Council President Freddy Rodriguez at City Hall on Thursday, March 4, 2021. (Liliana Frankel/The Enterprise)
3/9: This story has been updated with comments from councilors.
ONTARIO – Seven citizens urged Ontario city councilors to act against once of their own last week, going public with allegations against Councilor Freddy Rodriguez that provided a shocking opening to normally staid proceedings.
The most dramatic moment at the meeting of Thursday, March 4, came when a former councilor, Marty Justus, drove from his home while the meeting was in progress to rebut Rodriguez’s remarks suggesting Justus was a pedophile.
Justus, whose term expired in January, held the rest of the councilors responsible for what was unfolding.
“Shame on you all,” he said.
After public comments ended, Rodriguez stepped from his council seat to the public lectern to say he supports victims of domestic abuse.
Councilors John Kirby, Eddie Melendrez, Ken Hart and Michael Braden and Mayor Riley Hill let the remarks pass without comment. Councilor Sam Baker was absent. Instead of addressing calls that Rodriguez be stripped of his council president role or be removed entirely, councilors turned to the city’s retirement debt.
Rodriguez, who has served on the council since 2019, has a legal history of domestic abuse, with two active restraining orders in Ontario. He was the subject of a failed effort to recall him last fall and Thursday faced new calls for him to resign or be recalled.
A local group called Ontario Citizens Speak Out, whose members won’t publicly identify themselves, said Rodriguez should resign “for personal issues” that affect his city service or the council should remove him from city committees.
Speakers advocating Rodriguez’s removal included Charlotte Kreftmeyer, Christopher Plummer, Chris Artiach, Jerry Ward, Charlie Gonzalez, Terri Sharp, and Justus.
Rodriguez gave no indication he would step down. Instead, he grew combative with some speakers while they tried to use the three minutes allotted for public comments to address the council.
The most dramatic accusation came from Christopher Plummer, who described himself as a former friend of Rodriguez.
He said Rodriguez had accused Justus of being a child abuser.
“If you think that it’s appropriate to call any gay person that you personally disagree with a pedophile just because you’re angry with them without seeing the damage that does to the gay community, you’re a bigger monster than I thought,” Plummer said in his council appearance.
“You told me he’s a child molester.”
“I did not,” Plummer said, before going on to claim that Rodriguez “tried get me to find an underage gay kid to accuse” Justus “of something he didn’t do.”
Soon after that interchange, Justus appeared at city hall.
“I was watching at home and he made a public statement that I was a child molester,” Justus told councilors.
Pointing at Rodriguez, a visibly angry Justus said, “I want you to say it right now right here from that chair. Tell me that you think I’m a molester.”
Rodriguez responded instantly, “I believe my friends,” indicating that Plummer had made the accusation to him. “He told me that and I believed my friend,” Rodriguez said.
Justus denied the accusation.
“There’s no evidence of me being anything more than a citizen of this town that’s a caring and compassionate person,” he said. “And for you to allow him to sit there and for him to publicly disgrace, try to disgrace me and intimidate me and do nothing about it, shame on you all.”
In a subsequent interview, Plummer told the Enterprise that he police approached him in 2020 to ask about rumors about Justice that had not been proven. He said he later apologized to Justus for repeating the rumor.
Other Ontario citizens speaking Thursday night cast Rodriguez as a bully and abuser.
Public records show he has arrests in California and Idaho for domestic violence. Last year, he was ordered to stay away from an Ontario woman after a state judge found Rodriguez was a threat to her. The judge kept the restraining order in place despite the councilor’s challenge.
A second woman recently obtained another restraining order, contending in court filings that Rodriguez injured her in front of her 11-year-old daughter. Rodriguez is scheduled to appear in Malheur County Circuit Court on Thursday, March 11, to contest that order.
Charlotte Kreftmeyer opened the public comments, focusing on domestic violence.
“When we let those in charge live by a different set of rules, it undermines everyone,” she said. “The city council has not spoken up to show their community that it does not support domestic violence in any form. The fact that the city council continues to allow this to go on is appalling in every sense of the word.”
Terri Sharp of Ontario provided her remarks in writing, emphasizing the damage that impunity for public officials does to public life.
She said the daughters of the victims in the restraining order cases “are, I’m sure, cautious of how our city officials and councilmen are going to protect them in the near future. If we can’t protect our own who live in our city, then how do we give a good impression on the upcoming young women in our town?”
Charlie Gonzalez organized last summer’s Black Lives Matter march in Ontario – an event where Rodriguez spoke.
“Bullying and harassing is never okay,” Gonzalez told councilors. “I actually lost a close buddy of mine to bullying in school. Somebody like (Rodriguez) should not be in that position” of council president.
Gonzalez called out what he said were Rodriguez’s negative statements about the group as an example of racism.
“His hate and his public racist statement against Black Lives Matter Ontario is very concerning,” Gonzalez said.
Jerry Ward urged councilors to act against Rodriguez.
“Step up, do your job, have a little backbone, a little bit of courage,” he said.
Rodriguez spoke, appearing to read from a prepared statement on his phone. He thanked those who spoke up Thursday night.
“I want to affirm that I am 100% in favor and encourage victims of abuse to come forward and be heard. There are true victims of abuse out there that deserve help. Victims of domestic violence should have every opportunity to be heard, including having their friends, family, and employees report abuse when they see it,” said Rodriguez.
“If you all take anything away from this, let it be that honesty pays big time, and lying is always revealed. Thank you all for coming and expressing your views of my personal life.”
In a later comment, Melendrez told the Enterprise that “I will take every citizen’s concerns and requests with upmost importance.”
“I stand against domestic abuse, racism, and bullying in all its forms,” he said
Braden told the Enterprise that he found the session unsettling.
“I am against any form of violence and believe that care and support for victims can help them heal,” said Braden.
He said Rodriguez’s personal life “has become a great distraction to the diligent work the council performs on behalf of the city. It has given others in the community the impression that we condone domestic violence. I was quiet after the public comments because I was hurt by them, and saddened.”
He said there were “problems” with reading the city charter’s provisions as allowing the council to remove Rodriguez.
“I do appeal to Freddy’s reason to take his own actions for the betterment of our community and for mitigating distractions from the good work being done by city leadership,” he said.
“Yes, I personally find domestic violence abhorrent in any form,” said Hart. “However, I am not comfortable weighing in as a member of the City Council on those issues that are not directly related to the purview of the City Council, or the actions of local, State, or federal agencies on our City.”
Hart said that following his interpretation, only a formal recall effort undertaken by Ontario citizens should remove Rodriguez from office.
“I am far from perfect and I will leave the judging of our fellow councilors to others – the voters,” he said.
Ontario city ordinances don’t specifically provide a way for councilors to remove one of their own. Instead, the ordinance defines nine circumstances under which a city councilor’s seat is declared “vacant,” ranging from death and recall to “violation of any provision” of the city charter. “The council shall judge when an office becomes vacant,” according to the ordinance.
Hill and Kirby didn’t respond to written questions provided them last week after the meeting.
News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.
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