ONTARIO — Turnover of department heads within Ontario City Hall continues, as Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero will be leaving the department in late October. Romero is the third out of eight department heads in about the past month to tender his resignation. Romero started his career with the department in June of 2019, having moved to the area from Hawthorne, California, where his most recent role was as watch commander over 90 officers and 40 civilian personnel. The chief issued a comment to the city which was posted Wednesday afternoon on the City’s Facebook page along with notice of open position.
“It has been an honor and privilege to serve the Ontario community the last 26 months in the role of Chief of Police. My family and I will forever be grateful for the opportunities and memories that this community and city has provided us,” Romero was quoted in a statement for social media.
According to the notice, Romero will be pursuing new professional opportunities.
“We’re incredibly grateful for the service Chief Romero has provided to our community and the passion and professionalism he brought with him, and we wish him success in all his future endeavors,” reads text from the announcement.
The city has not yet named an interim chief; however, Ontario Police Lt. Jason Cooper, who is still with the department, has served in that capacity in the past, having served in that capacity prior to Romero’s arrival.
A request for further comment is pending with the chief.
Former Ontario Airport Manager Erik Hartley, whose last day was Aug. 26, told the newspaper he resigned over the “current political climate” in Ontario. Like Romero, Hartley relocated to Ontario for his position, having moved here from South Carolina with his family to take on his new role in January of this year.
Human Resources Manager Peter Hall, who is also assistant to the city manager also recently tendered his resignation, and his last day is Sept. 10. He relocated to Ontario after serving a summer internship in California in 2018 to take his position. Hall told the Argus that he is going to be taking a job with the city of Meridian as a management analyst for public works. As the roll is vastly different than his current one, it will be a good opportunity for him to expand his knowledge of the public sector.
“It’s not going to be any less busy, as it’s a crazy growing area,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good challenge.”
Hall said his biggest takeaway from his position in Ontario, was the people who he worked with.
“There are so many people in this community — inside the city and outside the city — working so hard to make this community better,” he said. “These are the people I have been able to learn from and say, ‘This is who I want to be.’”
Hall was also happy to report that he would also be continuing to live in Ontario for the time being.
Concern about more turnover?
Given Hartley’s comments and the fact that the Ontario City Council is currently working to ask voters to OK their revision of the city charter, which also relates to the hiring of department heads, the newspaper reached out to City Manager Adam Brown earlier this week to ask whether he was concerned about more department heads leaving or if any others had indicated they may go.
“Each employee knows that we serve the City Council as the elected persons of the community,” Brown wrote in an emailed reply.
He said the decision is a personal one typically based on many factors.
“It is our responsibility to recognize the difficult decisions that must be made by our elected officials and the difficult circumstances and settings in which decisions have to be made,” the city manager said, then recounted his code of ethics as a “must.”
“Demonstrate by word and action the highest standards of ethical conduct and integrity in all public, professional, and personal relationships in order that the member may merit the trust and respect of the elected and appointed officials, employees, and the public.”
Brown said city staff is committed to working together to help the City Council improve the quality of life for residents. One way in which this is being done is regular meetings with most of the councilors outside of the council setting on a monthly basis. However, Brown is meeting weekly with Mayor Riley Hill and Council President Ken Hart, two that are pressing for the changes to the charter for hiring of department heads.
“When Mayor [Ron] Verini was in office, we met with the council president and him regularly, although not weekly,” Brown said.
Before coming to Ontario, the city manager said meetings with the chairperson and vice chairperson were taking place weekly.
When asked if the newspaper could sit in on any of those meetings, Brown’s reply was, “It’s not a public meeting, it’s an opportunity to hear what’s on their minds and for me to tell them what’s going on around the city.”
As the council makes policy and sets vision for the city, Brown says he greatly values the time spent with them so I know we are moving in the right direction.
Per Brown’s contract with the city, the council can fire the city manager with or without cause; however, if at the time he is willing and able to perform his duties, they must also pay six months compensation.
The council manages Brown, who in turn manages the city’s department heads for police, fire, human resources, finance, public works, community development and the city recorder.
What do those new salaries look like?
The city recruitments postings break down specifics for the jobs, including salary information.
The position for chief of police opens Sept. 1 and closes Oct. 3 and has a salary ranging from $7,126 to $8,919 per month. Benefits include 80% of costs for medical, dental and vision; a health saving account with monthly contribution; salary increases based on performance reviews; OR PERS, $150 per month into a 457 (b); $50 per month for utility incentive; 10 paid holidays; 88 to 168 hours of vacation per year with 40 hours of buyback available; 192 hours of sick time in the first year and 96 hours each year after; and $10,000 housing incentive for new construction.
The human resources manager and assistant to the city manager combined job opened on Aug. 23 and closes on Sept. 12, and the airport manager position opened Aug. 8 and remains open until filled.
Both of those have the same salary range of $4,415 to 5,526 monthly, and include the same incentive package as the police chief.
All of the city’s department heads hired after Feb. 27, 2018, for those departments not contracted out (finance and public works) are required to live within the city limits within six months of the start of employment.
Job listings, which include descriptions, as well as applications can be found online at ontariooregon.org.
Hall explained there was no PERS liability for the three outgoing department heads.
“Between the three of us, there is no PERS liability because none of us worked in Oregon the 5 years required to become vested in PERS,” Hall wrote in an email. “At this time, the city contributions go back to the city’s pool of assets unless any of us come back to Oregon in the future and become vested.”