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FPPC Fines Gay SJ School Trustee

by Heather Cassell

South Bay school board member John Lindner. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
South Bay school board member John Lindner. Photo: Courtesy Facebook   (Source:Courtesy Facebook )

A state watchdog agency has fined a gay South Bay school board trustee for embezzling funds from the campaign account for a school ballot measure and for misleading investigators about his actions.

The state Fair Political Practices Commission in September approved the $18,500 fine against John Lindner, who serves on the board overseeing the Franklin-McKinley School District in San Jose, and disclosed it publicly October 19. According to the FPPC, the fine against Lindner individually was $15,000, while the remaining $3,500 fine was against Lindner and a campaign committee he controlled.

Lindner, 55, who has served as school trustee since 2004 and was re-elected to his fourth term in November 2016, used $13,000 from the Franklin-McKinley for Our Kids - Yes on Measure J 2010 campaign for personal use, according to an audit performed earlier this year. Measure J was a $50 million bond to modernize neighborhood schools and equip them with technology and other capital improvements. Voters approved it by 70 percent, according to Smart Voter.

Lindner, a retired elementary school teacher, was the campaign treasurer responsible for handling the finances when the Measure J committee was terminated at the end of 2015. Lindner claimed to investigators that he disbursed the funds in $90 anonymous donations to community organizations, but he couldn't provide proof and there was no paper trail.

Use of campaign funds for personal use is a serious offence. Violators legally must personally pay back the funds.

The FPPC fined Lindner for failing to disclose and itemize expenditures of $100 or more on campaign statements and three counts for using campaign funds for personal use.

According to the Mercury News, Lindner used the campaign debit card for personal expenditures such as restaurant meals, gasoline, clothing, movie tickets, hotel rooms, and cellphone bills.

So far, Lindner has not been criminally charged in the matter. He responded to the Bay Area Reporter, writing in an email that to his knowledge, no other office has contacted him.

"I have not heard from any office other than the FPPC," wrote Lindner.

Lindner, who remains on the school board, told the B.A.R. that he has paid the fine in full as part of the stipulation agreement with the FPPC.

"I made several payments over the last few months," he wrote.

He said that he has no plans to resign his seat, despite calls that he do so by LGBT community leaders and the Mercury News, which wrote a scathing editorial last week.

"I do not plan on resigning," Lindner wrote. "I feel that I continue to have important work to do supporting the academic and social-emotional success of students, parents, and staff of FMSD."

Lindner stated that he hasn't considered running for re-election, saying that it's too early.

Former San Francisco Supervisor David Campos, a gay man who's now a deputy county executive for Santa Clara County, said Lindner should step down.

"I certainly hope that this person resigns and that the [district attorney] fully prosecutes," Campos told the B.A.R., noting that Lindner makes elected officials and the LGBT community look bad when so many others are working for the good of the community.

"It's important when someone from our community does something like this that we all need to speak out against it and point out that he is not reflective of who we are as a community: our values and our principles. To the contrary, right? He stands against those values and principles," Campos added.

Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen told the Mercury News that he is looking into the case.


Disappointment

George Sanchez, president of the Franklin-McKinley School District board, who learned about the fine against Lindner when a Mercury News reporter contacted him, was shocked and disappointed.

"The public places trust in us in the expenditure of campaign funds, even more so in bond measure campaigns - that we use the funds for how they're intended to be used," Sanchez told the newspaper.

He has served 24 years on the board, including 13 years alongside Lindner.

Like Sanchez, South Bay LGBT community leaders were unaware of the Lindner scandal and shocked when the B.A.R. contacted them for comment.

Shay Franco-Clausen, a lesbian who is running for a San Jose City Council seat, said she hopes it's a one-time situation.

"I hope it's isolated and that's how the community sees it versus, 'We can't trust the LGBT community,' because we are a very giving community," said Franco-Clausen, noting that there are some elected officials from all backgrounds and ethnicities who behave badly and many others who are doing a lot of good work.

"There are a lot of great LGBT elected officials," she said. "There aren't enough for sure."

Lindner didn't believe that his actions would cast a shadow over the South Bay's LGBT community and the public's trust.

"I don't think it specifically casts a bad light on the LGBT community, as every community faces issues like this," he wrote.

Campos called upon LGBTs in the South Bay to get more involved in the county's politics.

"I think members of the LGBT community need to be more involved and hold our elected officials accountable," said Campos, who added that the county is currently working on a pilot program to address the needs of the students in the Franklin-McKinley School District.

"It's very tragic," said Campos, who explained that Measure J was designed to help some of the most vulnerable kids in a school district that largely serves low-income students from many backgrounds. "That's probably as low as it gets in terms of embezzlement by a public official."

James Gonzales, president of the board of directors of the Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee, or BAYMEC, believed Lindner attended its benefit brunch gala at the beginning of the month, he wrote in an email to the B.A.R. However, Lindner didn't speak, beyond introducing himself along with the other elected officials at the event, which was attended by nearly 400 people, he wrote.

Gabrielle Antolovich, president of the board of directors at the Billy DeFrank LGBT Community Center, confirmed that Lindner served on its board in the 1990s.

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