Tom Lindner once vowed to change the culture at Broward’s troubled school construction department, but on Tuesday district leaders decided that Lindner himself had become part of the problem.
School Board members readily accepted Lindner’s resignation — and had the construction chief not stepped down voluntarily, he was likely to be fired.
The board’s action signals a desire to restore credibility to Broward’s construction spending, which has been plagued by shoddy work and cost overruns. A majority of Broward’s School Board members are relatively recent arrivals — and so is Superintendent Robert Runcie — creating an atmosphere where change is welcomed.
Broward also is considering asking voters to approve a bond issue at some point in the future — a proposal that would be similar to a $1.2 billion bond referendum approved by Miami-Dade voters last month. Voter approval of such measures often hinges on whether voters trust their local school district to spend the money wisely.
“We’ve got to make some serious headway in demonstrating to the public that we’re real serious about reforms in that area,” Runcie said. “We’re not making any compromises or excuses for getting this stuff fixed, and we’ve got to do it quick.”
The complaints against Lindner were many: as Broward’s chief facilities and construction officer, Lindner resisted Runcie’s push to improve how the district selected construction firms, even though outside experts found Broward’s methods to be needlessly expensive and vulnerable to abuse. Lindner also demonstrated a willingness to spend taxpayer dollars in a “rogue” fashion, according to Runcie.
Lindner, who earned $160,000 annually, declined to comment. He was hired by the district in 2004.
Before Lindner agreed to step down, the superintendent had drafted an “administrative complaint” that is necessary to fire someone under the district’s rules.
In that document, Runcie wrote that “Mr. Lindner was made aware of internal and external audits, and grand jury reports regarding recommended changes within the Facilities and Construction Department.” Lindner would not follow those recommendations, Runcie wrote, making him guilty of “gross insubordination.”
Runcie also faulted Lindner for unauthorized “construction and refurbishing of the Chief Building Inspector’s Office.”
Earlier in the year, Broward had hired McGladrey, a national accounting/consulting firm, to evaluate the district’s policies. A June report found more than 40 areas where Broward’s construction contract procedures lacked appropriate safeguards and cost-saving techniques. Many of those shortcomings were critical “high-risk” problems, the company found.
McGladrey even provided Broward with contract templates it could use going forward, but Lindner’s department kept issuing contracts in the old way — with more than $50 million in contracts awarded since June. Lindner’s inaction could end up adding millions to the final cost of those projects.
“In all those months, not a thing happened,” said Charlotte Greenbarg, a member of the district’s Facilities Task Force. “It costs the district money.”
Lindner had once promised a different approach. Early in his tenure as construction chief, in 2010, Lindner vowed to clean up his scandal-plagued department, and hold its employees accountable.
“The culture, I think, is changing,” he said then.
One remaining question is the extent of Lindner’s involvement in a botched construction project to build a new district maintenance facility in Pembroke Pines. At least $1 million has been paid to Jupiter-based Royal Concrete Concepts, even though it appears the company was working on an expired contract with the district.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement review of the contract, performed in connection with last year’s state grand jury report, found that “Lindner continues to move forward and push for” the project even though Runcie and the School Board ordered it stopped.
“These practices and issues certainly raise questions as to the propriety of the entire process,” the FDLE investigator wrote in August. “Paying vendors for work they might not be entitled to be paid for as well as continuing to support a project the Board and the Superintendent deemed ‘dead.’ ”