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MY COLUMN: The new worst elected body in Nevada

by Jon Ralston 07/27/2014

Let’s suppose Pedro Martinez has been a terrible superintendent.

Let’s suppose he said he was a CPA when, really, he only has a university certificate.

Let’s even suppose he had nothing to do with record Washoe County graduation grades last year.

That is, let’s suppose the worst.

Even doing so, Martinez looks like a Mensa member and paragon of rectitude compared to the clown show that is the Washoe County School Board, which did not merely botch Martinez’s cashiering last week. The trustees behaved so outrageously that they not only flouted any notion of government transparency but then compounded their ignorance and arrogance and may cost taxpayers a fortune.

This Bozo brigade actually gives clowns a bad name and is a frontrunner for worst elected body in Nevada. And this is a state with plenty of competition.

To be fair, I don’t expect much of school boards, which tend to be comprised of well-intentioned PTA types, ambitious would-be politicians and garden variety goofballs. But the Washoe folks have managed to slide under my low expectations, thus sending Reno into paroxysms of anger and shock while fueling chatter of recalls.

Not so fast, whisper the school district’s supporters and some trustees. There’s more to come on Martinez. He’s really made horrible missteps.

Oh? Well, perhaps you should have told us about those before you broke the Open Meeting Law – perhaps the most blatant case I have ever seen – and then acted with the heaviest of hands using an obvious pretext (the CPA asserton) to try to fire him.

These are the only elected folks in history who call a news conference after shredding the Open Meeting Law to announce they had fired someone after first tweeting the news – tweeting! – and then back off the next day insisting he was only put on administrative leave.

Martinez’s story, now embedded in a lawsuitis much more believable than anything said publicly or privately by board members. These laws exist for a reason. Employment contracts exist for a reason. Common sense exists for a reason.

What’s so infuriating about this is that once again those theoretically charged with improving education, be they legislators or school board members or union leaders, prove to be the greatest impediment to progress. But this is what happens when you elect school boards instead of appointing them; this is what happens when the job of superintendent becomes nearly impossible because of the breadth of the challenges and the micromanagement of nonprofessionals.

Martinez received mixed reviews when he was in Southern Nevada before he left to work for Washoe County, and I know some insiders in Clark County were not unhappy to see him go. He is known for his true love for the students and for his yearning to improve their lives. But he also has been criticized for being too much of a public relations man – talking more than listening, ignoring the maelstrom that is Nevada politics.

But those graduation numbers tell a compelling story, even if those calculations can be fudged and even if a superintendent's impact can be exaggerated. The same school board members, though, that just tried to force him out also gave Martinez a generally favorable review just last month.

Next everyone knows, they use social media to announce Martinez has been "relieved of his duties," then call a news conference to essentially say he has been fired and insist they can't explain why. Then it becomes clear there was no agenda item, that a shutup-and-go-away package was offered and that this was over whether he claimed to be a CPA. Really?

These are the folks overseeing your kids' education, Washoe County parents. You should be proud.

It seems unimaginable that Martinez will stay in the job after this is resolved. With allegations of threats and pressure to take the money ($200,000) and run, these are irreconcilable differences. And the unfortunate injection of racial politics into this already grotesque situation makes any rapprochement that much more unlikely.

The only question for Martinez is how much the taxpayers will have to fork over now that the board’s actions have given him the upper hand.

Maybe the district will be better off without him.

Maybe it’s time for a change.

Maybe Martinez had problems we don’t know about.

But ask yourself this after everything that has transpired: Who in his or her right mind would agree to accept the job overseen by that school board?