Residents say Lee school superintendent cursed them at forum

Posted October 25, 2012 5:44 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2012 6:34 p.m. EDT

— Two people attending a political forum in Sanford last week said Lee County Schools Superintendent Jeff Moss cursed them during a heated discussion of school performance.

Moss acknowledges that his conduct during the Oct. 18 forum was "not professional," but he denies using any profanity in the encounter.

Amid questioning of candidates for various posts, Moss got up to criticize one candidate who suggested school district budgets were mismanaged, saying he wanted to know where the candidate got such information.

"You hear a lot of things that are not true from the commissioners about public education," he said.

As Moss returned to his seat, he exchanged words with Lee County Commissioner Jim Womack, who was waiting in line to ask a question.

Brian McRae, who was attending the forum, said Thursday that Moss stuck his finger in Womack's face.

"I'm sitting on the end of the row, and I said, 'You need to sit down,'" McRae said.

He said Moss then used an expletive to tell him to mind his own business.

"This is where he throws his first expletive," forum attendee Jonathon Fallin said. "He leans over, points his finger in this citizen's face and says, '(Expletive) you.'"

Fallin said he turned to his girlfriend and said, 'Well, that was professional,' which he said prompted Moss to swear at him as well.

"He leans over, drops a second expletive and says, '(Expletive) you. I'll show you professional,'" Fallin said.

Moss declined to discuss the incident Thursday, but he took time from his annual State of the Schools speech on Tuesday to address it, noting that a video showing the exchange had popped up on YouTube.

"Brian McRae, who was in the audience, made an emotional statement toward me, and I in turn made an emotional statement back toward Brian," he said. "At no time did I use any profanity."

He said he would welcome a meeting with McRae.

Fallin said Moss should resign, noting a 14-year-old was sitting nearby and heard what Moss said to him and McRae.

"We went to the school board and asked that action be taken, and nobody is going to do anything about it," he said.

The Lee County Board of Education has no plans to address the allegations against Moss, Chairman Lynn Smith said. He noted, however, that the superintendent is up for his annual evaluation next month.

Linda Shook, chairwoman of the Board of Commissioners, said in an Oct. 22 letter to Smith that Moss owes McRae a public apology.

"Public officials, whether elected or administrative, are expected to conduct themselves with the highest degree of integrity, professionalism and respect for the citizens they serve. Anger, profanity and blatant disrespect cannot be tolerated," Shook wrote.

McRae, who has two children in Lee County schools, said he was "floored" by Moss' actions.

"It's not that I feel threatened by him, but it's just the fact that he communicated the threat as a superintendent," he said. "What a disservice that was to the citizens of Lee County who pay his salary."