RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) — A school committee for Boston Public Schools voted for their new superintendent Tuesday, and Pedro Martinez was not chosen for the job.
Former Washoe County School Superintendent Pedro Martinez was named one of four finalists being considered for the position of Boston school superintendent in late February.
The committee voted in favor of appointing Dr. Tommy Chang, who received the 5-2 majority over Martinez. The other two candidates did not receive votes.
During a time of comment, committee member Ms. Campbell said Martinez’ interviews “woke us all up.” Ms. Campbell commented on his candor and passion, and noted that he would have a “bright future.”
Currently, Martinez is a superintendent in residence for the Nevada Department of Education and advises the State Superintendent of Instruction and Governor’s office on education policies — including the creation of an Achievement District to improve chronically low performing schools.
Martinez applied for a position in Boston after being appointed to his current position.
“We want to invest in our education. We want to modernize, not only our education system, but the way we fund education,” says Lt. Governor Mark Hutchison.
Nevada graduation rates, however, are still last in the nation and Sandoval says improving the K-12 system is a must, not a need.
So, he announced former Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez as the Superintendent in Residence for the newly found ‘Achievement School District.’
With 10% of Nevada schools considered under achieving, the Achievement School District, through the Nevada Department of Education, will take over.
“The Governor has been very bold tonight to have so much funding to K-12 education,” says Martinez. “It starts with building leadership to make sure we’re recruiting and building incentives to make sure the best leaders are over-seeing these schools.”
Each of the 78 schools have one more year to turn the numbers around.
“If they don’t, then we’re going to come in and replace those traditional public schools with a charter school,” says Hutchison. “It’s going to give a lot more control back to the parents, to the educators.”
Details of the amount of the settlement, and which entity must pay the different costs, were provided to the Reno Gazette-Journal after the newspaper filed a request for the information Sept. 24, citing the Nevada Public Records Act.
The lion’s share of the settlement — $576,000 — will be covered by school district’s special insurance fund.
The insurance fund will pay the district’s $85,000 in legal fees, Martinez’s $80,000 in legal fees, and the approximately $546,415 payout in salary and benefits for the 15 months remaining in Martinez’s job contract.
The board voted Sept. 23 to accept terms of the settlement as recommended by Washoe District Judge David Hardy, who served as a mediator.
The settlement came after months of upheaval in the school district’s administration.
The dispute began with a July 22 press conference where the school board announced Martinez was being relieved of his duties.
The school board later stated that it put Martinez on paid leave, a decision based on the erroneous belief that he had claimed to be a licensed certified public accountant.
Martinez said that he had been fired by six of the seven board members during an illegally closed meeting held prior to the press conference, and he later filed a wrongful termination lawsuit.
The Nevada Attorney General’s office determined that the board had illegally terminated Martinez and that there was no basis for his dismissal.
• $85,000 for the district’s legal fees, paid by the school district’s insurance fund
• $80,000 for Pedro Martinez’s legal fees, paid by the district’s insurance fund
• $546,415 in salary and benefits paid to Martinez (assuming a payout for Oct. 2014 to Dec. 22, 2015)
• $411,000 of that $546,415 in salary and benefits will be paid from the Special Insurance Fund and through liability insurance coverage.
Insurance covers: $576,000
School district pays: $135,415
Source: Washoe County School District
— District Judge David Hardy
The Washoe County School District needs to wipe the slate clean. It needs a new start free of the rancor and dysfunction that have marked the past four months since the Board of Trustees tried to fire Superintendent Pedro Martinez in a hastily arranged, illegal meeting.
Hardy’s words after a failed effort to mediate the dispute between Martinez and the board sealed the superintendent’s fate. He will be out of office after six weeks, his contract bought out at a cost estimated at more than a half a million dollars to the taxpayers.
WCSD SUPERINTENDENT OUT: Washoe school board OKs Martinez settlement
Six of the seven trustees have been fined a total of $1,500 each for violations of the Nevada Open Meeting Law. (Trustee Estela Gutierrez was not at the illegal meeting.) And they have been excoriated by a long line of civic leaders, including Gov. Brian Sandoval’s wife, Kathleen.
