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Gay SJ school board trustee resigns

by Heather Cassell

Former South Bay school trustee John Lindner. Photo: Courtesy Facebook
Former South Bay school trustee John Lindner. Photo: Courtesy Facebook  

Embattled gay San Jose school board trustee John Lindner resigned effective February 28 after being charged with grand theft in connection with embezzling from a school bond campaign account.

The February 27 school board meeting was his final meeting, said Omar Torres, a fellow gay school board trustee on the Franklin-McKinley School District in East San Jose.

Lindner, 55, a longtime trustee on the board, submitted a letter of resignation to Mary Ann Dewan, Ph.D., county superintendent of schools of the Santa Clara County Office of Education, February 21.

The letter was a single sentence, "Effective February 28, 2018, I hereby resign the position of governing board member of the Franklin-McKinley School District." The letter came a day after he appeared in court at a second hearing regarding embezzlement and other charges.

Lindner sent a statement to the Bay Area Reporter.

"I accept responsibility for the charges brought against me and apologize to the Franklin-McKinley School District community for the actions I took in regards to use of leftover bond campaign funds," he wrote. "I appreciate the consideration the court has given in regards to my 30 years of public service in reaching a sentence. I am committed to fulfilling its terms."

Lindner previously told the B.A.R. that he wasn't going to resign.

In October 2017, Lindner was fined $18,500 by the state Fair Political Practices Commission for embezzling nearly $30,000 in school campaign funds and misleading investigators.

The following month his board colleagues voted to censure him, but they couldn't do anything beyond that due to his being elected to the board.

In December, the Santa Clara County District Attorney's office charged him with grand theft, perjury, and violations of the state's Political Reform Act. Lindner turned himself in and was released on $35,000 bail.

Compounding his case was the fact that the majority of funds raised were from special interests that could have placed business in front of the Franklin-McKinley board, John Chase, a prosecutor in charge of the DA's Public Integrity Unit, told the Mercury News.

"Aggravating matters is that nearly all of the money donated in support of the school bond measure came from developers, contractors, and architects," Chase told the newspaper. "While at the same time the defendant, who kept much of this money for his own use, was a member of the school board that makes decisions about how the bond money will ultimately be spent."

Lindner, a retired elementary school teacher who served on the board since 2004 and was re-elected in November 2016, is potentially facing jail time and a fine of more than $250,000 if convicted on the misdemeanor counts, reported Inside San Jose.

The district serves more than 10,000 elementary and middle school students in some of San Jose's poorest neighborhoods, reported the Mercury News.

Some community members, board members, and elected officials who spoke with the B.A.R. in October called for Lindner to resign at that time. During the following months, a small group of persistent community members repeatedly showed up at the school board meetings and launched a Change.org petition early in February. The petition only garnered 24 signatures.

In the end, Lindner resigned due to pressure from fellow board trustees Rudy Rodriguez, George Sanchez, and Torres, said Torres, who grew up and went to school in the community.

"He lost the trust of our community," said Torres. "We're there to serve a population that's already underserved and a population that distrusts 'the system.'"

When Torres called Lindner three weeks ago to personally ask him to resign, Lindner simply said, "Thank you Omar and goodnight," and hung up.

"That's all he said," Torres said.

Relieved that Lindner stepped down from the board, Torres said, "He did the right thing. It's time for us to move on."

Torres said it's time for the community to move forward and to select someone to replace Lindner on the board that will work for the parents and students of the school district.

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