Ontario City Hall

This photo shows the Ontario City Hall.

ONTARIO — At the urging of a top city official, a retail marijuana dispensary squared up with the city on Wednesday shortly before the Oregon Liquor Control Commission was in town to meet with Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero regarding a state investigation of the dispensary.

City Manager Adam Brown said he called Steven Meland to urge him to pay for the worker fees associated with his dispensary and for the bill for the city’s time spent working on a Snoop Dogg concert.

That concert was included in the grand opening event for Hotbox Farms on Oct. 5, which was put on without having all of the proper permits in place. Rather than fine the dispensary the $1,000 max they could have sought for a permit violation or potentially tack another $1,000 fine on a separate retailer, city officials opted to go another route — have Hotbox foot the city’s nearly $13,000 in costs for the concert.

Meland had agreed to do that the week after the concert after Brown in a private meeting told him the concert was very costly for the city.

The Argus asked Brown about how his wage showed up on the final billing presented by the city which showed hours and wages for police and fire personnel. Brown said that although he was an exempt employee who does not get paid for overtime, he did work on the night of the concert — a Saturday night.

“Steven indicated to me to be generous when estimating the city’s cost,” Brown said, when the two of them met after the concert to discuss him paying the city’s cost versus the permit violation.

Admitting he didn’t want to call it extortion, Brown said he told Meland that if there were unpaid bills and the OLCC asked about that, the city would have to disclose it.

As it was, Romero was getting ready to disclose his action report about the concert to the OLCC.

Mark Pettinger, spokesman for the marijuana division of OLCC, on Nov. 13 told the Argus that violations of state or local law or rules could be used as a basis for future denial criteria on dispensaries being relicensed.

According to Brown, Meland was hesitating paying the the concert bill because he wasn’t sure whether the city would in fact fine him anyway.

So they entered an agreement, and Meland paid the bill for the city’s costs.

The Reimbursement Agreement between the city and Hotbox includes several stipulations including a release of any future liability. In the agreement, the city acknowledges that receipt of the money is in lieu of imposing fines or other enforcement actions related to the grand opening.

Worker fees

In addition to paying for the concert, Meland paid the city for the application fees due for his employees. The $220 worker fee is for the city to conduct annual background checks on employees.

After much kickback from the community and a recommendation from the city’s marijuana ad hoc committee, which is chaired by Meland, the city opted to waive the fees. However, the amended ordinance included a provision that dispensaries operating prior to the amendment taking effect were still under obligation to pay those fees.

Hotbox was the only dispensary with outstanding worker fees at the time the rule went into place, according to Community Economic Development Director Dan Cummings.

He said that Hotbox had only initially submitted a list of employees to the city.

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