House committee gathers testimony for Cindy Hill investigation

Several members of Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill’s leadership team. From left, Kevin Lewis, John Masters, Cindy Hill, Christine Steele, Sam Shumway and Sheryl Lain. The legislature in 2013 transferred administration of the Department of Education from the elected superintendent to an appointed director. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
Several members of Wyoming Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill’s leadership team. From left, Kevin Lewis, John Masters, Cindy Hill, Christine Steele, Sam Shumway and Sheryl Lain. The legislature in 2013 transferred administration of the Department of Education from the elected superintendent to an appointed director. (Gregory Nickerson/WyoFile — click to enlarge)
By Gregory Nickerson
— January 6, 2014 

A Wyoming House of Representatives committee is conducting three days of hearings in Cheyenne this week to learn more about some of the key allegations against Cindy Hill, the Superintendent of Public Instruction who the legislature removed from direct management of the State Department of Education last January.

The purpose of the hearings is to gather sworn testimony about potential misconduct and mismanagement of funds under Hill’s leadership. This information could be used if the House decides to pursue impeachment proceedings.

Last spring, Gov. Matt Mead solicited a report detailing how the Department of Education was run under Hill. This report, written by Rawlins attorney Cathy MacPherson and supported by a state appropriation of $150,000, summarized accounts of events from Department of Education employees who volunteered to participate in the investigation. The report was not charged to draw a conclusion about whether or not Hill’s staff participated in illegal activities.

Also in the spring, 43 of the 60 House members voted to form a select investigative committee to look further into the issues described in the MacPherson report.

House Speaker Rep. Thomas E. Lubnau (R-Gillette)

The last legacy I wanted to leave as a leader was running an investigation of an elected official,” House Speaker Rep. Tom Lubnau (R-Gillette) told WyoFile, “but sometimes the burdens of leadership (require you to do things) you don’t want to do but you feel obligated to do by virtue of your position.”

Following a series of meetings over the summer, the committee focused its investigation on allegations of possible misuse of state funds and a variety of personnel issues at the Department of Education. Specifically, the committee cited potential problems with the use of funds for a reading tutor program in Fremont County School District 38, along with potential misuse of funds for the state plane. Other complaints included improper hiring processes that favored Shannon Anderson, the daughter of one of Hill’s key advisors, Sheryl Lain.

In a letter dated October 22, Superintendent Hill wrote to Speaker Lubnau that the MacPherson report could not be considered “testimony” because it represented only summaries of interviews, not a verbatim transcript. “To that end, I recommend that each person who spoke with Ms. MacPherson be given the opportunity under oath to affirm, modify, or retract the unsworn statements being attributed to them,” Hill wrote. “Only then can your committees proceed with the level of clarity and integrity that this process demands.”

In a November 18 meeting the committee listed the key issues of interest and moved to seek sworn testimony from witnesses under oath that would verify claims made in the MacPherson report.

Subsequently, Hill sent an open letter to legislators on December 16, expressing concern that the committee had not formally identified the issues under investigation. While the committee discussed those issues in its public November 18 meeting, Hill requested that Lubnau provide a written notice of the issues and evidence of wrongdoing.

“I have repeatedly asked to be advised of what the ‘issues’ are and to be allowed to review any supporting documentation. As of the writing of this letter, I have not been provided either,” Hill wrote to legislators. “I am confident that if I am made aware of the issues, my staff and I would quickly and efficiently resolve any concerns.”

The committee rejected an open records request from Hill in a November 21 letter from special counsel Bruce Salzburg, former Wyoming Attorney General from 2007 to 2011. Salzburg advised Hill that open investigations and communications between legislators are not subject to Wyoming’s public records law. The legislature had previously authorized spending up to $100,000 to retain Salzburg and his assistants as special counsel to the investigative committee.

The investigative committee hearings from January 6 to 8 will be streamed online for the public. The rules for the hearing and the names of witnesses and potential topics of questioning are listed in the agenda, which can be found here.

“These people aren’t politicians and they don’t have political agendas, and I think it is important that all of us pay attention to what they have to say about operations at the Department of Education,” Rep. Lubnau told WyoFile.

Superintendent Hill will be among the witnesses questioned. “I have nothing to hide, and I think you and I can agree that this process needs to be brought to a completion,” Hill wrote to legislators last month.

For more on Cindy Hill and the Department of Education, read these WyoFile articles:

Supt. Hill testifies against bill to appoint director of Education Department, by Gregory Nickerson, January 11, 2013
Director of Education bill passes Senate, opponents doubt constitutionality, by Gregory Nickerson, January 16, 2013
Wyoming lawmakers revisit accountability after Cindy Hill clash, by Gregory Nickerson, February 26, 2013
Jackson Junket: Did Cindy Hill misuse the state plane?, by Gregory Nickerson, June 16, 2013
Lawmakers in the classroom: The battle for Wyoming’s schools, by Geoff O’Gara, November 27, 2012
 

Agenda for hearings

Correspondence regarding Select Investigative Committee

— Gregory Nickerson is the government and policy reporter for WyoFile. He writes the Capitol Beat blog. Contact him at greg@wyofile.com. Follow him on twitter @GregNickersonWY
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Gregory Nickerson

Gregory Nickerson worked as government and policy reporter for WyoFile from 2012-2015. He studied history at the University of Wyoming. Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregNickersonWY and on www.facebook.com/GregoryNickersonWriter/

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