Eddie Melendrez, elected to Ontario City Council on Nov. 3, 2020. (The Enterprise/Les Zaitz)
ONTARIO – When the Ontario City Council convenes in January, the most experienced hands will have been on the job for just two years, following election results that put three new councilors in office.
Voters picked three of five candidates for the council seats – retailer John Kirby, auctioneer Sam Baker, and nonprofit worker Eddie Melendrez.
They join relative newcomer Ken Hart, a health care financial officer, who was appointed last month to fill a vacancy.
The veterans remaining on the council include Mayor Riley Hill, an Ontario developer, and Councilors Michael Braden, a business advisor at the local Small Business Development Center at Treasure Valley Community College, and Freddy Rodriguez, a personal services assistant. All three were elected in 2018.
The clear changing of the guard brings to the council longtime Ontario volunteers to replace councilors who opted not to seek re-election. Norm Crume, owner of Norm’s Auto Electric, will have served three terms and 12 years when he retires from the council in January. Ramon Palomo and Realtor Marty Justus both retire after serving one term. Justus, owner of Four Star Real Estate in Ontario, unsuccessfully ran for Ontario mayor two years ago.
Kirby, Baker and Melendrez finished one-two-three in voting. Maria Fisher, a human resources worker for a Caldwell company, and Kevin Petross, who works in property management, finished out the field.
Councilors, serving in nonpartisan roles, are volunteers who get no salary but do get a monthly stipend. They set city policies, approve the city’s budget, and supervise Ontario City Manager Adam Brown. Brown has day-to-day duty to run the city.
Hill said the biggest challenge for Ontario remains one he has been addressing since he became mayor – the big difference in laws and regulations between Idaho and Oregon.
“Ontario has so many things that we have to fight against over the border in Idaho,” said Riley.
He said he has talked to the incoming councilors and they are aware of the issue and ready to work to “overcome some of those things.”
“We have some people that have some business background that are coming on,” Hill said. “That’s a plus for the city.”
Kirby is semi-retired from his business, Kinney Brothers and Keele True Value Hardware.
Kirby didn’t find out he won until the morning after Election Day. He said he tried to check county election results on election night but had internet troubles.
He is an experienced volunteer, recently retiring after serving for years on the board of Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario, including duty as chair. He said he decided to run after stepping off the hospital board and having more free time.
A lifelong Ontario resident, he said he has been acquainted with every city councilor who has served since the 1960s.
“I think everybody comes on with a sense of care and concern,” Kirby said. “I’m not coming on with any agenda.”
He expects councilors to collaborate to resolve city issues – “take them head on and go for it.”
Kirby said that since he’s new on the council, “I’ll keep my mouth shut and listen for a while.”
Melendrez went to bed on election night not knowing if he had won in his bid for a council seat.
A friend settled the matter the next morning with a text message: “You got it, man.”
He was a hesitant candidate, he said, because of “all the negative stuff” on social media. He wondered why he should put himself in a position to be publicly criticized. He is a maintenance-transportation specialist for the Malheur County Child Development Center.
But then he thought about the youth of Ontario. He has worked with at-risk youth and formed what was originally known as the Treasure Valley Boxing Club.
“It’s easy to give a lot of motivational advice,” Melendrez said. “What I need to do is lead. When they see more people stepping up, taking leadership, they will see hope in Ontario.”
He said he’s turned to the task of learning about city matters, meeting with Brown and Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero and talking with other councilors. He said he hopes to turn the language of government into terms the average citizen can more readily understand.
“I want to lead by example,” he said.
Baker learned he had a new career in public service when one of his sons alerted him that he had enough votes to win a council seat.
“I’m new at this,” said Baker, who runs Baker Auction Co. of Ontario.
He said he sees strong experience on the city council and “I get along with all those fellows.”
He said he doesn’t have an agenda.
“Whatever the city needs, that’s what I’m prepared to do,” he said. “I’m only one vote.”
While as an auctioneer he is accustomed to prying open the wallets of bidders, he said he won’t bring that mindset to city government.
“I’m kind of a tightwad when it comes to spending money,” Baker said.
Sam Baker, elected to Ontario City Council on Nov. 3, 2020. (The Enterprise/Les Zaitz)
Contact Editor Les Zaitz by email at [email protected].
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