BY BUDDY NEVINS
In a move designed to shake up the status quo in the Broward school system, Superintendent Robert Runcie fired his construction chief Friday for failing to institute changes recommended by a critical Grand Jury.
Runcie charged construction and facilities boss Thomas Lindner with “inefficiency (incompetence), insubordination and/or willful neglect of his duties.”
Lindner is the first high-ranking administrator that any superintendent sought to fire in recent memory.
In the wake of a highly critical statewide Grand Jury report on the Broward schools alleging widespread mismanagement and corruption, Runcie was hired in late 2011 with orders to change the system.
He waited, observed and gathered evidence over the past year.
On Monday the School Board was told that problems were continuing in school construction. An accounting firm hired in June surveyed construction projects at Parkway Middle in Lauderhill and Walker Elementary in Fort Lauderdale. The auditors found the district overpaid by $1.4 million for failing to adopt the best industry practices.
Board members were angry.
Member Donna Korn was quoted in the Sun-Sentinel as saying she was hoping for a “shake up…There were a lot of things wrong in this department, and we’re not treating it at that way. I’m not happy,”
Lindner failed to attend the Monday Board meeting, which surprised some members.
On Wednesday, the Sun-Sentinel quoted Runcie foreshadowing Lindner’s firing:
“I’m reviewing the mangement and leadership there, and I’ll made a decision whether an adjustment is needed or not. I’ll be doing that very shortly. The bottom line is we’ve got to restore the public’s trust and confidence and the credibility of our facilities department.”
Lindner was one of three big changes in the front office.
Gracie Diaz, who held the key position as chief human resources officer, was shuffled off and will now be the relatively obscure director of the Teacher Incentive Fund.
Chief Portfolio Services Officer Joanne Harrison resigned. The hiring of Harrison two months after she retired in 2009 was criticized by the teachers’ union, who noted she was receiving a $135,000-a-year salary and her pension while employee layoffs were being considered.
But it is the fate of Lindner, the administrator who heads the much-criticized school building and maintenance program, that rocked the glass-and-marble School Board headquarters this weekend. The department has an immense budget — roughly a half billion dollars a year.
The formal complaint against the veteran bureaucrat reads like an indictment.
Lindner “failed to perform duties prescribed by law,” states the five-page administrative complaint hand delivered to Board members late Friday.
One of the charges: He remodeled the chief building inspector’s office without permission.
Another charge: He failed to develop new language for contracts, leaving the school system open to “liability and increased costs”.
A third charge: Lindner was “unable or unwilling to improve and integrate new technology.”
The complaint also alleges that many of the county’s construction projects remain behind schedule and that “the overall management of the Facilities and Construction Department is lacking under Mr. Lindner’s supervision.”
One Board member said Lindner was given a chance to resign and refused.
The School Board will be asked on Tuesday to approve of Runcie’s actions. Although Lindner has some political clout — his wife Donna Lindner is the long time senior government relations representative for J.M. Family Enterprises, .i.e., lobbyist — it is expected the Board will support Runcie.
If the Board agrees to uphold Lindner’s firing, he can appeal to a state administrative judge within 30 days.