The Washoe County School Board violated Nevada’s Open Meeting law when it failed to issue a public notice prior to deciding behind closed doors to place Superintendent Pedro Martinez on paid leave, Barry Smith, executive director of the Nevada Press Association said Wednesday.
Six of the seven trustees on the school board decided Tuesday at a board workshop to relieve Martinez of his duties, but that item was not listed on the agenda.
Board member Estela Gutierrez was at an academic conference and did not take part in the decision.
According to Nevada’s Open Meeting Law, as cited under NRS 241.031, “a public body shall not hold a closed meeting to consider the character, misconduct or competence” of certain public officers, including “a superintendent of a county school district.”
“They clearly violated the Open Meeting Law,” Smith said. “They are trying to bend their actions and contort them in order to justify what they did out of the eyes of the public, knowing full well that their responsibility under the law was to hold an open meeting.
“The bigger issue is that the trust the public has in an elected board’s members is that they will be honest and that they will be open,” he said. “But when they try to do things in private and try to get around the law, that just destroys people’s confidence in elected officials.”
All six members who took part in Tuesday’s decision to strip Martinez of his duties (Barbara Clark, the board’s president and board trustees Lisa Ruggerio, Barbara McLaury, Howard Rosenberg, Dave Aiazzi and John Mayer) did not return messages left on their telephones asking whether they believe they are in violation of the Open Meeting Law.
Earlier Wednesday, Clark had said that she did not mean to indicate Martinez had been terminated from his job as superintendent when she told reporters at Tuesday’s news conference that the trustees “would be meeting in the near future to find an interim” superintendent.
“We do need to discuss who is going to be stepping in and taking over those duties,” she said Wednesday. “So there are issues regarding relieving him of his duties. That is what I was talking about.”
Gutierrez, the lone trustee who was not at the school board’s Tuesday workshop, said it has become clear to her that her fellow trustees’ decision was to try to fire Martinez.
“The statement is that he has been ‘relieved of his duties,’ but the actions don’t equate to an administrative leave,” she said.
UPDATE: 6:28 p.m.
RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) — Jon Ralston, of Ralston Reports, has tweeted a possible reason for the firing of Pedro Martinez.
Ralston tweeted: “Good source: Washoe Superintendent Martinez was accused of misrepresenting his credentials, was escorted out of his office.”
Then, Ralston tweeted a possible confirmation: “Martinez confirms story I was told: ‘There is no basis for it. They completely violated my contract.’ He is hiring a lawyer.”
Ralston tweeted further, “Martinez says allegations surround whether he has misrepresented himself as CPA. He also said skl (school) officials ‘harassed me, threatening, how bad this would be for me and my family (if he did not leave).’ This is going to be very ugly.”
A guarded Washoe County School District Board of Trustees unexpectedly announced Tuesday that Superintendent Pedro Martinez is out of a job,providing few details for his departure.
“Effective immediately, Pedro Martinez has been relieved of his duties as superintendent of the Washoe County School District,” board President Barbara Clark said during a hastily called press conference. “We are in discussions with Mr. Martinez, and for legal reasons we cannot share the details.”
However, in a short interview late Tuesday, Martinez said the board claimed he misrepresented his credentials as a certified public accountant when he was a candidate for the position.
“I was accused of something that is basically untrue,” Martinez said. “They accused me of lying about being a licensed CPA.”
‘PEDRO WAS FIRED? WHEN?’ : Officials reacted in shock to the news.
He said he showed board members that he passed the CPA exam and provided them the documentation.
The fallout from Martinez’s departure is still unclear, but he said he is speaking to an attorney. His annual salary was $238,000, and his contract ran through July 31, 2016.
Clark said that while the board of trustees considers its options, the district will be led by Traci Davis, the deputy superintendent, who will be in charge of educational matters, and by Kristen McNeill, the district’s chief of staff, who will oversee operations.
Clark said the board members plan to meet soon to discuss finding a new superintendent. She said there are no candidates for the job in mind.
The district first announced Martinez’s firing on Twitter at 4:46 p.m., and followed up about 15 minutes later with the news conference attended by Clark and other school board members.
The Reno Gazette-Journal learned that six of the seven board members voted to terminate Martinez during a public workshop Tuesday, but no agenda items specified such a decision was going to be made during that meeting.
When asked which agenda item allowed the trustees to vote on ousting Martinez, a district spokeswoman responded, “The only information we can release now was already released at the news conference.”
No reason given for superintendent’s dismissal. Lenita Powers/RGJ
‘I’m in shock’
When contacted Tuesday, most other board members either declined comment or did not return phone calls.
