The Wyoming Legislature acted within the scope of the state constitution when it stripped power away from the superintendent of public instruction last month, attorneys for Gov. Matt Mead argued in a Tuesday court filing.
The document, filed in response to a lawsuit from Superintendent Cindy Hill, maintains the Wyoming Constitution granted legislators the ability to transfer some of her duties to an education director appointed by the governor. Mead’s lawyers further claim the constitution’s framers did not intend for the superintendent to have exclusive authority over the state’s public school system.
“The Wyoming Legislature has altered the powers and duties of the superintendent as explicitly envisioned in the constitution itself,” the filing states. “While it is undeniable that the superintendent’s duties have changed, that is not itself a constitutional violation.”
The state Attorney General’s Office filed the documents exactly three weeks after Hill and two of her supporters sued Mead over a new law that eliminated many of her duties. The law, which sailed through the Legislature last month, removed the superintendent as head of Wyoming Department of Education.
The governor delivered his legal response within hours of his announcement that he had assembled an independent team to investigate a range of issues at the Education Department.
Mead has appointed Jim Rose, the executive director of the Wyoming Community College Commission, to serve as the Education Department’s interim director. Hill, meanwhile, has moved to a new office. She has been left with duties like administering the “teacher of the year” program and helping school districts prevent head injuries.
In the lawsuit, she and her supporters contend the law disenfranchised people who voted for her in the 2010 election. They’ve also argued the law represents a “coup” on a constitutionally created office.
Mead’s lawyers, however, say the Wyoming Constitution grants the Legislature ultimate responsibility for the state’s education system. They deny lawmakers circumvented the will of the voters by removing many of the superintendent’s power.
“It is worth reiterating that the Wyoming Legislature’s actions are not undemocratic, its actions are not contrary to the will of the people, and it would be the last place to find the perpetrators of a ‘coup,’” Mead’s attorneys state in the filing.
Along with the suit, Hill and two Platte County residents who voted for her in 2010 have asked a judge to grant a preliminary injunction halting implementation of the law. Their attorney argued the law is preventing Hill from carrying out her constitutionally granted responsibilities.
The governor’s attorneys insist there is no need for a preliminary injunction because the changes brought about by the law can be reversed later if the court ultimately rules in Hill’s favor. Hill failed to show that allowing Rose to work for the next few months would cause irreparable harm to herself or her office, they argued.
Mead also disputed claims the law violates the rights of people who cast ballots for Hill. Voters are not entitled to a guarantee that the superintendent’s duties will remain the same, according to his lawyers.
“Such a breathtaking argument, if accepted, would render the legislative power virtually ineffective,” they argued in the filing.
Laramie County District Judge Thomas Campbell has scheduled a March 14 hearing to consider the preliminary injunction request.
The legislation that stripped Hill of much of her power followed a series of disagreements between her and some lawmakers. She has depicted her critics as “good old boys” who were threatened by her efforts to make changes at the Education Department.
Lawmakers have complained that, under Hill’s watch, the department sidestepped the appropriations process when it created a professional development program for teachers. They assigned two auditors to examine how the Education Department was following legislative mandates.