An effort to subpoena Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to testify before legislators regarding a perceived conflict of interest in the leasing of state lands appears to have died Thursday.
The Legislature’s Management Council voted 6-2 not to grant and fund a separate committee’s request for an extra meeting day to hear Hill’s testimony. Without the extra day, the Joint Agriculture State and Public Lands & Water Resources Committee can’t receive testimony sought through a subpoena it voted to issue.
Members of the Agriculture Committee voted Nov. 14 to subpoena Hill and asked the Management Council, which controls such things, to fund an extra meeting. The additional session would have enabled committee members to question Hill, who did not appear voluntarily on Nov. 14 and whose office was said to have advised other state officials also not to attend as invited.
Who said what
Management Council members who opposed an extra meeting were uncertain whether it would result in better policy or legislation. But supporters said committees have a duty to oversee state agencies like the Office of State Lands and Investments, which Hill directed when a controversial leasing decision was made.
After the grazing lease was permitted, Hill became attorney general. In that new post she became responsible for advising the State Board of Land Commissioners when the contested lease came before it for a final resolution.
Agriculture Committee members “were stonewalled,” Rep Chuck Gray (R-Casper) said. “Something is wrong when a committee goes completely through the process, and is not able to get their questions answered due to the refusal of a state official.”
Gray advocated for an extra meeting that would allow the subpoena to take effect. “This is totally within the agency-oversight role,” he said.
But the waning days of the existing Legislature, which will be remade when newly elected members take their seats early next year, don’t provide enough time for meaningful work, Sen. Tara Nethercott (R-Cheyenne) said. She also worried the committee was “posturing” in issuing the subpoena, perhaps indignant Hill didn’t show up as requested.
“The clock has run, unfortunately,” Nethercott said. “My concern … is that this is a very personal issue as opposed to real concern over plans [for] state lands, and it really may become more about the office [of] the attorney general or the specific attorney general.”
Why it matters
The Agriculture Committee has completed work on five bills related to the state land office, grazing leases and other issues that arose out of the controversy. Committee Co-chairman John Eklund (R-Cheyenne) said Hill’s testimony could add to the Legislature’s understanding of the pending measures.
Opponents of the extra meeting day said the controversy over how leases are awarded and whether better guidelines need to be put in place should not be rushed by having a one-day meeting just before new lawmakers are sworn in. The extra meeting would have cost approximately $12,000.
Regardless of what Hill might have said before the Agriculture Committee, it appeared unanimous that the leasing decisions made by the State Board of Land Commissioners would not and could not be reversed.
Agriculture Committee members sought information on how and why a temporary grazing lease was issued to the Wagonhound Ranch, apparently enabling it to bid on and obtain a long-term lease on land grazed for years by John and Gigi Leman of the Leman Ranch. The operations are near Douglas.
Hill made the leasing decision when she was director of the Office of State Lands and Investments, a position she held from 2013-2019. Gov. Mark Gordon appointed her attorney general in 2019.
As attorney general, Hill‘s office advised the State Board of Land Commissioners on the leasing controversy. The land commissioners awarded the lease to Wagonhound, overruling a recommendation that grew out of an administrative hearing held under quasi-judicial rules.