A law firm will investigate the two complaints filed against Wilson County School board member Wayne McNeese and provide the board’s three-member ethics committee with its findings and recommendations.
That decision was made during a brief meeting of the committee, which is composed of board members Linda Armistead, Kimberly McGee and Bill Robinson, Thursday night.
Armistead, who chairs the committee, outlined two options. The first option was to have the Memphis law firm Jackson Shields Yeiser and Holt, already retained by the board because of regular board attorney Mike Jenning’s recusal, conduct the investigation.
The other option would be for the committee to hold a public hearing in which McNeese and his accusers, as well as witnesses, would be heard.
“My thinking is we’re going to turn it over and allow the attorneys to conduct the investigation,” Robinson said. “But I want to make sure the public is aware of what’s going on.”
McGee and Robinson both said during Thursday’s meeting that transparency is important.
McGee asked, “If legal counsel investigates, is that in a public forum?”
“It is not,” Armistead responded. “The results would be public record.”
Robinson said, “I still would like to have the direct testimony ... for them to be available to the public,” he said during the meeting. “I personally would like to see a copy of the testimony.”
Friday, Armistead said, “All of this in the end will be public information.”
She said the law firm wants to interview McNeese, the complainants and the witnesses all in one day, if possible. With the election looming in August, the committee wants to wrap the issue up as quickly as possible.
McNeese has been accused of sexual harassment in the complaints. In the first, board secretary Sherrie Hyder says McNeese asked for a “tongue kiss” during a conversation in May. McNeese said he made the comment in jest. In the second, former board secretary Kelie Ford says McNeese, in reply to her question about his hotel room preferences for an upcoming conference, said, “I don’t care what bed I have as long as I’m sharing a bed with you.” McNeese denies making the comment, which Ford says happened on April 28, 2016. She also said Jennings was aware of the incident, which is why he recused himself.
McNeese has said the complaints are politically motivated and part of an attempt to get him off the board because he is the member who is most aggressive in questioning the district administration’s spending.
McNeese, who served on the board from 2000 to 2008 and again since 2012, has drawn three challengers in the Aug. 6 election for Zone 1. They are Carrie Hartzog Pfeiffer, Mitch Rollins and Lauren Smith.