Wilson County Schools Board of Education member Wayne McNeese has been accused by a second woman of sexual harassment, but unlike the first accusation, he denies making any inappropriate comments.
Kelie Ford, who was school board secretary at the time, said in her complaint that during a telephone conversation with McNeese on April 28, 2016, she asked him what his room preference was for an upcoming conference. One of her duties was to make hotel reservations for board members.
“His statement to me was ‘I don’t care what bed I have as long as I’m sharing a bed with you.’ ”
McNeese said Thursday, “I did not say it.”
Ford, who resigned two years ago, goes on in her complaint to say she discussed the conversation with fellow district employees, including then-human resources director Mary Ann Sparks and board attorney Mike Jennings.
Jennings said Friday he would have no comment on Ford’s complaint unless he was called to testify by the board’s ethic committee.
Ford’s complaint, filed Monday, follows a complaint by current board secretary Sherrie Hyder that was filed in May. Hyder said McNeese asked her for a “tongue kiss,” which he told the Democrat he did say, but in jest.
The ethics committee, composed of board members Linda Armistead, Kimberly McGee and Bill Robinson, met Wednesday, but decided in the wake of Ford’s complaint that it needed to hire outside legal counsel since Jennings recused himself because he was mentioned by Ford.
The full board is scheduled to meet 6 p.m. Monday to approve hiring outside counsel, and the ethics committee has recommended the Memphis firm of Jackson Sheilds Yeiser and Holt.
Robinson told the committee Wednesday he had sought out a firm with little to no contact with Wilson County Schools to avoid any conflicts of interest. He said the firm would not charge for travel and that its rate of $195 an hour was reasonable.
The next meeting of the ethics committee, which was appointed on a temporary basis to hear the Hyder, and now Ford, complaints because permanent ethics committee members Bill Gwaltney and Chad Karl are mentioned in Hyder’s letter, had not been scheduled as of Friday afternoon.
McNeese said again Thursday that he believes the accusations against him are politically motivated.
“You’re talking about four weeks ago, four years ago,” he said, referring to when the incidents are alleged to have happened. “I still think it’s about politics. I know my race is critical to control the board.”
McNeese said that Hyder called him four days he made his comment and said that if he resigned, “this will go away.”
Hyder has not responded to telephone messages and an email seeking comment.
Ford wrote that Jennings talked to McNeese about her complaint days later before a May 2, 2016 board meeting. McNeese said Thursday that he does recall Jennings asking him if he had made a comment to Ford. he said he told Jennings no.
“To be honest, I never cared for Ms. Ford,” McNeese said. “I always thought she was kind of abrasive. We got into it because she thought she was part of the board and would interject comments.”
Ford said in her complaint that immediately after her conversation with McNeese, she discussed it with co-workers Angela Norris and Lisa Spencer. That afternoon, she discussed it with Sparks, and she also said she informed Director Donna Wright and Deputy Director Mickey Hall.
“Mr. McNeese had always been a little ‘off color’ on occasion, but never to that extent, and never to the point of being sexual in nature or blatantly offensive that way,” Ford wrote. “I was simply shocked and offended.”
She said she eventually spoke to Jennings about “possibly filing” a sexual harassment case, but that meeting went awry when Ford said she began to cry and Jennings said, “Maybe you should look into getting some counseling because it looks like it helps you to talk about it.”
Ford also says that before she resigned on July 31, 2018, she asked Wright, Rebecca Owens (now deputy director of policy, compliance and employee relations), and Spencer (a human resources supervisor), if any record of her complaint existed. She was told no. She also said she attempted to ask Jennings the same question via email, but never got a response.
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.
McNeese said he has hired an attorney, but declined to identify him.