CHEYENNE – In an unprecedented action, the Legislature's Management Council Friday voted unanimously for a special investigative committee of lawmakers to look further into a report that contained claims of irregularities in the Wyoming Department of Education under state Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.
The Rules Committee of the Wyoming House of Representatives will sit as the special committee.
The 185-page report, issued by a team headed by Rawlins lawyer Cathy MacPherson and formed by Gov. Matt Mead, contained accounts of possible misuse of the state airplane, improper spending of federal money and employee complaints of a hostile workplace. But the report made no conclusions or recommendations.
Legislative leaders who make up the council said Friday they are frustrated at the lack of conclusions in the report and need some answers.
They said they also need information about an additional part of the MacPherson report that is considered confidential, and other materials pertaining to the investigation.
"The people of this state deserve conclusions," said House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette.
He recommended that the 13-member House Rules Committee conduct the investigation and that the committee meetings be streamed on the Internet.
Hill seeks due process
Hill insisted, in a presentation to the couincil before its vote, that she has obeyed all the laws and regulations and fulfilled her duties as state school superintendent. She outlined what she expected for protection of her due process rights in future proceedings.
Hill claimed she is entitled to representation by the state Attorney General, since the allegations against her involved her official duties as state Superintendent of Public Instruction.
When the committee meets as a whole, Hill should be represented by counsel and will be allowed to make statements and suggest witnesses, Lubnau said.
"It is important to interpret this as only an investigation at this stage," he said.
Lubnau said the committee may be able to finish its work by the end of September.
After the meeting, in answer to a question, Lubnau said he doesn't believe the Legislature is "piling on" Hill. He said the committee investigation is the only avenue at this stage to get some final answers and bring an end to the situation.
He noted a lot of “spin” surrounding the Hill matter.
Lubnau also pointed out that two-thirds of the 60-member House asked for the special committee inquiry.
Hill had objected to the House Rules Committee handling the investigation on the ground that all 13 members voted for Senate File 104 in the legislative session last winter.
She asked instead for a mix of House members who voted for and against the bill, but that didn't happen.
After the vote, Hill said she wasn't surprised at the council's action and it appeared the Legislature was intent on spending more money.
She also said in a statement issued later that the Legislature fumbled when it allocated $150,000 for the Department of Education probe but failed to require the investigative team to submit conclusions and recommendations.
Senate File 104 is the new law that stripped Hill of her administrative duties in the Department of Education and left her with her constitutional general supervisory authority over the schools.
Hill's legal challenge of the new law is pending before the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The Senate members on the council were careful about getting too involved in the House investigation.
If the investigation ultimately leads to impeachment, it is the Senate that will conduct the trial.
Senate President Tony Ross, R-Cheyenne, said it is important that the Senate remains removed from the process as much as possible.
"This is not about impeachment. This is about a process. At this point we want to be sure the Senate is removed and remains unbiased," he said.
The “unbiased" comment drew snickers from Hill supporters in the audience that filled the hearing room on the third floor of the Capitol Building.
The supporters applauded Hill and the people who spoke on her behalf during the public comment period.
That group including Jennifer Young, the sponsor of the failed petition drive for a 2014 ballot referendum to repeal Senate File 104.
Young this week filed a lawsuit against the Secretary of State's Office to seek more time to gather the petition signatures.
She said Friday that the House Rules Committee investigation is another "fishing expedition."
Anthony Bouchard, a gun rights lobbyist, criticized the new director of the state Department of Education, Rich Crandall, for his voting record on gun rights as a member of the Arizona Legislature.
He also labeled the Hill investigation as a "fiasco."
I.M. Hasenauer, a tea party organizer and Laramie County Commission member, said the decision on Hill should be left to the voters in 2014.
"We would like this committee to leave it up to 'We the People,'" Hasenauer said.
Contact Joan Barron at 307-632-1244 or email@example.com.