LAND O'LAKES — Pasco School Board member Cathi Martin may have missed one meeting too many.
Her absence from a teacher's disciplinary hearing last week — and the public outcry that followed — have prompted three local Republican lawmakers to ask Gov. Charlie Crist to remove Martin from office.
"It has gone on way too long," state Rep. John Legg said of Martin's frequent absences since her 2006 reelection. "Not only is she being derelict of duty, it's now starting to cost taxpayers money."
He referred to the most recent incident, which forced a postponement of the hearing, costing the district and the teacher lawyers' fees, court reporter costs and lost time.
"She's truly abdicating her responsibility," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, who joined Legg and state Rep. Will Weatherford in calling for Martin's ouster. "She needs to be removed from her post. We need to have somebody in there that is going to respect the taxpayers, voters, parents and students a lot better than Mrs. Martin has been doing."
Martin, the board's lone Democrat who is serving her third term, did not answer calls to her home and cell phone. Last week, she told the Times she did not believe her spotty attendance record had diminished her ability to do her job, for which she earns $37,714 annually, plus benefits.
She blamed recurring illnesses and bad luck for her missed meetings.
Fasano said she might have good reasons for missing 60 percent of planning meetings for a committee she co-chaired, more than 50 percent of board meetings between September 2006 and May 2007, all four board meetings in November and December 2007, and four meetings in the past year.
"But the bottom line is, she has not fulfilled her responsibilities and obligations as a School Board member," Fasano said.
Several district observers noted that when retired board member Marge Whaley battled cancer, she scheduled chemotherapy session around board meetings in order to keep her absences to a minimum. They said Martin has not shown the same diligence.
Last spring, when some members of the public clamored for Martin's removal, Legg tried to pave the way by proposing a bill that would let voters recall school board members. That effort failed and the buzz to dump Martin largely died down.
It reappeared in the past week, with residents swarming the lawmakers with calls and e-mails for Martin's dismissal after she missed the teacher disciplinary hearing.
Causes for removal
Because state law still does not allow for the recall of school board members, the lawmakers turned to the governor, who has constitutional authority to remove board members for "malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony."
"I think her malfeasance of her role here is significant enough that she needs to be removed from office," Legg said.
School Board members hesitated to join the lawmakers' call, saying it's not their role to judge a colleague.
"It's my view that the ultimate people who should speak up if they feel they're well represented are the voters and constituents, because they're the ones who put her in office," board member Kathryn Starkey said.
Chairman Frank Parker said he was "sorry" the situation had gotten to the point where the three lawmakers felt they had to speak out. But like the others, he wasn't particularly surprised.
"From the calls and e-mails I've gotten, there are quite a few upset people about this," Parker said. "The School Board is set to function with five members, and that is basically what we need."
Both the board and the county deserve better, the lawmakers said in their six-paragraph request to the governor, which closely resembled a Times editorial calling for Martin's dismissal.
"In these most difficult economic times, it is more important than ever for our school board members to exhibit the resolve and dedication needed to guide the education of 67,000 Pasco County children as well as set policies for the 9,700 employees and oversee a $511 million budget," they wrote.
School district officials said they could not find evidence of any Pasco board member being removed from office by the governor.
The state constitution allows the governor to appoint a replacement if he chooses to suspend Martin.
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 909-4614. For education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.