It’s time now for the remaining five trustees (Gutierrez is not running for re-election; Dave Aiazzi has said he will resign for health reasons) to admit that they no longer have the moral authority nor the confidence of the community that is essential to their acting in the best interests of the students, staff and taxpayers of Washoe County.
They should resign their offices and allow the district to wipe the slate clean for a fresh start, not because they fired a superintendent — popular or not, superintendents often are fired; that’s the nature of the job — but because they no longer can do the job they were elected to do. Those who broke the system can’t be relied on to put it back together.
NO ROAD MAP
Such a move would be unprecedented in Nevada, and the law doesn’t offer a clear road map for moving forward.
Yes, there are provisions for removing public officials for malfeasance or misfeasance. A judge could be asked to remove the entire board, or the voters could get together and recall the trustees. Both could be long, drawn-out efforts that would drain the community of much of the energy that is needed to continue with the impressive gains in student achievement and graduation rates that we have seen in the past few years. (To recall the remaining five members of the board — President Barbara Clark, who’s running for re-election this year; John Mayer, unopposed for re-election; and Howard Rosenberg, Lisa Ruggerio and Barbara McLaury, serving terms that end in 2016 — would require five separate recall petitions, at considerable expense.)
The law does, however, provide for vacancies on the Board of Trustees to be filled by … the Board of Trustees, a procedure that is, under the circumstances, untenable today.
The only path available to the citizens of Washoe County appears to be a request to Gov. Sandoval to use his power to act in an emergency and take charge. Sandoval, working through the State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction Dale Erquiaga, should be asked to appoint an interim superintendent to see the district through at least the 2015 session of the Nevada Legislature. He then could appoint acting trustees, through whatever process is deemed necessary, to serve until the next election.
It’s imperative that these changes be made quickly. The improvements that have been made in recent years, including the development of new curriculums to meet higher standards that have won the district national accolades, are fragile. Teachers and students are under a lot of pressure to meet new standards, and they need the support of a dedicated superintendent and topnotch board of trustees.
Legislators will be watching, too. When education issues face them in 2015, they’ll want reassurances that the district is prepared to move forward and will be a good steward of the money that the taxpayers will be spending.
There’s no time to waste. Trustees must admit that they no longer can function successfully and give the district a chance to start fresh by resigning.
A Washoe District judge is recommending that the county school board buy out the remainder of Superintendent Pedro Martinez’s employment contract.
“…The present circumstances make it impossible for the board and Mr. Martinez to move forward in a spirit of mutual cooperation,” Judge David Hardy of Washoe District Court said in a written recommendation obtained by KRNV-TV on Monday and independently confirmed by the RGJ.
“Both parties therefore agree that it is the best interests of everyone, including students, parents, and school district employees, that the board exercise its right to purchase the balance of Mr. Martinez’s employment contract,” Hardy wrote in the recommendation.
The matter is on the agenda of Tuesday’s school board meeting set to start at 2 p.m. in the board room of the Central Administration Building, 425 E. Ninth St. in Reno.
Tensions between board members and Martinez surfaced July 22 when Clark announced Martinez has been relieved of his duties.
A day later, Martinez said he was fired over frivolous accusations that he portrayed himself in the community as a licensed certified public accountant.
Trustees announced Martinez had not been fired but was on paid administrative leave.
Martinez returned to work Aug. 1, starting his day at a back to school training for hundreds of district administrators.
Mediation, recommended terms
Earlier this month the RGJ reported the trustees and Martinez were headed into mediation in front of Hardy.
Under Hardy’s recommendation, if approved Tuesday by the school board, Martinez’s employment contract would end on Dec. 22. Martinez’s last day of actual work would be no less six weeks from Tuesday.
Under the recommendation, the board would pay a predetermined value for Martinez’s contract worth 15 months of salary that he would have otherwise been entitled to had he worked until Dec. 22, 2015. That amount was not immediately known on Monday night.
Also, under the recommendation, Martinez would agree to dismiss a lawsuit against the board if the board agrees to pay his attorney fees of $80,000.
Hardy would enforce terms of the settlement.
