Sex Ed

Another tawdry scandal rocks Tucson Unified School District.

Paul M. Felix, who began his Tucson Unified School District career 25 years ago teaching journalism at Cholla High School, used his political ties to catapult to a powerful human resources job and will exit June 30 in controversy and scandal exposed when journalists ripped the lid off a costly and illegally secret deal concocted by Felix's TUSD protectors.

Felix turned 51 on May 14. But there has been little celebration amid allegations that he sexually harassed a secretary and then sought to save his TUSD career with desperate moves from Superintendent Stan Paz and some Governing Board members in sharp contradiction of district policies and state law.

Ordered home by Paz on June 5, Felix continues to draw his $307-a-day salary while overseeing a sod and landscaping job at the historic home he shares with his wife, Annette, a Cholla High librarian, and their sons in the 1200 block of North First Avenue.

That is just part of the no-show job deal Paz and three of five TUSD board members cut to keep the public from knowing what Felix did, from what they knew and from what they did to help him. Paz and that board majority--Mary Belle McCorkle, Joel Tracy Ireland and Carolyn Kemmeries--also approved a secret agreement to allow Felix's former secretary, Carolyn Sebastian, to receive full pay and benefits while staying away from her job as an attendance clerk at Doolen Middle School.

Sebastian, in her early 50s and confronting divorce as well as the death of her father while working for Felix, was paid her TUSD salary and full benefits for nearly the entire school year. She was allowed to stay away from her $24,128-a-year job beginning in September and through June 30.

Despite steady tax increases, the cash-poor TUSD ordered Doolen and all TUSD schools to cut spending on students by one percent. Still, the busy midtown school had to spend another $73 a day to get a fill-in attendance clerk.

McCorkle, a former high-ranking TUSD bureaucrat who has been on the board for more than nine years, said too much is being made of budget problems in relation to the Felix matter.

Money paid to Sebastian to not work and to Felix to stay home this month is a "bargain," McCorkle said in an interview, compared with the money she asserted "would have" been lost through lawsuits.

Felix and Sebastian are already lawyered up. They have two of Tucson's best, Don Awerkamp and Steve Weiss. Both had little trouble defeating TUSD's legal team to take clients, as recently as TUSD's last big sexual harassment scandal that culminated two years ago, from no-win positions to having tens of thousands of dollars in their pockets.

Felix and Sebastian are not talking to the press. Felix politely declined an interview during a call to his house June 5, the day he was sent home, saying "my lawyer has instructed me not to talk to the media."

A woman answering the phone at Felix's TUSD office after he was sent home oddly said Felix was "in meetings today and will be in meetings tomorrow." He has not returned subsequent messages.

Felix is being shielded by Awerkamp, a top employment lawyer who represented two women who each won two settlements from TUSD after they complained that they were sexually harassed by Edward Arriaga, a former TUSD principal and human resource director.

Weiss is keeping Sebastian under wraps. In a stunning turnabout two years ago, Weiss won $25,000 from TUSD for Arriaga, after he sued to claim damage suffered when documents of the sexual harassment complaints against him were released by TUSD two years earlier.

FELIX AND HIS wife, now paid $52,622 a year, did more than work at TUSD. They worked at TUSD politics. They helped Ireland, an Episcopal priest-turned-lawyer whose political career was resurrected with a TUSD victory in 1988 after his disastrous run against U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., in 1986. Felix marched for Rev. Ireland, gave money, carried petitions and pounded in signs. Annette Felix served as a top campaign official for James Christ, whose two terms on the TUSD board ended in 2000.

Paul Felix is part of Rev. Ireland's inner circle, a close-knit and powerful clique that includes TUSD's director of Alternative Education Bob Mackay. The three frequently quench thirst built up at board meetings at the bar at Marriott University Park or other West University bars.

Ireland did not respond to Weekly calls.

Ireland and Christ won approval to install Felix as assistant director of human resources in 1998. He won permanent appointment and was lavished with a 16.3 percent pay raise when the job was upgraded to director of human resources for certified employees.

Carolyn Sebastian joined TUSD in 1998, performing clerical support in Exceptional Education. After five months, she applied for a spot in human resources.

Felix shipped Sebastian to Doolen in August of last year in what Sebastian describes in a letter to Superintendent Paz as "my cold and swift dismissal."

It was a job for which she was ill-equipped and for which TUSD provided only spotty training. She listed problems in a six-page, single-spaced letter of resignation to Paz sent on October 3. She lays out difficulties that exacerbated her health problems.

"Looking back now, Dr. Paz, I can seek how I was strategically 'done away with' and carefully banished," she wrote.

She also told Paz that she "could shed a lot of light on some very dark and ugly corners in human resources.

