PAWNEE, Okla. -- Christopher Linder says he owes it to the people who elected him mayor to keep fighting for his town.
Linder, 33, was elected mayor of Pawnee in April, but a felony conviction has kept him from taking office. Oklahoma law prohibits a convicted felon from holding office unless the person receives a pardon or until 15 years after the sentence is completed.
The Arizona Board of Executive Clemency voted 4-1 Tuesday against a pardon for him.
"My main concern is my town, the town I live in," he said of Pawnee, a town of about 2,200 residents. "If you take just the state of the economy, the small town is dying."
Despite being denied the pardon, Linder said he is going to consult with officials about possible ways to move forward as mayor.
"I can't just totally give up," the father of five said.
The 33-year-old Linder served five years in an Arizona prison after being convicted in 2000 of transporting marijuana and taking part in a drive-by shooting. He completed his probation two years ago.
Linder said he did not know about the law prohibiting him from holding office when he declared his candidacy, and when it became an issue in March, he was open about it. He said he held a forum and fielded questions from about 40 residents ahead of the April 5 mayoral election.
Reached by phone in Arizona Wednesday, Linder said he was disappointed at the outcome of the Clemency board hearing.
The board, he said, seemed more focused on the fact that he hadn't removed his tattoos than what he has accomplished since being released, including opening and operating Pawnee CafDe with his wife, Christine, sitting on the Pawnee Chamber of Commerce board and helping to raise and donate his own money to local organizations.
"It seems to me that they got caught up in the fact I've only been off probation for two years," he said. "I got out in 2005. It's been a body of work since 2005. They just decided to look at the last two years and said not enough time has passed."
He paid for his crimes in prison time, probation and fines, he said.
"I've paid my debt to society, and two years later, they're still telling me that I owe them and I can't go forward," he said.
Incumbent Mayor Tom Briggs, who lost out to Linder in the April election, will remain in office through May 18. At that point, the Pawnee City Council president will serve as mayor until a special election is held.