By Michael E. Miller
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Munzenrieder
By Sabrina Rodriguez
By Michael E. Miller
By Carlos Suarez De Jesus
By Luther Campbell
By Kyle Munzenrieder
At least Norman Lindeblad got one of those right: At the time of his arrest, he was head of the school district's Office of Professional Standards (OPS).
After being arrested this past June 24 by Miami police during a weekend prostitution sting, the 58-year-old school district veteran might have expected a harsh response from his bosses: perhaps termination, or at least a lengthy suspension without pay, a severe demotion, and banishment to some bureaucratic Siberia. After all, Lindeblad held one of the most sensitive posts in the entire school system. It was his job to oversee investigations into the very sort of misconduct for which he was apprehended.
But thanks to the largess of superintendent Roger Cuevas and other top district officials, Lindeblad in late August was quietly tucked into a new job in the risk-management department, where he can wait for the clock on his 36-year career to wind down into a comfortable retirement. In keeping with school district rules, his salary remains unchanged until next July, the beginning of the new fiscal year. In the meantime, however, he received a raise that boosted his compensation to $103,824 per year. If he still is at his risk-management job in July 2001, his salary will drop to $89,052.
School district spokesman Alberto Carvalho cannot explain the specifics of how decisions were made regarding disciplinary action taken against Lindeblad. “You can try personnel or Ms. Annunziata,” he offers, referring to assistant superintendent Joyce Annunziata, who oversees the OPS. Messages left for Annunziata, deputy superintendent Nelson Diaz (her superior), and superintendent Roger Cuevas were not returned.
The decision-making process in the Lindeblad case may be a mystery, but the details of his misadventure are a matter of public record. Shortly after noon on June 24, 58-year-old Lindeblad was trolling Biscayne Boulevard in his 1998 Mazda minivan, searching for female companionship. According to the Miami Police Department's arrest report, he circled around several times before stopping his vehicle a few feet from the intersection of Biscayne and NE 34th Street.
Officer incognito Hermina Salas described what happened. “The [defendant] called me over to the car and told me: “Meet me around the corner. I don't pick up this close to the Boulevard. There's too many cops.' I said, “Okay,' and walked westbound a few more feet. The [defendant] drove around the block and stopped. The [defendant] said, “If you do me right, I'll give you $20.' I asked him what do you want. He said, “I'll play with your pussy then you can rub your pussy on my dick, and I'll play with your tits. Then you can jerk me off and when I come, I'll clean it up.' I said, “Okay meet me around the corner.' A take-down signal was given, and the [defendant] was arrested.”
Lindeblad signed an arrest affidavit promising to appear in court. Like many others caught in similar stings, his car was impounded and released upon payment of $1000. It isn't clear whether he took a taxi to his house in West Kendall or called his wife to come get him. (Reached at his home, Lindeblad declined to comment for this story.)
As far as the State Attorney's Office is concerned, Lindeblad is a typical john. In early September he was accepted into a deferred-prosecution program in which he agreed to undergo an AIDS test, attend an AIDS-awareness course, and pay a $175 fee. In exchange for this, he avoided having to plead his case in court, a reprieve commonly extended to first-time offenders who don't want to risk conviction.
As far as Lindeblad's bosses are concerned, that and the job transfer pretty much took care of the loose ends. No students or other school district employees had been involved. The incident occurred during Lindeblad's free time and nowhere near a school. Case closed. Or as school board attorney Johnny Brown puts it: “He wasn't really convicted of anything. In that case the superintendent has a wider amount of discretion. If it were criminal, he would have less [discretion]. What the appropriate punishment is, it's more of an administrative decision. It's not a legal decision. Things like this don't happen very often, so it's hard to compare it to another case.”
Hardly anyone would argue that even public officials have a right to a private life. But education specialists says the power and responsibility that come with being the district's director of the Office of Professional Standards casts this case in a different light. Lindeblad held that post for four years, during which time he enjoyed broad powers to investigate, recommend discipline, and enforce regulations and standards of conduct for nearly 50,000 school district employees.
School board member Betsy Kaplan thinks the man who sat in judgment of the human failings of others should be held accountable to the highest standards. “As an educator really you're supposed to be a cut above,” she says. “Not in a snobby way, but to the highest ethical standards. I believe he should be treated with as much impact as possible. It doesn't set a good example for the public or the students.”
Kaplan remembers asking Cuevas at the October 11 board meeting what had become of Lindeblad. She was assured he wasn't in a classroom and that he had taken a cut in pay (though the salary cut won't take effect till July 2001).
That was some comfort to Kaplan. Just last year she watched with dismay as the majority of the school board voted to allow two former high school principals to be transferred to quiet back-office administrative positions, even after losing or settling separate sexual-harassment lawsuits brought against them by women who had the misfortune to work for them. Both men had political ties to top administrators or board member Solomon Stinson.
Taxpayers who contribute to the school district's four-billion-dollar annual budget forked out more than two million dollars to the victims of former Northwestern Senior High principal William E. Clarke III and former Merrick Educational Center principal Michael Exelbert. Kaplan and two other board members voted against Cuevas's recommendation to move Clarke and Exelbert into cushy desk jobs rather than firing them outright. “Norm [Lindeblad] at least was not bothering personnel under his control,” she says. “The other two had been harassing their employees. [Lindeblad] was a situation where it wasn't school-related; it was only fool-related.”
School board member Manty Sabates Morse also has bad memories of the Clarke sexual-harassment case and how it was handled. “All we did was reduce his salary and reduce his office position,” she notes. “I was totally against that.” But she draws a distinction between that egregious in-school case and Lindeblad's extracurricular activities. “I think our high-ranking officials should be held to the highest standards, but we're not supposed to be judging what happens inside the home and outside the schools,” she opines. “This is something he will have to deal with with his family and his conscience. It's very hard because you are talking about somebody high up.”
But to a parent like Lucy Margolis, a school board watchdog for many years, the refusal of top-level administrators to treat Lindeblad's transgression more seriously is disheartening and revealing. Margolis says she respects the rights of individuals to keep most aspects of their private lives separate from their public duties, but not when those duties are based on personal integrity. “Had he been in charge of anything else, then I think you could make the argument,” she ventures. “But if he is in charge of professional standards, then what are the professional standards? Maybe there are none. You can't have a person in that position going out and getting caught doing something like that. Just moving them around is not the answer. Maybe the board should make a rule to address what should be done when they break the rules.”
Charlotte Greenbarg is state chairwoman of the nonpartisan, not-for-profit Independent Voices for Better Education. She also is the former president of the Miami-Dade PTA and a long-time activist within the school district. (Today she lives in Broward County.) Greenbarg knows Lindeblad and expresses surprise that he would be caught in a prostitution sting, but she also thinks it is hypocritical of school administrators to discipline him in any way for something that happened in his private life, considering how many other sick fish they have tossed back into administrative waters. “OPS investigations are totally political,” she contends. “If someone is politically connected, there's practically nothing they can do to get them fired. If they took [Lindeblad out of his job], it's hypocritical because he never had the authority to do anything to [well-connected employees]. His job is illusory. They create the illusion that there are some professional standards. His is the least of the problems.”