EDITORIAL: Melendrez deserves thanks for seeking decorum on Ontario City Council

Finally, a person with guts to stand for decency has emerged on the Ontario City Council. Councilor Eddie Melendrez, just five months into his term, deserves the applause and thanks of the people of Ontario, and indeed across Malheur County. He called out Councilor Freddy Rodriguez’s conduct last week – as his colleagues once again sat in silence.

The moment was brief at the city council meeting of Thursday, May 6. Rodriguez, continuing his habit of shameless behavior, put a handwritten sign over his council name tag. The sign was another taunt.

Melendrez acted.

“Mr. Mayor, Mr. Mayor,” he said, seeking the attention of Mayor Riley Hill as the mayor was about to move on to other council business. “I want to ask how we can go about maintaining decorum,” and he noted Rodriguez’s sign.

Rodriguez brought the meeting to a halt by jumping to his feet, muttering, jamming his items into a backpack and stomping out of the meeting. He abandoned his duty to his community, to citizens, and to the city council. A city camera caught Rodriguez’s flaring temper.

Soon after, he had the gall to attack Melendrez. All Melendrez had done was to ask for decorum. That must have struck Rodriguez as a radical idea.

“Melendrez is desperately trying to place himself on the side of city hall financially interested councilors,” Rodriguez fumed online.

In another time, the restrained and respectful question from Melendrez would hardly draw notice. But it stands out like a beacon in a dark time at Ontario City Hall. As we have noted before, those on the Ontario council have remained silent – painfully so – as Rodriguez recklessly accuses citizens of criminal conduct and draws the spotlight to himself by using council meetings to spout off about his personal matters. He has climbed on the city’s own Facebook page to spray his nonsense.

This behavior comes from someone who represents the city government of Ontario. He is, truly, from the government. That matters. People assume he has extra authority and power not available to the ordinary citizen, power that can be used for good or for harm. When other councilors and Hill don’t say a peep about his behavior, they are accomplices to his abuse of the public trust.

When a local business owner criticized him, Rodriguez responded on social media, “I’m sorry I exposed your illegal business. I didn’t do it because of malicious reasons.”

When an Ontario resident said without rancor that he wouldn’t vote again for Rodriguez to serve on council, Rodriguez couldn’t resist the nasty retort: “I’m sorry you are choosing to ignore disgusting actions.”

Rodriguez last month publicly tore into the volunteers behind Serve Day because they didn’t bend to his will. He ranted about a group whose sole purpose is to help Ontario.

He has accused a former city councilor over and over again of being a child molester. No police agency in the area so far has released to the Enterprise any police report corroborating that. The former councilor, Marty Justus, hasn’t been arrested or charged.

That ought to be particularly interesting to Rodriguez, who has thumped his chest about how other recent investigations of him have produced no arrest or charges. No arrest is a badge of innocence for him alone, apparently.

But something interesting did show up in police reports. Last November, a person identified by Rodriguez as someone who knew about child abuse sat down with detectives. He told investigators that Rodriguez wanted him “to set up Martin Justus because he hates him.” The subject said Rodriguez asked him to “set Martin up with an underage male so that Martin would get into trouble.”

The report carries no indication that police dug deeper into that, and Rodriguez said in an email Monday “that allegation is beyond absurd.”

And then Rodriguez recently acted like he had caught some criminals red-handed, saying that those seeking his recall had committed a federal felony. The crime he saw? They had put fliers into mail boxes without paying postage. The truth? The organizers produced a receipt for more than $700 in postage.

Rodriguez, true to his self-centered ways, has yet to apologize for using his city platform to make an unfounded accusation against local citizens doing just what the law allows.

This not only is tiresome but diverts the city from its work. The easiest cure is for Rodriguez to recognize he has vaporized any usefulness on the council. He could resign, sparing us all from having to watch any more tantrums. That likely won’t happen.

The next order of business for the council should be a push for this all to end. Councilors should go through the door of political courage opened before them last week by Eddie Melendrez. One by one, the mayor and Councilors John Kirby, Sam Baker, Ken Hart and Michael Braden should make a simple public statement: “Councilor Rodriguez, for the benefit of the community, I urge you to resign.” At the least then, Ontario would know whether they stand with a bully or with decency in public office. – LZ