Dirt dust up: Ethics complaint filed against board member over dumped dirt

July 2016 Posted in News, School
Public Gifts to the Schools
All gifts to the schools will
become the property of the district.
The superintendent is authorized to
accept gifts to the district, and
others whom he/she may designate
will be authorized to accept gifts
for particular schools on behalf
of the Board. The donor will be
officially thanked in the Board’s
name and all major gifts will be
reported to the Board and
publicly announced.

The Board welcomes gifts of books
and other materials that meet the
same standards of selection as those
applied to the purchase of
library materials.

Silver Falls School District 4J
Gifts accepted shall be used for
the purpose for which they were donated.

By Kristine Thomas 

Dust is flying over the placement of the dirt and sod removed from McGinnis Field.

The dirt in question was scraped from the grass field to prepare for the installation of an artificial turf field, a project privately funded by the Silver Fox Foundation. The majority of the dirt was delivered by volunteer truck drivers to Silver Falls school board member Tim Roth’s farm, about two miles from the football field.

Silver Falls school board member Todd White believes it was an ethics violation for Roth to receive the free dirt.

Roth, along with Silver Fox Foundation President Rick Schmidt and Silver Falls Superintendent Andy Bellando, disagrees.

Now it’s up the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to clear the air.

On June 15, White filed an ethics complaint with the commission against Roth.

“I have recently learned that Mr. Roth either solicited, or was given all of the dirt, approx. (sic) 25 truck loads according to people on the site, and it was delivered to his house, free of charge,” White wrote in the complaint.

White, Bellando email exchange

Explaining he understands the new field is not a district project, White said that doesn’t negate the fact that the dirt was district property. He said a patron asked him if she could purchase the dirt. He was told in an email from Bellando the dirt was not being sold.

“This dirt was given to/asked for by Mr. Roth, the board chair, but not given to, or made available to the public,” White wrote. “This is a large financial gain exclusive to Mr. Roth and no one else. Thousands of dollars in district property going to the board chair’s property does not seem legal, or ethical.”

White continued that it is his understanding that an elected official cannot accept gifts over $50 in value.

“It is my understanding that a third party transfer of school property to a board member does not absolve them of ethics violation, even if that truly were the case,” White wrote.  “The appearance of improprieties here is glaring to the public.”

On June 9, White sent an email to Bellando inquiring if the dirt was for sale.

Bellando wrote back to White that the dirt is not being sold.

“Its removal is part of the project contract and is removed off site to as close of a location as possible – in this case arrangements made with Roth Farms,” Bellando replied. “If the dirt was sold to individuals then the cost of the project would likely go up and that difference would be reflected in contracted costs.”

Bellando wrote to White that what is occurring is a common practice and “is in the best interest of the project and public.”

Again White questioned Bellando in an email, writing, “I’m sure you can see how this might raise questions when thousands of dollars in school property is given to a board member.”

Bellando responded to White that it is important to remember that the field project is a gift from the community and organized through the Silver Fox Foundation.

“As such this is not a public contract so the public procurement and notice rules you discuss below are not applicable,” Bellando wrote.

Bellando shared the thread of emails between he and White ln an email to all board members,

“Spencer Nelson, attorney at OSBA, shared with me that my description of the project and our processes appeared to be in line with district policy and ethics rules,” Bellando wrote.

Bellando told the board he firmly believes this project – including the removal of dirt – has been done appropriately.

Silver Fox Foundation

It’s obvious from his tone that it is frustrating for Schmidt to discuss the removal of the dirt from McGinnis Field.

“Nobody has questioned this project. It has been nothing but positive until this little issue came up,” Schmidt said.

Explaining the timeline to raise the money and complete the project was short, Schmidt said many volunteers worked together to fund the estimated $1 million project, with $500,000 in cash donations and $500,000 in in-kind donations. One such donation was the removal of the dirt.

Schmidt said about 6,000 cubic yards of dirt had to be removed from the field, estimating it at about 500 truckloads. To pay a driver to haul the dirt would cost about $100 an hour. Instead, Schmidt explained, about 10 volunteers agreed to haul the dirt. To save time, it was decided to dump the dirt at Roth’s farm, allowing about three truckloads to be dumped per hour. Schmidt estimates the Fox Foundation saved between $15,000 to $18,000 in trucking costs thanks to the volunteer drivers and the close location.

“This dirt was a liability,” Schmidt said. “It wasn’t an asset. It needed to go somewhere and we tried to look at the closest location. We didn’t want to waste time. It just made common sense to take the dirt to the nearest place.”

Schmidt disagrees with the notion the dirt could have been sold, adding if someone wanted to use the dirt, it would have had to been sorted through to get rid of the sod.

“I don’t know what the dirt could have been used for,” he said. “I don’t know who would have wanted to buy it. It would have delayed the project to try to sell it.”

He said he doesn’t know how many truckloads of dirt were delivered to Roth’s farm because “we didn’t count them.”

He added what he does know is the plan to dispose of the dirt saved the Silver Fox Foundation money. It still needs to raise between $30,000 to $50,000 to complete the project, Schmidt said.

A way to help out

School board member Tim Roth said there is nothing out-of-line with him receiving the dirt.

“The Fox Foundation needed a place close by the school to dispose of the dirt and sod from the old football field and I had a place within two miles of the project site,” Roth said.

“This is a community project, not a school district project, and I looked at it as a way to help out.”

Filing the complaint

White said he “thought long and hard” before he filed the ethics complaint.

“It just didn’t make sense to me that the dirt was given to Tim,” White said.

He argues the appearance of improprieties is “glaring to the public.”

With school districts in Oregon strapped for cash, White said even if the district received a few thousand dollars for it, that would be something. “I have seen plenty of ads selling or wanting fill dirt. The dirt given to Tim was not just worthless.”

White understands some people think his filing of the ethics complaint is a waste of time. He disagrees.

“I am doing my job. I am sticking up for the public’s interest. I don’t think it’s a waste of time to be transparent,” he said. “The school board are the keepers of the district’s property. The appearance of impropriety is just too great.”

District gift policy

Throughout the district, there are examples of schools receiving gifts, Bellando said, from small donations such as school supplies and equipment to larger donations such as reader boards or facility improvement.

For example, school PTAs have remodeled bathrooms and replaced windows. In neither case were they asked where the old faucets or windows went, Bellando said, because the project was a gift, meaning the PTA could make the decision.

“These are organized through parent teacher organizations or even local patrons who donate items/services in support of our schools,” Bellando said. “When gifts are accepted, it is with the understanding that they serve a benefit to the school district and are also in the public interest.  We don’t accept gifts if they don’t meet this standard.”

Bellando said when a project involves a school facility, including the McGinnis Field improvement, the district requires the work be completed by a licensed and insured contractor, following guidelines as if the district has secured the job.

“Our facilities director is kept fully informed and we monitor the planning and implementation of the project to be certain it meets our expectations and standards,” Bellando said.

“Since the school district accepted this project as a gift per policy and no taxpayer dollars were used, then many of the school district rules/guidelines (procurement and others) do not apply.”

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.