CASPER, Wyo. — State lawmakers investigating schools chief Cindy Hill this month quietly dropped a provision in their rules granting Hill time to respond to their final report before it becomes public.
Rep. Rosie Berger, R-Sheridan, who proposed the rule change via email May 23, said Hill was given ample time to comment during three days of in-depth testimony in Cheyenne in January.
“I realized we’re coming onto 10 months of investigating and looking at our findings, and that really the majority of the committee was like, ‘It’s time to get a report out to our fellow members and to the people of Wyoming,’ ” Berger said. “I felt it was necessary that we just draw our conclusions, get our findings out there and really let the report speak for itself.”
The final vote, tallied June 2, was 13-2, Berger said. It removed a 15-day window for Hill and others in the Wyoming Department of Education to review the committee’s draft findings and submit comments.
The committee also deleted the requirement for another meeting before the report becomes public, during which Hill and others were supposed to be allowed to appear before the committee to comment on its findings.
The committee did not announce its rule change other than to upload a revised set of rules to the nonpartisan Wyoming Legislative Service Office website.
Rep. Mark Baker, R-Rock Springs, and Rep. Kathy Davison, R-Kemmerer, voted against the proposal. Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, did not vote. He told the Star-Tribune it was a “silent protest” against what he saw as an unfair rule change late in the game.
“It has become a frustration a bit to me to see things like this happen where, at the last minute, a rule change is proposed that I believe is unnecessary,” Winters said.
Public comment is important, he said. And the committee had rules for a reason: to have a clearly defined process that people understood.
“To make a proposed rule change so close to the end is something that I couldn’t endorse,” he said.
Hill, through her spokesman, declined to comment for this story.
Hill was removed from office by a law in 2013 but was reinstated after the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional in January.
The investigative committee was formed mostly of members of the House Rules Committee to look into allegations of wrongdoing that surfaced in a report commissioned by Republican Gov. Matt Mead.
The report, compiled by Rawlins attorney Catherine MacPherson, contained accounts of possible misuse of the state airplane, improper spending of federal money and employee complaints of a hostile workplace. It made no conclusions or recommendations.
State Speaker of the House Rep. Tom Lubnau, R-Gillette, voted for the rule change. The initial vision of the report changed between the time the committee set its rules and now, during the final stages of preparation, he said.
“We had received lots and lots of input from (Hill),” Lubnau said. “So it seemed like giving an additional 15 days was just a waste of time.”
In another break from its original rules, the committee in January allowed Hill to submit cross-examination questions during witness testimony in Cheyenne.
During Hill’s testimony under oath at the hearings, Hill said she was tired and in a hurry to make it to Newcastle to launch her campaign for governor.
“We were never effectively able to get more information from (Hill) during that testimony,” Berger said.
Berger said committee members will submit written comments on the draft report by the end of this week. Lubnau said the report should be out within the next week or two. Berger said it will be in the next several weeks.
Both said the investigation had taken longer than anticipated and declined to offer details on the nature of the committee’s recommendations.
Winters, Baker and Davison will likely submit a minority report, Winters said.
“What I think the report will do is put in a succinct way the information that is already public based on all the testimony and based on the MacPherson report,” Berger said.