Wyoming House speaker seeks probe of Cindy Hill's education department

2013-06-24T23:45:00Z 2013-07-17T07:30:06Z Wyoming House speaker seeks probe of Cindy Hill's education departmentBy KYLE ROERINK Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
June 24, 2013 11:45 pm  • 

Wyoming Speaker of the House Tom Lubnau wants a special legislative committee to investigate accusations that Cindy Hill mismanaged the state Department of Education’s funds and staff.

In an email sent to all House lawmakers on Monday morning, Lubnau said a committee would be a “prudent, measured and careful course of action” to determine the fate of Hill, the state's elected superintendent of public instruction.

A report compiled by an independent task force assembled by Gov. Matt Mead and issued last week highlighted interviews with department staffers who accused Hill of misusing federal special education funds, abusing her privileges to use the state airplane and harassing co-workers while serving as head of the education department.

The legislative investigation would be a possible first step toward impeaching Hill.

“The report, as is exists, is a summary of a series of interviews without conclusions,” Lubnau wrote in his email. “On an issue this important, I believe the people of the State of Wyoming are entitled to conclusions, after an airing of the evidence.”

The committee process could allow lawmakers to call upon interviewees to testify, according to the email. The committee could also subpoena for an additional 5,800 pages of documents that have been classified by investigators as “confidential.”

Lubnau told lawmakers in the email that there were three options in dealing with the matter: Do nothing, empanel a committee or call a special session of the Legislature.

While Lubnau and other House leaders are pushing for the second option, many want the first.

“I’ve received a smattering of emails going both ways,” Lubnau told the Star-Tribune on Monday.

Lubnau planned to announce a decision on Wednesday for the next course of action and said he expected to receive opinions on the matter until the deadline.

Speaker Pro Tempore Rosie Berger, R-Sheridan, said that opinions were consistent with the way the the House voted on Senate File 104 in January, the legislation that stripped Hill of most of her powers as superintendent.

The House passed the law by a vote of 39-20 with one member excused.

Lubnau said some lawmakers responded to his email with a fourth option for dealing with Hill.

A group of legislators think federal and state courts should be the ones investigating the allegations that Hill misused more than $40,000 in federal funds.

The court system is best suited for determining guilt or innocence of a crime, said Rep. Keith Gingery, R-Jackson, in an email.

“I would suggest that the matter to be referred to either a state or federal prosecutor for review and possible prosecution,” Gingery wrote.

Both Scott Homar, Laramie County district attorney, and Christopher "Kip" Crofts, U.S. attorney for Wyoming, "are capable of reviewing the allegations and determining whether a crime has been committed, and bringing the appropriate action in a court of law," he wrote.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General is currently reviewing the allegations that Hill misused federal dollars, according to a spokesman for the department.

Meanwhile, the House would be responsible for establishing the guidelines for the committee. Prior to an investigation, the House would need to decide who could testify, how to vote and other rules to help provide an impartial trial, Rep. Tom Reeder, R-Casper, said in an interview with the Star-Tribune.

The investigation won’t only cost more time, it will cost more money, Reeder said. He wasn't the only legislator with such concerns.

“I am opposed to empaneling a special committee to investigate, not because I don’t think we could be fair and impartial, but because we will have to spend a considerable amount of time determining the parameters and procedures for such a committee to operate,” Gingery wrote in an email.

The inquiry team assembled by the governor cost taxpayers $100,000 and came out of state Attorney General Greg Phillips' current budget, said Renny MacKay, spokesperson for Mead.

The Legislature commissioned the investigation after it passed SF104.

“What does the state gain by doing this?" Reeder said of the possible legislative special committee. “Are we going to spend more money?”

Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, said he was in favor of assembling a special committee but understood the public debate over how far to pursue the Hill issues.

“We did this to find out what the truth is and what the department did from a management point and a fiscal point,” Madden said. “If I were a member of the public, I would wonder why we did all this.”

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