Indian education director feared loss of job over report

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) — On three different occasions starting in 2013, Charles “Monty” Roessel pulled strings to get a woman a job with the federal agency that oversees education for American Indian children, a report by a federal watchdog found.

It said in one case, he asked a human resources official how he could bring her on board with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Education and had the job description changed. In the second, he asked a colleague to find the woman a job at a community school despite the principal saying he had no need for her. In the third case, he personally selected the woman as a program analyst for the agency in Washington, D.C.

Turns out, the woman and Roessel were involved romantically, according to the report by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General. Roessel was removed as director of the agency shortly after the report’s public release Wednesday — a move he feared once the findings were made public.

The Interior Department said the severity of the findings warranted immediate action. Ann Marie Bledsoe Downes, a deputy assistant secretary, took over as acting director.

The Bureau of Indian Education oversees nearly 200 schools serving American Indian children in some 20 states, mostly on rural reservations. It has faced scrutiny recently for rundown classrooms and for failing to conduct regular inspections at dozens of schools, putting children at risk.

Roessel was named the permanent director in late 2013 after serving as interim director for nearly two years.

The Inspector General began looking into Roessel in July 2014 after an unidentified bureau official alleged Roessel abused his position to help the woman and a close relative of Roessel secure jobs.

Roessel, a longtime Navajo educator, administrator and writer, did not respond to an email from The Associated Press seeking comment. He is well-known on the Navajo Nation where his family helped found the country’s first tribal college.

Roessel told investigators that he did not feel his selection of the program analyst was inappropriate because she was the most qualified and because he wasn’t her immediate supervisor. A human resources official said he didn’t feel pressured to hire the woman and didn’t view it as improper either but told investigators that, in hindsight, he should have warned Roessel against it.

Roessel and the woman met while she was working for the Navajo Department of Dine Education, the report said. They initially told investigators they were not involved romantically but eventually admitted to kissing, hugging and spending time together outside the workplace.

The Inspector General’s report also noted other consistencies in their statements regarding how the woman became aware of the jobs and in how Roessel explained the hiring of his relative.

Roessel had proposed a position for an education employee who could rotate among three schools in the Navajo region. His relative was selected as the top candidate, but the position was canceled after two of the schools said they couldn’t afford to chip in for the salary.

The job was re-advertised after Roessel and his staff decided to use grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education for the pay, according to the report.

An education specialist chose another person for the job. But when she told Roessel, he discredited the person, investigators said. He ultimately acknowledged knowing his relative was the only other remaining candidate and would get the job if he disapproved of the specialist’s pick.