- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 1, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - A special legislative committee investigating Wyoming schools Superintendent Cindy Hill released a scathing report Tuesday concluding she failed to follow legislative funding directives and demanded rank-and-file education department staff to demonstrate personal loyalty to her.

Hill has 15 days to respond before the committee will issue its final report, probably before the end of the month.

It’s possible the report could be fodder for a legislative impeachment effort. However, Senate President Tony Ross said Tuesday he doesn’t expect to see adequate support for impeachment.

Hill, a Republican who’s running for governor against incumbent Gov. Matt Mead and Taylor Haynes of Cheyenne, decried the findings as a political effort to discredit her. She said she believes the Legislature is using taxpayer money as part of a coordinated effort with Mead to smear her less than two months before the Republican primary election.

“I’ve followed every law,” Hill told The Associated Press on Tuesday. “I followed every policy, and I’ve not misused any funding.”

Hill characterized the report by the House of Representatives Select Investigative Committee as “the same old, same old.” She said it was inappropriate of lawmakers to release the draft report before receiving her response.

Mead spokesman Renny MacKay on Tuesday characterized Hill’s claims that the governor was working with lawmakers to discredit her as ridiculous.

The Legislature passed and Mead signed into law last year a law that removed Hill as head of the state Education Department. She was reinstated after the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional in January.

The push by senior Republican legislators to get Hill out of office followed criticism by many lawmakers that she had failed to follow legislative directives to improve accountability in the state’s K-12 education system. Although Wyoming is among top states in terms of per-capita student funding, lawmakers have been frustrated by lagging student test scores and high drop-out rates.

The report released Tuesday notes that the Legislature had explicitly barred Hill from continuing to spend money on a professional development program her administration had developed called “teacher-to-teacher.” It states Hill continued the program under a new name and later tried to hide the continuing funding and apparently tried to mislead the Legislature by expunging mention of it in financial reports.

The report also states that Hill and her leadership team made a practice of overriding objections of the education department’s financial division.

Among several examples, the report states that the department made over $40,000 in overtime payments to Paul Williams, who was retained to oversee the statewide assessment system, before his employment contract was amended to permit overtime pay.

“Superintendent Hill and her leadership team were well aware that these additional payments for services previously rendered constituted a violation of state and federal law and could result in corrective action on the part of the U.S. Department of Education against the Wyoming Department of Education,” the report states.

The report alleges that Hill demanded personal loyalty from staff workers at the Education Department. It states that she unilaterally reclassified employees so they could be fired at will and videotaped some of them at meetings to see if their personal attitudes toward her could be discerned from their body language.

The report states that during investigations into Hill’s administration, “many more allegations and instances of a management style which is best described as odd, erratic and troubling have come to light.”

The report notes that Wyoming law prohibits public officials from demanding political loyalty from civil servant employees. It notes that a public official could be removed from office for using public funds, time, or personnel for their private benefit.

Ross said he doesn’t believe the Legislature will act to impeach Hill because it’s so late in the year and close to the election. However, he said any individual member of the Wyoming House could push to consider impeachment.

Ross said he has tried to keep himself separate from the House investigation to remain unbiased. However, he said he finds the report’s findings troubling.

“It confirms what many of us suspected was going on,” Ross said.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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