WEST CONTRA COSTA School Board Trustee Charles Ramsey's runaway mouth has once again gotten him into trouble.

A volunteer and a teacher are calling for the school board to discipline Ramsey for what they describe as the trustee's verbally abusive, threatening and bullying behavior at El Cerrito High School in late May.

Ramsey says he never threatened anyone and has apologized for his outburst.

The whole thing would have never made the newspaper, he said, except the teacher's union is leveraging the incident in its quest to discredit the board in the court of public opinion. Contract negotiations between the union and the district have been at an impasse for months, and the teachers recently authorized a strike.

"The teachers are trying to make the case that this is a board member who is not reasonable or rational and you can't trust him, so trust us," Ramsey said. "Since the teachers are about to go on strike, they want to show the public that board members are untrustworthy."

School Board President Karen Pfeifer apparently agrees with Ramsey's assessment.

She told the Times that she regards the incident as a heated argument among adults and that the board will not take disciplinary action against Ramsey. (Some have suggested mandatory anger management classes.)

Granted, it's no secret that the teacher's union loathes Ramsey and will leap at any opportunity to capitalize on his blunders.


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But if the union is pointing a gun at Ramsey's head, it is Ramsey who has supplied them with the bullets.

Ramsey has a well-deserved reputation as a hot-head.

He nearly got into a fistfight with a district sound technician a few years ago, and he has publicly berated parents, union leaders and school board candidates.

"Yes, we're in negotiations, but that has nothing to do with Mr. Ramsey's pattern of abusive behavior," said union President Gail Mendes. "I'm a sixth-grade teacher, and I teach my students that it is not acceptable to intimidate and bully people. Mr. Ramsey hasn't learned that yet."

In the latest fracas, written statements from volunteer Marcia Osborn, teacher Steven Temple and former assistant principal Elizabeth Watson differ substantially from Ramsey's version of events.

Everyone agrees that it started when Ramsey overheard Temple talking to Osborn about union negotiations. (The union says the district has failed to deliver a promised 6 percent raise last July, a position the board disputes.)

From there, the accounts diverge.

According to Osborn's written statement, Ramsey and the teacher began to argue loudly and Osborn asked the men to lower their voices in front of the students.

But instead, Ramsey turned on her and yelled, "Who are you?" and "You're nobody!" Osborn says Ramsey backed her into a corner and screamed at her, his face just inches from hers.

"I'm not a person who is easily intimidated," Osborn said. "But he publicly humiliated me and he scared me so badly that I felt he would harm me. ... I'm not going to let him have a pass on this. This has happened one too many times. He's going to hurt somebody."

Temple's written account said Ramsey "glared down on me from a few inches, pointed his finger at my chest and said, 'You don't talk to me that way!' ... Mr. Ramsey was out-of-line, rude, belligerent and used his school board authority to intimidate me and was threatening in his demeanor."

Watson, the assistant principal, also described Ramsey as intimidating in her report.

"I positioned my body between Mr. Ramsey and Marsha (sic) and asked him to please leave," she wrote. "He replied very loud and very upset, 'You don't tell me what to do. I might be out-of-line but you don't tell me what to do!'"

Ramsey concedes that he raised his voice but called the other allegations embellishment, fabrication or revisionist history.

He says he was in the office on another matter when he overheard Temple state that "he was tired of board members stealing his money" and decided to challenge him on it.

As for the volunteer, Ramsey says Osborn butted in where she didn't belong.

"She was telling me to shut up and I was telling her no," Ramsey said. "She decided she was going to be the boss. She has no official status. She has no kids in the school. She is not elected or employed by the school district."

But no matter how Ramsey spins this tale, it begs so many questions.

Does a 61-year-old school volunteer deserve even a mild public tongue-lashing?

Is a high school office -- populated with staff and students -- the appropriate place to engage in verbal warfare with a teacher?

When an assistant principal asks an elected school board trustee -- the ultimate authority in the district -- to leave the campus, doesn't that offer a clue that something is seriously amiss?

The public has elected Ramsey four times to the school board, and he is seriously considering a second run for Assembly District 14. He ran and lost in 2002 against incumbent Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, who terms out next year.

On paper, Ramsey is a formidable candidate. He has held public office for 14 years. He knows how to raise money. And he has deep ties to Contra Costa County politics.

But unless Ramsey learns how to control his explosive temper, he will eventually pull the trigger on his own political career and save others the trouble.

Lisa Vorderbrueggen covers politics. Read new items on her blog http://www.cctextra.com/blogs/politicsblog/. Reach her at 925-945-4773 or at lvorderbrueggen@cctimes.com.