Local government

Folden ‘beyond excited’ to take over as Ontario mayor following election

ONTARIO – Election night was a long one for Debbie Folden.

She didn’t get much sleep and was on her second pot of coffee the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 9. Weary and “overwhelmed,” Folden greeted the new day with the knowledge she is the new mayor of Ontario.

Folden defeated incumbent Riley Hill and Councilman Eddie Melendrez.

“I am beyond excited,” Folden said.

Folden claimed the mayor’s spot with 1,124 votes as of Wednesday morning. Melendrez finished second with 960 votes. Hill amassed 773 votes.

While Folden wouldn’t classify her victory as an upset she did concede the win was a bit of a surprise.

“I didn’t think I could win over Riley so I am amazed,” said Folden.

Folden will be sworn in as mayor during the first city council meeting of the year, slated Jan. 10, 2023.

Folden and her family moved to Ontario in 1969 and she owns Advantage Financial Credit Service.

Folden said she was unable to sleep election night and kept a close eye on the results posted by the Malheur County Clerk’s office.

“I am overwhelmed,” said Folden.

Folden said she wants to keep her political focus on creating partnerships within the city and with the Ontario City Council.

“I truly believe my passion is going to show. I think people are going to see the passion. They will feel it. I really have some big hopes and I want to work together with our community,” said Folden.

Folden said for now her biggest challenge involves public safety. She said she believes the Ontario Police Department needs more personnel.

“I truly think public safety is the biggest concern of all the citizens. Even though we just go a new police officer, I’d like to get another one and an ordinance officer,” said Folden.

Folden said her victory is a message voter want a “positive change.”

“I’d like to bring harmony back to the city. I’d like to work together with city department heads and city officials and citizens. I want to work together for the betterment of the community,” said Folden.

Folden said she is confident she can work well with the city council, including Melendrez and new council member Penny Bakefelt.

“I want to work closely with Eddy and with Penny, I know we will work really well together,” said Folden.

Melendrez did not return a call for comment on the mayor’s race Wednesday morning.

Hill said “I got my butt kicked” Wednesday morning. He said “voters have spoken.”

“They want a different direction and that is how it will go,” said Hill.

Hill was elected mayor in 2018 while Melendrez was elected to the city council in 2020.

During his time as mayor, Hill’s administration encountered a series of political and public relations challenges.

In early 2021, Hill sued the city to overturn a nuisance finding that triggered a $500 penalty. He eventually won the legal fight.

Also, in 2021, Hill was embroiled in a political dust up regarding former city councilors Freddy Rodriguez and Marty Justus. Justus eventually sued the city – and later agreed to a settlement – over unproven comments Rodriguez made asserting Justus was a child molester.

Rodriguez was eventually recalled from office.

Folden said she is looking forward to her new role as mayor.

“I am going to be busy. I have a lot of work to do,” said Folden.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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