Wilson County School board member Wayne McNeese has been accused of sexual harassment, a charge he said is politically motivated.
Sherrie Hyder, the district’s board secretary, filed the complaint May 28. In it, she said that McNeese asked her for a “tongue kiss” as he entered the board room for the May 4 meeting. He then made a similar comment later, she said.
McNeese does not deny making the comment, but said it was made in jest.
“It was a joke,” he said. “I’m not going to sexually harass someone in front of my wife.”
Hyder’s complaint says McNeese’s wife, Pam, was there when he made the comment, as well as school district employees Brittany Bills and Kristy Groce.
“Mr. McNeese asked for a ‘tongue kiss’ in front of these ladies,” Hyder wrote. “I was startled and told him to go away.”
McNeese said that Hyder called him four days after the board meeting and said that if he resigned, “this will go away.”
Hyder did not respond to voicemails and an email seeking comment Thursday and Friday.
“This is what this is all about, to get me off the board,” McNeese said, adding that “it’s an attack against me because I don’t go along to get along. Five (board members) will do absolutely anything Donna (WCS Director Donna Wright) wants.”
During recent board meetings regarding the budget, McNeese and Kimberly McGee have been the only “no” votes on various amendments.
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.
Board member Mike Gwaltney did not file for reelection. Vying for his Zone 3 seat are Don R. Weathers and Jonathan A. White. Board chair Larry Tomlinson, representing Zone 5, is being challenged by Glenn Denton, and Zone 7’s Chad Karl is being challenged by Jamie Diane Farough and Phillip Murphy.
“There’s a good chance there’s going to be some changes,” McNeese said.
He also said he might file a counter-claim against Hyder, citing an incident at a March board meeting shortly after the coronavirus hit. He said Hyder asked him if he was social distancing, and when he responded “not really,” she said, “give me a hug then.”
“Sherrie and I have been friends forever,” he said. “I’ve known her for 15 or 20 years.”
In her complaint, which is addressed to Karl as chairman of the board’s ethics committee, she wrote: “After the board meeting had ended, I took a document to Mr. McNeese at his station. He was talking with Mike Gwaltney and you, Mr. Karl, were to his left. At that time, he said to me ‘I’m still waiting on that tongue kiss’ and I said ‘Wayne you are going to get yourself fired.’ He then stated to me ‘that’s not what you said when we were at W.A. Wright’ (Elementary) referring to the school I worked for 30 years. I replied ‘now you are telling lies and spreading rumors’ and I walked away.”
Hyder goes on the say that she has spoken to two other ladies who McNeese has said “very inappropriate” things to — something McNeese denies — and that “there is such a pattern to his behavior it cannot be allowed to continue ... . His behavior toward me and the other women is demoralizing, humiliating and disrespectful.”
Hyder asks that McNeese be removed from the board, something that cannot be done, according to board policy.
At the June 8 board meeting, a temporary ethics committee of McGee and board members Linda Armistead and Bill Robinson was appointed to hear the complaint. The board’s regular ethics committee includes Karl and Gwaltney, who according to the complaint are witnesses.
The committee will meet publicly at 6 p.m. today at the WCS adminstration building to hear the complaint.
Board attorney Mike Jennings said the meeting will be open to the public and that Hyder and any witnesses she wants will make statements followed by McNeese and his witnesses. Jennings said his role will be to advise on procedures.
According to board policy, the ethics committee has three options. It can: Refer the matter to the board attorney for legal opinion or recommendation for action; in the case of an official, refer the matter to the school board for possible public censure; or in a case involving possible violation of state statutes, refer the matter to the district attorney.