Cindy Hill, Wyoming's tea party-backed schools chief, threatened people with a knife, made workers cry and ran a hostile workplace, according to a new report released by the governor.
A 185-page report released Tuesday by Gov. Matt Mead (R) claims Hill, a Republican challenging Mead in the 2014 gubernatorial primary, mismanaged the Wyoming Department of Education as its superintendent of public instruction. Hill was removed from heading the department earlier this year. The report alleges she misused the state plane, created a hostile workplace and reduced staffers to tears. One manager said he preferred being in combat to working under Hill, according to the report.
Hill, elected superintendent in 2010 largely on tea party support, was removed as head of the Department of Education by Mead and the Republican-controlled state legislature earlier this year and has been left to mostly ceremonial duties. Hill remains superintendent, a constitutional post, and can only removed from that title via impeachment. A Mead appointee now runs the Education Department. A prior legislative report alleged that Hill failed to implement new state laws, which Hill has denied. Hill has filed a lawsuit to regain her power.
Among the charges in the governor's inquiry team report are that during a Nov. 19, 2012, office birthday party for Hill, the superintendent waved a large knife in the air while cutting her birthday cake, saying, "I will not be bullied." The remark was a reference to the legislature, which was then considering legislation to demote Hill.
Hill said she has not read the report. She denied the allegations in the report and said no workplace complaints have been filed with state human resources officials.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I am uncomfortable with anyone having fun with a knife," Hill told The Huffington Post. "If you know me you know I am uncomfortable with them."
The report also accuses Hill of holding a "brainwashing session" with new employees on the same day as her birthday party. Hill had called the new employees together to discuss the legislative report and told attendees to hold hands and squeeze if they trusted Hill, according to the governor's report. The report described the meeting as "very culty."
Hill said in the report that the hand-holding was meant for team-building and she understands that some people were uncomfortable with the concept. She told the governor's team that she meant for the staff to "feel better about their jobs."
The report alleges Hill and her team created a hostile work environment, terminating those Hill disliked and making employees fear for their safety. In January 2013, just before the Legislature stripped Hill of her duties, employees used code words to prevent being alone and banded together to provide security to "young, cute girls" on the staff. Some employees said they took a baseball bat to the restroom for protection. Others said they used a restroom on another floor. One employee took bear spray to the office for protection, according to the report.
Randall Butt, a grant manager in the department, compared Hill's leadership to his military service.
"Randall stated that he served a couple of tours of duty in a war zone where you're being shot at, you're in combat," the report reads. "He stated that he would have rather been in that environment than where he was in the workplace in the Department of Ed. At least there you knew what your job was, what you needed to do and what to expect. At the Department of Ed, it was the blind leading the blind, you never knew what was going to happen."
The report says Hill would have staffers fly with her on the state plane so she could use funds from their budgets to pay for the trip.
Hill said a state lawyer told her there was "no smoking gun" in the report. She declined to discuss specifics.
“There are many hardworking professionals at the Wyoming Department of Education and I hope that does not get lost," Hill said.