ONTARIO — Ontario residents will begin receiving ballots for a special election in the mail late next week. They will be mailed out on June 16, according to an email from Malheur County Clerk Gayle Trotter on Tuesday evening. Citizens who are not registered to vote still have time do so for this election, which will have voters deciding whether Ontario City Councilor Freddy Rodriguez should be recalled from his seat. Voter registration is open through June 15, according to Trotter.
Election day will be on July 6, and ballots can be mailed back (however, postmarks will not count, so the recommendation is to do so as soon as possible). Otherwise, ballots can be dropped into the official Election Drop Boxes outside of the Ontario Community Library and outside the Malheur County Courthouse in Vale at the drive-thru box in the back parking lot of the courthouse. Those boxes are open 24/7 thru Election Day, when they close at 8 p.m.
Rodriguez submitted a statement of justification to Ontario City Recorder Tori Barnett by the deadline of 5 p.m. Friday. As such, his statement will accompany the ballot.
Because Petitioner Cydney Cook was successful in gathering the needed number of signatures to trigger the recall, Rodriguez could have resigned from his position by 5 p.m. June 4. However, he told the newspaper that he wanted all of the citizens to have a chance to vote on the matter, and said he would let the matter go to election.
Rodriguez was elected to his seat in 2018, with voters selecting him as one of three of the seven candidates, and began his term in office in 2019, which is set to expire in December of 2022.
Last week, several people publicly pleaded with Rodriguez to step down from his elected position, and not cost taxpayers an estimated $10,000 by going forward with the election. This included two city councilors: Ken Hart who sent a statement to the newspaper stating that if Rodriguez didn’t step down, he would vote for him to be recalled; and Eddie Melendrez who spoke urged Rodriguez to step down during the June 3 work session.
It also included former City Councilor Marty Justus, who has been attending the majority of council meetings lately for public comments against Rodriguez and Mayor Riley Hill. Justus, during the most recent meeting, alleged that Rodriguez and Hill used their elected positions to harm him during and after he had served on the council. He urged the City Council to do something about “their conduct,” stating that they should both resign over their “outrageous and illegal behavior.”
Ontario citizen Tammy Vogt and Cooke also spoke during the meeting, with both pointing out Rodriguez’ restraining orders stemming from domestic violence, and Cooke urging people to vote yes on the recall as well as yes on changes to the city charter. It is noteworthy that the charter while undergoing a recent review has not been changed, as proposed changes will have to go to vote of the people. However, one change that was proposed by the review committee is stripping of the council presidency by the council members.
Justus took the entire council to task during his public comments, saying that the council had “been provided the evidence” that Hill and Rodriguez had use their elected positions to “do me both personal and professional harm.” He said the two set out to “intentionally besmirch, damage my person, my reputation and my livelihood.”
Stating that the council may not be able to remove the two, he urged other members to use their voice to state their actions were wrong.
He stated that the request was on behalf of the city, adding that “turning a blind eye to this outrageous behavior only gives these two and future elect officials a passport to carry on with the same shameful behavior.”
On May 12, Justus’ attorney sent a cease-and-desist letter and notice of tort claim pursuant to ORS 30.275 to City Hall directed to Hill and Rodriguez. That letter alleges that Rodriguez and Hill used their position on the city council to influence an investigation into the allegations, and that an investigation uncovered no criminal conduct, but that Rodriguez continues to press the claims online and in City Council meetings.
Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero recently confirmed with the newspaper that an investigation did occur while Justus was on the council. This was done at the urging of Hill who shared “third-party information” with the chief regarding allegations of criminal misconduct with a minor. However, that investigation and a subsequent investigation by the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office at the urging of Rodriguez when nothing turned up in Ontario’s investigation turned up now wrongdoing by Justus, according to Romero.
At the end of the June 3 work session, one councilor carried through with making a statement from the dias.
“I publically support the recall efforts of Councilor Rodriguez,” stated Melendrez near the end of the meeting.
Acknowledging that on his first day on city council he had voted to make Rodriguez the council president, Melendrez said, “I like to give everyone a chance to be successful just like you.”
However, he explained that as time has gone on, he has changed his mind. Melendrez thanked the residents who reached out to him over their concerns regarding Rodriguez, and subsequently asked Rodriguez to resign.
At this, Rodriguez leaned into the microphone and said, “Have you even asked my side of the story? Nope.”
To this Melendrez looked at Rodriguez, asking if he could reply.
“I think I have seen your actions here at City Council, and that is enough for me,” he said.