Oregon equestrian coach likely author of own investigation
The Oregon City High School equestrian coach who was recently convicted on violations of state law related to self-dealing appears to have written portions of the athletic director's investigatory report that led to the school board's decision not to fire her.
State officials have already said it was "alarming" that no "red flags" were raised for the school district in its consideration about whether to retain Angie Wacker as coach. OCHS Athletic Director Andy Jones' investigative report provides evidence for just how many school officials missed several potential warnings.
Oregon City School Board members voted to retain Wacker despite her alleged online bullying of students and the investigatory report's acknowledgment of "some evidence that social media posts should not have been made." Responding to the complaints of 20 students, Jones said Wacker "received training on the effects and impact of poor social media habits."
Jones provided the report for the school board's December 2019 decision to retain Wacker, who apparently provided comments in her defense later lifted by Jones without attribution or changing pronouns for the report. Jones' report contains references to "I" or "me" that refer to Wacker rather than Jones, although Jones was the purported author of the report.
In discussing allegations about preferential treatment for Wacker's daughters, Jones' report says, "In 2017 I took them to Oklahoma to the National Congress, and they won many national championships in timed events." Wacker took her own daughters to the competition, not Jones.
In another instance providing evidence for Wacker's influence in writing the report, Jones wrote that a student "half leased a horse from me for 4-H for many years." The student in question says she can provide documentation that she leased the horse from Wacker, not Jones.
"Angie likely wrote the report for Andy Jones," the student said.
Citing "pending complaints, investigations or potential litigation," a school district spokesperson refused to answer questions about how statements from Wacker could have ended up in Jones' report.
If Jones and Wacker worked together to write the report, it wasn't the first time they discussed complaints about her treatment of students. Jones' report admits that he was in the habit of going to Wacker after receiving any complaint.
"When I received a concern (I have received no more concerns regarding Angie than any other coach in the OCHS Athletic Department) from a parent or student/athlete, I always met with Angie to discuss and, if necessary, a plan was implemented," Jones wrote.
'If there is favoritism it is rightfully earned'
Jones' report fails to mention the circumstances that led to state ethics violations: that Wacker's daughters didn't pay equestrian fees, or that Wacker charged her students what she herself determined were "reasonable" fees for participating at her equestrian arena. The reports says, "All arenas charge a usage fee to riders," which Jones saw as a standard practice for equestrian programs around the state.
Jones found "absolutely no evidence" of Wacker profiting from being the coach, saying that fees charged to students went to offset "thousands of her own dollars to upgrade her facility so that the OCHS team had a place to practice." Jones does not mention that the facility also served Wacker Performance Horses, which was later determined to have been an unregistered business illegally operating without a license for over a decade. Nor does the report indicate the facility had to be upgraded in part because of a hayloft collapse in 2009 that forced the euthanasia of one of Wacker's horses.
While her students paid arena fees that were higher than those charged by the previous equestrian coach, Wacker "loaned her horses for free and incurred the costs of vet fees at her own expense," according to the report.
Jones' report defended Wacker for favoritism she allegedly showed for her two daughters over other members of the equestrian team.
"If there is favoritism it is rightfully earned," he wrote. "I have never met a coach who has/would not put their best student/athletes out in the competition to help their team have a chance at greater success."
Did the success of Wacker's daughters in competition have something to do with potential advantages they received with their mother as coach?
"Both of these individuals have earned the trust and respect of their coach, advisers, peers and teammates to be on the top teams entered in OHSET meets," Jones wrote in the report. (OHSET is an acronym for Oregon High School Equestrian Teams Inc.).
Jones wrote in the report that he made the recommendation to keep Wacker on as coach after spending "countless hours" communicating with former and current student-athletes, talking with OHSET program leaders throughout the state, researching allegations and reading more than 100 letters and emails.
Jones supposedly wrote the investigative report, even though the official OCSD Complaint Procedure states that the superintendent should write the report prior to the school board hearing a formal appeal. District officials declined to answer this newspaper's question about why it appears that the district violated its own policy in the Wacker case.
Jones said his investigation was reviewed by Oregon City Superintendent Larry Didway and OCHS Principal Carey Wilhelm, but both administrators seem to have missed Jones' errors indicating Wacker's participation in writing Jones' report. For their alleged mishandling of the Wacker case, Didway, Wilhelm and Jones are under investigation by the state Teacher Standards and Practices Commission, which has the authority to determine whether district officials' actions in the Wacker case involved a gross neglect of duty. Gross neglect would require finding "serious and material inattention to or breach of professional responsibilities" under state law.
Although Jones said his report was reviewed by Didway and Wilhelm, district officials declined to comment about how all three of them did not notice various errors and correct them before the school board received the report.
It's unclear whether Oregon City School Board members noticed the evidence that Wacker helped Jones write an investigative report on the equestrian program, since the school district has rejected this newspaper's request for an audio recording of the board meeting in which the elected officials voted to affirm the athletic director's findings. Two of the involved OC School Board members, Evon Tekorius and Martha Spiers, would up for reelection in May if they choose to file to retain their seats; Tekorius' daughter was on the team and had a business relationship with Wacker, so Spiers instead of Tekorius led the December 2019 meeting, apparently to reduce the appearance of bias.
OC School Board members are now the subject of a related Oregon Government Ethics Commission investigation into the board improperly taking the vote during a closed-door meeting, a violation of Oregon's open-meetings laws that district officials have admitted.
Oregon's attorney general has in the past ordered disclosure of an executive session recording after reviewing it to confirm it was held unlawfully. District officials also tried to keep Jones' investigative report secret, but Pamplin Media Group obtained it from the Oregon Government Ethics Commission.
"If the County DA directs the school district to release the requested material we absolutely will do so, but we want to have direction from the county's top legal officer," wrote district spokesperson Lisa Normand.
A deputy Clackamas County district attorney is now reviewing the case and considering whether to issue a Public Records Order requiring OCSD to disclose its recording of the public meeting. OCSD is attempting to keep its audio recording of the meeting secret, despite participants admitting to holding the unlawful vote.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.