EDITORIAL: Ontario needs mayor who can move agenda

Voters in Ontario need to consider the town’s future as they decide who to elect mayor. The city has had a rocky year and the challenges ahead are immense. The next mayor needs experience in navigating such challenges and leading to solutions the community can embrace. Of the four running, businessman Riley Hill is the best choice for the rigors ahead.

The four candidates need to be measured against what’s coming in Ontario. The money pressure on City Hall will be enormous, and keeping the city running won’t be easy. Costs, including to pay off debt for past employee retirements, are going up. Housing and luring workers is essential to sustaining and building the community. And speaking of building, restoring trust in City Hall with candor and a greater willingness to listen is needed as well.

And there are good signs ahead, too. The regional board, chaired by attorney Shawna Peterson, has tremendous potential to recruit state help to make Ontario and the area more competitively successful. The rail depot, though being built in Nyssa, is a regional asset that could trigger other economic projects.

Ontario residents need a mayor who can help manage the good and the bad. Hill brings particular skills to the job. He’s been in town since 1972, and active on a lot of fronts. He doesn’t shy from challenging issues, and that’s why he’s been a key player in Malheur County Poverty to Prosperity, which is focused on career education, land issues, natural resources and more. There is no clearer example among any of the candidates of someone willing to step up and seek solutions, not just catalog problems.

Hill’s constellation of contacts is worth noting too. They say you are known by the company you keep, and Hill has some good company. At Poverty to Prosperity, he works with some of the community’s true leaders – Ken Hart, Bill Johnson, Andy Bentz, Dirk deBoer. His campaign for mayor has drawn more contributions from a deeper segment of Ontario than any of the candidates.

Now, Hill is no angel and he’s pretty candid about that. He did plead guilty 20 years ago to a federal charge and he’s not shy about telling his side of the case. And he stubbed his political toe recently in turning the debate over the marijuana measure into a personal crusade that could cost the community a local park. And if elected mayor, Hill would have to take extra steps to assure the community he’s acting in its interest, not to profit his development company.

Yet no other candidate can match Hill’s record in the public sphere.

Marty Justus, a city councilor and Realtor, has been an energetic but not always effective voice for improvements in Ontario. Justus himself concedes he’s been a contrarian on the city council, often a lone voice on matters. His sometime confrontational manner isn’t likely to be tamed by election to mayor. He isn’t good about listening to facts or views with which he disagrees.

Billy Carter would win if popularity were the sole measure. He is a tempered, gregarious candidate yet his record of public service is too thin. He points to leadership in his days at the state Corrections Department, where he did hold command positions. But Carter misrepresented to us crucial information about his time at the agency, claiming he had been cleared in a disciplinary matter from 1999 when documents demonstrate he wasn’t. Honesty is essential in public officials. Carter flunked that test.

Frank Griffith, a relative newcomer, has striking ideas about city government that give no promise for the kind of mayor needed. He wants as one of his first moves to cut the city council down to four seats. The mayor, of course, has no power to do so and it’s an odd proposal in any event.

Hill may not be the perfect candidate, but he’s the best for mayor at this point in Ontario history. He offers the best hope to leverage prospects such as the regional board and the best hope for bringing together the community’s factions in common purpose – the betterment of Ontario. — LZ