CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming legislators might soon create a special legislative committee to investigate allegations against Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill that were revealed in a state report released Tuesday. The move would be a first step toward possible impeachment, leaked emails show.
House leadership would select a committee to dig deep into a report issued by Gov. Matt Mead’s inquiry team and 5,800 documents collected during the investigation, the emails indicate. Based on the special committee's recommendation, legislative leaders could choose to open a special session of the Legislature to consider impeaching Hill.
The series of recent emails obtained by the Star-Tribune reveal talks between Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette; House Majority Floor Leader Kermit Brown, R-Laramie; and Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson. All members of the Legislature were carbon-copied in the correspondence.
Gingery started the email conversation with House leaders after his constituents began to question him Wednesday about the Legislature’s next step in dealing with the report’s accusations that the Wyoming Department of Education misused federal funds under Hill’s leadership.
The report, which lays out facts and interviews but doesn't draw conclusions, indicates Hill and some of her employees may have misused public funds, engaged in nepotism, improperly funded flights aboard a state aircraft and created a hostile workplace.
In the wake of the release of the report Tuesday, lawmakers have been tight-lipped about what will come next for Hill, saying that they need time to digest the report before any further action is taken.
Lubnau told the Star-Tribune he's asked legislators to thoroughly review the report. On the day of the report's release, he said: "Any talk about the impeachment process before we digest the report is premature, but it’s not something that I would rule out." But the emails signal the Legislature is poised to take action.
The House initiates impeachment proceedings by taking a vote on the matter. If a majority of House members vote for impeachment, the Senate would conduct an impeachment trial. After the trial, a two-thirds Senate vote is necessary to complete the impeachment.
In an email, Gingery asked Lubnau when and how lawmakers should submit their opinions on whether to take action against Hill, who was stripped of her power via the Legislature's Senate File 104, later signed into law by Mead. Gingery also asked for the parameters and precedents for impeachment in the state of Wyoming.
In the emails, Lubnau said he wanted House lawmakers to contact him to say whether they would be comfortable having a leadership-appointed investigative committee dig deeper into the accusations that came to light this week.
On Thursday, Lubnau said if a significant number of lawmakers contact him in an effort to have the Legislature's Management Council appoint a committee, he “will do it.” The Management Council consists of leaders from both the House and Senate.
Lubnau said he expects to know what the House will do by next week.
“We can’t rush into this with a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “We got to weigh a lot of things.”
Emails show lawmakers are split into two groups on the issue. Some are asking whether it’s worthwhile to take action against Hill.
“I think for the good of the state we need to move on,” Gingery said in the emails. "If crimes have been committed let a federal or state prosecutor make that decision and bring the action in a court of law.”
In the emails, Gingery said he's opposed to a special committee.
In one email Brown sent for all House lawmakers to see, the Laramie Republican wrote:
“Keith, Respectfully: you need to stop trying to drive the agenda and let leadership act on this matter.”
Gingery apologized in a following email, saying he was “reaching out to leadership for guidance.”
“When everyone says ‘review the report and see what you think,’ what do I compare it to? What are my parameters?” Gingery said Thursday.
He asked Lubnau about the process and standards that the Legislature would need to follow in order to impeach Hill.
In the emails, Lubnau said he researched a significant amount of information on impeachment standards and asked the Legislative Service Office staff to assist him.
"Neither the federal nor the state constitution gives a list or precise description of what offenses are impeachable," he wrote. "The Wyoming constitutional language varies from the federal Constitution, and there is not case law directly construing the Wyoming impeachment provisions.”
The federal Constitution states that impeachment is admissible when there are “high crimes and misdemeanors” in office. The Wyoming Constitution adds “and malfeasance in office.”
Lubnau’s emails then list three state statutes and a number of federal and state precedents. In Wyoming, Lubnau wrote, willful disregard of the law or serious breaches of public trust can also serve as grounds for impeachment.
Lubnau said the report issued on Tuesday only makes allegations.
“People are entitled to conclusions,” he said. “I don’t want to impose my will on the legislative body. I need the consensus of other legislators.”
In the emails he said he would prefer, if the Legislature chooses, to let a “well-educated and briefed special investigative committee ... make that determination rather than base the proceedings on assumptions and conjecture.”
Talks of impeachment are premature, he wrote. “The next step is to determine if we would like to empanel a special investigative committee.”
Members of the leadership in the House are not taking a hardline stance on the issue but are weighing in with their own opinions.
House Minority Floor Leader Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said the allegations from the report are substantial and deserve further investigation.
"If a committee from the House is warranted, I will support it," she said.
The House Minority Caucus Chairwoman, Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said she wasn't privy to what all House members were thinking about the decision.
"My own sense is that what we have is a 100-plus page report that outlines some very damaging evidence, but there was no discussion if anything violated our standards of our law," she said. "We owe it to our constituents to address those different questions. Therefore we should do that hard work."
House Majority Whip Tim Stubson, R-Casper, said a lot of people are still coming to grips with the report. Many are still discussing it, he said.
"Others are decided," he said.
Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, said he wasn't impressed with Lubnau's interpretation of impeachment and the other correspondence in the emails. He said prior emails from Throne, Stubson and Lubnau had briefings that were similar to those in the report.
"I am not sure there is enough substance to warrant another group to go through the study," he said. "It's political. I don't think it's worth it."
The Legislature has done all it can to Hill, he said.
"We've taken away her power, staff and money," he said. "Will it be in the benefit of the state to continue with the proceedings?"