Ontario City Councilor Eddie Melendrez at the council meeting on Thursday, June 3. (The Enterprise/Angelina Katsanis).
UPDATE: Freddy Rodriguez didn't submit his resignation by the deadline of 5 p.m. Friday, June 3, according to city officials. A city recall vote will now be scheduled.
ONTARIO – Eddie Melendrez on Thursday became the first Ontario city councilor to call for Councilor Freddy Rodriguez’s resignation after impassioned testimony from three citizens involved with the recall effort.
The comments came in the first Ontario City Council meeting since the petition to recall Rodriguez received the required number of valid signatures to force Rodriguez to either resign or for a recall vote. Rodriguez has until 5 p.m. Friday to resign or declare he wants to take the matter to an election.
Following a four and a half hour session, Melendrez read a prepared statement informing the council that he had signed the recall petition and was asking Rodriguez to resign.
“On my first day on city council I did vote to make Rodriguez council president. I give everyone the opportunity to be successful, just like you, the voters who elected Councilor Rodriguez. Since he was elected by the people, I thought it was my duty to work together towards the same beneficial goals for the city of Ontario,” said Melendrez.
But Melendrez said that he had changed his mind after hearing from his constituents.
In response, Rodriguez said, “Have you even asked my side of the story? Nope.”
“I’ve seen your actions here at city council as enough,” said Melendrez.
At the council session, the seating order was changed. Melendrez, who typically sits next to Rodriguez on the council’s right side, traded places with Councilor Ken Hart for a seat on the left side.
Earlier this week, Hart said in an email to the Enterprise and city councilors that if Rodriguez forces the recall vote to proceed, he would cast his vote “in favor of his being removed as an Ontario city councilor.”
Mayor Riley Hill and Councilors John Kirby, Sam Baker and Michael Braden have not publicly indicated their positions on the recall.
In an interview following the meeting, Ontario Police Chief Steven Romero said that two current councilors and one former councilor have expressed concern for their own safety after criticizing Rodriguez.
“Fellow elected colleagues have expressed concern and even fear at times,” Romero said. “They say they’re concerned about what (Rodriguez) has the potential to do. (His) knife has been a concern, even before this.”
Rodriguez carries a sheathed knife on his belt during council meetings.
With the potential of a recall vote, Romero said that he could only hope for the best.
“We hope that he will remain calm and professional and not take it to another level,” Romero said.
Tammy Vogt, an Ontario citizen and Community Serve Day organizer, appeared during the public comment section of the meeting to ask Rodriguez to step down.
Rodriguez served in 2020 as part of the team for Community Serve Day, but the group “made a decision to go a different direction with this role,” Vogt said.
Vogt’s organization then tangled with Rodriguez in April after he said that a project he wanted to do for Community Serve Day was not selected. Vogt said this was because projects from 2020, when Community Serve Day was canceled due to the Covid pandemic, were given priority.
Rodriguez took to his Facebook page.
“Yes, projects canceled last year were given priority for this year,” he posted. “Except the east side low income projects I brought to the table. Am I wrong? Money over dignity it appears.”
Vogt wrote to city councilors asking them to address what she characterized as Rodriguez’s “libelous” accusations, but they took no public action.
On Thursday, Vogt said the issue now was bigger than her personal history with Rodriguez.
“I stand today with those that have suffered literally at his hands. I stand with the women in our community, counting myself, who feel unsafe having a man at this level of community leadership with his history of domestic violence,” said Vogt.
Former council councilor Marty Justus spoke about his treatment from both Rodriguez and the mayor. Rodriguez persisted for weeks in publicly suggesting Justus was a child molester, information that he claims he received from Hill and others and which police concluded was unfounded.
Justus called for Rodriguez and Hill to resign and for other councilors to hold them accountable.
“Turning a blind eye to this outrageous behavior only gives these two a passport to carry on the shameful behavior. I ask you do you have the courage to show the leadership required of you at this moment?’” said Justus.
And Cydney Cooke, chief petitioner for the recall effort, also asked Rodriguez to resign.
She emphasized that she had voted for Rodriguez but then grew disappointed by his public and private conduct.
“Domestic abuse is wrong,” she said. “Restraining orders are proof. Multiple court appearances are proof. Mandatory classes for said behaviors is proof. Bullying community members in any way is wrong, but it is even worse when it is coming from a city official that you trusted and put your vote into.”
CLARIFICATION: Freddy Rodriguez served briefly in 2020 as part of a team that conducts the annual Community Serve Day. An earlier version said he served on the board - which the organization doesn't have.
News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.
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