“The parties agree that they will not disparage or malign one another with respect to any matter relating to their employment or service, their professionalism, ethics, work ethics, character, or integrity,” Hardy’s recommendation states.
Martinez, his attorney, Hardy, School Board President Barbara Clark and the school board’s attorney could not be reached for comment Monday night.
Messages were left for them and school board members Barbara McLaury, Lisa Ruggerio, Estela Gutierrez and John Mayer.
School board member Dave Aiazzi declined to comment, saying the judge’s document prohibited him from doing so.
School board member Howard Rosenberg said he had not seen the judge’s recommendation and could not immediately comment.
Victoria Campbell, a school district spokeswoman, said she had no information on the judge’s recommendation and referred questions to attorneys involved in the matter.
On July 25, through his attorney, Martinez filed a temporary restraining order and injunction against the district from conducting a meeting to consider legal action against him.
Martinez also sought relief for an alleged violation of the Nevada Open Meeting Law by the Board of Trustees and injunctive relief and damages for breach of his employment contract.
On July 29, school board trustees took a lashing from the public during its school board meeting.
The board’s outside legal counsel on July 31 said in a letter to Martinez’s attorney that the events of July 22, when six out of seven trustees unexpectedly announced Martinez was relieved of his duties, were now void and that the superintendent should return to work.
Earlier this month, the Nevada Attorney General’s Office said that the school board had violated Nevada Open Meeting Law six times on July 22 when the board decided to oust Martinez behind closed doors and without public notice.
The RGJ on July 24 had asked the Nevada Attorney General’s Office to investigate six of the seven members of the Washoe County School Board — excluding only Gutierrez, who was not physically present for the meeting — for violations of Nevada’s Open Meeting Law following Martinez’s ouster.
Earlier this month, Martinez’s attorney said that an offer of $25,000 to settle the breach of contract suit filed by superintendent would not be accepted.
IF YOU GO
Washoe School Board meeting starts at 2 p.m. Tuesday
Central Administration Building, Board Room, 425 E. Ninth St. Reno,
Go to RGJ.com for updates on this story
RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) — Washoe County District Judge David Hardy has recommended that the Washoe County School Board and Pedro Martinez part ways.
We will have more on this developing story. http://www.mynews4.com/news/local/story/BREAKING-Judge-recommends-Superintendent-leave/31ZOGITU-UyoDSK8Km0zbQ.cspx
Yesterday was the deadline for Martinez to accept a settlement offer of $25,000. Martinez refused to accept that amount. His lawyer, William Peterson said the sum offerred would not recover the costs of the legal fees Martinez has incurred. Peterson said, “Pedro should not be responsible for paying those costs and fees which were totally the responsibility of the School District for what they did.” Martinez is suing the District and trustees for breach of contract and for violating Nevada’s open meeting law when he was “fired” July 22nd in a closed-door session. The Attorney General determined the session was held in violation of the open meeting law. Peterson said, “The District has admitted it violated the open meeting law on six occasions. So, we prevailed on that claim and as the prevailing party we get our fees, but we have to get a judgement in order to get those fees, and we haven’t done that yet.” Peterson said Martinez also prevailed on his breach of contract claim. He said, “By virtue of violating his contract, or breach of his contract, he again is entitled to reasonable attorneys fees under his contract.”
The School District’s outside counsel does not dispute Martinez is owed legal fees; however, at question is whether those fees are reasonable. Kent Robison sees the situation differently. He said, ” The lawsuit the Superintendent filed had a life of about eight days.” He explained, “Whatever action occurred on that date was admittedly void and that position was taken by the Board on July 31st.” That is the date when Martinez returned to work. Robison said, “He returned to work, he’s not lost any money, he’s not lost any salary, he’s not lost any perks, he’s not lost any benefits, so his breach of contract that he was fired, is by his own admission, a void act, and therefore, it did not happen.”
Robison also said this case should have been resolved a month ago. He said, “The open meeting law was violated. The AG has said so. The trustees have paid their fine out of their own pockets. They admitted their wrong doing, they apologized to the public. It didn’t need to go on.” He added any additional attorneys fees regarding this claim should be very limited. He said, “Martinez is entitled to reasonable fees for the work that was done by his lawyers for that short period of time. If they chose to continue to work on proving the open meeting law was violated, after the board admitted it, I think they did so at their own peril.”
