Board Bash

TUSD's Goofy School Board Majority Could Improve The District's Future By Resigning.

By Chris Limberis

TUCSON UNIFIED School District taxpayers would not be forced to shell out any more money to a victim of administrator Ed Arriaga's alleged sexual harassment--if Joel T. Ireland and Gloria C. Copeland resign from the TUSD Governing Board.

Arriaga, named in two sexual harassment complaints for which TUSD has paid out a total of $67,900, also must leave his position as interim principal at Sahuaro High School under the settlement proposal offered last week by Don Awerkamp, the veteran employment law attorney who represented teacher Paula Morris in her successful suit against TUSD.

The three must resign next week or Awerkamp will press his $50,000 claims against them and $150,000 against TUSD.

Currents The claims, and the novel remedy, arose from comments Ireland, Copeland and Arriaga have made since mid-September when TUSD began spending thousands of tax dollars on a frivolous lawsuit that sought to prevent The Arizona Daily Star from printing details about another sexual harassment complaint against Arriaga, as well as the accompanying warnings from TUSD lawyers.

Ireland, a lawyer who is in his third term on the TUSD Board, defended Arriaga and told the Star that the investigation of Morris' full complaints showed "most of the issues were outright lies."

Ireland told the Star: "Once in a while there was a kernel of truth."

In a brief interview this week, Ireland told The Weekly that he would not resign. And he was suddenly circumspect.

"I'm not going to comment on that," Ireland said of Awerkamp's offer. "I need to be careful about what I say here. I am neither confirming nor denying that I received the letter and I am not going to comment on the matter."

Neither Copeland nor Arriaga responded to Weekly calls.

Morris, now a teacher at Alice Vail Middle School, filed suit in Pima County Superior Court in 1994 saying that Arriaga, then principal at Rincon High School, and two of his administrators harassed her and discriminated against her.

"As you well know," Awerkamp said in his claim letters to Ireland and Copeland, "we submitted a 115-page verified disclosure statement with supporting documentation during the litigation of those claims. That disclosure statement listed numerous witnesses and detailed the expected testimony of these witnesses not only to the sexual harassment, discriminatory treatment and retaliation suffered by Ms. Morris but also to the pattern of sexual harassment engaged in by Edward Arriaga.

"In spite of this, you and others running TUSD ignored your duty under state and federal law to investigate this disclosure," Awerkamp said in the new claim.

TUSD paid Morris $50,000 in 1996. Ireland and the TUSD Board subsequently promoted Arriaga to executive director of Human Resources for all of TUSD. In that job, he quickly attracted another complaint, this one from Sue Carda, coordinator of classification and compensation. She received a settlement totaling $17,900.

After The Weekly broke the story on Carda's complaint and settlement on September 24, Ireland told the Tucson Citizen that the "district investigated both claims and found that they were unfounded, but the decision to settle was driven mostly because of economics."

Arriaga, Ireland told the Citizen, "has always denied the accusations, and we have investigated them and found them not to rise to the level of sexual harassment. I'm saying there were a whole bunch of accusations by the two people talked about and none of them came back corroborated by any independent evidence."

The "independent evidence" cited by Ireland, however, was collected by TUSD employees, records given to The Weekly show.

Other records provided to the Star revealed that Ireland, Copeland and the Board ignored advice from lawyers after the Morris case to investigate complaints against Arriaga.

Awerkamp, in his claim letters to Ireland and Copeland, said, "The question arises as to what your motives were to so resolutely neglect your duty to investigate Mr. Arriaga's actions."

"It is clear," Awerkamp added, "you acted for improper motives in defaming Paula Morris in the hope of glossing over your neglect of duty."

Arriaga, who filed for bankruptcy protection on September 1, dumped $100 into Ireland's re-election campaign in 1996, records show. Arriaga, who also generated complaints while serving as principal at Tucson High, has maintained that he did not harass anyone.

Both Ireland and Copeland professed, according to Star reporter Sarah Tully Tapia's account, to take sexual harassment complaints seriously. Incredibly, Copeland told the Star that she handled some complaints on her own.

After The Weekly's story, Copeland told the Citizen that there was "a full investigation of both issues and there was no evidence that the charges were correct as reported. Based on that information, I had no problem putting (Arriaga) in as interim principal."

Copeland, elected in 1994, is losing her struggle for a second term. With her ally Brenda Even leaving the Board after two terms in December, Copeland has generated such an enormous amount of controversy that eight other people are running for her seat and Even's in the November 3 election.

The terms for Ireland and Board members Mary Belle McCorkle and James N. Christ expire at the end of 2000.

In the new claim on behalf of Morris, Awerkamp accuses Copeland, Ireland and Arriaga of defamation, invasion of privacy, tortuous infliction of emotional distress, and deprivation of her liberty interest in her good name without due process.

Sundown in this showdown has been set for 5 p.m. Wednesday, October 14 for Ireland, Copeland and Arriaga to clear out and provide a written apology to Morris along with the promise to never take another TUSD position. TW

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