At last, Cathi Martin made the right decision. More than two years after her spotty attendance became a public issue, the 10-year Pasco County School Board member announced her resignation in a Thursday night e-mail. She cited unspecified health issues.
Her departure is appropriate. That she decided on her own to leave rather than risk gubernatorial removal, legislative action on a recall bill, or even a scolding from other board members, indicates a willingness to put the public's interests ahead of her own. Finally.
Her absences will no longer preoccupy the board and staff, nor embarrass Martin. More importantly, the public will not have to tolerate a lack of representation at a key time. The Pasco County School Board is expected to devise a budget for the coming school year that will require tens of millions of dollars in cuts. Martin's suggestion previously was to let the professional staff handle it. That is not leadership. A more engaged School Board member should be advocating in advance for the district's spending priorities.
Martin joined the board after a successful election in 1998 when she was the handpicked Democrat favored by then-superintendent John Long. The wife of dentist Ken Martin, she had done marketing work for her husband while serving as a typical parent and PTA mom. She proved to be a loyal vote supporting Long's administration and the desires of the unionized school workers. She won re-election in 2002 over a weak Republican opponent and won again in 2006 amid a crowded field critical of her limited public contributions to ongoing debates over teacher training and other initiatives under superintendent Heather Fiorentino.
Martin's erratic behavior and poor judgment first gained notoriety in May 2005 when she gave inaccurate information to a Pasco sheriff's deputy — concealing the fact her husband had a gun — during a dispute between the dentist and laborers who had cut tree limbs at their house. She revised her statement only after learning her husband had already volunteered the information to officers.
A year later, during her re-election campaign, she said she contributed little to a committee guiding a rewrite of Pasco's long-range comprehensive plan because the chairman cut her off during debates. Again, her explanation failed scrutiny. How could the chairman silence her when she was rarely there? She had missed six of the 10 committee meetings.
That absenteeism dominated her final two years in office with excuses ranging from documented health issues — surgeries and broken ankles — to family matters, the suicide of an acquaintance and her dog dying. On three occasions she pledged publicly to renew her commitment to the electorate only to miss more meetings.
It culminated March 3 when she said a flat tire and then a fall at her house prevented her from attending a regular board meeting, multiple workshops and a formal hearing from a teacher appealing his recommended firing. The hearing had to be delayed.
The supposed fall, however, didn't interrupt a vacation. On the evening of March 4 she left a voice mail message for a Times editorial writer, saying: ''We are leaving tomorrow to go out of town. We're just going to St. Pete to get away for little bit and relax.''
So, she relaxed while a teacher's career remained in limbo. It is shoddy public service and the kind of disregard for her responsibilities that brought a legislative call for the governor to remove from office.
For once, Martin was proactive and took the decision from the hands of Gov. Charlie Crist. Now it is up the governor to select a replacement that will take seriously a commitment to serving the public.