Estella Gutierrez was the only board member who was not at the Tuesday meeting. Late Tuesday, she said she was “blindsided” by the decision.
She said she never received any information on the possible removal of Martinez. She said she would have been in Reno for such an “important decision.”
“I’m in shock,” said Gutierrez, who was attending an academic conference in Oakland on behalf of Truckee Meadows Community College President Maria Sheehan. “I couldn’t even tell you anything at this position other than I am frustrated, and I was not part of that decision, and it was not part of the agenda as well. If something like that was on the agenda, I would have been alerted.”
Gutierrez, the dean of student services at TMCC who chose not to run for re-election this fall, said she has had “nothing but a positive relationship” with Martinez.
“He’s done a great job,” she said. “He’s had a good rapport with the majority of community.”
The news also caught parents and school district employees off guard. Longtime elementary school teacher Theresa Crowley said she received an email from the district informing her that Martinez was being relieved.
“My sister, a fellow parent of WCSD students, texted me as I was reading the district’s official statement on my school email,” Crowley said. “Just then, my phone started blowing up from my district colleagues wondering what was going on.
“This has come as a complete surprise to me, to all of us. And now we’re all left wondering while rumors fly.”
Police chief not connected
During the press conference, Clark said the recent firing of Washoe County School District Police Chief Mike Mieras had nothing to do with Martinez’s dismissal.
In an interview Tuesday, Mieras said he was surprised by Martinez losing his job.
“I guess it is one of those things the board of trustees has put a lot of thought and effort into,” said Mieras, who was the police chief for 12 years before he was fired last month.
Meanwhile, Clark said Martinez’s departure will not affect the students, who begin school next month.
“As I have indicated in my prepared statement, we have 8,000 dedicated employees that come to work every day and do their jobs very well, and they do it on behalf of educating our students,” Clark said.
“And we cannot assume that there will be any difference between yesterday, today or tomorrow,” she said. “That is why they are employed. They willingly come and help us educate our students, and that’s not going to change. The structure is here.”
A contentious relationship
Martinez’s relationship was not always smooth with the board of trustees.
“Superintendent Martinez, you are a good man, there are no ifs and buts about that,” Trustee Howard Rosenberg said at Martinez’s review earlier this month. “But you can do better, and we can help if you just keep us in the loop. We can be advocates for you, for our vision and the school district.”
During the review, Trustee Dave Aiazzi praised Martinez for working with other boards in the community, but said he thought Martinez needed to do better with his own board. Aiazzi was further critical of some of Martinez’s public comments and the public perception that the superintendent had not met with people such as Larry Dailey, father of a child with special needs who has long had issues with his daughter’s education.
“You have to step up to some things (that) are uncomfortable, too,” he said.
Previously, the superintendent was the only person directly accountable to the board, but that changed in October 2013 when the trustees voted to make the district’s legal counsel and the chief auditor report to the elected board.
Aiazzi told the Reno Gazette-Journal earlier this year the move was a way to remove one more layer of bureaucracy.
“We want the public to know what they are doing, and without the superintendent in the middle, that can happen with fewer steps.”
Clark also told the RGJ, “Our previous superintendent was such a dynamic speaker that I think he captured all of the people’s attention. Superintendent Martinez sees us as a team of eight making decisions.”
A brief tenure
In June 2009, Martinez was one of six finalists for the Washoe County superintendent position. At the time, he was the chief financial officer for Chicago Public Schools. Heath Morrison ultimately was hired for the Washoe County position, and in October 2009, he hired Martinez as a deputy superintendent.
In May 2011, Martinez departed for Las Vegas, where he served as a deputy superintendent in the Clark County School District. When Morrison left to take a superintendent job in North Carolina, Martinez was hired to replace him in June 2012.
Martinez pushed Assembly Bill 46 through the 2013 Legislature, which ultimately asked the Washoe County Commission to increase sales and property taxes for school repairs. The commission never voted on the matter, and the proposal died.
Martinez also unveiled a school ranking system during his tenure, creating an “acceleration zone” for the district’s lowest-performing schools. Martinez also laid out a goal to increase the high school graduation rate to 80 percent by 2016.
Reporters Siobhan McAndrew, Ray Hagar and Guy Clifton contributed to this report.
What happened Tuesday?
Martinez out: The Washoe County School District Board of Trustees voted to dismiss Superintendent Pedro Martinez.
The reason: Martinez said he’s accused of lying about being a credentialed certified public accountant. He denies the allegation.
WASHOE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Six of seven school board members voted to terminate Superintendent Pedro Martinez during a public workshop Tuesday, but no agenda items specified such a decision was going to be made during that meeting. Trustee Estela Gutierrez was not at the meeting.
