Ontario Councilor Freddy Rodriguez speaks at the Black Lives Matter rally at Ontario City Hall on June 4. (Rachel Parsons/The Enterprise)
ONTARIO - Signature gathering is underway to force a special city vote to recall Ontario City Councilor Freddy Rodriguez.
The necessary documents were recently filed and accepted at the state Elections Division, and “the petitioner is currently collecting signatures,” said Ontario City Recorder Tori Barnett.
The chief petitioner, Ontario resident Vernon Denison, listed five reasons in his petition for seeking to recall of Rodriguez, who has served on the council since January 2019.
Denison cited Rodriguez’s “Extensive criminal past spanning multiple state[s], which was never revealed during the campaign prior to voting” and said he is “constantly late for city council meetings.”
He also said in one instance that Rodriguez “bullies, harasses, intimidates” other city councilors and in a second cited such conduct against “businesses, business owners and employees.”
Denison also pointed to the active restraining order a woman recently obtained against Rodriguez “because of a repeating pattern of abuse.”
Erin Maloney-Denison, the petitioner’s wife who is working with him on the recall effort, said they officially started gathering signatures Monday.
She said she met the same day with people in the community who were willing to help gather signatures – including Marty Justus, an Ontario city councilor, and Steven Meland, co-owner of Hotbox Farms in Ontario.
Maloney-Denison is employed by the Ontario businesswoman who had dated Rodriguez and subsequently obtained a restraining order barring him from having contact with her.
Denison is a retired truck driver who has lived in Ontario for 30 years.
He registered a statement of organization for petition committee with the Oregon Secretary of State.
Maloney-Denison said she has been a victim of domestic violence and previously sought the services of Project Dove in Ontario.
“I feel strongly about abusers and people who have a past of domestic violence,” said Maloney-Denison. “I think there should be some sort of a vetting process when it comes to running for city council.”
The petition requires 493 signatures – 15% of the number of city voters who voted in the last gubernatorial race – to force a recall election that could remove Rodriguez from office.
Maloney-Denison said she and her husband are aiming to collect around 600 signatures to ensure they have “more than enough” in case some signatures are disqualified.
Only signatures of active registered voters in Ontario can be counted for the petition, and an adequate number of signatures must be verified by Malheur County Clerk Gayle Trotter.
Once signatures are verified, Rodriguez can either resign or submit a statement for voters about the recall. A special city election would then be scheduled.
Steven Meland, co-owner of Hotbox Farms in Ontario, plans to help gather signatures, a skill he said he gained from his past efforts to get the Ontario cannabis measure on the ballot. He has declared his intention to support the recall effort in recent social media posts.
Collecting signatures “is just not gonna be very hard,” he said, because “Mr. Rodriguez seems to make it easier and easier every day.”
Meland’s role in the move to recall Rodriguez is not associated with his business, he said, but rather based on a personal motivation.
“His behavior isn’t representative of the community I live in, and I feel that he should hold himself at least to the standard of community, if not a higher standard,” said Meland.
“Some of these things may still be allegations, but the way he’s handled those allegations,” he said, “and the way he’s used bullying and intimidation to try to coerce people into giving up their plight for (the recall), I think, is unacceptable.”
News tip? Contact reporter Ardeshir Tabrizian by email at [email protected] or call 503-929-3053.
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