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Watchdog: Accountability

Wyoming schools chief released from subpoena by panel

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Wyoming schools Superintendent Cindy Hill may not testify to a special state House committee looking into whether she committed any impeachable offenses because of a conflict with political event she is scheduled to attend.

It was another twist in a political drama that could result in Wyoming's first impeachment of a statewide elected official.

The Select Investigative Committee had subpoenaed Hill and 15 other witnesses for a three-day hearing that began Monday. Committee counsel had planned to call Hill on Wednesday.

However, Hill said she's scheduled to leave Cheyenne at noon Wednesday for a political event in Newcastle. Hill is running for governor next year and she was invited by a group that wants to hear from gubernatorial candidates.

After some debate, the committee voted to continue its hearing but release Hill from having to testify. The panel can recommend whether Hill should face impeachment by the full House.

Hill, a Republican, blamed a lack of coordination for the scheduling conflict and said she was eager to testify at a later time.

Hill has been present for the hearing, representing herself and submitting questions to witnesses via email.

During Tuesday's hearing, witnesses testified that while the Wyoming Department of Education was under Hill's leadership the agency issued questionable contracts, altered reports to hide information from the Legislature and took money from legitimate programs to pay for one lawmakers had prohibited.

In addition, Sheryl Lain, one of Hill's lieutenants, signed her own daughter to a $17,000 contract to work for the agency, saying she made a "procedural error" in handling the situation. Lain, who testified for about three hours, was questioned extensively about a reading learning program that the department helped implement in a Fremont County school district. Some witnesses have testified it was a misuse of federal money and state employees.

Hill, who has maintained she did nothing wrong, was removed as head of the Education Department last year under a new law enacted by a Republican Legislature and GOP Gov. Matt Mead. Hill is challenging the constitutionality of the law.

The committee vote was 10-4 to release Hill from her subpoena.

"It was a no-win situation that she put us in," said Rep. Ruth Petroff, R-Jackson, and one of the 16 members of the committee. "In that, were we going to have her arrested or were we going to cause her to miss her gubernatorial announcement? So I think in my opinion this was the best of a set of bad options."

But Rep. Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, said she opposed the change because committee members and witnesses rearranged their schedules so they could attend the hearing, which last more than 12 hours Monday and about another 11 hours Tuesday.

"All of us are here for three days. She needs to be here for the three days as well if she takes it seriously as the rest of us," Connolly said.

The scheduling issue also led to a testy exchange between Hill and Rep. Mary Throne, D-Cheyenne.

Throne said some of Hill's questions to witnesses "border on harassing the witnesses or accusing them of having an ax to grind for being here I find offensive."

That brought Hill to her feet.

"I do not appreciate Rep. Throne's comment regarding questions," she said.

She noted that some of her questions are written "on the fly" in response to the testimony that some witnesses had time to prepare in advance after talking to attorneys hired by the committee.

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