Things were already very bad for Republican tea partier Cindy Hill, Wyoming’s popularly-elected superintendent of public instruction. They just got even worse this week, after state officials released hundreds of previously confidential pages of a highly critical report about her leadership.
The report’s new allegations — not to mention the allegations already published — are bombshells.
No fewer than six Wyoming Department of Education employees complained of stress-related health issues stemming from Hill’s management style, reports the Casper Star-Tribune.
One employee claimed she lost eyelashes as a result of stress during the two years she worked at the department. She said she also experienced stomach problems and insomnia. On a particular day in October 2012, the worker alleged that the stress was so bad she called her doctor because she believed she was suffering a heart attack.
Other employees report trips to the emergency room, substantially increased blood pressure and prescriptions for antidepressants.
Hill told the Star-Tribune that she was not aware of the stress-related problems and did not know why employees felt frazzled.
“There seems to be a subculture within the department that I was unaware of,” she explained.
Hill also allegedly touched two male staffers in awkward ways.
One man said the education boss once gave him an unsolicited back massage “for a long time” during a meeting—so long that attempted to move away. At another, one-on-one meeting, she allegedly rubbed his arm.
At other times, she would clutch this guy’s shoulders and get in his face, according to the Star-Tribune. “Do you support me?” she would ask, “If I ask you to do something, will you do it?”
There were also some very awkward sexual harassment claims against one of Hill’s senior staffers, Kevin Lewis.
Both Hill and Lewis have vehemently denied any offensive or suggestive behavior.
“I’m not someone who goes around giving neck massages and grabs people,” Hill told the Casper broadsheet. “That’s just not me.”
The already-released allegations against Hill are also impressive.
In response to some threat that was never identified in the initial report, employees say they arranged a set of code words to protect themselves. “Young, pretty girls” felt especially threatened, notes the Star-Tribune.
One employee brought a baseball bat to work for use as a safety measure in the women’s bathroom. It was a joke at first, but some women allegedly took it to the bathroom with them for actual self-defense. Another worker brought bear spray to the office.
There was also an unofficial buddy system so that workers could walk in pairs to storage areas, to the basement, and to the parking lot.
On Hill’s birthday, Nov. 19, she allegedly cut a cake with a knife. Then, in response to then-recent, unspecified criticisms of the department, she allegedly waved the knife around and declared that she would not be bullied. Employees say she also said she knew how to respond to bullies because she used to work in a junior high school.
On that same day, Hill and a senior staffer tested an office wall for sound because a newspaper report “had upset Cindy.”
Hill has admitted to the sound check but strongly denied the birthday cake incident. She said she didn’t “know how to respond to that . . . . Holy smokes,” according to the Star-Tribune.
Perhaps the most bizarre incident also occurred on Hill’s very eventful birthday. At a short-notice meeting, a group of newer employers was asked to stand in a circle, hold hands and squeeze.
One person present described the situation as “very culty.”
Some weeks later, Hill asked several employees to attend individual interviews concerning the hand-squeezing incident. A state Department of Family Services employee conducted these interviews, which were supposed to be confidential. The employees lined up in a hallway awaiting their individual interviews.
“It literally looked like people being marched into the gas chamber,” recounted one staffer. That staffer also filed a formal complaint about the interviews, according to the Star-Tribune.
Hill told investigators that she arranged the interviews in an effort to understand how employees were feeling.
“Cindy states team building is important to her and she has expressed that all along,” the investigators wrote.
Hill also allegedly misused federal funds to pay for programs she favored that had been expressly banned by the state legislature. In one particularly egregious case, Hill and her senior staffers allegedly tried to spend $8,000 of a federal literacy program grant on bookmarks.
She is also alleged to have misused state aircraft on a number of occasions— flying, for example, to Jackson with a coterie of employees from various departments only so she could charge their departments’ budgets for the flights.
Hill has denied any misuse.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, also a Republican, called for the 185-page report after state legislators (and Mead) passed a law in January more or less defrocking Hill. The law took away all but a few ceremonial responsibilities of managing The Cowboy State’s department of education.
Hill has held the office of education superintendent since January 2011 and continues to do so. However, a director appointed by Mead now oversees the education department in practice.
Impeachment for Hill is on the table. She also filed a lawsuit in January response to the law that stripped her of all but symbolic power.
The law “constitutes a fundamental change to Wyoming government that is proper only through the process of constitutional amendment,” the brief filed by Hill’s attorney, according to Wyomingnews.com.
In late January, Hill also announced that she plans to challenge Mead in the state’s 2014 Republican gubernatorial primary.
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