It was no shock or even surprise that the Washoe County School Board took disciplinary action against Superintendent Pedro Martinez. His high-handed behavior, his indifference to the poor morale in the school district workforce (“healthy tension,” he called it), his contempt for the notion of explaining himself to the public practically invited discipline. So something along these lines could be expected. What was not expected was the board’s mishandling of it.
Where do we start? No public notice. No public input. No proper agenda. From out of nowhere, in a process that appeared casual and unofficial, the board allegedly put the superintendent on paid leave without giving him an advance opportunity to respond to accusations. It seemed very much like his behavior in removing the school district police chief. How could the school board members, with his example immediately before them, imitate him?
The board needed to make a case to the public before it acted, not spring everything with no advance word. As the board should know from the reaction to the police chief’s firing, this school district belongs to all of us in this county.
Martinez’s certified public accountant credentials, the purported basis for his suspension, seem to us to be more a subjective call than the board is letting on. So far, no one has challenged his training in the field. That leaves the issues of whether he is, or was, a licensed or practicing CPA, and what he told the board in interviews during the hiring process. Memory is uncertain, and some current members of the board weren’t even on the board when Martinez was hired. The dispute is so nebulous that a lot of people think Martinez is being given a $50 penalty for a 50 cent crime. And why has the board failed to address the serious questions about Martinez’s other failings?
At the same time, if the CPA dispute is more nuanced than we have heard, other issues are more nuanced than they are being portrayed:
Board member Estella Gutierrez objected that she was not present for the board meeting and some Latino leaders are reading a race factor into Martinez’s firing in Gutierrez’s absence. But Gutierrez chose to absent herself to attend an Oakland conference as a favor for a friend instead of attending the school board meeting as a favor to the voters who elected her. The agenda did not list the superintendent as a topic, but it listed other matters.
The Reno Gazette-Journal editorialized that because former longtime members of the Reno City Council and University and Community College System of Nevada Board of Regents serve on the school board, they should have known the open meeting law in detail. This is nonsense. We’ve known public figures who served capably in office for decades without knowing that law fully. (The same is true of some longtime reporters.) Elected officials must deal with innumerable statutes. The open meeting statutes are just some of them, and they cannot be expected to know them all in detail. That’s why public bodies have legal counsel, which brings up another question—what was the school board’s lawyer doing all the time the paid leave drama was unfolding? We are told he was present.
One week ago, public focus was on the superintendent’s behavior. Now it has shifted to the behavior of the school board. Parents, police officers and others who wanted Martinez’ earlier behavior addressed may never have that opportunity now.