If the lawsuit is not settled in the mediation hearing, it could potentially go to trial. Peterson said, “It will be hugely time consuming and expensive if we don’t settle.” He said the case, if it goes to trial, is not a million dollar lawsuit adding, “I wish it were a million dollar lawsuit. I would love to have one but this is not it.” He predicts without a settlement, this case could still be expensive winding up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said the trustees and the District should be moving toward settling adding, “They should be owning up to it, I think they should be giving him an apology for what they did and move forward.” He added, “He’s not asking them for any money, but they ought to pay his attorneys, which he is entitled to anyway.”
Robison blames the Superintendent for moving the lawsuit forward. He said, “I don’t know why the Superintendent continues his lawsuit. He’s repeatedly said it’s not about the money and all he wants is an apology. But every time we sit down and talk about it, it’s now about the money, it’s about attorneys fees.”
The legal bill for Martinez is not yet public but it might become so on Monday. The legal counsel for the School District has revealed his bill is now in excess of $30,000.
While both sides were talking tough today, Robison indicated there might be some room for setting this case. He said, “Contrary to belief, this is not about two pitbull lawyers fighting.” He added, “Bill Peterson and I have had lengthy discussions about this. We think the case can be resolved. It’s just a question of how much, at what risk, and the cost-benefit analysis of going forward or getting it over with now.”
What a bunch of sorry ass looking shitheads.
Misstep No. 2: Dismissing the school chief based on a claim that was anything but clear-cut and not investigated fully.
The main reason given for relieving Martinez of his duties was that he misrepresented himself as a certified public accountant.
The only example the trustees came up with that involved Martinez’s current job was a staff bio posted on the district’s website calling him a CPA.
The designation probably should not have been used, but the issue is not simple. Martinez had a certificate on his office wall saying in big letters that he’d been registered by the University of Illinois and the Illinois Board of Examiners as a “certified public accountant.”
Board members had seen this, and yet the board did not think it was a sign to slow down on anonymous accusations to the contrary.
His university said that when he received the certificate, the designation was expected to last a lifetime.
It is true that Illinois passed a law changing the policy of who can call themselves a CPA. People who were merely registered but not licensed had to stop using the designation after 2006. Martinez continued using it, including in a 2009 interview with the board.
But even the Nevada Board of Accountancy, which oversees CPAs here, did not find a problem with the minor contexts in which Martinez used the phrase: the online bio and an old resume. He did not use it on letterhead, business cards or correspondence.
Misstep No. 3: Dismissing someone in contradiction of contract terms, thus opening the school district up to costly legal liability.
One odd part of all this is that the superintendent serves at the board’s discretion. It can dump him with or without cause.
But to do so, the board must follow the stipulations in his contract: 10 days’ notice and a public hearing where he can defend himself if the dismissal is based on cause, such as claims of fraud or embezzlement, or 90 days’ notice plus a year’s salary if there is no cause.
This did not happen. He was just told to get out.
Misstep No. 4: The board’s action was short-sighted in a way that sets back financial and educational progress.
This school year will be one of the most significant in recent memory as new proficiency exams kick in, graduation requirements change and funding shortfalls will be felt more strongly.
During a raucous public meeting last week, Nevada first lady Kathleen Sandoval chastised the board for potentially costing the state federal education grants and setting back the progress made to improve education here.
She is right. With Nevada’s dismal graduation rate and education rankings, the state has a big enough boulder to push up hill to get businesses to come here without a reputation for chaos in the Washoe school district.
Further, the 2015 Legislature will address funding school maintenance here. It will now be a harder sell to convince legislators from outside Washoe County to put their faith in the district.
Community members are already moving forward with recall plans. This is an understandable reaction to the abrupt decision just before the start of the new school year. (Trustee Estela Gutierrez did not vote for dismissal.)
The primary goal moving forward, though, must be to do right by the students.
Thus a better course of action — at least initially — would be for the board to admit it made mistakes and try to rectify the damage.
