June 19, 2010 at 1:00 am

DPS board chief accused of lewd acts

Mathis resigns, then says he won't quit, as police probe charges made by superintendent

Otis Mathis resigned Thursday as president of the Detroit Public Schools board, but stated in a letter Friday he wants to remain. (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)

Detroit --Otis Mathis, Detroit Public Schools board president, is fighting for his job and is under investigation after being accused by the superintendent of fondling himself in front of her.

After submitting his resignation Thursday, Mathis sent a letter to colleagues Friday saying he wants to stay on the board and blaming "ongoing health problems" for his "poor judgment."

The letter came the same day The Detroit News published online a two-page complaint from Superintendent Teresa Gueyser that accused Mathis of touching himself during a private meeting this week. She called it his "usual habit" and wrote she's documented his "inappropriate behavior for months."

"On many occasions, I have asked him not to touch himself," she wrote in the Wednesday letter to Anthony Adams, board vice president.

Gueyser did not return phone calls. She filed a report with the district's Office of Public Safety and warned in the letter Mathis' actions "have exposed the district to a lawsuit." A district spokeswoman confirmed police are investigating.

"We continue to move forward to advance academic policy within the district," Adams said. "We need to let the police do what they do, which is investigate."

The allegations came the same day board members returned to court in their fight with Emergency Financial Manager Robert Bobb for academic control of the district.

And they're the latest controversy in the rocky tenure of Mathis, a two-year board member elected president by his peers this year. This spring, he acknowledged he's a "terrible" writer who struggles to write a comprehensible sentence after The Detroit News published samples of his e-mails to colleagues. The elected post comes with a nominal per-meeting fee.

'I need to pursue treatment'

Mathis acknowledged in his Friday letter he "made inappropriate actions toward a professional employee of the board" but promised to remove himself from personnel decisions involving her. The letter didn't name Gueyser.

"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," said Mathis, a cancer survivor whose Thursday resignation also cited health problems.

He sat in the audience during a Friday afternoon board meeting about Gueyser's contract. Adams and other members say Mathis' resignation can't be rescinded. But he has the support of at least one member, Reverend David Murray, who said the 55-year-old shouldn't quit.

"I don't think Mr. Mathis meant any harm to Teresa Gueyser," Murray said. "It happens to a lot of young men. They engage in behavior they feel is harmless, and it's offensive to certain people."

Gueyser's letter describes in detail an incident during a meeting about her employment agreement. She complained the incident was the "culmination of a long history" of lewd behavior.

"President Mathis continued to fondle his genital area for approximately 20 minutes, or the entire time I was talking," Gueyser, 47, 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 say what day the meeting occurred, except that it began at 4:55 p.m. and lasted until 5:55 p.m.

"He then rezipped 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 she was so "disgusted" and "sick of him doing that" that she left the meeting and told a district police officer. Mathis apologized before she left, asked her not to leave and called her minutes later on her cell phone to apologize again, according to the letter.

'The utmost respect for him'

Gueyser stated in the letter that she had in the past notified district staffers of Mathis' inappropriate behavior, including former Board President Carla Scott. But Scott said 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 (this year)."

Scott added Mathis can't rescind his resignation, since he submitted his resignation letter to the board secretary. Without any attached conditions, the resignation took effect immediately, she said.

"It's done," she said. "He turned in his keys."

Mathis' colleagues said he recently had surgery. They were stunned by the allegations.

"The allegation is shocking," said Tyrone Carter, who lives in southwest Detroit and has known Mathis for about 20 years.

Mohamed Okdie, chairman of the Detroit Board of Police Commissioners, agreed.

"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."

During Friday's board meeting, district activist Helen Moore sat across the aisle from him in the front row and offered her advice: Shut up.

"He should go home, rest and take time out until we get through this," Moore said.

cjun@detnews.com">cjun@detnews.com (313) 222-2019

Gueyser (Ricardo Thomas / The Detroit News)