Dust settled: Investigation recommended, commission votes ‘no’

September 2016 Posted in News
The new turf field at the center of the complaint was a project spearheaded by the Silver Fox Foundation and done without district funds.

The new turf field at the center of the complaint was a project spearheaded by the Silver Fox Foundation and done without district funds.

By Kristine Thomas

Silver Falls School Board members Todd White and Tim Roth are both satisfied with the outcome of the Oregon Ethics Commission investigation.

Although, they each have a different reason. Roth is glad the complaint was dismissed.  White is satisfied because the investigator felt a full investigation was warranted.

In the end, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission had the final say on Aug. 12 when it dismissed the charges made by White against Roth and recommended that no further action be taken.

In June, White filed an ethics complaints against Roth for receiving free fill dirt, which was scraped from the McGinnis Field to prepare for the installation of  artificial turf. The new field was privately funded by the Silver Fox Foundation.

“Thank you to everyone who had a part in providing the beautiful new field to our school district,” Roth said. “I’m glad the Oregon State Ethics Board saw this complaint for what it was and dismissed it. Hopefully in the future we can minimize needless distractions like this and get back to our job of focusing on doing what’s best for the kids in this district.”

In an email, Silver Falls Superintendent Andy Bellando shared after the school board work session on Aug. 15, White apologized to Roth, saying it wasn’t personal. Roth accepted the apology.

“This is such a generous gift from many people in the Silver Falls community,” Bellando said. “The decision by the ethics commission helps validate the importance of the contribution that Tim Roth provided to help make it happen.”

White, who has been criticized on social media for filing with the ethics commission, shared he does not feel the complaint was without merit.

“The ethics commission’s investigator felt that a full investigation was warranted,” White said.

The seven-page Oregon Government Ethics Commission Preliminary review states: “It appears that there is substantial, objective basis to believe that a violation of the Oregon Government Ethics law may have been committed by Tim Roth, and an investigation is warranted. The Oregon Ethics Commission should move to investigate whether Tim Roth may have violated ORS 224.040.”

The preliminary review was presented to the ethics commission which met in executive session to vote.

In a letter, Oregon Ethics Commission Executive Director Ronald Bersin wrote to Roth that at its Aug. 12 meeting, the commission considered the staff preliminary review report “of the allegations made against you by Todd White.

“The Commission failed to achieve a sufficient number of affirmative votes to move the matter to investigation,” Bersin said. “The matter is, therefore, dismissed and no further action will be taken.”

White said as it was explained to him, the commission’s vote does note mean Roth was “innocent, cleared of any wrong doing, or that the complaint was without merit. It just means that there was not the sufficient ‘yes’ votes to open a full investigation.”

White said he was told it was a split vote.

“I think one thing that can be taken away from all of this is that we all need to be mindful of how the public perceives the things we do,” White said. “No matter the intent, dabbling in the gray area gives a negative perception by the public. To my knowledge, the ethics commission staff review was never shared with the board, only the letter saying the complaint was dismissed.”

In the report, investigator Diane Gould wrote, “Several details are unclear at this time, including: who had the authority to dispose of the dirt that was excavated, the nature of Mr. Roth’s participation and authority over the project as a Board member, the timing and other circumstances surrounding the decision to haul the dirt to Mr. Roth’s property, the value of the dirt and its transport, and the use of the dirt by Mr. Roth.”

Roth wrote to the commission he was contacted by a representative of the Silver Fox Foundation about the grass and dirt that needed to be removed from the site in order to install the new turf.

“They were looking for a site in close proximity to the high school that might be able to take the dirt,” Roth said. “Because of the all-volunteer nature of the job, a site close to the school was preferred to increase efficiencies and the lower operational costs of the volunteer businesses and truck drivers.”

Since Roth lives within two miles of McGinnis Field, Silver Fox Foundation President Rick Schmidt said it made financial sense to transport the dirt to the Roth farm.

In a previous Our Town article, Schmidt said about 6,000 cubic yards of dirt were removed from the field, estimating about 500 truckloads. To pay a driver to haul the dirt would cost about $100 an hour. Instead, Schmidt explained, about 10 volunteers hauled 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 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.”

In a letter to the ethics commission, Roth stated he wanted to help with the project so he took the dirt at no charge to the foundation.

“I was not out looking for fill dirt and did not solicit or ask for the dirt,” Roth wrote. “I looked at this as a solution to a problem that the Silver Fox Foundation had of getting rid of the dirt in a cost-effective manner.”

Roth shared with the ethics commission he spent $2,000 to $3,000 for a bulldozer to spread the dirt and he assumed the liability for the quality of the dirt and the trucks going in and out of his property.

“I do not believe this was unethical or a violation of ORS 244,” Roth wrote. “I was not contacted about this because I am on the board but because I am a community member with property close to the school.”

School board chairman Wally Lierman said he is glad the complaint has been dismissed and “that this issue is behind us.”

“I’m also very sorry that Tim had to endure these accusations as well as other accusations that surfaced following the complaint being filed,” Lierman said. “Tim has always been very giving of his time and resources for the school district and community.”

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