Things might not be able to be fixed. And we may learn additional details about Martinez that makes dismissal more understandable, even if the method was initially a mess.
Also, personnel issues are complicated and apologies are difficult in public, especially when they could have legal ramifications.
But if a student had behaved poorly in a way that hurt those around him, we would offer counsel to ’fess up and make things right.
It may not be so simple for the school board. Still, a serious effort in that direction would go a long way toward restoring community trust.
THE ISSUE: Moving forward after school board actions involving superintendent Pedro Martinez.
OUR VIEW: The board should be given a chance to admit mistakes and make a serious effort to fix the fallout.
Superintendent Pedro Martinez said Thursday he will return to work today on the heels of Washoe County School Board Trustees announcing that his ousting last week is void.
The news came in a series of surprise announcements Thursday.
First, the school board’s outside legal counsel said in a letter to Martinez’s attorney the events of July 22, when six out of seven trustees unexpectedly announced Martinez was relieved of his duties, were now void and that the superintendent should return to work.
In response, Martinez said Thursday evening he would return to work, but that his lawsuits against the district and the school board would move forward.
The bizarre drama between Martinez and the school board has unfolded less than two weeks before the start of a new school year.
On Tuesday, trustees took a lashing during public comment at its first school board meeting since the controversy started. During the meeting, there were calls for resignations and recalls during three hours of public comment.
While Martinez and board members had said the superintendent’s ousting revolved around a dispute over his credentials as a certified public accountant, that changed on Thursday when Board of Trustees President Barbara Clark said in a statement the bad blood with Martinez had more to do with their relationship with him than his CPA designation.
“The events and circumstances surrounding last week’s discussions had more to do with attitude, demeanor and lack of cooperation than it did with certificates and diplomas,” she wrote in a statement.
“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,” Clark continued. “Rather than debate this complicated issue, we have agreed that last week’s events are void.”
Clark went on to say Martinez should return to work immediately, adding there will be a public meeting on Aug. 15, “at which time Superintendent Martinez’s contract and performance thereunder will be addressed publicly.”
“We are hopeful that Superintendent Martinez’s future communications and interactions with the Board be more cordial and civility can be restored.”
Martinez wants to stay
After reading the board’s statement on RGJ.com and getting a copy of attorney Kent Robison’s letter, Martinez said he would return to work, but not without putting the board on notice. He said his attorney will send a response and that he will move forward with his two lawsuits.
“In the last few days I have heard about a lot of dysfunction already with the board trying to micromanage things at the district,” Martinez told the Reno Gazette-Journal in an interview. “We have to have a good start to the school year.”
He said he was not encouraged by the board’s announcements that things will move forward on a positive note.
“I am not seeing any sense of remorse from the actions of July 22,” he said.
Martinez has said throughout the last week he would like to return to work depending on the circumstances.
His salary as superintendent is $238,000 a year.
In an interview Wednesday with the RGJ, Martinez said he and his wife have talked about staying in Reno — possibly for life.
He admitted he would have to think hard about being open to working with the current school board again after the last week.
“I don’t know is if the events over the last week, whether that has erased the very little trust we have been building to the extent that it is irrevocable,” he said.
The statement from Clark said the board is trying to schedule a public meeting for Aug. 15 to discuss Martinez’s contract and performance.
Martinez said his attorney will remind the board that it can’t discuss his character or performance without an evaluation process as laid out in his contract.
He also wants the process of what happened last week to be made public through an investigation being conducted by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office into allegations the school board violated Nevada Open Meeting Law.
Robison addressed the matter of Open Meeting Law violations in his letter to Martinez’s attorney.
“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,” Robison wrote.
“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 (Nevada Open Meeting Law).”
The Reno Gazette-Journal also has asked the AG to investigate the matter because of the potential violation of Nevada Open Meeting Law because no agenda was posted to indicate the board was going to discuss Martinez’s employment with the district before announcing he had been relieved of his duties.
Recall effort building?
Meanwhile, efforts to recall trustees continued to build in momentum Thursday.
