Marriage of convenience

Martinez return leaves some issues unsettled

On May 13, Martinez, center, and school board members David Aiazzi, left, and John Mayer listened to school board chair Barbara Clark react to the police report on the Sparks Middle School shooting.

On May 13, Martinez, center, and school board members David Aiazzi, left, and John Mayer listened to school board chair Barbara Clark react to the police report on the Sparks Middle School shooting.

Photo/Dennis Myers

On the day Washoe schools superintendent Pedro Martinez returned to his job, he had to give a speech to a large educators’ gathering at Truckee Meadows Community College. As he was standing waiting to be introduced, he was approached by Washoe School Board member Howard Rosenberg, one of the members who had supported suspending Martinez while his credentials were investigated. As the crowd watched, the two men exchanged a few words and then Martinez embraced Rosenberg. Social amenities thus sealed the end of the episode of the suspension.

If it is the end.

Martinez was put on paid leave, according to the board, when he refused to cooperate in a contractual administrative process designed to get at the truth of questions about his claim to being a certified public accountant. His refusal was allegedly a breach of contract and came in such a manner that the board members were offended by his demeanor, which triggered their decision to put him on leave.

The board acted in what appears to have been violation of the Nevada open meeting law, and rushed the process instead of including the public. The board’s attorney, however, said it acted under a section of the law that exempted it from open meeting provisions.

On July 31, the School Board decided to cut its open meeting losses and invited Martinez to return to work, and he agreed.

“According to your version of last Tuesday’s events, my clients made a decision or took action concerning Superintendent Martinez’s employment contract in violation of the Open Meeting Law,” school board attorney Kent Robison wrote to Martinez attorney William Peterson. “If your accusation is true, whatever ’action’ that was taken is void. I have no reason to disagree and concur that whatever ’action’ that was taken last Tuesday with regard to your client’s contract is void pursuant to NRS 241.036. Accordingly, my clients respectfully ask that Superintendent Martinez resume his duties and responsibilities immediately.”

“On advice from outside counsel, and because of the position taken by the media and Superintendent Martinez, the Board understands that last week’s actions may be void under Nevada law,” said school board chair Barbara Clark in a prepared statement. “Rather than debate this complicated issue, we have agreed that last week’s events are void.”

But Martinez said he will not drop his lawsuits against the board.

Specifics came late

The turnaround came just as the board strengthened its position with a court filing describing a dramatically different scenario under which the superintendent of schools was suspended than the one he put out to the public at the time. Their account raised concerns, particularly among businesspeople, of whether Martinez’s conduct as an employee had been appropriate.

Martinez initially told reporters he was (1) fired because of a (2) dispute over his certified public accountant credentials. His version, which was parroted in most news reports and ran uncontested for a week, was forcefully challenged on July 29 when the Washoe County School Board filed a list of particulars, only one of which is the CPA matter. The filing in state district court reaffirmed that Martinez was not fired. It then went on to say the superintendent increased the number of administrators in the school district, shuffled principals around the district, and failed to carry out a board-budgeted item, all without consulting with the school board, misled the board on personnel, ignored parental concerns about special education students, and excluded the school board in violation of his contract, and then refused to participate in a quasi-judicial administrative process to which he bound himself in his contract, instead “display[ing] a hostile, belligerent, uncooperative and defiant attitude and demeanor [and] walked out of the legal discussions without participating in the legal meetings in good faith and in accordance with his contractual promises.”

The school board paid a high price for delaying so long to give its version of events. Had the board released this information promptly after its June 22 meeting, or made the process more public, it might not have faced such harsh community reaction.

In greater detail, the filing charges:

• After the school board budgeted for additional school counselors, Martinez failed to hire them.

• “Repeated complaints” from parents—particularly parents of special education students—were ignored by Martinez, subjecting the school district to bad publicity

• Martinez “intentionally and willfully disobeyed” a school board directive in May, then lied about the facts when questioned. The subject of the directive was not disclosed.

• Martinez “mishandled” personnel issues and excluded the school board from those matters after promising in his contract to consult with the board (no date or time frame was provided).

• Martinez violated his contract in 2013 by making “substantial increases to the executive leadership staff” without consulting with the school board.

• Also in 2013, Martinez violated his contract by transferring 12 principals without consulting with the school board.

• Martinez misled the school board about “recent high profile personnel decisions,” causing “unjustified and … unwarranted criticisms” of the board. (No date or time frame was provided.)

On the Open Meeting Law issues, the filing says that during negotiation of his contract, Martinez agreed he is an “at will” employee and also agreed to participate in “an administrative process” if issues that could cause his termination were ever raised. That process would include written charges and a hearing before the school board in which he could have a lawyer, question witnesses, and produce his own evidence. This process, the school board filing said, is exempted by state law from the Open Meeting Law. When the dispute over Martinez’s accounting credentials arose, that process was invoked. Martinez, the court filing claims, then balked at participating, in violation of his contract, and “reacted to the board” inquiries in a “beligerent [sic] and defiant manner.” He “refused to discuss or acknowledge” the school board’s questions.

By refusing to participate in the contractually required administrative process, the school board filing says, Martinez failed to exhaust his remedies, weakening his legal position.

The school board court filing suggests that Martinez’s demeanor on July 22, coming on top of earlier incidents of defiance, escalated feelings between the board and its superintendent and increased the stakes of the most recent dispute. It also suggests that Martinez’s public characterization of the controversy as being about his accounting background was incomplete. In her statement when Martinez was invited to resume his duties, school board chair Clark wrote, “The events and circumstances surrounding last week’s discussions had more to do with attitude, demeanor and lack of cooperation than it did with certifications and diplomas.”

Besides the ongoing problem of Martinez and the board suing each other, there are also still hard feelings on the school board itself, some of them directed at member Estela Gutierrez, who failed to attend the July 22 meeting and then complained about its outcome. Rosenberg was seen joining her at her seat at the August 1 TMCC event, but other board members are still said to be furious over other issues.