CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The Wyoming Legislature had full authority to strip powers and duties from the state school superintendent earlier this year, the state Attorney General's Office said in a brief to the Wyoming Supreme Court.
The brief was submitted this week in response to a legal challenge that Superintendent Cindy Hill initiated in late January, after Gov. Matt Mead signed a law that reduced her powers.
A district judge fast-tracked her legal challenge straight to the high court. Hill argued that the law was unconstitutional.
Lawmakers have said they wanted to take powers away from the Hill amid claims that she had redirected state money to programs not authorized by the Legislature and had hindered legislative education reform efforts.
Hill has defended her administration of the agency and denied obstructing education reform laws.
She maintained that removing her as the head of the Wyoming Education Department and other changes required amending the state Constitution.
The attorney general's brief, however, recounted the evolution of the office of superintendent and pointed out that the Legislature invested the office with an increasing range of responsibilities over the years.
"History makes it clear that at statehood, the superintendent had little authority and this condition persisted for quite a while," the brief states.
It says Hill apparently took the legal position that while past legislatures had authority to expand the duties of the office, the current Legislature has no similar authority to trim back power.
"The Wyoming Constitution does not imbue the office of superintendent with sweeping, inherent authority of the education of Wyoming children," the brief states. "The Constitution explicitly leaves decisions about the superintendent to the Legislature."
Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips declined comment on the brief. Hill said she hadn't yet reviewed the state's brief and had no response to it.
The Supreme Court likely will hear arguments from lawyers on both sides in coming months.
Meanwhile, the Legislature's Management Council, a body of senior lawmakers, was set to meet on July 12 to consider a request from House Speaker Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, to empanel a special committee to investigate Hill's administration of the Education Department.
The move could be a step toward possible impeachment proceedings against Hill, depending on the panel's findings and recommendation.
A report released last month by Mead's office concerning how the agency was run under Hill listed a number of complaints from current and former employees about treatment of department personnel.
Hill has said that a "vast majority" of the issues raised by employees were never brought to her attention.