- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 2, 2014

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The Washoe County School Board violated the state’s open meetings law a half dozen different ways when it illegally ousted Superintendent Pedro Martinez in July, the Nevada Attorney General’s Office said Tuesday.

Six of the board’s seven trustees broke the law multiple times on July 22 when they questioned Martinez about his status as a certified public accountant, then fired him later that day, Deputy Attorney General George Taylor wrote in a complaint filed in Washoe District Court.

Board President Barbara Clark had insisted the trustees only placed Martinez on administrative leave, and he has since returned to his job.

The attorney general’s complaint concludes it was a firing, but it was done illegally and now is void. It cited six specific actions taken by the trustees.

“Each named Trustee knowingly participated and took action in private with the goal of terminating Superintendent Martinez contract in violation of” the open meeting law, said the complaint Taylor filed on behalf of Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

A lawyer for the trustees said each of the six trustees named in the complaint has agreed to pay a $250 fine under a settlement agreement. A seventh, Estela Gutierrez, was not present at the meetings.

“The Trustees believe that further disputes and contentious litigation will be harmful to the best interests of the school district,” Kent Robison said in a statement Tuesday. He suggested publicity of the bitter, monthlong dispute could prompt future potential candidates to reconsider running for public office.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to run for office after seeing this,” Robison told the Reno Gazette-Journal.

The trustees ousted Martinez after confronting him with an anonymous tip that he was portraying himself as a CPA. Martinez said he was certified, but not a practicing CPA.

The complaint said the trustees’ first misstep came when they violated the “non-meeting” subsection of the law, which allows public bodies to discuss litigation or potential litigation.

Instead, they “held a personnel session in private to discuss matters unrelated to litigation or potential litigation,” the complaint said. It said they also violated the law when they decided to terminate Martinez’s contract that day without providing the proper notice and without listing it on the meeting agenda.

They further broke the law when they attempted to negotiate a payout to Martinez so he would voluntarily leave the school district, the complaint said.

Randy Drake, the district’s in-house attorney, initially went to Martinez’ office and offered him - on behalf of the board - $100,000 to buy out the contract, the complaint said.

The trustees “made one more offer of $200,000 after two hours of haggling and deliberation,” the complaint said. “Trustees informed Superintendent Martinez that they wanted him out and were upping the offer to $200,000 for him to leave.”

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