- Associated Press - Thursday, July 3, 2014

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - Wyoming Schools Supt. Cindy Hill has fired back at state lawmakers who serve on a committee that released a report this week critical of her management of the education department.

The House of Representatives Select Investigative Committee released a draft report on Tuesday stating it had found instances “of a management style which is best described as odd, erratic and troubling” in looking at Hill’s tenure.

On Wednesday, Hill submitted a complaint to the Wyoming State Bar saying that five lawmakers who also are lawyers who served on the committee violated legal ethical standards in how they ran the panel.

“I think lawyers have a higher standard of conduct when they’re asking (questions) as legislators because they’re affecting people’s rights in everything that they do as legislators,” Hill said Thursday. “So instead of arguing that they’re immune from responsibility, they should be held to the highest standard as legislators.”

In her letter, Hill said that committee members and staff declined her requests to turn over all the records they compiled and refused to allow her to sit in on witness interviews. She said that people who could have provided positive testimony about her management weren’t called to testify.

“We all deserve better than that,” Hill said. “This isn’t about Cindy Hill. This is about holding themselves to the highest standard. People deserve it.”

Hill originally drafted the letter she submitted to the state bar as a June 17 letter to House Speaker Tom Lubnau, a Gillette lawyer who serves on the committee. She said Thursday that she submitted the letter and other materials to the state bar on Wednesday.

Lubnau said Thursday that ethical rules forbid him and other lawyers involved from commenting. Grievance investigations are confidential unless and until they result in public discipline by the Wyoming Supreme Court, he said.

“I can be disciplined for even discussing it with you,” Lubnau said, “which puts me in an interesting conundrum, because I would really like to discuss it.”

In its report, the committee concluded that Hill failed to follow legislative-funding directives and demanded education department staff to demonstrate personal loyalty to her.

Hill, a Republican, is running for governor in next month’s primary election against Gov. Matt Mead and Dr. Taylor Haynes of Cheyenne.

Hill earlier this week said the report was timed to smear her campaign just weeks before the primary. She claimed that Mead has coordinated with lawmakers to discredit her - a charge the governor’s office has dismissed 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.

Several others involved in the committee’s work and Hill’s complaint also said Thursday they had no comment.

Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne, is another lawyer who served on the committee. She declined comment.

Bruce Salzburg, former Wyoming Attorney General, was among the lawyers the Legislature hired to assist the committee. He declined comment.

Bar counsel Mark W. Gifford declined comment. The state bar investigates complaints against judges and lawyers, and its recommendations can lead to public disciplinary action by the state supreme court.

This week’s legislative committee report follows more than two years of conflict and court action that has pitted the Legislature and Mead against Hill. The push in the overwhelmingly Republican Legislature to remove Hill followed criticism by many lawmakers that she had failed to follow legislative directives to improve education accountability.

Wyoming is among top states in terms of per-capita student spending, but it has continued to see lagging student test scores and high drop-out rates.

Tuesday’s report concluded that Hill continued to spend money on a professional development program her administration had developed called “teacher-to-teacher” even after the Legislature stripped funding from the state budget.

The report also stated that Hill and her leadership team made a practice of overriding objections of the education department’s financial division to approve plum professional services contracts.

The report said that Hill demanded personal loyalty from staff workers at the Education Department. It stated 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.

Despite the findings, several senior lawmakers have said they don’t believe the report will lead to any attempt to impeach Hill with so little time left in her term, which expires at the end of the year.



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