TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- The State Board of Education chairman has resigned in protest over Gov. Rick Scott's ouster of Education Commissioner Eric J. Smith.
Chairman T. Willard Fair's letter of resignation blasting Scott was placed into the board's record at his request during an emergency meeting Thursday that was called to launch a national search for Smith's replacement.
"The notion that this board should immediately commence a `national search' for a new commissioner, flies in the face of the reality that Governor Scott will choose his new commissioner," Fair wrote.
Fair -- a staunch ally of former Gov. Jeb Bush, who originally appointed Fair to the board -- added that the panel "will merely provide the votes that affirm the governor's choice" and it was "pointless to put on a public display that gives the impression that the decision will ultimately rest with the board."
Fair also wrote that he was "alarmed by the governor's dismissive treatment of this board," which had hired Smith in 2007 after a national search. Fair noted that Scott -- a conservative Republican who took office in January -- never consulted with the panel or Smith before forcing the commissioner's resignation.
Smith and board members said Scott finally called them Wednesday after Fair also had resigned.
Smith on Monday announced he was resigning effective June 10, saying he wanted to give the new Republican governor a chance to play a role in picking a successor who will pursue his goals.
Smith, a nationally known educator who once chaired The College Board, was previously the superintendent of the Anne Arundel County, Md., Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C. and Newport News, Va. school systems.
Board member Roberto "Bobby" Martinez said the governor had never spoken to him before calling Wednesday but that their conversation was encouraging.
"He told me that he recognized the excellent record of accomplishment and distinguished service by the commissioner," Martinez said. "He also wanted me to know that he also recognized the record of strong leadership by Chairman Fair."
Martinez, a Coral Gables lawyer, said Scott also said he understood the board is responsible for selecting the next commissioner but that he wanted to work with the panel on that task.
Fair, who is president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, was reappointed four years ago by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. The five remaining board members also were appointed by Crist, a Republican who quit the party to mount a failed bid as an independent for the U.S. Senate last year. Crist made the switch after vetoing a GOP-sponsored bill to put teachers on merit pay and end tenure for new hires, angering many Republicans.
The terms of Fair and Dr. A.K. Desai, a St. Petersburg physician, expired Dec. 31 but they stayed on because Scott had not yet appointed their successors. Board members said Scott has told them those appointments are imminent.
Scott will have a chance to replace the remaining four board members over the next four years.
The terms of Martinez and John Padget, a former school superintendent from Key West, will expire at the end of 2012. Kathleen Shanahan, a Tampa businesswoman, and Mark Kaplan, a phosphate company executive from Tallahassee, have terms running through 2013. Shanahan and Kaplan both once served as chief of staff to Bush when he was governor.