"...Otis Mathis, school board president for Detroit Public Schools, is attempting to rescind his resignation after being accused by the district superintendent of fondling himself in front of her...She called it his “usual habit” during one-on-one meetings. She said she tries to ignore it..."
Detroit --One day after facing accusations of fondling himself, Detroit Public Schools President Otis Mathis wrote a letter to colleagues today blaming "ongoing health problems" for his "poor judgment."
The letter, which attempted to rescind his resignation he submitted Thursday, doesn't explicitly address accusations from Superintendent Teresa Gueyser that he touched himself during a private meeting.
But Mathis acknowledged that he "made inappropriate actions toward a professional employee of the board" and promises to remove himself from personnel decisions involving her.
"I am following up with my doctors because I need to pursue treatment, and because I want to make sure that what happened doesn't ever happen again," Mathis said. "However, I do not need to resign in order to take care of my health."
The letter to colleagues came the same day board Vice President Anthony Adams today released a two-page letter from Gueyser accusing Mathis of fondling himself during a meeting this week. She called it his "usual habit" during one-on-one meetings. She said she tries to ignore it.
"On many occasions, I have asked him not to touch himself," she wrote in the letter dated Wednesday.
Mathis attended the board's 5 p.m. meeting today, but sat in the front row of the audience. His name plate was already removed from the board table. Adams said the board won't comment further on the controversy and is moving forward as if "he is no longer a board member."
Board member Reverend David Murray called the allegations "a terrible thing" but said he doesn't believe the 55-year-old Mathis should quit.
"It happens to a lot of young men. They engage in behavior they feel is harmless and it's offensive to certain people," Murray said. "... It could be deemed offensive, but some women are more sensitive to those types of things than others."
"I feel bad for him because he probably felt that it was something she would probably like or she got humor out of it."
Gueyser's letter describes in detail an incident during a meeting about her employment agreement. Her contract is to be reviewed tonight.
"President Mathis continued to fondle his genital area for approximately 20 minutes, or the entire time I was talking," Gueyser wrote. "At one point, I lifted some papers from my binder above my eyes to separate my peripheral view in order to avoid watching his activity."
The letter doesn't explicitly say when the incident occurred, except that the meeting began at 4:55 p.m.
"He then re-zipped and unzipped his pants again; again placing the hand with the handkerchief inside the zipper area; this time moving his hand as if to be masturbating in front of me," Gueyser wrote.
She wrote that Mathis apologized after the incident, but it "represents the culmination of a long history of personally documented inappropriate behavior by the board president."
Gueyser wrote that "his actions have exposed the district to a lawsuit."
In a phone message minutes after she departed, Mathis apologized again and then turned back to school board topics, specifically asking which charter schools had requested contract extensions, Gueyser wrote.
The DPS' Office of Public Safety is "investigating allegations of misconduct regarding the former board president," said Kisha Verdusco, district spokeswoman.
Adams said the allegations compromise the integrity of the board itself.
"We continue to move forward to advance academic policy within the district," he said.
"We need to let the police do what they do, which is investigate."
Gueyser states in the letter that she had in the past notified district staff of Mathis' inappropriate behavior, including former Board President Carla Scott.
Scott said in a phone interview today that she was not aware of such behavior until now.
"It's not something I would have ignored," Scott said. "The only thing I do recall her saying was that she didn't like meeting with him, and that was after he became president."
Scott added there was no way Mathis could rescind his resignation, since he had already submitted his resignation letter to the board secretary. Without any attached conditions, the resignation took effect immediately on Thursday, she said.
"It's done," she said. "He turned in his keys."
Some of Mathis' colleagues say the allegations were out of character for the long-time community activist in Southwest Detroit.
"My mouth is open," said Tyrone Carter, who lives in Southwest Detroit and has known Mathis for about 20 years. "The allegation is shocking."
"He's known as a good, hardworking guy who has fought for the community. I haven't always agreed with him, but I've always known his goal was helping the community. I knew where his heart was."
Mohamed Okdie, chair of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, said he was shocked as well.
"As far as I am concerned, he is one of the finest gentlemen I have ever met," Okdie said. "I have the utmost respect for him and his character."
Mathis served on the board since 2008 and was elected president by his peers in January. During Mathis' board tenure, the elected body wrangled with state-appointed Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb, even suing him for allegedly overstepping his authority by making academic reforms and failing to consult with the board.
Earlier this spring, Mathis' substandard writing skills gained national attention when The Detroit News highlighted e-mails sent to his colleagues.
Mathis has served as a substitute teacher in Detroit schools and was a Wayne County commissioner.
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