Maybe someday when I regain my health and my self-confidence I may wish to air my entire story. I'm sure the press would have a virtual 'feeding frenzy' with what I could tell them."

What exactly happened between Felix and Sebastian is what TUSD and the lawyers, at least now, are trying to keep closeted.

Felix has told superiors that he had a "consensual relationship" with Sebastian but also that she stalked him.

Awerkamp refused to respond to specific incidents, but broadly said: "No one knows what happened but Paul Felix and Ms. Sebastian. No one else was there."

As to incidents, Awerkamp also spoke broadly of cases where those accusing someone of sexual harassment profess to have kept detailed and contemporaneous logs only to have errors exposed in court proceedings. Awerkamp also hinted repeatedly that Felix could have been set up.

Felix was at times eager to help Sebastian. He purchased a set of tires for Sebastian's car, although she would later pay him back.

In October 2000, he arranged a TUSD job for Sebastian's son, Brian, according to documents TUSD released in response to Arizona Public Records requests filed last week by the Tucson Weekly, the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Citizen and KGUN-TV.

"Steve Wilson, principal, came to Paul Felix and asked for help in finding a temporary building engineer," Joan Richardson, the executive director of TUSD human resources, wrote in response to an inquiry more than two weeks ago. "Paul's secretary suggested her son who had done similar work in the Navy... Many temporary employees in our district are hired through this type of referral process."

Sebastian's son was paid $12.99 an hour, an annual rate of $27,019.

Paz did not accept Carolyn Sebastian's resignation, which also would have to be accepted by the governing board that does so en masse with little fanfare and minimal questioning.

AFTER RECEIVING SEBASTIAN'S letter, Paz bypassed his own district's Equity Development--TUSD's Equal Employment Opportunity division, which would normally investigate such claims--and sent the matter to the district's leading outside lawyer, John Richardson, of DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy.

Paz also gauged political winds. He knew Felix was close with Rev. Ireland and, like most administrators, tested for majority support. But Paz stopped after counting to three: Ireland, McCorkle and Kemmeries. They gave him the green light to handle the matter "administratively." But excluding Judy Burns and Rosalie Lopez proved to scuttle big parts of the secret agreement, records show.

The conceit of Paz and the majority was to shift Felix to a school where many community leaders did not want him, make it appear that he was seeking such a job change--which carried a huge pay cut--and to seal the Felix-Sebastian secrets.

State law and TUSD policies may give Paz some discretion on administrative matters, but legal issues, settlements and terminations eventually must reach the board. Moreover, secret polling violates the state Open Meeting Law.

Richardson descended upon Sebastian on Dec. 7 with a settlement offer that let her stay on paid leave through the school year.

At first blush, it seemed generous.

Richardson, committing the full board and taxpayers to money without the full board knowing about the proposal, told Sebastian that she would continue to receive TUSD pay and full benefits even if she got another job.

"I want to assure you that TUSD's commitment to pay your salary and benefits through the remainder of this fiscal year is firm one, with no conditions or exceptions," Richardson wrote.

All Sebastian had to do was drop any plans to sue.

Without benefit of a lawyer and as a woman whose condition even McCorkle describes as "sad," Sebastian signed.

That settled, Richardson went to work on Felix. Sebastian was told Felix too would resign.

He did, in another quiet maneuver that violated TUSD policies.

Four days before the board's April 9 meeting, Felix submitted a letter to Paz seeking transfer to assistant principal of Hohokam Middle School, a southwest school with heavy Yaqui enrollment. Community leaders there, including Sharon Madril, a member of Pascua Yaqui Tribal Council, did not want Felix. The TUSD policy to have the school-area administrative-parent council to make its recommendations was junked. Instead, Marla Motove, an assistant superintendent, was given orders to tell Hohokam Principal John Michel that Felix was on his way and he had to accept it.

"I believe that site administrative experience will provide a foundation for professional growth and opportunity as an administrator," Felix said in his letter to Paz.

Felix lacked proper credentials from the Arizona Department of Education to be an assistant principal, an issue raised in another secret memo Richadson prepared for Felix's lawyer, Don Awerkamp.

Also dated April 5, Richardson issued a seven-part agreement that called for Felix's resignation as human resources director, that he apply for the Hohokam job, gain his administrative certificate from the state Department of Education nearly a year later, and that he drop all claims against the district. It even set his pay at $57,572, a $20,000 cut.

Felix signed.

Paragraph 6 dictated secrecy from Felix, Paz and Jane Butler, the head of TUSD internal legal staff. Much more important, it reveals that Rev. Ireland and two more board members acquiesced.

Paz won approval for this under-the-radar transfer on April 9 with a 4-1 vote. Only Judy Burns dissented.

