Wyoming education accountant: Leadership ordered him to violate state, federal rules

2014-01-07T19:00:00Z 2014-01-08T13:18:47Z Wyoming education accountant: Leadership ordered him to violate state, federal rulesBy LEAH TODD Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online
January 07, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

CHEYENNE – A Wyoming Department of Education employee testified Tuesday that a top staffer to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill told him to pay bills in a way that violated state and federal guidelines.

The testimony came during the second day of hearings here, where the Legislature's Select Investigative Committee is investigating whether Hill committed any impeachable offenses while overseeing the education department.

Hill was elected superintendent in November 2010. In January 2013, the Legislature stripped her of her administrative duties within the agency and created a governor-appointed director position. Hill retained the superintendent's state constitutional duties, such as serving on state boards.

On Tuesday, education department accounting analyst Trent Carroll, told lawmakers analysts were twice told to pay illegal employee overtime invoices during Hill's tenure.

According to a memo from Christine Steele, a member of Hill’s leadership team, Steele directed staff to pay roughly $26,000 in federal funds to cover an employee’s overtime work even though the employee’s contract didn't permit overtime pay.

In a memo to the finance department dated April 20, 2012, Steele wrote: “It is understood … that paying this invoice would cause the Wyoming Department of Education to be out of compliance with state and federal guidance and, should this be identified in a state or federal audit, will result in an audit finding.”

As with the first invoice, Carroll received a memo from Steele acknowledging that paying the second invoice would lead to uncomplimentary audit findings, according to documents provided to the investigative committee.

And like the first invoice, the bill was paid over objection from the accountants.

“We objected to this one, just as we had the previous,” Carroll said.

Any possible involvement by Hill in approving Steele’s directive is as of yet unclear. Carroll said an audit is currently being conducted of all federal grants greater than $500,000 at the Department of Education.

Leadership responds

A member of Hill’s leadership team said Tuesday morning she didn't know she violated state law when she approved her daughter’s sole source contract with the Department of Education.

Sheryl Lain said she “twisted [her] daughter’s arm” to take a contract with the agency after not finding any other qualified teachers to work with an intervention program in 2011. Lain’s daughter, Shan Anderson, signed a $17,000 sole source contract with the department to provide professional development across the state that year. Lain requested the department waive competitive bidding for her daughter’s position, according to a bid waiver request provided to the committee.

Lain said Hill had no knowledge of the contract. She said signing her daughter’s contract without consulting with Hill or the state attorney general was a mistake. Someone else should have signed it, she said.

“I wish somebody [would have] known ahead of time,” Lain said. “It was a procedural problem.”

The Wyoming Constitution prohibits public employees from advocating or causing the employment of a family member in another state position.

Former Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Trent Blankenship came under fire when it was reported his mother worked at the Department of Education for a month, and that two wives of Republican legislators had been hired there. Blankenship resigned as superintendent in 2005.

Looking forward

Five more witnesses were scheduled to testify as of press time Tuesday night, according to the committee’s agenda. In all, the committee is expected to hear from 16 witnesses by the time the hearings wrap up Wednesday.

Lawmakers discussed some potential legislative action for the first time during their proceedings Tuesday, but the discussions were preliminary and they didn't mention impeachment. The House investigation is a possible first step toward impeaching Hill, which would be a first for an elected statewide officer.

State Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, the committee chairman and speaker of the House, asked several witnesses what they would change to ensure the department complied with federal guidelines.

Carroll, the accounting analyst, said an independent group of expert auditors or attorneys could benefit state agencies.

“At a lower level at an agency, we try to do the best that we can to identify things,” Carroll said. “But we don’t always have all the information … as to whether something is illegal or prohibited under legislation.”

Carroll said those decisions should be made at a higher level within the agency. But when the higher-ups in an agency don't make those decisions, that’s when problems arise, he said.

Hill is expected to testify Wednesday, though the committee agreed to release her from subpoena early to accommodate her plans to launch her gubernatorial campaign in Newcastle on Wednesday evening.

Hill has denied any wrongdoing and is challenging in the state Supreme Court the constitutionality of the law that removed much of her power in 2013.

