HILL

Lawmakers rebuke Hill for misconduct in office

2014-07-23T18:00:00Z 2014-07-24T09:16:10Z Lawmakers rebuke Hill for misconduct in officeBy LEAH TODD Star-Tribune staff writer Casper Star-Tribune Online

A legislative report on Wednesday rebuked state schools chief Cindy Hill for misconduct in office but stopped short of recommending lawmakers impeach her.

A committee of state lawmakers that spent more than a year examining her tenure at the Wyoming Department of Education concluded she repeatedly and willfully violated the law. Some committee members believe Hill's actions warrant impeachment, but the group chose to allow individual lawmakers to file for Hill's impeachment if they so choose.

"Cindy Hill, for whatever reason, chose not to follow the law," the report states.

Hill, a Republican elected in 2010, drove off senior employees at the Department of Education and replaced them with people loyal to her but with little or no experience managing a state agency, according to the committee's findings. She did not ask for legislative appropriations for her programs and she demanded political and personal loyalty from her employees.

"The Committee finds Superintendent Hill’s actions amounted to misconduct in office, and for that misconduct the Committee formally rebukes Superintendent Hill," the report states.

Hill is currently a Republican candidate for governor.

In a statement to the Associated Press on Wednesday, Hill dismissed the committee report as a political "smear campaign" aimed at discrediting her.

"A 'rebuke' means that they are conceding that I did nothing wrong. It's that simple," Hill said in a written statement. "They spent two years and $1.3 million so that they could 'rebuke' someone?"

Now that the Legislature is giving up on its efforts to remove her, Hill said wants to know when she will be getting a formal apology.

A 2013 state law temporarily removed Hill as the top official at the Department of Education and transferred many of her duties to a governor-appointed director. A divided Wyoming Supreme Court found the law mostly unconstitutional earlier this year and Hill returned to office in April. 

Lawmakers were initially concerned Hill was not following legislative directives on the state's new school accountability system. Allegations of erratic leadership practices and misuse of federal funds surfaced later in an investigation commissioned by Gov. Matt Mead and conducted by Rawlins attorney Catherine MacPherson in 2013.

The select investigative committee was formed by a vote of the Wyoming House shortly after. The committee's work cost $231,000, according to the report.

The issues

Hill's administration misused federal special education money to pay for general education teacher training that the Legislature prohibited in 2012, according to the committee report. 

The report notes the Legislature barred Hill from running several home-grown professional development programs that year, but that Hill and her leadership team diverted funding from other accounts to continue the programs under new names. Federal funds earmarked for special education were used to fund the trainings, which included as little as 20 to 40 minutes of special education focus during a typical 12-hour course, the committee report states.

Later, Hill and her administration started a reading program on the Wind River Indian Reservation with no apparent source of funding.

Hill also required new employees at the Department of Education to sign letters affirming their position would become at-will, ensuring Hill could terminate the employee without cause. The committee report states Hill "intentionally and knowingly" violated the law because she had previously requested a Wyoming Attorney General opinion on the issue, which told her she did not have authority to change positions from permanent to at-will.

The committee found Hill's repeated demands for personal and political loyalty violated state statute and the Wyoming and U.S. constitutions. Hill called meetings where employees were asked to leave if they did not support her and asked to hold hands to join a circle of trust, according to witness testimony.

Elected officials can direct programs and policies but cannot demand absolute political loyalty, according to state statute.

Such activity is grounds for Hill's removal from office, the committee said.

Recommendations

In its report, the committee suggested Wyoming create a confidential reporting process that will allow an official outside the agency's chain of command to investigate violations of the law.

It said Wyoming should mandate training in governmental ethics, laws and whistleblower protections for all state employees.

Sam Shumway, chief of operations for the Department of Education and a member of Hill's leadership team, said Hill offered witnesses who could explain the issues during three days of investigative hearings in Cheyenne in January. Hill suggested 38 witnesses in addition to the 16 called by the committee. None of them was called. However, the committee changed its rules before the hearings to allow Hill to cross-examine the other witnesses.

"If this marks the end of that committee’s work, I think that would be a  good thing for the department," Shumway said.

Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, served on the special committee that drafted the report.

"The report is what it is," Brown, the House Majority Floor Leader, said Wednesday. "It is the end result of the activities of the investigatory committee, and it does not necessarily drive anything. It is a resource for the Legislature and for individual legislators to use however they wish."

Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, the committee's chairman and state Speaker of the House, did not immediately return a call for comment Wednesday afternoon.

Reach education reporter Leah Todd at 307-266-0592 or leah.todd@trib.com. Follow her on Twitter @leahktodd.

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

(14) Comments

  1. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - July 28, 2014 7:17 am
    Loo

    People are promoted from within all the time in State Government, and people are given jobs because of who they know...sad fact but true. And really want is wrong with saying "this is the where we are headed and I would appreciate your support" speech from a Agency Head?? Nothing.....

