Carter bids farewell after 40 years on the job

by Dylan Greene
Sports Editor | March 27, 2020 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — When someone works at one organization for nearly 43 years, they essentially become a history book full of experiences and stories throughout that tenure.

For Don Carter, 63, that’s the case. Carter has served as the city of Sandpoint building inspector for roughly 40 years and he is retiring at the end of this month.

Carter has survived through 14 mayors and 60 council members. He has truly seen it all and his colleagues appreciate what he has done for the city.

“He is the holder of all institutional knowledge,” Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton said. “Every time we want to know something that has happened in the past or why we’re doing something that we’re doing, it’s always call Don even if it’s out of his scope of responsibilities because he is going to know.”

Carter grew up in Sandpoint and graduated from SHS in 1975. After high school, Carter did what a lot of people do — he explored. Once he got done with that phase he found a job in July of 1977 plowing snow and putting in water, and sewer lines for the city. Carter had that job for a year before being laid off. He worked for Bonner Concrete Products Inc. for a short time before a job as the city engineer’s cartographer opened up.

Carter spent two years drawing maps of water and sewer lines and surveying before the city’s building inspector position became vacant in 1980.

“It just fell into my lap,” he said about the job. “I wasn’t intent on doing something like this. I was just out of high school, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

Forty years later, Carter is ready to say goodbye to the position.

“I want to play,” he said. “I want to be able to do things, really that’s about it and I’m tired of working I want to go do something else.”

But Carter doesn’t plan on sitting on the couch and watching TV when he retires. Instead, he wants to find “a mindless job” that allows him to work a couple times a week to support his addiction to riding his Harley. He already has a half dozen job offers including the current front-runner of helping a pair of logging friends by running a track hoe.

The city planned on holding a retirement celebration and an open house to honor Carter — just like they do for all their long-time employees — but due to the coronavirus those plans have to be delayed.

Stapleton said Carter has been a part of the evolution of the city. When Carter started with the city, the organization had 23 employees. Now they have 90. And in the ‘70s, city hall was located downtown where the Music Conservatory is currently at.

Clearly, many things have changed during that time but one thing has remained consistent — Carter.

“He is a silent leader within our team,” Public Works Director Amanda Wilson said. “Staff come to him with their challenges. They look to him as a leader kind of like a dad of the department ... I’m really going to miss his sense of humor. I’m going to miss that people come in just to see how Don is doing.”

Speaking of being a dad, Carter will soon be a grandpa as his daughter is due to give birth next month. Carter is looking forward to making the trip to Cody, Wyoming, to visit his soon-to-be grandson over the coming years on his Harley.

“I’ve done that drive so many times I can do it blindfolded,” he said about the 600-mile trip.

What Carter enjoyed so much about his job was making sure buildings were safe for people to use. Carter was a volunteer firefighter for 24 years and one of the reasons he retired from doing that was because of the lack of fires.

“There’s too much good building out there, there’s no fires,” he said.

Wilson said when people think of Carter’s position they usually believe it’s just about enforcing building codes, but that’s only a small part of it.

“Really it’s this proactive manner that he has approached [the job with],” she said, “and the relationships he has developed in our construction community to get that compliance ... and he educates the building community about how to build in a safe manner to protect people that are using those structures.”

Stapleton said the city looks to Carter for input a lot when making decisions and she doesn’t expect to see many more employees stick around as long as he did.

“Don’s retirement is a great thing for Don,” she said, “and it’s a loss for the city as an institution, it’s a loss for Sandpoint as a community and we’ll feel it for a very long time.”

Dylan Greene can be reached by email at dgreene@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @DylanDailyBee.