AT A GLANCE: PEDRO MARTINEZ
Professional experience: Washoe County Superintendent, June 29, 2012-July 22, 2014; Clark County deputy superintendent, May 2011-June 2012; Washoe County deputy superintendent, October 2009-May 2011; Chicago Public Schools chief financial officer, 2003-2009; Archdiocese of Chicago, director of finance and technology, 1995-2003.
Education: Bachelor of science, University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana; master’s in business administration, DePaul University; Public Education Leadership program, Harvard University; fellowship, Broad Superintendents Academy.
Washoe County history: In June 2009, Martinez was one of six finalists for the Washoe County superintendent position. At the time, he was the chief financial officer for Chicago Public Schools. Heath Morrison ultimately was hired for the Washoe County position and in October of 2009, he hired Martinez as a deputy superintendent. In May of 2011, Martinez departed for Las Vegas where he served as a deputy superintendent in the Clark County School District. When Morrison left to take a superintendent job in North Carolina, Martinez was hired to replace him in June 2012.
Source: RGJ research
Martinez brought his CPA certificate, explained his case and returned to his office. Meanwhile, he said, board members continued to deliberate with Drake behind closed doors.
“I took it as not a big deal,” Martinez said.
According to Martinez’s biography on the Washoe County School District website, which has since been removed, “he is a certified public accountant and holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign …”
Martinez said he has never claimed to be a licensed practitioner but does hold a certificate, having passed the exam to be a CPA from the University of Illinois in 1992.
“I have never, ever publicly said ever that I was a licensed practitioner,” Martinez said.
He said trustees said they were worried about perception issues. Martinez said he told the trustees, “Let’s work together to figure those out.”
“I really felt like they did their due diligence,” Martinez said when they told him about looking into his background.
About 4:30 p.m., Martinez said several trustees and Drake came to his office and said, “We feel that this is egregious and we are going to terminate your contract.”
When Martinez said they had to follow termination procedures outlined in his contract, he said Drake returned to the closed meeting and came back several times with different settlement offers.
Martinez said one offer was that he resign and the board would agree to pay him a settlement package with three months’ pay.
He said trustees Lisa Ruggerio and Dave Aiazzi said if he did not resign, it would hurt his career and family. Aiazzi and Ruggerio did not return calls for comment on Wednesday.
He said shortly after he was told to leave, he was escorted out of the building. The board called a meeting with his leadership team and told them Martinez was being relieved of his duties.
The board staged a press conference at 5 p.m. and sent out an automated call to Washoe County School District families announcing the news.
‘I love this community’
During his tenure, Martinez said he never talked publicly about being a CPA. Instead, he said, he focused on what the community could relate to, including the fact he is a first-generation high school graduate and the first in his family to go to college.
“I see so many of our children that need to see that because so many of our families are first-generation and with poverty rates growing,” he said.
Martinez also said he was committed to staying in his role as superintendent and had no plans of leaving.
“I love this community,” he said. “I have two children that were born here.”
He said his staff members were distraught when they learned he was losing his job.
“That for them is the biggest tragedy, that there is a risk now it could all be lost for something that has no significance,” he said.
In Martinez’s contract
In his contract, Pedro Martinez can be terminated under two methods.
For cause: Martinez can be fired for cause for embezzlement, fraud, misappropriation or theft; being convicted of or pleading no contest or guilty to a felony; breaching his contract; or doing any other fireable offense under state or federal law. He has the right to written charges, a hearing, 10 days’ advance notice of the charges and hearing, and a written decision. He can attend that hearing, produce evidence, have a lawyer there and examine witnesses.
Mutual parting: Martinez can be let go with 90 days’ written notice and a year’s compensation as a severance package.
Sanford, Florida (CNN) — An employee of the Florida State Attorney’s Office who testified that prosecutors withheld evidence from George Zimmerman’s defense team has been fired.
Ben Kruidbos had been on paid administrative leave since May 28 from his job as director of information technology for the State Attorney’s Office.
A spokeswoman for Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Angela Corey said Kruidbos was no longer an employee of the office.
Zimmerman, a former neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, is on trial in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last year.
Kruidbos testified before Zimmerman’s trial began that Martin’s cell phone contained images of Martin blowing smoke, images of marijuana and deleted text messages regarding a transaction for a firearm and that those images had not been given to Zimmerman’s defense team.
He received the termination letter, dated July 11, on Friday, the same day jurors began deliberating Zimmerman’s case. The letter states: “It has come to our attention that you violated numerous State Attorney’s Office (SAO) policies and procedures and have engaged in deliberate misconduct that is especially egregious in light of your position.”