Former county administrator Liane Inkster (previously Richardson) was fired by Lane County more than a year ago, but questions from her uneasy departure still linger, most recently due to a letter from the Oregon State Bar (OSB) clearing her in a disciplinary investigation.
The bar’s investigation is the third investigation — or possibly the fourth, according to the letter — into Inkster’s actions. Commissioners Sid Leiken and Jay Bozievich responded to EW’s inquiry about the letter with a statement asking that the investigation be reopened. OSB’s probe stemmed from an article in the R-G after Inkster nominated herself for a position on the bar’s Disciplinary Board.
Inkster wasn’t fired at all; she left after a “contractual dispute,” the bar’s letter to Inkster says. The April 22 letter, recently obtained by EW, also says that the County Commission’s then-chair (Leiken) and vice chair (Bozievich) “knew and approved” of the changes in Inkster’s compensation that led to the termination of her job with Lane County.
Inkster had lobbied to raise her salary from $152,345 to $175,656 at a time when the commission was asking taxpayers to approve a county jail levy. When that request came to light, and the proposed raises for her and County Counsel Stephen Dingle were tabled, Inkster then made changes to her take-home pay.
According to OSB’s letter, written by Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Mary Cooper, the board “wanted, for political reasons, to delay discussions” of a raise. Inkster told Cooper she followed a suggestion from a commissioner to sell back some of her sick leave time (what the county calls “time management”) and convert the money to cash. Inkster sold far more than the county allows.
After another employee questioned the changes and hired an attorney, “the board began to back away from its involvement in the situation,” the letter says.
When the allegations of impropriety with Inkster’s pay surfaced in the summer of 2013, the county hired Greg Olson of USO Consulting and Investigation to look into Inkster, and he concluded that she was “untruthful.” But according to the bar’s letter, “the board later conducted a full independent audit” of Inkster, and it “concluded that [Inkster] did not act fraudulently and that the board chair and vice chair knew and approved of the changes in [her] compensation.”
Leiken and Bozievich call the mention of the audit “curious” in their statement. “No audit was done of Ms. Inkster’s misdeeds,” they write. The commissioners also note that neither Olson’s investigation nor an investigation by an outside district attorney “concluded any involvement or justification” for Inkster’s selling more of her time management “by any member of the Board of Commissioners.”
The bar’s letter primarily notes an interview with Inkster, but Kateri Walsh, director of OSB media relations, tells EW the attorney who conducted the investigation reviewed both Olson’s and the DA’s reports.
The bar concluded that it was plausible Inkster did not remember an email telling her she had sold too much sick time when the investigator asked her about it, and cited the district attorney’s decision not to file charges. Leiken and Bozievich say the DA did not file charges because Inkster had agreed to pay the money back and had already been terminated by the county.
Walsh says that the “Disciplinary Counsel’s office will take a look at the file and if it appears that there was evidence that did not get a thorough review, we will likely either re-evaluate the matter, or take it to the State Professional Responsibility Review for consideration.”
Neither the county nor the other media covering the furor over Inkster’s nomination to the disciplinary board last March apparently asked for a copy of the April 22 letter dismissing the complaint. Walsh says, “We never received a complaint regarding Inkster from the commission or anyone in Lane County.” She adds, “We opened the investigation ourselves based on media reports,” and OSB typically copies complainants on progress in a disciplinary investigation.