Failed Wyoming schools chief petition prompts lawsuit

2013-07-12T00:00:00Z 2013-08-07T08:32:14Z Failed Wyoming schools chief petition prompts lawsuitBy JOSHUA WOLFSON Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
July 12, 2013 12:00 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — The organizer of a failed petition drive to restore power to the Wyoming schools superintendent has filed a lawsuit seeking another opportunity to collect signatures.

The suit claims the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office took two weeks to provide volunteers with petition forms, costing them about 16 percent of the 90-day signature-gathering period. By failing to expedite the process, the office violated the rights of petition supporters, said the drive’s main sponsor, Jennifer Young.

“They are directly responsible for the red tape inhibiting the process,” she said.

Young filed the suit June 28 in Laramie County District Court. She wants a judge to grant another 90-day period to gather signatures for a 2014 referendum. Wyoming Secretary of State Max Maxfield is named as the lone defendant.

Reached Thursday, Wyoming Elections Director Peggy Nighswonger said she could not comment on the lawsuit. The Attorney General’s office is representing Maxfield, she said.

Young and a group of volunteers collected nearly 22,000 signatures in an effort to force a referendum on the law that transferred authority of the Wyoming Department of Education from an elected superintendent to a director appointed by the governor. State legislators passed the law in January.

The petition drive fell short by more than 15,000 names, or about 40 percent of the required signatures.

Cindy Hill, the current superintendent, helped deliver petitions to the elections office before the May 28 deadline. Hill is not involved in the lawsuit, Young said.

On March 7, Young received approval to gather signatures for a referendum. The same day, she selected a vendor to print the petitions from a list of three businesses approved by the Secretary of State’s Office.

The petitions weren’t ready until March 21, the lawsuit states. Young is convinced the volunteers would have gathered enough names had the Secretary of State’s Office acted sooner to provide them with forms.

“That time would have been critical in ensuring our success,” she said.

Young said all three vendors informed her it would take two weeks to prepare the petition forms. She later spoke with another printer who said the job shouldn’t have taken that long to complete.

Printing the petitions could have been done in hours, rather than days, Young said. She believes the Secretary of State’s Office should have either pressured its vendors to complete the job or found companies that would work faster.

She maintains the delay violated the First Amendment right to petition the government., a website that’s attacked the credibility of an independent investigation into Hill’s leadership, announced Young’s lawsuit in an email sent Thursday to journalists.

Hill has filed her own lawsuit challenging the law that removed most of her power. She alleges the law violates the state constitution. The case is now before the Wyoming Supreme Court.

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