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Cindy Hill

Cindy Hill

3 p.m. update: State schools chief Cindy Hill said Tuesday she will return to work at the Wyoming Department of Education following a Wyoming Supreme Court decision saying the law that stripped her of much of her power last year was unconstitutional.

Hill's comments came during a news conference in Cheyenne Tuesday afternoon.

She said the passage of Senate File 104 -- the bill passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Matt Mead that stripped her of many of her duties last year -- was a "misguided and unfortunate mistake." 

"But now it is time to return to work and focus on the children of Wyoming," Hill said. "I will be returning to the Department of Education and will be resuming my constitutional and statutory duties."

She added she is looking forward to working with the Department of Education staff, Mead and the Legislature.

Hill cut short the conference to travel to a meeting in Wheatland and left her staff members to answer questions.

John Masters, Hill's legal counsel, said the staff developed a transition plan in anticipation of the ruling.

The first step, he said, is to establish a relationship with the governor's office and create a transition team involving the attorney general's office and other state agencies that work with the superintendent and the Department of Education.

It will be the governor's task to deal with the current department director, Richard Crandall, Masters said.

"I don't see a role for a director," Masters said. "A director was part of SF 104."

A second step is to meet with the department staff "and assuring the staff that we're interested in getting the work done," he said.

Only a few of the 140 department employees complained about Hill's management, he said, and failed to use the grievance process to get the complaints resolved.

Masters said that House legislative leaders would have to answer the question of what effect, if any, the Supreme Court ruling will have on their special investigation of the claims of wrongdoing against Hill that could lead to her impeachment.

Select investigative committee chairman and state Speaker of the House Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, declined to comment Tuesday.

The Supreme Court's decision is not immediately effective, Wyoming Attorney General Peter Michael said in an email to the Star-Tribune. The next step will be to wait until the district court issues an order. 

Gov. Matt Mead said in a release he has asked Michael to provide an analysis of the legal and practical implications of the decision.

"We understand there will be no changes in the current structure at the Department of Education until the District Court has officially received the Supreme Court decision and further proceedings occur," Mead said. "The Attorney General will evaluate the opinion and provide options.”

 

 

Original update: The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled today a law that stripped state schools chief Cindy Hill of much of her power last year is unconstitutional.

The justices ruled 3-2 in favor of Hill, who filed suit against the state four days after the Legislature passed Senate File 104 last year.

In its opinion, the Supreme Court said the Wyoming Constitution does not give the Legislature unlimited authority to prescribe the powers and duties of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, an office Hill won in 2010. Lawmakers must ensure the superintendent has “general supervision of the public schools,” as the constitution provides, according to the opinion.

The judicial majority found Senate File 104 “impermissibly” gave the power of school supervision to Richard Crandall, a governor-appointed director of the Wyoming Department of Education who started in August.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to district court to enter an order consistent with their opinion. Hill’s case was originally filed in Laramie County District Court.

Rep. Matt Teeters, R-Lingle, one of the co-authors of Senate File 104, said he had not seen the decision and could not comment Tuesday morning.

Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, issued a press release Tuesday saying he was "relieved" to see the Supreme Court rule in Hill's favor.

"I argued at length on the House Floor that the superintendent of public instruction had the 'general supervision of the public schools' as stated by the Wyoming Constitution, and any change had to come from the people through a constitutional amendment and not through legislative fiat," Gingery said in the release.

A dissenting opinion written by two of the five Wyoming Supreme Court justices stated Hill did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that SF104 violated the constitution. Neither Hill nor the majority of the court identified which specific duties the Legislature can and cannot transfer, the two justices wrote in their minority opinion.

Such ambiguity leaves the Legislature with no direction on how it should correct its unconstitutional law, the minority justices held.

Hill said in a release she would hold a press conference at 12:30 p.m. today in the lobby of the Barrett Building in Cheyenne. 

Hill announced her bid for governor in January of last year, and filed documents with the Wyoming Secretary of State's Office several weeks later to start a political campaign and raise money. 

She launched her gubernatorial campaign in Newcastle Jan. 8.

Hill has until May to decide whether she is running for governor or for another term as superintendent of public instruction. She cannot run for both offices at once, said Peggy Nighswonger, Wyoming state elections director. 

A small group of Hill supporters staged an impromptu rally Tuesday morning in front of the capitol building in Cheyenne. 

They waved American flags while a stereo system blared Lee Greenwood's "Proud to be an American."

"We've won a great victory here," William Bennett, of Cheyenne, said. "The rights of the citizens of Wyoming has just been respected."

Supporter Maureen Hurley said she is raising two great-grandchildren and is concerned about the school system in Cheyenne.

"With Cindy at the helm again I think things will be OK," she said. "She is a very, very strong lady."

I. M. (Lee) Hasenauer, a Laramie County commissioner and tea party organizer, yelled in the direction of the Wyoming Department of Education nearby, "Get out of Cindy's house."

Meanwhile inside the Department of Education, Director Richard Crandall said he didn't know what would happen next.

He said he is keeping to his schedule for the day which included a meeting of the college board in his office.

Two key members of Gov. Matt Mead's staff, Chief of Staff Kari Gray and Education Policy Adviser Mary Kay Hill were in the education department visiting with human resources staff members.

 

Check back for more on this story. 

Star Tribune reporters Laura Hancock and Joan Barron contributed to this story.

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

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