Copyright 2015 Casper Star-Tribune Online. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. Brent
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    Brent - January 14, 2014 12:19 am
    This drawn out process seems akin to the Salem witch trials. Apparently Hill was disliked by the Wyoming Republican establishment for refusing to tow the line. She now pays the price as they look for anything to pillory her with, no matter how flimsy or inconsequential. Shades of the Martha Stewart trial for insider trader come to mind, when the boys on Wall Street engage in such activity on an hourly basis and are never pursued. Interesting double standard, to say the least.
  2. Sassy
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    Sassy - January 12, 2014 6:24 am
    First of all this guy is not an accountant- he is a data entry clerk. He merely codes costs to accounts-- that is it
    Report Abuse
    WYO-BILL - January 08, 2014 9:32 pm
    This is why the state has the attorney generals office - to act as a third party or referee when these situations come up. If you follow orders blindly or are too dumb to have the referee jump in so that you can keep your job then this is what happens. This is what is wrong with society and government in general - go along to get along. State employees getting fired? What planet are you from?
  4. cowboyinexile
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    cowboyinexile - January 08, 2014 7:17 pm
    I am mostly confused by the tenor of the responses. The thread has devolved into some kind of philosophical debate about following orders. This misses mark. Someone in the leadership acknowledged that it was illegal and ordered it to be done anyway. There is no dilemma here. He was asked to do something illegal by a boss, so either he does it and keeps his job, or he refuses and risks being unemployed. Either way, the superior admitted it was illegal. By doing so, she is responsible for his actions, and she put it in public record (not smart). Make no mistake, the Federal Government will subpoena these and other emails soon and the leadership will have to answer to them. Wake up everybody, this woman has engaged in some "interesting" activities as superintendent, including financial decisions in several areas. In addition, she used a cadre of staff to intimidate and run off all who opposed her. It has always been dangerous to have the superintendent a political position, and now we all see why.
  5. Sassy
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    Sassy - January 08, 2014 11:47 am
    Come on Trent is a a junior junior grade analyst ........prolly on the same pay grade as a secretary...
  6. bobaloo
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    bobaloo - January 08, 2014 11:19 am
    I would like to know if ANYONE who is commenting has actually listened to the testimony, because I have. Trent testified that the department of audit does NOT do a comprehensive audit, but asks the agency for certain documents as samples. They choose what to sample, so the "clean bill of health" stuff is fairly bogus. If you want to comment, at least listen to the testimony instead of just saying the same old "good old boy" "witch hunt" stuff.
  7. WyoAgain
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    WyoAgain - January 08, 2014 11:03 am
    I'm no Cindy Hill fan--but I used to know Shan Anderson and she is incredibly good with kids. I hope this doesn't impact her too much.
  8. jackel
    Report Abuse
    jackel - January 08, 2014 10:37 am
    The sweet 16 should get an atta boy, really. I thought the boys did an audit at the beginning and found no fault. Since a full twelve months have gone by and low and behold up emerges the soul of the accountant team. Where in the heck was this yahwho in the beginning of this mess. Come on this is open wound on the wisdom of all knowledge for an investigation this is not, for to have these facts disclosed now, is showing the truth in what we did elect and if Hill was doing the job, then sixteen chickens did not come forward at the beginning, it takes courage to make a stand. Whether we like her or not Mrs. Hill made a stand, what did this Legislative committee, or branches including the Governor do ,with our stand and vote and our transparnecy?
  9. Wyoite
    Report Abuse
    Wyoite - January 08, 2014 8:34 am
    Does this guy still work as an accountant? I sure hope not. Sounds to me like he's just trying to do a CYA because he did some stuff he wasn't supposed to.

    "I did something illegal or unethical because my leader told me to" . . hmm, where have we heard that defense before?? "Befehl ist Befehl" is commonly known as the Nuremberg defense, except I've never heard an accountant use the defense, almost comical since the accountant is responsible for the correct accounting of items.

    I wish the Trib had focused on the real questions here. Did the employee work the overtime and was the employee compensated fairly and legally? Nobody cares about how it was accounted for. The bigger sin would have been to not pay the employee for the overtime she worked.
  10. thehousemouse
    Report Abuse
    thehousemouse - January 08, 2014 6:52 am
    sounds like a scape goating. My only question here is everyone involved going to lose their jobs? if not the shame on this farce of a committee.
  11. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - January 08, 2014 6:42 am
    Again- ALL state agencies move money around, it is like a shell game AND the accounting system WOLFS allows them to do this.

    This is a farce.....
  12. GetOverIt
    Report Abuse
    GetOverIt - January 07, 2014 11:14 pm
    More like If my boss tells me to rob a bank and I refuse and get fired, who pays my mortgage, feeds my kids, and supports my aging mother? How's the view from the cheap seats, Wyo-ite? Hats off to Trent Carroll and the other 13 witnesses. The people of Wyoming owe you all a debt of gratitude and a huge apology. Shame Hil and her so-called leadership team. They all need to go.
  13. WYO-BILL
    Report Abuse
    WYO-BILL - January 07, 2014 9:16 pm
    If my boss tells me to rob a bank and I do it who is guilty?
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