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Hill sues state demanding faster production of requested records

Nov 20, 2013 - By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer

One topic involves items related to Fremont County School District 38 at Arapahoe.

Wyoming's superintendent of public instruction has filed a lawsuit against the state, asking for a more timely response to a records request she made in July.

"This is a follow-up," Hill attorney Bruce Moats said Tuesday. "We're asking the court to say this is taking too long and that it needed to be done sooner."

In August, Mead's office agreed to produce Hill's requested records "in increments" every seven to 10 days. The governor did not specify how many records would be released each week, however, and he did not give a target date for completion of the request, according to the lawsuit.

"We've been getting (documents) from the governor's office once a week -- well, about once a week," Moats said. "But we don't know how long it'll take to do the entire set, (or) what they've got left."

He said Hill wants the documents so she can be more informed about a legislative committee investigation into alleged misappropriations of funds and resources while she was head of the Wyoming Department of Education.

Depending on its findings, the committee's work could lead to impeachment proceedings against Hill, according to The Associated Press.

Hill was stripped of her authority over the WDE this year through Senate File 104.

Request

Hill's initial records request was for e-mails and electronic correspondence for several state employees, including Mead's chief of staff, Kari Jo Gray, former deputy superintendent of public instruction Joe Simpson and education policy adviser Mary Kay Hill.

Cindy Hill later narrowed her request to e-mails involving certain terms, such as "Cindy Hill," "Dept of Ed," "Senate File 104," "inquiry team" and "investigation."

The phrase "Fremont 38," likely referring to Fremont County School District 38 in Arapahoe, also was included in the list of terms.

Hill also sent a records request to the Wyoming Department of Education in July, asking for e-mails and written correspondence for outgoing interim WDE director James Rose, WDE federal

program division administrator David Holbrook and WDE director for career and vocational education Teri Wigert.

Specific phrases of interest at that time included "departure," "resignation," "transfer," "senator," "representative" and "Wyoming Reads."

She also wanted all contracts, contract extensions and other agreements relating to the provision of goods and services entered into by or on behalf of the WDE for the past five years. But her lawsuit states that, "to date the (WDE) has only provided some department contracts."

In the lawsuit, Hill says she has sent seven letters reminding Mead about the records, and she has offered to meet with the governor to resolve issues related to the request.

"The governor declined to meet with her for this purpose," the lawsuit states. "Since her requests and reminders have proved fruitless, she brings this suit to compel production."

Withheld or redacted

On Aug. 12, the governor's office sent the superintendent a "privilege log," or a list of withheld or redacted documents. Hill said Mead has failed to provide good cause as to why public access to the requested information is not immediately available.

For example, the lawsuit says the state invoked legislative privilege over some of the records involving Mary Kay Hill, who is not a member of the Legislature and is not employed by the Legislature.

"Working in the governor's office ... does not make Mary Kay Hill a member of the Legislature or provide immunity from the disclosure of records," the lawsuit states. "This court should compel production of such records."

Other documents have been withheld on the basis of the "deliberative process privilege," which protects candid discussions to ensure quality decision-making. In the lawsuit, Hill said Wyoming does not recognize the privilege.

She requested an order directing Mead to "immediately" compel production of all records requested, and to give valid reasons for withholding other documents. She also asked for an order stating Wyoming has failed to comply with the Public Records Act.

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