On July 12, Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigator Diane Gould issued a preliminary review of the complaint by Todd White, a member of the Board of Directors of Silver Falls School District about topsoil trucked from Silverton High School to the home of a the President of the Board of the school district.

The review recommended further investigation of possible violation of two state statutes.

The Oregon Government Ethics Commission administers and enforces ethics law as it relates to government officials.

The complaint originated on June 15 after White noticed that Tim Roth, President of the Board of the Silver Falls School District received about 25-truckloads of topsoil excavated from McGinnis Field, a playing field of Silverton High School. (See our story “All the Dirt” June 23, 2016)  White’s complaint stated that the topsoil was delivered to Roth’s home, free of charge and it’s White’s belief that the dirt was district property which was not offered to anyone else “not that they could have accepted it… This is a large financial gain exclusive to Mr. Roth, and no one else. White also noted, “[T]housands of dollars of district property going to the board chair’s property does not seem legal, or ethical.”

Roth did not respond directly to White, but in his reply to the Ethics Commission enquiry, wrote, “I was not out looking for fill dirt and did not solicit or ask for the dirt… I considered this an in-kind contribution to the project because I allowed the dirt to be dumped on my property at no charge. They needed a location close by to take the dirt and I had a location to accommodate that. I assumed all liability for the quality of the dirt and the trucks coming in and out of my property. I also spent between $2,000 – $3,000 for a bull dozer to spread the dirt as it was being delivered.”

The amount of dirt in question appears now to have been 500 truckloads of topsoil, or about 6,000 cubic yards.

The Ethics Commission investigative report said several details of the matter remained unclear, including who had the authority to dispose of the dirt that was excavated, the nature of Roth’s participation over the project as board member, the timing and other circumstances surrounding the decision to haul the dirt to Roth’s property, the value of the dirt and its transport and the use of the dirt by Roth.

It recommended further investigation, stating, “It appears that there is a substantial, objective basis to believe that a violation of Oregon Government Ethics law may have been committed by Tim Roth, and an investigation is warranted.” It proposed that the Ethics Commission should investigate whether Tim Roth may have violated ORS 244.040, which says a public official may not use his or her official position or office to obtain financial gain that would not be available if they didn’t hold office.

The matter ended when Oregon Government Ethics Commissioners met on August 12 to consider the report and vote on whether to pursue its recommendation to investigate. In a split decision, insufficient votes were received to investigate the matter.

A Facebook post for Our Town, a Silverton-area paper, mischaracterized the vote by saying the commission “dismissed the charges” against Roth.

Some citizens consider the vote questionable. If the argument is that Roth’s property was used because it was close and saved costs, they say, there is at least one closer community location whose need for soil has been well known for some time and which wasn’t offered the material.

“The Bethany Pioneer Cemetery – located at the intersection of Hazel Green Rd and Brush Creek Road – always welcomes fill material in a years-long effort to fill a low area on the cemetery property,” says one community member. “It is closer to the McGinnis work site than Roth’s property. The material was not offered to the cemetery. It would have made sense to do so, if costs savings and disposal of the material was really an issue.”

Audio recordings are made of Ethics Commission meetings and posted online. The audio for the August 12 meeting is not yet available.