tampabay.com

Officials concerned, disappointed

By EDDY RAMIREZ AND BARBARA BEHRENDT
Published January 31, 2007


INVERNESS - For two decades, Lt. James Martone has counseled children about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

He has coached them on the baseball field and given his time to organizations that promote good sportsmanship and benefit the county's youth.

But school officials have sometimes questioned - though not always publicly - whether Martone was the person they wanted as a role model for students.

As a school resource officer, Martone once helped lead the entire student body of Homosassa Elementary School in a rousing rendition of Margaritaville - much to the chagrin of several School Board members in the audience who cringed at the choice of song and its "wasted away again in Margaritaville" lyrics.

But Martone's recent indiscretion drew criticism and remarks of concern from school officials.

Board member Pat Deutschman said she had hoped that Martone - like a student who makes the same mistake twice - would have gotten a wake-up call after being pulled over the first time.

"I'm very sad and very disappointed," she said. "He obviously must have some personal problem he hasn't been able to take care of."

Deutschman called Martone's demotion effectively removing him from working with students "a great loss" for the school system.

Besides being central to the nationally recognized school resource officer program, Martone was respected among students, Deutschman said.

"He took his job seriously and was very good at what he did," she said.

Martone was instrumental in bolstering security on Citrus school campuses in the wake of the shootings at Columbine High School. He also helped spread awareness about the dangers of drugs and alcohol as part of the district's FOCUS program.

"This is very painful to us," Deutschman added, underscoring the irony of the situation. "It's painful to him too, I'm sure."

School Board member Ginger Bryant, who was a teacher at Crystal River Middle, said Martone had done an "excellent job" as a school resource officer there.

"He was always upbeat and smiling," she said. "He really seemed to care about the students."

Bryant said she was saddened - but relieved - to know Martone is no longer working in the schools.

"I'm very disappointed," she said. "I don't think you should drink and drive."

Martone, who accepted responsibility for driving under the influence, said in a terse statement that he is prepared to move into a lesser role as child protective investigator.

"As I end this chapter of my life, I look forward to continuing to serve the children of this county in my new position," Martone said.

Sheriff Jeff Dawsy expressed confidence that Martone will live up to the expectations of his new assignment.

"I expect that he will perform well as a child protective investigator and continue to share his knowledge, skills and experience in this new role," he said in a statement.

Todd Workman, president of the county's Boys and Girls Club, said he was surprised by Martone's actions. Martone has served on the board of the organization for several years, vigorously raising money for children.

"But it has not changed my view of him," Workman said, adding that the decision to keep him on the board will be up to the other members as well. "It has not eroded my confidence in him."

Superintendent Sandra "Sam" Himmel said she has seen Martone in the classroom and on the ball field and knows that he relates well to children.

"They run up and they hug him and you can tell, it's not that he's in uniform, it's his personality and the way that he works with kids," Himmel said.

But she said those who work with children need to have the highest personal standard.

"I think that when you're in education or you're a role model with kids, they not only learn by what we say but they also learn by what we do," she said.

"And kids today are much more visual learners than they have been in the past."

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at 860-7305 or eramirez@sptimes.com Barbara Behrendt can be reached at 564-3621 or behrendt@sptimes.com.