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Martha Spiers, running May 18 reelection campaign, backs decision to retain coach convicted on ethics violations

Martha SpiersOregon City School Board Chair Martha Spiers this month officially denied a request to redo a vote in a public session to remedy the illegal closed-door vote that retained for the past two seasons an equestrian coach convicted in January of four violations of state ethics laws.

On April 30, the Oregon Government Ethics Commission unanimously voted to mandate that Oregon City High School Equestrian Coach Angie Wacker pay $2,000 in fines for the violations of state laws related to prohibited uses of her official position and her failure to file written statements of personal economic interest in setting equestrian program fees. 

Spiers is seeking reelection May 18 and also will face sanctions from the ethics commission related to her illegal vote to retain Wacker in December 2019.

Some state officials had called for Wacker to receive only a letter of reprimand for her various legal violations, but ethics commissioners settled on the fines in consideration of her clear pattern of "self-dealing," in which public officials make decisions that impact themselves.

Dozens of officials statewide received penalties for various violations during the ethics commission's quarterly meeting, but Wacker had the distinction of being one of only two officials receiving $2,000 fines, the other being Jennifer Goelze, the former Jefferson County Sheriff's Office employee convicted or embezzling $60,000 in union dues and sentenced to three years in prison.

Wacker might be the only coach in history statewide to have been convicted of ethics violations and been allowed to retain the position. Wacker said that Oregon High School Equestrian Teams will help her pay the fine, since the statewide group is "recognizing their responsibility" in providing guidance not in line with state law.

Ethics officials and Wacker agreed to the $2,000 fines on April 30 after she signed a statement acknowledging she violated state laws through her "failure to submit written notification of her actual conflicts of interest," granting fee waivers for her daughters and deciding to hold equestrian practices at her own facility where she set participation charges for all students except her daughters.

In an attempt to get the school district to reconsider its position on Wacker, Oregon City parent and business owner John Widmer wrote to Spiers on behalf of three families who originally complained of Wacker's behavior. State officials have opened several other probes related to the OCHS equestrian program. The Oregon Department of Education, which has been investigating unreported concussions in the program, last month decided to expand its inquiry to include the district's alleged retaliation against parents who complained about Wacker.

"I am giving the school board members another opportunity to do what is right and no longer allow Wacker to be in a position to abuse, harass and take financial advantage of students," Widmer wrote. "Because the district's individual school board members have evidence of these actions, a vote to retain her will be additional evidence of the board members' negligence and intentional indifference to creating a hostile educational environment."

Spiers wrote back that, "based on existing information," board members wouldn't be considering a revote on Wacker's employment.

"The district respects the investigative process and it would be imprudent for the board to revisit the matter until outcomes are reached in each of the relevant investigations," Spiers wrote.

Wacker has remained coach throughout the investigative process and this month released a statement saying that she plans to continue to serve "under updated rules" to comply with state law.

"I am looking forward to getting back to helping Oregon City students learn and grow through equestrian competition and being an active part of our local community," she wrote. "As a coach, I always seek to do better. We can have a critical impact in the development of young people, and I welcome feedback on how to improve."

Widmer hopes that the district's refusal to reconsider Wacker's employment as coach will cost Spiers the election. Spiers is the only member of the board seeking reelection who participated in the illegal board vote; she faces opposition from Michele Lee Stroh, who made her opponent's ethics violation a campaign issue.

With Wacker's violations officially on the books, Widmer said, "to deny some of the original allegations is foolishness. … Continued denial only strengthens our resolve to continue this process until the individuals who were harmed are made whole."

Spiers said the district took issue with many of Widmer's allegations, including his assertion that the coach has been "proven to be unfit, and that the investigation report was falsified."

As previously reported, when Oregon City Athletic Director Andy Jones was tasked with investigating complaints into Wacker, Jones lifted most of the investigatory report from emails written by Wacker.

Spiers did not deny Widmer's assertion of Wacker's "very disturbing email releasing sensitive, confidential and defamatory information about a student sent to third parties." School board members, as they illegally voted 5-1 for Wacker's continued employment, called for training to correct her social media practices.

Wacker has hired a public-relations professional in an apparent attempt to sway the narrative in her favor. Jake Weigler, a partner at Praxis Political, requested a series of "corrections" on behalf of Wacker, accusing Pamplin Media Group of printing false statements. In response, Pamplin Media Group has asserted that all its reporting has been correct.

Among her PR representative's claims were a belief that "Wacker Performance Horses is not required to secure a business license to operate in unincorporated Clackamas County," when in fact obtaining a business license is a statewide requirement, regardless of whether a business is within city limits or in an unincorporated area like Beavercreek. Wacker herself has admitted that her business was operating outside of the state's legal framework for about 10 years.

"We had failed to register with the state because we understood it was not required when the business shares your family's name, but did so recently when it was clarified that the business must also include your first name — not just your last," Wacker wrote.

Wacker also acknowledged that she did not follow the correct procedure under state law to have her daughters' student accounts charged for using her facility.

"In hindsight, it is clear to me that I did not fully appreciate the conflicts and tensions that would arise when coaching a team of teenagers — many of those conflicts have now been explored publicly on the pages of this newspaper in recent months," she wrote. "I never showed favoritism towards my daughters in managing the team and they have earned the successes they have achieved in competition."

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