Longform

Townsel-ectomy

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Yet this was actually more of a class struggle than a racial struggle--a good deal of Townsel's supporters were from communities more affluent than the Del Paso district.

Johnson blames Townsel for promoting "blind racial faith" to cloud the issues at hand.

"He was very effective at playing the race card, playing up to 'not laundering the black administrator in public' as a way of discouraging and castigating and attempting to intimidate folks from being too critical," he says.

Johnson recalls with derision Townsel's "paternalism and condescension he exhibited toward members of the African-American community down there. ... The assumption that they did not have the intelligence to understand what [are] competent and capable and sound practices. ... Like we couldn't read a travel voucher and know something was wrong."

Townsel fought back, reportedly working to prevent the recall of board members sympathetic to him. And a week before the recall election, the board extended Townsel's contract by three years, which meant it would cost the district about $100,000 more to buy him out.

Nonetheless, Townsel was clearly on his way out the door. The district sought to break his contract because of a technicality. Then Townsel reportedly offered to resign for $90,000. The board refused, and Townsel sued the district.

But all of this was cut short by another of Townsel's misadventures.
In 1980, Townsel pleaded guilty to three counts of federal income tax evasion and one count of making a false statement on an income tax return, primarily for failing to claim consulting fees.

The school district allowed him to resign, and he was sentenced to six months at the Federal Correctional Institution at Lompoc. He was released two months early.

Charles Townsel was hired as director of operations services in the Roosevelt Elementary School District in September 1983.

A year later, the principal at P.L. Julian Elementary School died, and Townsel succeeded him as acting principal.

In 1985, former superintendent Mervin Lackey, who had brought Townsel to the board for hiring in the first place, recommended that Townsel's contract not be renewed. Neither Lackey nor anyone in the current regime at Roosevelt will elaborate on the reasons. But for some reason, Townsel left the district in 1985, under a negotiated settlement.

He returned in 1989, with the support of George Brooks and another clergyman who was on the board at the time, the Reverend Bernard Black. This time, Townsel was hired as assistant principal at Valley View Elementary School. Alejandro Perez had replaced Lackey as superintendent.

Townsel also dabbled in politics, assisting the school board campaigns of Brooks, Black and board member Linda Armstead.

And when the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors named former state representative Armando Ruiz to replace state Senator Carolyn Walker, who had been convicted of accepting bribes in the AzScam probe, Townsel raised the issue of race.

"It seems to me that Carolyn Walker represented the black community," he told the supervisors. "That seat should have gone to another black person."

Brooks was named to replace Ruiz in the House of Representatives.
Townsel mounted a brief campaign for the Legislature in 1992, but withdrew before the election.

Meanwhile, Roosevelt was in the grip of an ethnic political war that would hang like an albatross around its neck for years. Thanks to a boom in immigration, the Latino population in this traditionally African-American community was fast becoming a majority.

And the five-member Roosevelt School Board swung between a Latino and African-American majority, while each side accused the other of favoritism.

At one point, all five members of the school board were recalled in an election that cost the district $20,000. And on more than one occasion, school board meetings had to be moved to an auditorium to accommodate massive crowds.

"It was getting to the place where we couldn't show our faces in public," says board member Linda Aguirre, who is also a state representative. "Every board meeting, every other conference I went to, in state and out, everyone knew about Roosevelt. It was getting harder to recruit principals and to recruit personnel."

Against this backdrop, Townsel was again charged with misdeeds by the school board. And attorney Danny Ortega would handle Roosevelt's case against Townsel.

Norma Ransom, a teacher at Valley View, accused Townsel of sexual harassment. It was 1991, on the heels of the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings.

Townsel claimed that the Classroom Teachers Association and the district's personnel director, Michael Martinez, had put Ransom up to the filing of the complaint.

Ironically, one of the pieces of evidence against Townsel was his district expense account. Townsel claimed he was not in town on a day that Ransom claimed one of the incidents occurred. But district expense records showed that he returned from a conference in Dallas the day before.

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Lisa Davis