House Speaker won't say yet if Hill probe will continue

Jan 13, 2014 By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

One of the 16 witnesses who testified before a legislative committee looking into whether state schools Superintendent Cindy Hill committed any impeachable offenses closed out her testimony with a plea.

"I believe that my participation is a means to an end, and I do hope for the state of Wyoming and the Department of Education that there is an end," said Teri Wigert, a Wyoming Department of Education division administrator.

After the Legislature's Select Investigative Committee completed three days of lengthy hearings on Wednesday, there was still no clear end in sight to its investigation of Hill.

The committee was formed to investigate a number of issues and allegations that arose from Hill's administration of the state Education Department in 2011 and 2012.

Last year, the GOP-controlled Legislature and Republican Gov. Matt Mead enacted a law that removed Hill as head of the agency. She remains one of five statewide elected officials but has fewer duties and responsibilities.

Witnesses testified about possible misuse of federal funds, nepotism, efforts to circumvent legislative directives, and questionable personnel and management practices.

But Hill scored points of her own in revealing that witnesses called by the committee to criticize here had been shown their questions in advance and been given the chance to rehearse their responses.

Two accountants who worked under Hill testified that they were ordered to remove from a report to lawmakers specific references to a program Hill had created and that the Legislature had decided should be defunded. Testimony indicated that money was taken from other agency programs to continue the defunded program.

Trent Carroll, one of the accountants who testified, said it was the first time he was ever put in the position of "acting as a filter or disguising information in any way."

Hill testified that the intent of changing the report's language was to clarify the report rather than mislead the Legislature.

Hill, who is running for governor as a Republican this year, has maintained that she has not broken any laws, violated any policies or misused any funds. She says the investigation is a waste of time and money.

Still, after testifying for about three hours on Wednesday, Hill submitted a list of 38 witnesses she wants the committee to call.

House Speaker Tom Lubnau, who chairs the committee, said he will review the list and work with the committee on how to proceed.

Lubnau said he wants the committee's work to be completed by the time the Legislature convenes on Feb. 10. The panel is to issue a final report that can recommend whether the full House should consider impeachment of Hill.

No statewide elected official has ever been impeached in Wyoming.

Committee members were cautious when asked whether this week's hearing uncovered any impeachable offenses.

"At least my initial thought is I see some really, really bad things that happened," Lubnau, R-Gillette, said. "I'm going to have to think real long and hard about whether they rise to the level of any further action in regard to Superintendent Hill's office."

Lubnau also said the investigation has debunked some accusations and found others to be rather minor.

House Minority Leader Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, said it would be inappropriate to talk about impeachment before she and other committee members could review the transcript of the hearing.

Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, said there was a lot of testimony based on hearsay and speculation.

"I want us to pay careful attention to allegations that we can act on and such, but I did notice a lot of speculation and hearsay sort of things," Winters said.

Winters did express concern about the testimony that Education Department accounting staff were told to alter a report in a way that appeared to hide information from legislators.

Other testimony during the hearing found that one of Hill's top officers signed a $17,000 contract hiring her own daughter. Witnesses also described misuse of federal money and state employees to support a reading improvement initiative in a Fremont County school district.

Rep. Tim Stubson, R-Casper, said he didn't think Hill adequately addressed some of the concerns and accusations during her testimony.

"Possibly my biggest concern is the fact that she was so evasive when we were trying to get answers to many of the questions," Stubson said.

"So that's why I think we need to go back and digest it a little bit over what we've heard the last three days."

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