Ontario Mayor Ron Verini first stepped onto the Ontario city council in 2008 and said he learned that listening to voters was a critical element to success. Verini said he will not run for another term as mayor. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

ONTARIO – If Ontario Mayor Ron Verini had to narrow it down he said the biggest lesson he learned as a local politician is a simple one.

“Listening to people. I really took that to heart,” said Verini.

For the past 10 years Verini stood on the deck – as either a city councilor or mayor - of the city ship of state in arguably one of the most politically charged small-town climates in Oregon. Yet he has no regrets.

“I have enjoyed my service since I have been on the council. I enjoy what I am doing and I enjoy the service to the community,” said Verini. Verini said he won’t run for another term as mayor and will close out his political career in in January. Three city council seats will be up for grabs in November. Councilor Tessa Winebarger will step down from the council in August to attend nursing school while councilors Dan Capron and Betty Carter are up for re-election. Tori Barnett, Ontario city recorder, said last week that so far Ontario residents Billy Carter and Frank Griffith have filed to run for mayor. Betty Carter will not run again. Betty Carter is the wife of mayoral candidate Billy Carter. Capron has submitted paperwork to run again while residents Eddie Thiel and Cydney Cooke have filed to run for council. The deadline to file for a council seat is 5 p.m. August 28.

Verini began his time on the Ontario political stage in 2008 when he stepped into a city council slot vacated by Jim Mosier.

Then, four years ago, he was elected mayor. Verini said his greatest achievement was “bringing civility to the city council and communication with the public. Because of this I think we brought a calm to the community we didn’t have before.”

Verni also decided when he stepped onto the political stage he would be accessible to voters. He is approachable – Verini hands out his business card with his personal cell phone number – and eager to listen to input. That kind of openness is important, he said.

“I was elected by the people and the fact remains I represent them,” said Verini. Verini encountered triumphs and endured defeats as mayor. He was one of the most vocal supporters of the city’s 1 percent sales tax effort and formed a political action committee to support the measure, personally donating more than anyone else. Voters scuttled the tax in May.

Verini said he doesn’t see the failure of the tax as a drastic setback.

“I truly believe the conversations in the community were strong enough and we had enough people expressing their opinions loud enough that I think they are the new visionaries for our community,” said Verini.

Verini said he opted not to run again because he wants to enjoy his retirement.

He operates Veteran Advocates of Ore-Ida, a non-profit veterans outreach program in Ontario.

“Veterans Advocates represents a tremendous amount of my time. I also feel it is time for new visionaries. We have four positions open on the council and we have a chance for people in the community to really step up and, you might say, put their money where their mouths are,” said Verini.

Verini said the city council is in a unique positon.

“We see all of the information. We not only see the budget but see what is going on in the departments. We also have a tremendous amount of communication between our constituents. Between both we have to make some very hard decisions,” said Verini.

Some of those hard decisions have already been made. In the wake of the failure of the sales tax, the city is in the process of creating a $5 monthly public safety fee to sustain city services.

“What we are doing now, as a council, is struggling to keep what we have as far as safety of our community and that sort of thing,” said Verini. Verini said Ontario has reached an historical pivot point.

“What this city will look like in five or ten years from now will be much different than it is today. We as a community need to look at the safety of our community, the cleanliness of our community and really the culture of our community and see where we are headed,” said Verini.

Verini discovered Ontario in 2004 through his brother Doug.

Then, Verini lived in Florida and he said the moment he arrived he said he fell in love with the town.

“Ontario had four seasons. Florida has one season and it is hot and humid. So, I came here on a Tuesday and bought my home on a Thursday. I liked the people and the weather and nothing has changed,” said Verini.

Verini noted the diversity now on the council.

 “We have women, business people, our gay community is represented and well as our Hispanic and black community,” he said.

That diversity is one of the council’s strengths.

“Now we have civility and a council that represents the constituents in our community. It is not a concentrated group that appears to have an agenda,” he said.

As he closes in on his final few months as mayor, Verini said he will miss the employees at city hall and having insight into the day-to-day activity of the city.

“I am going to miss that every day touch,” he said.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: pat@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377.