An ethics complaint against former Rainier Superintendent Michael Carter was dismissed Friday by the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
The commission voted unanimously in January to open a full investigation into Carter’s purchase of a district car after getting a complaint from School Board President Kari Hollander that Carter used his position to obtain a vehicle from the district without following proper polices, including placing it for sale in a public setting.
The commission opened an investigation to get access to all needed documents, it said at its January meeting, and the investigation focused on determining if there was evidence to show Carter used or attempted to use his position to get a financial benefit, namely the purchase of the car for less than market value.
The final report found that “information is not sufficient to indicate” Carter used or attempted to use his position for financial benefit.
Carter said he was “very pleased at the fact that it was completely dismissed.”
“I hope that the Rainier School District board and superintendent get back to their business of taking care of the kids, rather than harassing their former leader,” Carter said Friday.
School district officials were not available for comment Friday afternoon.
According to the investigation report by Oregon Government Ethics Commission staff, Carter bought a 2000 Jeep Cherokee with about 104,800 miles on it from the district in the spring of 2020 for $1,200.
The car was one of four the district had purchased in March 2019 as a lot from the Columbia River Public Utility District, with the intent to keep one vehicle for district use and to sell the remaining vehicles to the public to cover the cost of the purchase.
The cars – three Jeep Cherokees and one Toyota Prius — were purchased for about $6,900. The Jeep that Carter eventually bought was bid on for $1,200, the report said.
The district maintenance coordinator said in the report that the district wanted to keep the Prius and was able to sell two of the three Jeeps in a few months. The third Jeep was used over the summer, so by the end, “it had paint stains and grease all over the seats and carpet” as well as a leaking hole in the roof, dents, and a flaking paint job.
“Due to the leak, in the roof, the Jeep had black mold in it,” the report said, and it also needed new tires and stopped running.
Maintenance staff posted the Jeep for sale online for $1,000. One person offered $800, but the report said the district turned down the offer as it was too low.
Carter eventually offered $1,200 for it, and said he felt he was doing the district a favor by taking the vehicle off its hands.
Carter gave the commission several receipts for work he then had done on the Jeep, including about $500 to tune the ignition and replace the idle speed control and further work to repair an oil leak.
The report also said Carter provided two Kelly Blue Book valuations he got for the Jeep from Kelso and Hillsboro dealerships. One was for $954, the other $848.
While Carter did not follow district procedure by having the school board declare the cars surplus before selling them and the district business manager emailed Carter “concerned about the optics of this,” the report said there was still no financial gain for Carter and therefore no violation.
Carter said the investigation was a “waste of district resources” and time they could have spent on students.