By Sarah Szilagy, Colleen Marshall NBC4 Columbus Posted: Nov 17, 2023 12:24 PM EST
COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The director of Ohio’s $90 billion teacher pension fund has been suspended following allegations of sexual harassment, verbal abuse and threats of violence against staff.
The State Teachers Retirement System board voted to place Director Bill Neville on administrative leave at a Friday meeting, citing an anonymous letter from STRS staff alleging a pattern of harassment since the board appointed him in 2020. Staff also called for an investigation into Neville’s conduct, which the board indicated will occur.
On Thursday night, NBC4 obtained the anonymous letter, which was also sent to the Ohio Ethics Commission and the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. The board made the move in consultation with the Attorney General’s office, Chair Dale Price said at the meeting.
The letter alleges that Neville verbally abused staff and had violent outbursts on a “regular basis,” at some points throwing furniture and office materials when he became upset. Staff also claimed Neville threatened his direct employees with physical violence.
“It does not take much to trigger an upsurge and staff truly fear for their physical and emotional safety when Director Neville behaves in this way,” the letter reads.
Lynn Hoover, deputy executive director of finance CFO of the STRS, will serve as interim director.
Neville has also made sexual comments about his previous relationships and people’s physical appearances, including female staff members, the letter claims. The letter said Neville “favors men he likes” when making decisions and is “degrading towards women.”
“Director Neville is not equipped to lead this organization and should receive whatever assistance he needs as determined by an investigation,” the letter reads. “He does not have the best interest of the members at the forefront of his decision making.”
The STRS is one of the largest teacher pension funds in the country with 500,000 active, inactive and retired public educators. Members have blamed Neville for apparent failures of the pension fund to provide for retirees, including the elimination of automatic cost of living increases while investment staff has received hefty bonuses.
Multiple STRS members told NBC4 they are relieved that Neville has been suspended, and they hope it signals a new day for the pension fund.
Neville has been at the center of controversy regarding the pension fund long before the allegations against him came to light. In February, the board rejected a motion to declare confidence in Neville, with one board member saying the fund needed a leadership change. Before that, an audit of the fund commissioned by retirees found “serious deficiencies” in STRS’s finances. A review by the state auditor last December found no evidence of illegal conduct but called on the fund to increase transparency.
Since July, the letter continued, Neville allegedly threatened to retaliate against staff whose family members testified against him in STRS board meetings. Staff members are seeking employment elsewhere due to Neville’s conduct, the letter claimed.
The staff members cited fear of physical violence should they have come forward publicly.
In May, Gov. Mike DeWine replaced a progressive board member whose election tipped the balance of the board toward those favoring reform. Weeks before, the board mulled over a 30% bonus for investment staff, a move highly criticized by teachers who pointed to the fund’s $5.3 billion in losses the year before.