A week after a former Greater Columbus Chamber of Commerce executive accused a Muscogee County School Board member of sexual harassment and bullying — and called for him to resign and for the board to censure him — only two of the nine-member board’s eight other representatives directly have answered all of the Ledger-Enquirer’s questions about the ramifications of the allegations.
Frank Myers of District 8 is the accused board member. He apologized on Facebook as well as in a phone interview with the Ledger-Enquirer last week but said he won’t resign.
The sexual harassment and bullying accusations come from what Myers posted about Maggie Reese after she had defended chamber executive Amy Bryan in a Facebook post. Bryan lost in the July 24 runoff election against retired U.S. Army Col. John House for the vacant citywide seat on Columbus Council.
Myers took from Reese’s Facebook page a photo of her in a bikini. He cropped the photo to show only her backside and posted it with a comment that says, “You need to lose 30.”
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Reese, who was the chamber’s community development and growth director before becoming director of buzz at Yalla Public Relations in January, announced on her Facebook page last week that she is “actively pursuing time on the next school board meeting agenda to discuss this face to face with Frank. Ultimately, I believe he should step down from his seat early and allow the empty seat to be a reflection of the zero tolerance for sexual harassment and bullying in the Muscogee County School District.”
Board secretary Karen Jones confirmed to the Ledger-Enquirer that Reese is on the public agenda for the board’s next meeting, which will be Aug. 20, starting at 6 p.m.
Myers has been the board’s most outspoken critic of superintendent David Lewis and his administration. He failed to win a second four-year term when former board chairman Philip Schley beat him with 65 percent of the vote in the May 24 election. Schley will replace Myers on Jan. 1.
While reporting Reese’s allegations against Myers on July 19, the Ledger-Enquirer emailed the following questions to the board members:
▪ What is your reaction to this news?
▪ Is what Myers posted about Reese sexual harassment?
▪ Is it bullying?
▪ Did he violate the board’s Code of Ethics?
▪ Should the board censure him?
▪ Should he resign?
District 7 representative Cathy Williams responded affirmatively to each question that day and wrote, “I am appalled.”
Since then, via email and phone, the L-E continued to seek answers from the other board members. As of deadline Friday, vice chairman Mark Cantrell of District 6 and John Thomas of District 2 haven’t responded. Myers, Cantrell and Thomas are the board’s male members.
District 4 representative Naomi Buckner included her answers to each question in what she called “a general statement.”
“Frank has violated board ethics and bullied some board members during his tenure on the board,” Buckner wrote. “Should he resign this time? That decision is left up to him; board members can’t make him resign. In regard to bullying Ms. Reese, I think he did. Concerning sexual harassment, I’m not sure if what he did falls within the legal definition of sexual harassment, but I think what he did was bad, especially since Ms. Reese is so young. Concerning censure, I will vote if the issue comes up; I will make a decision then. If I think a ‘yes’ vote will modify Frank’s behavior or that a profound statement is needed, then I will vote yes. If I think a ‘yes’ vote would cause more disruption on the board for the next 6 months, I will vote ‘no’.
“I have received lots of email from citizens regarding this incident. Most of the people believe Frank bullied and sexually harassed Ms. Reese and that the board should censure him and he should resign. In two emails, the citizens don’t think Frank did anything wrong, and one of them stated that he should not have even apologized.”
The other board members who responded to the L-E’s query didn’t answer each question but instead emailed the following statements:
Kia Chambers, the board’s chairwoman and lone countywide representative, wrote, “In response to the events that occurred via social media, I will simply say that I find this behavior appalling and unbecoming of a board member. These actions are not reflective of the values nor professionalism of the members of the Muscogee County School Board. Furthermore, I would like to personally extend an apology to Ms. Reese for these actions.”
Pat Hugley Green of District 1 wrote, “Body shaming, harassment, bullying or any name calling or slurs is without question unacceptable behavior! Behavioral expectation for adults, professionals and especially elected officials should be reflected in our words and actions. This is a reasonable and timeless expectation that has not been specifically legislated but instead left up to the voters.”
Vanessa Jackson of District 3 wrote, “As citizens/Americans we must learn to respect each other in this political climate.”
Laurie McRae of District 5 wrote, “The recent statement and actions of a School Board Member toward a citizen on Facebook were offensive and indefensible. Body shaming and bullying others cannot be justified. As local officials, we should hold ourselves to a standard which represents MCSD, and this behavior did not.
“I understand the public outcry and will certainly consider all options the School Board might have in this situation. However, it is important that we remember that the voters hold the ultimate authority. An elected Board Member’s boss is not other Board Members, the school district, or anyone else other than his voters. And, in this case, the voters have already spoken for a change in that district.”
Asked what part of the board’s code she thinks Myers violated, Reese cited, “’Take no private action that will compromise the board or school system administration.’”
The board has three options if it decides Myers indeed has violated its code, Georgia School Boards Association communications director Justin Pauly told the Ledger-Enquirer in a phone interview Friday: sanction, resolution of censure and letter of censure.
Sanction is the most formal and severe action. As outlined in the board’s policy, at least two-thirds of the board (six of the nine members) must support such a motion for the board to conduct a sanction hearing, and the accused board member must be notified at least 30 days in advance of the hearing, which may include witnesses.
At least two-thirds of the board must vote to approve a sanction and “determine an appropriate sanction,” the policy says, but the types of sanctions aren’t specified. In a 2013 case in Cherokee County, the sanctioned board member was fined half of her $7,200 salary after she filed a complaint with the school district’s accreditation agency.
The sanctioned board member then has 30 days to appeal the decision to the Georgia Board of Education.
A resolution of censure is a less formal and less severe option. It requires just a simple majority vote to express the board’s disapproval of a member’s actions. And that’s the action Reese has requested the Muscogee board to take.
In the eight days since Reese posted on Change.org her petition for the board to take such action and for Myers to resign, more than 3,200 folks have signed.
A letter of censure is the least formal and least severe option. It doesn’t require a vote at all. It instead is a written statement, signed by board members, expressing the board’s disapproval of a member’s actions. In a 2017 case in Savannah, the board’s eight other members signed a letter rebuking their fellow representative for Facebook post undermining the superintendent’s authority.