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Legislature to proceed on new Hill probe; she vows to 'go the distance'
Jul 15, 2013 - Staff and wire reports
The Wyoming House of Representatives will begin an unprecedented investigation of schools Superintendent Cindy Hill's administration of the state Education Department.
The Legislature's Management Council voted unanimously on Friday to allow House Speaker Tom Lubnau to empanel a special investigative committee, which could recommend impeachment proceedings against Hill, depending on its findings.
The Management Council oversees legislative matters when lawmakers are not in session. Its 13 members include the top leaders in both chambers.
Lubnau, R-Gillette, said he doesn't have a timetable for forming the committee.
Hill said she will cooperate, but also indicated she will not back down.
"I'm going to go the distance," she vowed outside the committee room after the vote.
Lubnau and other lawmakers stressed that the special committee is not part of any impeachment process, but they acknowledged it could lead to the House holding impeachment proceedings.
Lubnau, who is vice chairman of the Management Council, made the request for a special committee after an inquiry commonly called the MacPherson report indicated possible misuse of federal funding while Hill ran the state Education Department.
The report lacked specifics and has been criticized for some bizarre content including a report of a birthday party in which some staffers claimed Hill made them feel "uncomfortable" while she was cutting her birthday cake.
The inquiry made no conclusions or recommendations and issued a confidential report that has not been shared with lawmakers.
Lubnau said the main purpose of the special committee would be to determine whether anything improper occurred under Hill's administration of the department, which oversees a budget of about $1 billion a year and 150 staff.
Hill has denied any wrongdoing and says she is a victim of a political witch hunt.
"I've not violated any law. I've not violated any policy. And I've not misused any funds," she said Friday.
If the special committee finds evidence of impeachable offenses, the entire House would call itself into special session and begin impeachment proceedings against Hill.
Under the Wyoming Constitution, the House is responsible for impeaching any elected official, while the state Senate conducts a trial if the House approves impeachment.
Hill, a Republican who has announced that she will run for governor in 2014, was elected superintendent in 2010 and took office in January 2011.
This past winter, the GOP-controlled Legislature and Gov. Matt Mead, also a Republican, enacted a law that removed her as head of the Education Department and replaced her with a director appointed by the governor.
While Lubnau was given discretion by the Management Council to appoint the investigative committee, he has said previously that he favors assigning the task to the House Rules and Procedures Committee, which is made up of 13 House members, including most of the majority and minority leadership.
All 13 members of the committee voted for SF104, the bill that stripped Hill's powers, a point Hill has criticized.
The superintendent remains a statewide elected official with reduced powers and duties. Hill is challenging the law in a lawsuit.
During Friday's meeting, the Management Council heard testimony from Hill and three others that the investigation was a waste of time and money.
Hill also voiced concern for her due-process rights and listed a litany of legal demands, including legal representation being provided to her by the state attorney general's office.
Afterward, Hill blasted the investigation.
"Today we witnessed further fumbling by the legislature. Last February by an obscure budget footnote the legislature spent $150,000 for this incomplete investigative process, but it did not instruct the 'investigative team' to come to any conclusions. Now, five months later, we find that the MacPherson report has left most of the legislators with very little guidance of the impact of the many questionable assertions contained within the report. Had Mrs. MacPherson been allowed to draw conclusions, we wouldn't be here today."
She said the lawmakers are wasting money trying to prove something that has been disproved several times over.
"The Legislature now has created and funded yet another committee at taxpayer expense to continue this misguided political attack," she said. "Moreover, the budget for the process wasn't even established. Instead they spent more time assuring themselves that the committee members will be paid for their time. The committee will hire attorneys and consultants for itself. When will this process come to an end? "
Hill has said she is the victim of a political "witch hunt" and said she was not being given a fair chance to answer the criticism, while the legislators are armed with state funding and attorneys paid by the state.
"I look forward to a time when I also have attorneys and resources available to me and when my attorneys get to examine the evidence and cross-examine witnesses so that we might all get to the bottom of this sham."
Lubnau said Hill was confusing the legislative process with the legal process.
"This isn't a judicial process, this is a political process," he said, adding that Hill will be able to testify and present documents to the panel.