Records released by TUSD's public relations boss, Toni Cordova, last week show that Rosalie Lopez quickly sought reconsideration.

Two other administrators, Lopez said in an April 10 note to Paz, were "robbed" of the chance to apply. Michel was shut out and at least two leaders of the Pascua Yaqui tribe "expressed their displeasure at Paul Felix being selected. ... We should not have deviated from out regular procedure."

Burns, who has described the entire matter as "unsurprising business as usual" by a TUSD board majority, wrote on April 10 of the deception.

"We were told that John Michael was fine with the transfer of Paul Felix to Hohokam. In reality, he was told by his assistant superintendent that Paul Felix would be placed there. He had no input or choice. The Site Council had no input or choice."

Felix retreated in April. "I understand that my request to further my career by a transfer to Hohokam as assistant principal ... has resulted in some discord," he noted. "In the interest of promoting peace, I am willing to rescind my request for a transfer to Hohokam and remain at my present position as director of human resources."

McCorkle said Felix is finished at TUSD.

LOPEZ, ACCORDING TO information that Cordova released in response to public records requests, was prodded by notes to "dig deeper" into the Felix matter and demanded an executive, or closed, session on Felix and Sebastian on June 3. The board has the right to meet behind closed doors on personnel and legal maters, but this was the first briefing Lopez and Burns received.

The Weekly, the dailies and KGUN filed separate requests under the Arizona Public Records Law for information on Felix, Sebastian and the agreement.

Felix's agreement anticipated the public records requests. It gave Felix five days to object as well as five days to object, even in court, if the issues were to be disclosed by those who agreed to secrecy.

Such agreements are clearly "trumped" by the Public Records Law, said Phil Higdon, a lawyer with Brown & Bain in Tucson. Moreover, an amendment by the Legislature to the law this year, he said, says records must be released promptly. It does not allow for waiting periods for review and contemplation.

Higdon made swift work in 1998 of getting a state Court of Appeals to lift a Superior Court order preventing the Star from publishing stories on sexual harassment claims, settlements and legal advise related to the Arriaga case.

TUSD complied with the four requests with mixed results on June 6, but some releases were unresponsive. It is unclear whether TUSD released information because of proper legal advice or because Felix's lawyer sent a letter waiving his essentially worthless five-day review period.

The Felix agreement set up TUSD's explanation. It directed Paz, Felix, Butler and even elected officials McCorkle, Ireland and Kemmeries to keep their mouths shut except for this:

"Should they feel compelled to answer, they should simply state that the matter has been resolved to everyone's satisfaction."

TUSD then left the matter to Cordova, the head of the district's PR department, to handle questions.

In polite, but painfully halting talks with four reporters last week, Cordova did her best to defend a district caught in another cover-up.

No, she said, the majority wasn't telling Paz what to do. Yes, Paz was acting within his administrative authority.

Key was Cordova's repeated claim, later used by McCorkle, that this was handled this way not just because of the "sensitive" nature but because it involved such a "high-level" TUSD official.

McCorkle, who teaches university-level class on education and administration, insisted that she, Ireland and Kemmeries were included in the agreement only because of their leadership positions. Kemmeries, who was out of town on vacation last week, was president last year. McCorkle and Ireland, with Paz, compose the TUSD agenda committee. And unlike other governmental bodies such as the Board of Supervisors and City Council, which grant all members the ability to get items on the agenda, McCorkle and Ireland have demonstrated an iron grip that they use to control TUSD.

TUSD'S LAWYER, JOHN Richardson, has already been paid $7,363, according to billings through the end of April on the Felix matter.

Taxpayers can expect lawsuits, settlements and even another job for Felix. His lawyer, Don Awerkamp, has rescued public employees from their-dead-in-the-water positions. He saved a job for Pima County's Chief Building Official, Leroy Sayre, after he was canned by a supervisor and he now is in the protracted battle with the University of Arizona over the firing of Alzheimer's disease researcher and Regents' Professor Marguerite Kay.

Awerkamp knows how to defeat TUSD. He got money for a TUSD teacher who accused Ed Arriaga of sexual harassment and then got that woman and another Arriaga accuser more money when Ireland and former TUSD board member Gloria Copeland badmouthed them when the Arriaga case was being exposed.

Steve Weiss also is a talented lawyer who knows how to get money from TUSD. Few thought Arriaga deserved a penny when he and his wife sued over the disclosures of his cases. Yet Weiss got them $25,000.

When TUSD unwisely spent taxpayers' money to block newspaper stories about Arriaga in 1998, Ireland eagerly took the stand and testified that public disclosure would force TUSD "to stop doing business as we do it now."

Students, their parents, teachers and taxpayers could have only hoped.

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