Worker Fired After Questioning Lee County Superintendent

Did a public school superintendent bully a Fortune 500 company into firing one of its employees? That’s a question some are asking in the wake of recent news.

As we reported yesterday, Lee County Schools in mid-June renewed superintendent Jeff Moss’ six-figure contract for an additional year. Moss is the superintendent who OK’ed a school assignment in which third-graders wrote elected officials in opposition to budget cuts.

A new development: Around the same time the school board renewed Moss’ contract, the food-supplier Sysco fired one of its employees, Mark Otto, who sent an email to Moss ripping him for the assignment. The email expressed Otto’s personal views, but he sent it from his work account. Here is Otto’s original email to Moss:

What in the world were you thinking making that comment, “If you’re not interested in receiving letters from people in your district, don’t run for public office.”? Are you serious, sir? The school forced the man’s own daughter to write a letter, knowing full well the little girl has no idea whatsoever what she is writing about. That’s just wrong. Evil Nazi/Soviet-style indoctrination. You should be ashamed.

Moss wrote back:

Thank you for providing me additional insight into the beliefs of Sysco and your attitude toward our teachers in our public schools. I will be delighted to share this with the other superintendents across this state and nation so as we select companies and vendors to work with our schools we have a greater awareness of their belief structure on our primary challenge of teaching tomorrow leaders. It is easy to cast doubt when you do not know the story.

I spoke with Otto by phone. He said that Sysco let him go “because of the potential damage, not only in Raleigh but in other areas.” He said there is a company policy against sending personal emails on company accounts.

Otto went on:

I understand why Sysco made the decision they did. I still think Sysco is a great company. They’ve been good to me these past 12 years. We’ve shared a mutually beneficial relationship … I made a mistake, I got caught up in the moment when I read that news article, and I made the mistake of firing off an email and not even thinking it was one that would attach my signature … Obviously, my company took [Moss’ email] as [a threat]. I’m not an attorney, but it’s hard to believe that Sysco, being a Fortune 500 company, a multi-billion company that they are, didn’t have legal resources to find out how they could protect themselves from such threats. But I think they just took what they perceived to be the path of least resistance and the quickest, quietest way out of this.

David N. Bass

Communications Director and Grants Officer for the John William Pope Foundation. Views expressed are his own.

Reader Comments