Sarasota County School District Chief Operating Officer Jeff Maultsby resigned Monday rather than challenge Superintendent Todd Bowden’s decision to fire him.
Maultsby was the subject of a months-long investigation into allegations he sexually harassed Cheraina Bonner, his administrative assistant, largely via texts, often outside working hours; created a hostile work environment; and threatened her with retaliation when she said she was going to report him.
The 118-page report prepared by Sproat Workplace Investigations found sufficient evidence to support the allegations.
But Maultsby isn’t the only person who should be out of a job based on the report.
Here’s the report’s third investigatory conclusion: “There is sufficient evidence to conclude that Dr. Todd Bowden’s actions played a primary role in the District’s failure to promptly and adequately address Bonner’s claims of sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation and threatening behavior.”
Clearly, Bowden must go, too. His mishandling of this matter should galvanize the School Board into action at a special meeting Tuesday.
Depending on whom you believe, Bowden knew some, most or almost all of the allegations against Maultsby on April 12, when School Board Member Caroline Zucker persuaded Bonner to talk to him.
His impression, he told investigators, was that she found the texts inappropriate and stupid but not offensive, didn’t feel threatened or intimidated by Maultsby and didn’t want to file a complaint.
Bowden read her reaction wrong. The fact that she brought the matter up with Zucker and Zucker took it to Bowden shows that the problem was bigger than he says he believed it to be.
But in this context her reaction isn’t even relevant. The District has policies against this kind of behavior, and the allegations Bonner raised should have triggered them.
The appropriate thing to do would have been to get Human Resources involved. An inappropriate thing would have been just to talk to Maultsby. That’s what Bowden did — after waiting two weeks.
To be fair, he told Maultsby to stop texting, and he essentially did. But Bonner had been outed directly to the person she felt threatened by and would still be working for.
Inexplicably, on April 16, Bowden got the School Board to approve a new contract for Maultsby. The allegations weren’t disclosed.
Later, Bowden compounded these errors by deciding Bonner’s allegations would be handled under the district’s so-called “equity” policy, which prohibits discrimination and permits an internal investigation, and not its bullying and harassment policy. Then he named himself the lead investigator of an internal investigation.
Bonner, who had told him that Maultsby referred to him as “my boy,” understandably didn’t have a lot of confidence in the process.
It wasn’t until Bonner reported to the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office that Maultsby had once told her “snitches get stitches” that the decision was made to bring in the outside investigator.
Or until June 13, after reading the complaint Bonner filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and rereading texts that had been recovered from Maultsby’s phone, that Bowden put him on leave — paid leave.
If Bonner’s allegations had been properly handled, the process would have concluded months ago in a way that didn’t send the wrong message to Bonner and other District employees. Instead, the District could find itself being sued for a problem Bowden could have nipped in the bud.
This isn’t the first time there has been a reason to question Bowden’s judgment. It needs to be the last.
He will have a chance to defend his actions — or lack thereof — at Tuesday’s meeting. Even assuming he can somehow pull that off, we don’t see how he can win back the support of district employees and the community at large, from which there have been several calls for his resignation.
Most important, we don’t see how the District can move forward under Bowden’s leadership, or why the Board would want to try to.
It’s time for a change.