A map of Ontario showing where elected officials have lived during the past decade. (Submitted photo)

ONTARIO – A committee of four citizens and three Ontario city councilors is dusting off the city charter this spring, intending to revise the document for the first time in 36 years. 

Jackson Fox, an Ontario resident, prompted formation of the committee.

Fox said he was motivated by the council’s decision in 2017 which “passed a 1% sales tax without a vote of the people. We formed a political action committee so we could gather money so we could gather enough signatures for a referendum. It was put in front of the people, and they voted it down.”

In a Jan. 19 petition, Fox requested that “the Ontario City Council consider an amendment to the city charter to require any future consideration of a sales tax be decided by a vote of the citizens of Ontario.”

Fox’s cause was taken up by Councilor Ken Hart. 

“This is a good opportunity for us,” said Hart. “The charter has not been amended since 1985, when I was in high school, so that was a big reason for me to say that this makes sense. So many things have changed in the structure of the city.”

The charter guides how the city functions, from planning to police services to city elections.

Hart said that he is interested in establishing voting districts for councilor elections. They are currently elected citywide. 

“I asked the staff to show me in the last ten years where the elected city councilors and the mayor live,” said Hart. “That map also said to me that wow, there’s some areas in our community that haven’t sent anybody to the city council.”

Ontario City Manager Adam Brown said that this problem could be remedied either by the creation of voting districts, or by having a council that was partly elected from districts but still retained some at-large members. 

John Kirby, Sam Baker and Hart are the councilors who sit on the City Charter Committee.

The citizen members include Mike Miller, an insurance agent; Susann Mills, a property owner and manager; Jaime Taylor, a Heart n-Home Hospice nurse; and Robert Wheatley, a retired pharmacist. They applied and were appointed to the committee by Mayor Riley Hill. 

“Staff is working on a side-by-side looking at our charter to the model charter from the League of Oregon Cities,” said Hart. “I’d like to have members of the committee and the community research other charters, things we should have or not have, see if there’s other changes that need to be made.” 

Brown said that Hart planned to finish up the committee’s work by the end of June.

He said the committee’s recommended would then go to the full council. It would then hold public hearings on the results of the committee’s work, and decide by Sept. 2 whether to recommend amendments to voters for the November ballot. 

If the recommendations did make it to the ballot, the decision to amend the charter would then rest directly with the citizens of Ontario. 

“I’m glad to hear that the city council is going forward,” said Fox. “I think it’s smart.”

News tip? Contact reporter Liliana Frankel at [email protected] or 267-981-5577.

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