Once and a while an elected official will do something unexplainably idiotic thereby demolishing his/her political future. But when six elected officials on the same board blow it big time it has to be some sort or international record.
That’s what happened earlier this month when six of the seven Washoe County School Board trustees summarily fired School Superintendent Pedro Martinez with no notice, no hearing, no public input or even a scintilla of due process. To make matters worse they failed to disclose the planned hack job on an agenda, as required by Nevada law, thus lulling a seventh trustee, Estela Gutierrez, to participate in an out of area education symposium instead of attending what was billed as a routine “workshop.”
The six trustees could not have disgraced themselves more thoroughly if the whole process had been scripted in Hollywood. According to press reports, the excuse for this drastic action was that Martinez told trustees when he was hired that he was a CPA. Indeed he is a licensed CPA in Illinois having passed that state’s exam on graduation from the University of Illinois.
He was employed as chief financial officer of the Chicago School District when former Superintendent Heath Morrison brought him to Nevada as his assistant. He was subsequently hired by the Clark County School District as deputy superintendent and in June 2012, on the departure of Heath Morrison, was hired by unanimous vote as Washoe County School superintendent.
Not surprisingly, Martinez has not taken time to sit for the Nevada CPA exam. Note that trustees were not looking for someone to do their taxes … they sought a school superintendent, yet the reason given for this abrupt action is that he does not have a Nevada CPA license.
To make things worse, according to media reports, trustees Aiazzi and Ruggiero threatened Martinez that if he did not resign it would hurt his career and family. Martinez replied that he was committed to staying in his role as superintendent and had no plans of leaving. He was then unceremoniously escorted from the building.
Not surprisingly, the Reno Gazette-Journal came unglued. Media folks despise secret back room deals by elected officials, and, indeed, Nevada law expressly prohibits such actions. The newspaper, through its attorney, has asked Nevada’s attorney general to conduct a full investigation. The request states: “The conduct by the Board was so outrageous that it is difficult to identify a requirement of the Open Meeting Law that the Board did not violate.”
Violations of statutes are only a part of the problems generated by the school board’s gaffe. In addition to possible criminal culpability there is the issue of the school district’s liability in tort and contract to Martinez. Beyond just the legal problems there is now a looming question of what competent school superintendent would ever come to work for a board comprised of these clowns.
Additionally, past efforts by the school district to convince voters to approve school bonds and tax increases for schools have been checkered at best; how will voters respond in the future to impassioned requests from this board to boost our taxes after this betrayal of public trust? Finally what will happen to academic progress in our schools while all the investigations, law suits and subpoenas are flying?
The Incline/Crystal Bay area is represented by two school trustees, Barbara McLaury and Lisa Ruggiero. Unfortunately, their terms do not expire until 2016, so we are stuck with them for another two years. However, for the 2014 election, be sure to vote “no” on the business margins tax (State Measure 3); we don’t want to trust these birds with any more money.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada Republican Central Committees.