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Sarasota County School Board must leave a positive legacy

Superintendent Todd Bowden’s handling of the sexual harassment charges against the district COO demonstrates he is not a good fit, nor fit for the job.

  • Longboat Key
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If you have followed the Sarasota County School Board and its superintendent the past three years, the current management crisis — yes, it’s a crisis — is really no surprise.

Controversy, strife and poor judgment have enshrouded Superintendent Todd Bowden since the day he became a finalist for the job in 2015.

The current crisis over Chief Operating Officer Jeff Maultsby’s behavior with his administrative assistant is just a manifestation of what was destined to occur: inexcusable, unacceptable behavior that will profoundly damage the district’s reputation and culture if it is not addressed appropriately, decisively and swiftly.

There is no reason to debate or dispute that Maultsby should resign or be dismissed. If you read the entire “Report of the Independent Investigation of Cheraina Bonner’s Complaints” compiled by Fort Myers-based Sproat Workplace Investigations, the preponderance of evidence is convincing:

Maultsby engaged in appalling behavior, especially for someone in his position.

Sure, Maultsby deserves the opportunity to defend himself. He was afforded that opportunity during SWI’s investigation. For the most part, Maultsby defended his actions by saying he was having fun — that his text messages had no sexual intent or that his comment “snitches get stitches,” along with a link to a news article of the murder of a whistleblower, was not intended as a threat.

If he is that clueless, he most assuredly is unqualified to be chief operating officer.

But on top of all of Maultsby’s inappropriate texts and behavior, here is the kicker for us:

When Bonner expressed her ambitions to seek better-paying positions, the SWI report says, “Maultsby repeatedly told Bonner and other district employees that he would block Bonner’s attempts to promote because he wanted her as his administrative assistant.” Two other administrative employees heard Maultsby tell Bonner that he would not let her leave.

His indentured servant.

Let’s also not forget how Maultsby had Bonner doctor his calendar with false entries. The complete rap sheet is appalling.

Maultsby’s behavior, however, is not the most important matter here. It’s the behavior of Superintendent Bowden.

If you read the chronology of Bowden’s actions, you can conclude there is ample evidence he didn’t act as quickly, decisively and appropriately as you would expect of a CEO. Bowden, of course, has explanations.

But readers should also know that it was widely perceived in the district that Bowden and Maultsby were close friends. Maultsby repeatedly told district employees Bowden was “his boy.” Maultsby’s predecessor testified that Maultsby also said “his job description was simple — to protect the superintendent.”

That relationship emphasizes all the more two instances of Bowden’s egregiously poor judgment:

  • After Bonner informed Bowden of her allegations against Maultsby, Bowden went to Maultsby and disclosed the specific allegations and Bonner’s name. Bonner testified she did not authorize Bowden to do that. Bowden says he “was certain” she did. And even after that, Bonner became concerned about her safety. She served for two more months as Maultsby’s assistant.
  • This one is amazing: After Bowden and the human resources department commenced an internal investigation, Bowden appointed himself head of the investigation committee.

You can imagine how this latter information traveled through the 5,000 employees of the school district and destroyed any notion that the superintendent is fair, impartial and a leader who puts integrity first.

What’s more, by extension, Bowden’s actions have the potential to inflict far-reaching, damaging consequences.

The district’s culture, reputation and future now depend on the school board.

From the start, Bowden has been a constant source of strife. It says a lot when more than 60% of employees think their CEO is not doing a good job.

In spite of it all, board members Shirley Brown, Caroline Zucker and Board Chair Jane Goodwin have supported Bowden steadfastly. If they have the best interests of the district at heart, they can no longer stand by their man.

It will take four of five board members to terminate Bowden. And if he is to be terminated, it must be with cause.

His handling of the allegations against the district’s COO provides ample, solid cause that Bowden is not a good fit for the district, nor fit to remain superintendent.

Board members Goodwin, Brown and Zucker have contributed much to the district in their long service on the board. But if they fail to terminate Bowden, the damage to the district will be their lasting legacy.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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