tampabay.com

Official cannot meet by phone

Hurt and often absent, Cathi Martin must be present to take part, the School Board says.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
Published November 27, 2007


LAND O'LAKES - Cathi Martin's string of bad luck continues.

The Pasco School Board member broke her ankle in two places about a week ago and now has received doctor's orders to stay off her feet for six weeks.

That means Martin, who missed about half the board meetings between her 2006 re-election and the early spring because of other health concerns, won't be back to the boardroom until early 2008. She missed the board's organizational meeting last week and did not make its workshop Monday.

Martin said she wants to find a way to attend meetings remotely.

"I think that would be kind of cool," she said. "I can't miss any more meetings."

But superintendent Heather Fiorentino said current policy does not allow a board member to participate in a meeting remotely.

Marge Whaley, the board's most veteran member, said she thought allowing board members to participate over the telephone could be valuable.

She said she could have done so after she had her knees replaced and was not able to walk well enough to attend meetings in person.

But the board would need to set strict rules to ensure that no members abuse the option, she added.

During Monday's workshop, Whaley brought up the idea and the board discussed whether to change its policy.

Instead, it went the other way, clarifying its rules to say a board member must be "physically present" to be considered part of the quorum.

Martin first brought up the notion of attending board meetings without being physically present in the spring, after she had missed so many sessions because of a variety of health and family problems.

Over about six months, Martin endured several knee problems, a car crash while on the way to a meeting, a son's medical emergency, a niece's suicide and her dog's death.

More recently, she has missed meetings because of pre-pneumonia, which she caught while attending her son's wedding (another missed session), and her broken ankle.

Her colleagues have said little publicly about Martin's absences, but they did quietly remove her as one of their two representatives to the Florida School Boards Association at the reorganization meeting a week ago.

Martin said she had the best of intentions to fulfill her duties on the School Board. By late spring, she had begun attending regularly again, and she said she was feeling well.

When planning her son's out-of-town wedding, Martin said, she worked hard to ma ke sure she would miss just one session.

"It's just, I'm living wrong, I guess," she said with a laugh.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.