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Controversial Anaheim schools veteran regains seat

Harald Martin lost in '02 after proposing to bill Mexico for educating its citizens. Some may fight his reappointment.

July 21, 2007|Seema Mehta | Times Staff Writer

Anaheim schools trustees appointed to their board Thursday a polarizing figure whom voters tossed off the school board in 2002 after, among other things, he proposed billing Mexico for educating illegal immigrants.

Harald Martin, a retired police officer who served on the school board for eight years, was appointed by a 3-1 vote to an Anaheim Union High School District board spot created by the death of Trustee Denise Mansfield-Reinking.

Martin is also known for a failed proposal to turn new students over to federal authorities if they could not prove they were in the country legally. He ran for the school board in November and came in seventh out of eight candidates.

The appointment immediately sparked rancor and talk of forcing a special election that would allow residents to vote on the replacement.

Alexandria Coronado, a conservative Republican who served with Martin on the Anaheim board for four years before being elected to the county Board of Education in 2002, called Martin "evil."

"He is the biggest racist I have ever met in my life," she said.

Members of the Latino community were appalled.

"It's like nominating [segregationist] George Wallace," said Art Montes, past president of Orange County's League of United Latin American Citizens.

Martin, 52, said he wanted to be on the board again because he felt he had unfinished business in raising district standards. He said he had no intention of revisiting the proposal to bill Mexico.

"Conceptually, it has proven to be a bad idea because it's divisive," he said, adding that he had proposed billing Mexico as a symbolic measure and never expected to get any money. But "what everyone missed in the whole jumping up and down, in the hysteria, all I was trying to do was get money for those kids in the school system."

The 37,000-student district serves seventh- through 12th-graders in Anaheim, Buena Park, Cypress, La Palma and Stanton. After Mansfield-Reinking died in May, 12 candidates applied to fill the post.

Trustee Thomas "Hoagy" Holguin supported Martin's appointment, based on his school board and police experience, as well as his roots in the community. He said Martin brought up the proposal to bill Mexico during the interview process and apologized for the controversy it brought to the district.

"He openly and sincerely shared with us that he realized how wrong he was in taking those approaches, and how he had learned his lessons not to go there no longer," Holguin said. "I felt he was sincere about that, and I believe we all make mistakes in our lives. We need to give people a chance to redeem themselves."

Anna L. Piercy was the lone board member to oppose the appointment. Attempts to reach her Friday were unsuccessful.

The proposals Martin said he planned to pursue include:

* Requiring a 2.0 GPA in core classes to graduate from high school.

* Increasing student interest in science and math.

* Increasing the police presence on district campuses, but having the officers serve as liaisons between students and social services in addition to their police duties.

Some questioned why the board voted for Martin when voters had turned against him.

"This is a disgrace," said Coronado, adding that several community members already are calling for a special election to fill the post. "The voters decided not to put him there twice now. I think it's parents and students who lose out."

Many believed the appointment would go to Jordan Brandman, 27, who narrowly missed being elected to the board in November. "My heart goes out to the students and the parents and all the taxpayers," he said. "I don't think they were done justice last night. I really don't."

To force a special election, critics must gather within a month about 2,300 signatures from registered voters who live in the district. The county would have a month to verify the signatures, and if enough were valid, a special election would be called within four months. Otherwise, Martin will be up for reelection as an incumbent in 2008.

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seema.mehta@latimes.com

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