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Copyright 1997 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.

August 13, 1997, Wednesday, NORTHWEST EDITION




The Rev. Charles Arnett looks a bit like a cross between Santa Claus and Charles Spurgeon, a renowned preacher of 19th-century England.

Indeed, Arnett so resembles the latter figure, that his congregation presented him with a large portrait of Spurgeon that looms authoritatively near the desk in his pastor's study at Union Baptist Church in Englewood.

But in the eyes of many leaders in the Northmont region, Arnett is neither a jolly old elf nor a purveyor of "good news" - at least not outside the pulpit.

Arnett is well-known in the community for his outspoken crusades to curtail taxes in the Northmont School District and to keep school leaders focused on a conservative, back-to-basics approach to education. But, until recently, he had been on somewhat of a hiatus since 1995 when he was involved with a failed effort to repeal a Northmont school levy. The break is over.

During late May and early June, Arnett, 62, of Union:

* Filed a lawsuit along with another citizen against the Northmont City School District and its officials, accusing them of repeatedly violating state law in failing to provide proper notice of special meetings of the school board.

* Filed an action asking the 2nd District Court of Appeals to order the city of Union to submit referendum petitions to the Montgomery County Board of Elections.

"I must have been asleep or something," Arnett said, smiling, when asked about the low profile he had been keeping before the recent flurry of activity.

Not surprisingly, Arnett has his share of admirers and detractors in this feisty community where the school district - and not a whole lot else - is a common bond.

"He's a man of strong convictions, and he believes in articulating his conviction," said the Rev. Bill Brown, a long-time friend of Arnett and a pastoral colleague. Brown is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Randolph Twp.

"Charlie has a strong tendency to believe that if you hold convictions that you ought to bring them out in the open - and he certainly has been notorious for that," Brown said, laughing. "He's an outstanding man ... I think a pastor has a right to express himself as an individual citizen."

Arnett began finding his public voice by writing letters to newspaper editors. Then, he took an opposing stand at a public meeting when Northmont educators decided to try for approval of a tax levy again after three earlier defeats.

In one published letter, he chastised Northmont teachers for "imposing their values" on students during an election campaign when another levy was on the ballot.

"If teachers feel this is OK in the matter of elections to impose their values, what will happen if you get one who is a boozer, a homosexual, a liberal or a fornicator?" Arnett wrote.

Reflecting back on that one, Arnett said he tucked "liberal" in his laundry list just to get a rise out of one of his liberal friends. Some might be stunned to hear that Arnett has a liberal friend. As he notes: "I was identified as part of the Christian Right for a long time before I could figure out what the Christian Right was.

"I just felt I'd rather be extremely right than moderately wrong."

But Arnett does occasionally surprise people. For instance, despite tensions between Arnett's supporters and Northmont school officials, he agreed to serve on the district's Strategic Planning Team. That seemed to be a sign that Arnett and the school leaders could at least cooperate in some areas. That hope went into the dumper, however, with the filing of his lawsuit in late May.

Scott Branscum, a member of the Northmont Board of Education, said he and other school officials have been advised by their attorney not to comment about the suit brought by Arnett and Randolph Twp. resident Elmer C. Doran.

"I'm disappointed that I can't speak freely because of the lawsuit, that I can no longer dialogue with this particular segment of our community," Branscum said.

Cathy Young, a trustee with the Northmont Education Foundation, said she is tired of all the interruptions in Northmont's educational process: interruptions she clearly laid at the feet of Arnett and his anti-tax allies, the Concerned Citizens of Northmont.

Arnett was instrumental in putting the citizens group together, even though he has never held a leadership post with the group.

"Charles is entitled to his beliefs and his opinions," Young said. "I just wish he would work with us toward that common goal of continuing the educational growth process in the district."

Young, an Englewood resident whose younger daughter will be a Northmont sophomore this year, said, "That's what we all want, I think, as parents."

Arnett holds tightly to his basic and unadorned beliefs. "I have a strong belief that the Bible is the truth test for all that we do," Arnett said. A self-described fundamentalist, Arnett said the Bible is a litmus test for truth, "whether anybody understands it or not."

A lifelong resident of the Northmont area, Arnett grew up in Phillipsburg, but has lived in Union nearly 40 years. He and his wife, Carole, observed their 42nd wedding anniversary on July 23. A screen saver on the pastor's computer floats the message "I love Carole." The couple has four adult children.

Arnett is no stranger to the computer. Indeed, some of his sermons can be found on the Internet's World Wide Web via the Northmont Area Community Network web site.

Arnett's favorite quotation listed on his America Online profile is "text has meaning." It's a phrase he repeats often, almost like a mantra, as he discusses his views.

And for Arnett, no text has more sacred meaning - nor power - than holy Scripture.

"The Bible is the truth revealed to us," Arnett said.