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Anaheim school board trustee resigns

August 31, 2007|William Heisel and David Haldane | Times Staff Writers

A controversial Anaheim school board member long under fire for remarks considered racially and sexually insensitive resigned Thursday rather than face a recall demanded by his critics.

Harald Martin, appointed to the board in July, had said earlier that he would step down rather than see the Anaheim Union High School District bear the cost of a special election to replace him.

"The situation is one where I'm over a barrel regardless," he said in an interview Thursday. "If it is the case that the district saves money by my leaving, I will do that."

Before the beginning of Thursday night's board meeting, Martin handed the district superintendent a resignation letter effective today. Then he sat stoically by as district legal counsel Ron Wenkart outlined the trustees' alternatives for proceeding. They include, Wenkart said, appointing a replacement from among those already considered, seeking new applicants or calling a special election that could cost, according to some estimates, as much as $500,000.

Martin, a 52-year-old retired police officer, served eight years on the school board before losing a bid for reelection in 2004.

He first garnered headlines in 1995 by proposing that the district sue Mexico to recover the cost of schooling illegal immigrants.

Four years later, after a teenager sexually abused by a Cypress High School teacher was awarded $2.5 million in damages, he raised the ire of some by expressing amazement at the size of the settlement.

"If both parties kept it secret," he said at the time, "I think there's some culpability on the victim's part."

In subsequent years, Martin pushed for policy changes to discourage illegal immigration.

He was recently appointed to the board by a 3-1 vote to replace a trustee who had died. This month, however, a group of angry residents submitted more than 5,000 signatures -- well above the 2,300 required -- to the Orange County Department of Education to have him removed from office, an action that would have forced the district to call an election.

If recall supporters have their way, that still could be the outcome: An attorney representing the petitioners told trustees Thursday that he may file a legal action demanding such an election be held.

Amin David, who led the recall effort with his group Los Amigos of Orange County, told The Times this month that Martin's earlier actions should have disqualified him from being appointed.

"His background," Amin said, "certainly gave us conclusive evidence he is not fit to serve."

Martin has said he plans to run again in 2008.

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william.heisel@latimes.com

david.haldane@latimes.com

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