    The Dept of Ed- needed to have someone who held others accountable for their actions. Cindy Hill did exactly that.... If you didn't like this-- then if was time for you to move on...
  2. bobaloo
    Report Abuse
    bobaloo - July 24, 2014 3:55 pm
    There is just too much evidence against Supt. Hill to continue to give any validity to the "good old boys" conspiracy theory. She and her appointed favorites, including her HR Manager who was promoted, without any competition, from a secretarial position, crossed the line many, many times. There is enough documented evidence of financial malfeasance without going into the whole psychotic "give me your loyalty" thing. Perhaps the timing of the "rebuke" was political..I'll go along with that, but I don't dispute the validity of the charges against her.
  3. Holy Shnikes
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    Holy Shnikes - July 24, 2014 11:00 am
    I'm a little confused regarding her comment about being rebuked means she did nothing wrong. I was always taught that if you were rebuked it was because you were in the wrong and you were being corrected.
  4. pappy
    Report Abuse
    pappy - July 24, 2014 11:00 am
    You are right there are also contract employees. These are usually time limited and both sides can terminate the contract. As i recall both people you mentioned got a very nice severance package. An At will employee merely gets shown the door.
  5. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - July 24, 2014 9:30 am
    Pappy- I seem to recall two high profile employees under contract. 1. The UW President they got rid of and Tricky Richard Crandall ??
  6. thehousemouse
    Report Abuse
    thehousemouse - July 24, 2014 8:52 am
    its should have been at will and stayed at will. Do you have any idea of what it takes to get rid of a bad seed once this became the norm. " months of talks, wasted time, perhaps courts" all a waste, we are a right to work state and can fire without any cause, why not them.
  7. pappy
    Report Abuse
    pappy - July 24, 2014 7:42 am
    Sorry Sassy but you are wrong about state employees. All agency heads were at will until Mead became Governor. He then made all new agency heads, assisstant heads, and division chiefs at will. All other employee can only be fired for cause.
  8. Allfacts
    Report Abuse
    Allfacts - July 24, 2014 7:18 am
    Hill was out-bullied by the other bullies: Mead as their leader. They all nauseate me. I was thinking about the sanctity of my vote and using it to write in a candidate worthy of it -- in doing so, I realized that Cindy Hill (regardless of all the hearsay) was the only candidate who fought to preserve the sanctity of the voter's ballot. I didn't vote for her as superintendant but could she really be worse than these clowns? Now I just may vote for her particularly in light of the legislative and gubernatorial abuses displayed through a 2 year effort that cost all of us 1.3 million dollars to REBUKE her. I can just see the conference call now: LUBNAU: "Well since we don't have proof beyond a reasonable doubt that could withstand judicial scrutinity, we could reprimand her." NICHOLAS: "I don't like that word since it will resurrect what our own party almost did to the Governor." BROWN: "How can we publically SHUN her?" THRONE: "Sirs, may I speak and humbly suggest we REBUKE her?" COE: "Yeah, REBUKE. That sounds perfect."

    I REBUKE their REBUKEMENT. I hope THE STATEWIDE ELECTORATE REBUKES them all starting with voting for ANYONE...ANYONE BUT MEAD and landslide defeats in individual legislative districts against each legislator who mismanaged YOUR MONEY in accusing Cindy Hill of mismanaging her own budget. The irony would be laughable ...if it didn't cost me 1.3 million!
  9. GOPRealist
    Report Abuse
    GOPRealist - July 24, 2014 6:42 am
    In the first paragraph, I meant to say, "the super-poor judgment HE SHOWED when he said IF he could, he would..."
  10. GOPRealist
    Report Abuse
    GOPRealist - July 24, 2014 6:26 am
    Taylor Haynes? Lol!

    Have you forgotten the super-poor judgment a couple of weeks ago when he said he could, he would open up Yellowstone to drilling?

    Remember how Yellowstone sits in the caldera of a SUPERVOLCANO and that at certain points the magma cavern is (according to a NY Post article published in Dec. 2013) a mere 5 km below the surface???

    No, Haynes and Hill are out. Mead and Gosar will be the only real choices.
  11. Put your Faith in Science
    Report Abuse
    Put your Faith in Science - July 23, 2014 10:41 pm
    Hopefully, most people have the good sense not to elect her, and I'm not too impressed with Matt Mead and the SF104 business either. Cindy Hill is the quintessential bully, and Matt Mead did something that even the courts ruled as being unconstitutional. It is time to look at the qualifications of Pete Gosar and Taylor Haynes, and see if any of those two candidates look competent. As far as I'm concerned, those are the only two candidates that this race for governor has narrowed down to.
  12. Sassy
    Report Abuse
    Sassy - July 23, 2014 10:02 pm
    Facts

    You're spot on--

    Additionally the SIC reported Hill made employees sign a document stating they have an At- Will employment status-- For Christ Sake-- All state employees are at- will, unless they have a contract..If fact isn't Wyoming an At- Will state??

    This report is nothing more than fodder---- What a bunch of namby pambys.....cry babies- Good riddance Lubnua
  13. Allfacts
    Report Abuse
    Allfacts - July 23, 2014 7:31 pm
    The Supreme Court found "the law (SF104) MOSTLY unconstitutional"??? Please read the opinion, Leah --both opinions. They ruled the ENTIRE piece of legislation unconstitutional -- TWICE!!!!

    And you won't hear anything from chickensh** Lubnau who is hiding behind his own bar censure investigation but fails to cite a single rule from the wyoming rules of professional conduct which SUPPOSEDLY mandates his silence. Because there is NO SUCH RULE. Of course he wouldnt be familiar with the professional rules of conduct if they hit him in his face so I can't fault him for guessing and for giving false information. Nothing new there.

    The real point here is the legislature wants more secrecy and is mad that Hill didn't request money for her programs. Read it again: last sentence paragraph 3: HILL DID NOT ASK FOR LEGISLATIVE APPROPRIATIONS! We can't have THAT! A public servant NOT asking for money. How will that official know whose "ring" to kiss if they don't want money.

    I am ashamed to admit i voted for Mead in the last election. I won't be that stupid again. 1.3 million to REBUKE. Bat least they went through appropriations, right?! Give me a break.
  14. thehousemouse
    Report Abuse
    thehousemouse - July 23, 2014 6:27 pm
    did you tell folks one that was run off was setting in jail and lost his job because he was not there, oh but when this paper wants to hurt a front runner for office they have barrels of ink to do it.
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