A group of community leaders have hired an attorney, who is researching a possible recall of six of the seven trustees, according to home builder Perry Di Loreto
“We want to know exactly how the law works, what the timing is,” Di Loreto said. He said the group would form a political action committee to raise money for the effort.
“Once we have that set we will hire a professional staff,” he said. “Recalls are very challenging and a lot work.”
Community activist Leslie Mix said she and members of the local Latino community will join the efforts for a recall.
“Our immediate concern was reinstating Superintendent Martinez,” she said. But she said the people she talks to are also concerned about finding out what really happened at last week’s meeting.
“This is supposed to be a public process and the public doesn’t know anything,” she said. “People want to know why six members of the board of trustees thought they were above the law.”
Fact Checker update: Martinez CPA label misused in Illinois
The use of “certified public accountant” to describe Pedro Martinez in a 2008 Chicago Public Schools financial report has come under renewed scrutiny. 3A
RENO, Nev. (MyNews4.com & KRNV) — Governor Brian Sandoval is weighing in regarding the ongoing saga between ousted Washoe County Superintendent Pedro Martinez and the Washoe County School District Board of Trustees.
News 4 caught up with Governor Sandoval on Thursday at an event. “Well we’re watching it very closely. Education is a big priority for me. I have 2 kids that are in the Washoe County School District so, it affects us just like it affects over 60,000 students and their families. I’m hoping that they can get this taken care of as soon as possible. I’m very proud of my wife and really she has my full support.”
It’s the first time Governor Sandoval has spoken publicly on the situation.
The Reno Gazette-Journal on Wednesday asked the Nevada Attorney General’s Office to continue its investigation into Nevada Open Meeting Law violations by the Washoe County School Board of Trustees who relieved Superintendent Pedro Martinez of his duties on July 22.
The request comes a day after the school board’s attorney, Randy Drake, asked the AG’s office to stay its investigation for 30 days while the school board takes “corrective action” into any violations of the Open Meeting Law.
“The Board of Trustees actions must be investigated,” said Kelly Ann Scott, the executive editor of RGJ Media. “The public, which was left out of the Trustees discussion, deserves a full account of what happened. Allowing for a stay and the Trustees to take corrective action leaves the public in the dark for a second time. Only with a proper investigation — and if warranted, a prosecution — will the public be able to fully trust this process. This is essential to restoring the broken public trust and ensuring that our elected officials follow the state’s Open Meeting Laws.”
The RGJ filed a complaint against the school board last week after six of the seven members of the board met behind closed doors and decided to dismiss Martinez. No agenda was posted for the meeting. After the decision was made, Martinez’s ousting was announced by the Washoe County School District on Twitter.
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.”
Board president Barbara Clark and Drake did not return calls or emails for comment on Wednesday.
In the letter to the Attorney General’s Office, Drake said Nevada law allows public bodies to take corrective action for violations of the Open Meeting Law, “without fear of confounding themselves with an investigation or prosecution.” As a result, Drake wrote, the investigation into Open Meeting Law violations should be stayed.
But Barry Smith, the executive director of the Nevada Press Association, said the intent of that 2013 provision is for minor infractions of the Open Meeting Law. That would include mistakes such as listing the wrong date on an agenda, questions about quorum during a vote or a public body adjourning before asking for public comment.
Smith said the intent was not to protect a blatant violation or to correct something to avoid litigation.
In his letter to Deputy Attorney General George Taylor, RGJ attorney Scott Glogovac said the Attorney General’s Office should deny the requested 30-day stay. Meanwhile, Glogovac wrote, the AG must send a strong message to the public that it will not allow government boards or commissions to violate the law.
“Without such a signal in this matter, public trust in the Board will remain undermined, and the Board’s credibility in future actions will be substantially impaired,” Glogovac wrote.
s Pedro Martinez a certified public accountant?
That is the crucial question after the Washoe County School District superintendent was relieved of his duties last week.
In a lawsuit filed by Martinez against the district’s board of trustees, which ousted him, the situation is described this way:
“During a recess in the July 22 public work session meeting, Board President (Barbara) Clark told the plaintiff Martinez that she wanted to speak with him in his office. In that meeting, Mrs. Clark informed the plaintiff Martinez that the District had received a report from an anonymous source that the plaintiff Martinez had held himself out to be, or was holding himself out to be, a certified public accountant, that the Board had investigated the matter, and that the Board had concluded that he was not a licensed certified public accountant.”
