By a 6-2 vote, the Bulloch County Board of Education reprimanded District 8 member Maurice Hill this week for a comment he made to District 1 member Cheri Wagner during a work session one month earlier.
Also during Thursday night’s meeting, the board gave final approval to the school system’s fiscal year 2019 budget and voted to obtain cost projections for assigning school resource officers to all of the 15 campuses.
But the reprimand was handled first, after Chairman Mike Sparks asked for an agenda change, which the board unanimously approved, for him to make a statement.
“As chairman of the Bulloch County Board of Education, I feel it is necessary to recommend that the BOE issue an official public reprimand to fellow board member Maurice Hill for the insensitive and inappropriate comment he made to fellow board member Cheri Wagner at the April 26, 2018, BOE meeting,” Sparks said.
The comment, he said, was in direct conflict with the Board Code of Ethics under “Conduct of a Board member.” One of its statements is that members should “communicate in a respectful professional manner with and about fellow board members.”
Sparks asked for a motion. District 3 member Stuart Tedders made the motion, and District 4 member Steve Hein seconded.
“What does that limit me to do or what?” Hill asked.
“Really nothing,” Sparks said. “It’s just a public reprimand saying that we felt like the comment was very insensitive and inappropriate.”
Ironically or not, this was a reprimand about a remark about reprimanding. Hill’s comment to Wagner during the April 26 meeting has been, “I wasn’t reprimanding you. You’ve got your husband and your daddy to do that.”
At the subsequent May 10 board meeting, Wagner said she had been shocked and offended by that comment. Hein then said members of the school system’s legal counsel and human resources department told him this was a sexist remark. Later, Hein said he had asked these professionals their opinion with Superintendent Charles Wilson’s permission. Wilson, when asked, said “multiple employees” had told him “they were offended and demeaned by the statement,” as previously reported.
Hein at the May 10 meeting requested that Hill apologize to Wagner. Hill declined to do so at that time.
During the discussion Thursday, Hill did say he apologized. But he also said that other board members had made offensive remarks to him and noted that he alone was being reprimanded.
“Everybody has feelings. I just don’t choose to wear mine on my shirtsleeve, and I do understand the comment may have been taken as an insult, and other fellow board members may have distorted it to, you know, make a side action…,” Hill said, addressing his remarks to Sparks.
“But in the last weeks we have also noticed there was comments that was made to me also that I felt was very offensive,” Hill continued. “We also had one board member that thought he was so educated that he thought he could call me ignorant, and maybe Mrs. Wagner’s words were offensive to me, but I tell you I didn’t take it that way. …”
“When I go home I’m going to sleep at night,” Hill continued, to Sparks. “But, you know, I apologize for the remark, and I apologize that Mrs. Wagner got all caught up in her feelings and I don’t know what goes in her personal life that she may have to deal with. So she may have took it the wrong way, but thank you, sir.”
District 5 member Glennera Martin said that since the board was deeming certain comments inappropriate, she thought this would also apply to comments others had made.
“If they are brought before me as a board chair, we’ll deal with them as well,” Sparks said.
Hill then made remarks to Sparks about “emails that we use from our other public workplaces” being used for “harassing” board members and said when the chairman felt he needed to give a sanction, others had already done that through “Friday newsletters” that amounted to defamation.
Hein said he was also offering an apology, “in a spirit of civility.”
“So if I have offended anybody, I will go on the record right now and apologize,” Hein said. “I think we need to go forward. We have to. We have to do it for the students.”
The two votes against the reprimand came from Hill and Martin, the two African-American members of the eight-member elected board. A few other recent votes have split this way during the controversy over Superintendent Charles Wilson’s administrative transfer of Dr. Evelyn “Bonnie” Gamble-Hilton from the position of principal of Langston Chapel Middle School she has held for eight years to an assistant principal slot at Southeast Bulloch High School. With Gamble-Hilton to receive the same pay, Wilson and Sparks have said this is not a demotion, but Gamble-Hilton’s attorney Francys Johnson and many other supporters say that it is.
April 26 context
At the April 26 meeting, Hill moved for the board to “intervene at this time and reconsider the evidence and the things at hand to try to resolve the issue at Langston Chapel Middle School.”
Martin, participating by phone, seconded the motion, which was later tabled on a 5-2 vote, with Sparks away.
It was during this discussion that Wagner said, “Please, if you reprimand me one more time!” and Hill responded with his comment. Readers who want more of the context can see the Statesboro Herald’s May 14 story, “No apology from BOE member for ‘sexist’ remark.”
May 10 context
When Hill said another member had called him “ignorant,” he was referring to a verbal exchange he had with Hein at the May 10 meeting.
“Maybe I was offended that I didn’t really know what the motion meant and the law, but I accepted it,” Hill had said.
“You’re offended because of your own ignorance that you don’t know what the motion is?” Hein replied.
“Are you calling me ignorant? … I did not state that,” Hill said. “I said maybe I was offended that it was said that I didn’t know what the motion meant.”
On May 22 after the Statesboro Herald learned that attorney Francys Johnson was representing Hill, the reporter had asked if either Hill or Johnson had anything further to say about the “sexist” remark. A reply email contained statements from both.
The following is the portion attributed directly to Hill, who is a minister as well as owner of a funeral home.
"Integrity, civility, and honest discourse about the common good of the students, parents, faculty, and staff are the essential ingredients for the Board of Education," said Rev. Maurice Hill.
"My remarks were in response to Cheri Wagner's raising her voice at me as if I was her child. They were not intended to offend anyone and certainly not Cheri Wagner.
“As the longest-serving member of the Board, I often try to provide support, encouragement, and historical information about the workings of the Board.
In a time when many around that same board table vehemently support a President who is politically incorrect; they strain to find fault and offense with my mere words," Hill said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.