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Following SF 104 and the Hill report

Posted: Thursday, Jun 27th, 2013

As you will recall, the Legislature passed and the governor signed Senate File (SF) 104, which was a bill that stripped most of the powers of the superintendent of public instruction and gave those powers to a new appointed director of the Wyoming Department of Education, with the appointment being made by the governor.

I voted against SF104 because I could not support the process by which the bill was brought forward, not because I believed the current system was working smoothly. The superintendent of public instruction is an elected position, and I believe a bill that stripped the powers of that duly elected individual should have been done as an interim bill, which allows greater debate by the public. I also believe that bill should have been drafted as a constitutional amendment, because the citizens of Wyoming should have made the call to strip that elected position of its powers.

From everything I have been told, the Wyoming Department of Education (WDE) has struggled under the last several superintendents, and the Cindy Hill era has been no exception. For that reason, I personally support changing the superintendent position to an appointed position, though I would rather it be appointed by the State Board of Education, but I believe that call should have been made by the voters of Wyoming not the Legislature.

In February, the governor appointed a special investigator to look into concerns that had been expressed by employees of the WDE about how the agency was being administered by Hill. The inquiry team was only to ascertain the facts and not draw conclusions, make findings or recommendations. The team interviewed those employees who wished to express concerns, and then interviewed Hill and her senior staff regarding those accusations. The team did not try to assess the credibility of those persons being interviewed, and did not interview employees who did not ask to be interviewed.

Last week, the special investigator’s report was released to the public, consisting of 183 pages, and this report was filled with allegations of misconduct by Hill and her senior staff. The report also included rebuttals by the superintendent. There is another report, which has not been released, that deals with personnel issues, and another financial audit is pending.

The leadership of the Legislature is now trying to determine what to do with this report, and some statewide newspapers obtained a flurry of e-mails between legislators concerning this issue. The questions being asked are: do the allegations in these reports justify further investigation and possible impeachment of Hill? Impeachment has only occurred once in Wyoming’s history, and that was a judge in the 1800s. Impeachment would start in the House of Representatives, which is where I reside.

On Monday, Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau sent out an e-mail to all representatives asking them to choose between three alternatives: do nothing, empanel a special committee to examine the issues and gather more information or call a special session to examine the issues and choose a course of action. Another legislator suggested a fourth alternative, which was turn the special investigator’s report over to federal and county prosecutors and have them determine whether there has been any crimes committed.

I favor the last alternative. I am unconvinced that we could seat a committee in the Legislature, after all that has happened, that could maintain their objectivity and render unbiased recommendations to the rest of Legislature. For that reason, I like the idea of putting these allegations in the hands of independent prosecutors, whose jobs are to investigate criminal activity.

In my opinion, the primary reason to consider impeachment of Hill is if she is convicted of a crime. Case law governing impeachment is fairly broad, but for me “malfeasance in office,” which is the likely litmus test for impeachment, must include criminal misconduct.

If SF104 had not stripped Hill of most of her powers and the employee allegations were proven true, then a lower standard for impeachment might have swayed me. Some have stated that the report proves the necessity of SF104, but I still believe SF104 was premature, and the Legislature should simply have requested the investigation the governor conducted and provided that information to independent prosecutors. I will keep you posted on what happens.

For the complete article see the 06-28-2013 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 06-28-2013 paper.

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