Council shoots down charter change regarding hiring department heads

Ontario City Councilor Eddie Melendrez speaks to Mayor Riley Hill during discussion at their meeting on Tuesday night regarding whether to move a charter amendment to the ballot to have the City Council be involved with the city manager in the hiring of department heads.

ONTARIO — City Councilors split on ballot measures for amendments to the city’s municipal charter that were presented for their consideration on Tuesday night. One set of changes was amended before being approved to head to the ballot for the May General Election; however the proposal to have the city council involved in the hiring of department heads was ultimately shot down.

At the top of the meeting, members of the public, including former city councilor Norm Crume spoke out against the council’s involvement in hiring of department heads.

“I ask you to please not do this, I think it will create a problem,” Crume said. “I believe if enacted, you could lose some city staff and the city manager, and I don’t believe potential new hires would want to be put between that rock and hard spot.”

Council President Ken Hart, who served as the chairman on the ad hoc committee which reviewed the charter, along with Councilor John Kirby both mentioned that the concept was discussed with great debate among the committee, extensively among the council, heavily in public comment and that the mayor was advocating for it. Hart and Kirby both stated that they would stand with the committee and not support the proposal.

Kirby further stated that having the council involved in hiring department heads “would be breaking ranks in a big way” with the rest of the state. He stated it would be nice if one councilor could sit in on interviews and report back to the rest of the council, however, leave the building of the team to the city manager.

Hart and Hill both stated that they didn’t like knowing who the new hires were before the general citizenry with Hill stating that when someone asks what is going on at City Hall and you don’t know “you look like an idiot because you’re not involved in the process.”

Hill also noted that three department heads had left in the past year, adding that it was unknown whether the city manager would decide to leave for a better offer and leave the council “sitting here with his staff.”

Councilor Eddie Melendrez stated that Hill wasn’t telling the whole story with department heads leaving, adding that councilors, themselves, could have influenced those people leaving. He further stated that if they were unhappy with the city manager it was their duty to remove that person instead of trying to take power away from them.

The motion to move the matter to the ballot failed 5-2, with Hill and Baker voting yes.

The ballot measure that was drafted for the proposed changes approved by the charter committee includes several changes, but Hart pointed out that Section 4.1 was missing from the summary (which was already close to exceeding the maximum of 175 words). As such, Hart proposed amending the draft ballot language to add 4.1, which allows the removal of the city manager with a majority voted. Currently, it needs a supermajority, which would require 5 of 7 councilors to remove the city manager. A simple majority will only need four of seven councilors to do that and is in line with the model charter from League of Oregon Cities, according to Hart.

To do this without going over the aforementioned word count, Hart suggested combining 5.2 and 5.3 with a description of “make changes related to municipal judges.”

The changes do not impact the intent of the proposal from the the ad hoc committee.

“I’d like to make sure we get those key points accurate,” he said.

Other key changes include needing a 2/3 majority of the council to approve fee increases, referring sales taxes to voters, requiring a charter review every 10 years, council residency, a majority vote of the council to remove the president — which can currently only be done by a recall election if the councilor does not step down — and changes the wording for hiring of a pro tem city manager, among other changes.

The motion to move that package of proposed changes to the ballot for voters passed unanimously.

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