Ontario City Councilor Freddy Rodriguez at last week's council meeting as citizens were advocating for his resignation. He will contest a recall. (The Enterprise/Angelina Katsanis)
ONTARIO – A special election to recall Ontario City Councilor Freddy Rodriguez is scheduled for July 6, according to the Malheur County Clerk Gayle Trotter. Ballots will be mailed out Wednesday, June 16.
All 6,300 registered voters within Ontario city limits are eligible to vote in the special election. The May 2021 election had a voter turnout of 32%, with 2,026 votes being cast.
“I accept any and all judgment of my actions and apologize for them,” Rodriguez said in a statement he submitted to the city Monday to be part of the ballot. “I acknowledge all victims of domestic violence. Everyone has the right to report unwanted treatment to authorities.”
He referred voters to a website for a fuller accounting of his past but as of Monday night the site was not active.
The recall election was set after petitioners led by Cydney Cooke of Ontario obtained 512 signatures to force the vote.
Councilor Eddie Melendrez on Thursday, June 3, became the first Ontario city councilor to call for 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.
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 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 a Ontario City Councilor.”
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 council members and one former council member 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.”
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 decided "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 out about his treatment from both Rodriguez and Mayor Riley Hill. Rodriguez persisted for weeks in publicly suggesting Justus was a child molester, information that he claims he received from Hill and others. 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 Cooke, the chief petitioner, also asked Rodriguez to resign.
She emphasized that she had voted for Rodriguez but then grew disappointed by both 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.”
News tip? Contact reporter Joey Cappelletti at [email protected] or 616-610-3093.
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