Ontario City Council stands by Hotbox donation

City Manager Adam Brown and City Attorney Larry Sullivan listened to members of Ontario city council during a work session Thursday, Sept. 6. (The Enterprise/Max Egener)

ONTARIO – The Ontario City Council won’t reconsider a marijuana company’s controversial donation to the new kids splash pad.

During a work session Thursday, the council decided the city should keep Hotbox Farms’ $25,000 donation in the name of the company, and not change it to an individual donation by owners Steven Meland and Jeremy Breton.

The decision came after volunteers from the Friends of the Aquatic Center asked the council to recognize Meland and Breton as the donors, or “return the donation to its owners.”

The council heard from members of the public at the session.

Heather Cummins from Vale read a letter on the behalf of MalheurCAN’s Jim Forrester, who urged the council to keep the donation for the splash pad. Forrester emphasized that Hotbox Farms’ donation was made in good faith.

Afterward, Megan Cook of the Friends of the Aquatic Center said the issue was not about whether the donation should be accepted. Cook said that the group appreciates the donation made by Hotbox Farms, but was concerned about honoring the marijuana company’s name as a donor.

She worried that children using the park would see the donation list as advertisements. She felt it was the city leaders’ responsibility to send a clear message that they are not promoting smoking marijuana.

Councilors Norm Crume and Marty Justus and interim councilor Thomas Jost all felt the city should accept the donation as is.

“Donations are donations,” said Crume. He said that declining the donation would have the effect of “depriving the community.”

Cook raised her hand and responded that Crume and the city council didn’t have “all the information.”

Crume, however, said that the public comment period was over, and continued.

“I don’t want to be an Indian giver,” he said.

Councilor Dan Capron said he was “on the fence.” He said he sees both sides and felt they each have “good points.”

Councilor Betty Carter said she was “not happy” about how the donation was handled by a third party before it got to the city. She was referring to how Hotbox Farms’ donation was delivered first to Justus, a real estate agent and property manager for Hotbox Farms. Carter said she was also “not happy” with attributing Hotbox Farms with the donation.

Following Carter’s comment, Justus clarified that he manages property for Hotbox Farms and that processing donations from his clients was part of his job. Justus also noted that Cook knew that Hotbox was a marijuana business when she approached them for a donation.

Carter made a motion to rename the donation to Steven Meland and Jeremy Breton. However, City Attorney Larry Sullivan said that the council “has no right” to change the name of the donor.

Capron still seconded Carter’s motion but all other members of the council voted no.

“We’re just going to let it ride,” said council member Capron following the council’s decision about the donation.