Former Ontario councilor quits posts after ‘poor behavior’ over sales tax sign

Former city councilor Charlotte Fugate resigned from the city budget board after she walked into a local business Tuesday and ripped down a “Vote No Sales Tax.” (The Enterprise/File)

ONTARIO – A longtime Ontario community leader resigned three posts Thursday following reports she entered a downtown business and tore down a political sign opposing the city’s sales tax.

Witnesses said that on Tuesday, Charlotte Fugate, a former Ontario city councilor, took down the sign hanging inside Vintage Rose. She has supported the campaign for the proposed 1 percent sales tax.

The tax measure, on the May ballot, has drawn intense interest in the community, including among business leaders. Campaigns supporting and opposing the tax have raised several thousand dollars, buying yard signs and political advertising. The Ontario City Council approved the tax last fall, but it was referred to voters by a petition circulated by local business leaders.

Word of Fugate’s actions spread rapidly through local political and business circles.

Contacted Thursday by a reporter from the Malheur Enterprise, Fugate said the incident was “none of your business” and declined further comment.

Tracy Hammond, the owner of the antique store Vintage Rose, said Fugate came into the business Tuesday to complain about a “No on Sales Tax” sign posted in the front door. Hammond said she defended the posting and said she agreed with its sentiments.

She said Fugate told her “you need to get informed” and turned to leave the store. She stopped at the front door and without a word ripped the sign off the door and took it with her.

 “I was in shock,” Hammond said.  “I started to cry. I considered Charlotte a friend. I really like her. But she can’t control people.”

Hammond said she didn’t report the matter to police.

Jo Ward, a Payette vendor, was in the store at the time.

“It was like wow, what is her problem?” said Ward, who said she doesn’t know Fugate.

“It was just weird to me. I personally don’t see why people have to act like that. If we are adults, shouldn’t we all be acting like one? Especially someone who represents the city?” said Ward.

Under Oregon law, a person destroying and stealing political signs can be charged with criminal mischief or trespassing. Third-degree criminal mischief involves tampering with property, a class C misdemeanor.

Dave Goldthorpe, Malheur County district attorney, said someone taking a sign also could be charged with theft.

Mayor Ron Verini, who chairs the political action committee pushing for the sales tax, said Fugate resigned from the campaign, the city Budget Committee, and as co-chair of Revitalize Ontario. Revitalize Ontario is a local group that aims to develop and promote the city’s downtown area.

Fugate resigned her city post in an email Thursday to City Manager Adam Brown. She referenced Marty Justus, an Ontario city councilor who is active in promoting the sales tax.

“Marty felt that it would be better for me to resign from the Budget Committee because the tax foes might make a big deal of me serving,” Fugate wrote. “Let me know if I can be of any help behind the scene.”

In a text message to Hammond, Justus wrote, “We want you to know we acknowledge the poor behavior of Charlotte Fugate. We have expressed to her in no uncertain terms that that kind of behavior is not and will not be tolerated.”

He then apologized on behalf of the pro-sales tax committee, Citizens for a Better Ontario.

“My understanding is she might have got a little overzealous in her passion,” Verini said.

Reporter Jayme Fraser contributed to this report.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected], 541-473-3377.