CPA vs. licensed CPA
Careful readers will note an important word inserted in that last part: “licensed.” The sentence starts with Martinez supposedly claiming to be a CPA and ends with the board finding that he was not a licensed CPA. Those are two different things.
A licensed CPA has a higher standard of requirements to meet that allow him or her to attest to the reliability of financial statements. Non-licensed CPAs can engage in public accounting but cannot provide attestation services, at least in Illinois, where Martinez got his CPA certificate.
In a legal response to Martinez’s suit filed on behalf of the board, it says, “Plaintiff (Martinez) repeatedly represented himself in print on the District website and verbally confirmed in public settings that he is a CPA. The Board of Trustees, District staff and the public were led to believe that Plaintiff was a CPA in good standing. … The representation, suggestion or innuendo that Plaintiff is or has been a registered or licensed CPA is inaccurate and untrue.”
Note that here, too, the word “licensed” is slipped in at the end after discussion of Martinez reportedly claiming to be a CPA without any words qualifying that designation.
Fact Checker could find no references to Martinez ever calling himself, or being called by others, a licensed CPA. Because the simple designation of “certified public accountant” is accepted by both sides as something Martinez claimed to be — and because one side finds it problematic — this story will focus on that angle.
The board’s legal filings mention three pieces of evidence that Martinez misrepresented himself. They mention Martinez’s 2009 interview with the board when he was applying for the superintendent’s job, which eventually went to Heath Morrison. (Martinez got the job when Morrison left.)
They say, “Plaintiff expressly represented to the Board that he was a CPA. To qualify as a CPA in the State of Illinois, one must be registered or licensed by the State of Illinois, regardless of what credentials the applicant possesses.”
If you do a “license look-up” at the Department of Finance and Professional Regulation’s website — it’s the Illinois agency that governs licensed CPAs — Martinez is not listed.
Susan Hofer, the department’s spokesperson, said that at one time, Martinez could’ve called himself a CPA in Illinois, but the law changed in the past few years — the exact date is ambiguous because of a lengthy transition period — and “as far as the state of Illinois is concerned, he cannot call himself a certified public accountant anymore.”
A central repository of data about licensed CPAs and public accounting firms maintained by the National Association of State Boards of Accountancy atCPAverify.org does not list Martinez.
These two things would seem to mean Martinez should not call himself a certified public accountant, but there’s a problem with that conclusion: Both of those sources are concerned only with licensed CPAs. Martinez — as mentioned in the board’s filings — represented himself in the 2009 interview merely as a CPA, not a licensed CPA.
The two other pieces of evidence cited in the board’s filings on this topic involve a biography of Martinez that was posted in two places on the school district’s website. The postings say, “He is a certified public accountant and holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree with highest honors in business administration from DePaul University.”
Hofer suggested that Fact Checker contact the previous licensing board in Illinois to see if Martinez’s original certificate to be a CPA “was good forever.”
The certificate she is referring to is one he received in 1992. It says, “By authority of the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois and on recommendation of the Board of Examiners, Pedro Martinez, having passed the examination and fulfilled all requirements prescribed by the Illinois public accounting act in the state of Illinois, is registered by the university as a certified public accountant.”
Fact Checker asked the university if the certificates were good forever.
Robin Kaler, the university’s associate chancellor for public affairs, responded by email: “Yes, when certificates were issued in 1992, recipients would have reason to assume that they were receiving a lifetime designation, and they should also have understood that the certificate was not a license to perform public accounting.”
The government agency that approved the 1992 certificate and that still is in charge of testing CPAs in Illinois — but no longer oversees them once licensed — is the Illinois Board of Examiners.
If you go to its website right now at ilboa.org and do a “public certification search” for Pedro Martinez, he comes up. Under the heading of certificate type, it says “Certified Public Accountant.” And under the heading of “status,” it says “Certified.”
The Board of Examiners’ executive director, Russ Friedewald, said this search result just means that Martinez got his CPA certificate in Illinois.
