texas Government Code Section 551.146 states:

An individual, corporation, or partnership that without lawful authority knowingly discloses to a member of the public the certified agenda or tape recording of a meeting that was lawfully closed to the public under this chapter:

(1)    commits an offense; and

(2) is liable to a person injured or damaged by the disclosure for:

(A) actual damages, including damages for personal injury or damage, lost wages, defamation, or mental or other emotional distress;

(B) reasonable attorney fees and court costs; and

(C) at the discretion of the trier of fact, exemplary damages.

(b) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a Class B misdemeanor.

(c) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(1) and an affirmative defense to a civil action under Subsection (a)(2) that:

(1)    the defendant had good reason to believe the disclosure was lawful; or

(2) the disclosure was the result of a mistake of fact concerning the nature or content of the certified agenda or tape recording.

(a)    An individual, corporation, or partnership that without lawful authority knowingly discloses to a member of the public the certified agenda or tape recording of a meeting that was lawfully closed to the public under this chapter:

(1)    commits an offense; and

(2)    is liable to a person injured or damaged by the disclosure for:

(A) actual damages, including damages for personal injury or damage, lost wages, defamation, or mental or other emotional distress;

(B) reasonable attorney fees and court costs; and

(C) at the discretion of the trier of fact, exemplary damages.

(b) An offense under Subsection (a)(1) is a Class B misdemeanor.

(c) It is a defense to prosecution under Subsection (a)(1) and an affirmative defense to a civil action under Subsection (a)(2) that:

(1) the defendant had good reason to believe the disclosure was lawful; or

(2) the disclosure was the result of a mistake of fact concerning the nature or content of the certified agenda or tape recording.

As for the legislative committees investigation into the possible impeachment of regent Wallace Hall, their report is due out in early May.