Hill investigation an unusual process

Beginning in 2011, allegations and activities that focused on the State Superintendent of Education, Cindy Hill, were brought to the governor’s office.

Further allegations of misuse of state/federal funds, coupled with reported personnel relations that were supported by the inordinate high loss of former staff (more than 40 percent) caused the governor’s office to feel something must be done.

An independent examination and report was considered and then authorized. It was titled the “Governor’s Inquiry Team,” sometimes referred to as the “McPherson Report.” This effort was commissioned in February 2013.

The completed report was submitted to the governor in June 2013. The governor’s office shared the report with the legislature’s leadership as the state Constitution leaves the administration no corrective authority. The report did not contain conclusions but did put concerns and observations in a documented form. Although none of the named interviewees were under oath, named, signed and dated documents were included.

The management council (comprised of Democratic and Republican House and Senate elected leaders) reviewed and discussed and then voted to fund and implement action pursuant to the State Constitution, Art 3, Sec.17, an investigation and recommendation regarding the full House of Representatives’ findings and further action proposed. The House Rules Committee was selected with new members appointed who had voted against specific education measures. Their actions were to bring a voice of balance to the research observations and deliberations.

Thus the enlarged Rules Committee was charged to be “The House Investigative Committee,” chaired by the Speaker of the House. The total membership of 17 is divided into four separate subcommittees assigned different areas of responsibility. Each subcommittee had a chairperson who, after considering the pertinent documents of the Governor’s Inquiry Team report, may submit a list of names that the Committee would call by subpoena, and put them under oath, to substantiate their previous statements and answer other questions the whole committee members may wish to ask.

The four subcommittees suggested 15 names in addition to the state superintendent and a hearing was called by the Investigative Committee for Dec. 6 and 7, in Cheyenne. This date was not workable for the superintendent so the dates of Jan.6, 7 and 8 were re-scheduled for Cheyenne.

The House Investigative Committee agreed, although this step was not constitutionally required, to allow the elected officer to be involved, to attend these open public meetings if she wished, and needed to submit written questions. The questions would be read to those testifying while under oath before the entire House Committee. This courtesy was extensively used.

The hearings began at 8 a.m. as scheduled, and then ran for 12 hours on Monday and over 12 hours on Tuesday. Two witnesses testified on Wednesday morning and the afternoon from 1:30 p.m. was devoted to testimony from the state superintendent, the hearing was then closed. A law firm was hired to conduct the hearing. This was done to remove as much personal politics as possible and retain all the desired decorum for the procedure we could. All representatives were free to ask questions as the witnesses concluded the questions of the legal counsel and there were several who did so. We also had professional reporters take down the proceedings and a transcript is now available.

Two steps in the process remain: One, the Supreme Court’s decision on the legal status of Senate File 104, which would not necessarily stop the process, yet remains a legislative concern; and two, is the financial audit that is felt to be a major concern on the Fremont School District 38 findings regarding proper use of and handling of state and federal funds. This audit is important to the subcommittee that I serve on, meaning we are not comfortable proceeding on assumptions if the resulting audit should prove not to support the subcommittee recommendation. The audit is not yet available and out of our control.

Once the audit is received, we still have much to do. The Investigating Committee must report its findings and recommendation to the full House of Representatives. Then the House must vote to recommend consideration by the Senate if the decision is to move forward. It is now only days before the end of January then just days to the constitutionally required budget session.

I don’t feel it is supportable to interrupt the budget session with this matter. We simply have too much to do. So the continued consideration by the Legislature of the “Governors Inquiry Report” by a constitutionally prescribed investigation process of the state superintendent may end incomplete or postponed to a date following the budget session.

The attempt to follow the constitutional spirit to be fair, reasonable, open and thorough has been met with public criticism, and delays ascribed to personalities. However, this unusual process remains the most important means and hopefully infrequently used procedure to protect and serve our great state’s people and preserve this form of government.

Art. #3, Sec 17.Power of impeachment: proceedings. The sole power of impeachment shall vest in the house of representatives; the concurrence of a majority of all the members being necessary to the exercise thereof. Impeachment shall be tried by the senate sitting for that purpose, and the senators shall be upon oath or affirmation to do justice according to law and evidence. When the governor is on trial, the chief justice of the supreme court shall preside. No person shall be convicted without a concurrence of two-thirds of the senate elected.

Rep. John W. Patton, R-Sheridan, served in the Wyoming Senate from 1967-1971 and has served in the House since 2009.

 


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