But does it also mean he can call himself a CPA as far as the state of Illinois is concerned?
“Yes, he can call himself a certified public accountant,” Friedewald said.
A two-tiered system
Illinois was unique in this way, having a two-tiered system where people who were not licensed could call themselves certified public accountants. Other states gave different names to CPAs like Martinez, such as “registered public accountant” or “accounting practitioner.” Illinois has phased out the two tiers but things are still confusing there.
In fact, the data Illinois supplies to CPAverify.org was specifically discussed this week at the Accountancy Licensing Committee meeting in Nashville.
Viki Windfeldt — a member of the national committee and executive director of the Nevada State Board of Accountancy, which licenses CPAs in Nevada — attended. She said the committee is reviewing the information being provided from Illinois.
More importantly for the purposes of this story, Windfeldt was asked about Martinez.
Windfeldt said the Board of Accountancy has received no information to indicate any violation has occurred in Nevada regarding Martinez referring to himself as a certified public accountant.
“The CPA designation is a credential that Mr. Martinez received from Illinois and he is allowed to use it in his bio,” she said, but added he shouldn’t refer to himself as a CPA in correspondence or use “comma CPA” after his name.
One government agency in Illinois does not recognize Martinez as a certified public accountant. This is because, for the purposes of its authority, it only “sees” CPAs who have been licensed. Martinez was never a licensed CPA so it cannot recognize him.
Another government agency in Illinois — the one that actually certifies CPAs — does recognize Martinez as a CPA, just not one who is licensed. And it says he can call himself a certified public accountant.
The university that issued Martinez a certificate calling him a “certified public accountant” says this designation was intended to last a lifetime.
And the Nevada agency in charge of CPAs says Martinez can call himself a “certified public accountant” in a job biography or resume but that in any other context, he should be careful using it to avoid giving the impression he is licensed.
Pedro Martinez is a certified public accountant who is not licensed — and was never licensed — in any state.
Ousted Washoe schools superintendent sues district
RENO — Washoe County School Superintendent Pedro Martinez is suing the school district over his ouster, and a Reno newspaper is asking the Nevada attorney general to investigate whether the School Board violated the state’s open meeting law when it decided to pull him from the job earlier this week.
Meanwhile, a School Board member defended the move, saying a dispute over Martinez’ resume was only part of the problem and the situation is more complicated than the public realizes.
The School Board issued a statement Tuesday announcing Martinez had been “relieved of his duties” effective immediately, then clarified a day later he had been placed on paid administrative leave pending any formal action.
Martinez said he was fired after an illegal, private meeting of six of the seven board members who accused him of lying about whether he was a certified public accountant, which he maintains he is.
Board President Barbara Clark said the trustees intend to discuss the matter at a meeting next week. But along with his lawsuit alleging breach of contract, a lawyer for Martinez filed a motion in Washoe District Court on Friday seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent that from happening.
The district “has not only already violated the Open Meeting Law, but is threatening to do so again,” Reno attorney William Peterson wrote in court papers arguing that the district had provided insufficient notice to put Martinez’s fate on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting.
A lawyer for the Reno Gazette-Journal on Thursday asked Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto to investigate.
“This 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,” Reno attorney Scott Glogovac wrote in a letter Thursday.
The district said in a statement announcing that Martinez had been relieved of duties that board members “are in discussions with Mr. Martinez, and for legal reasons, we cannot share specific details.”
Martinez, former deputy superintendent of Clark County schools in Las Vegas, said he provided the board with documentation proving he passed the CPA exam in Illinois.
Reno Mayor Bob Cashell was among those who said they were surprised by the move and believed Martinez had been doing a good job. Martinez helped shepherd the district through a deadly schoolyard shooting and had taken a lead role in pushing tax increases to boost education spending.
School Board member Howard Rosenberg, a professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, defended the action during an appearance Thursday on KRNV-TV’s “Nevada Newsmakers.”
“This is a situation that is much, much deeper than the public has any idea of,” Rosenberg said. “Mr. Martinez is playing it for all that it is worth, and I wish him well, but there is a great deal more here.”
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.