Councilor Freddy Rodriguez. (Liliana Frankel/The Enterprise)
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story said that the county clerk's office would resend ballots if they were missing a signature or the signature didn't match, which is untrue. The county clerk's office said, "If they forgot to sign we send them an attestation form for signature. If their signature does not match we send them a letter and a new voter registration card for a new signature."
UPDATE: The final unofficial results from the recall vote confirm that Freddy Rodriguez is being forced off the Ontario City Council.
ONTARIO - Voters in Ontario overwhelmingly voted to remove Freddy Rodriguez from the Ontario City Council, ending an extraordinary term marked by discord.
Final official results from the Malheur County Clerk's Office Tuesday night showed nearly near 9 out of 10 voters in Ontario favored ejecting Rodriguez. The results in the rare recall move showed 1,570 voted for recall, 216 voted against it.
Most Ontario city voters sat out the election - just 28% returned ballots, according to the clerk's office. Low participation in special elections is usual.
Rodriguez, who typically turns to his "Councilman Freddy Rodriguez" Facebook page to comment on local matters, on Tuesday night shared the results as posted by an Ontario citizen but otherwise said nothing about the recall numbers.
This was the first time in the memory of either Ontario City Recorder Tori Barnett or County Clerk Gayle Trotter that an elected official was removed from office by voters in Malheur County.
Now, County and city officials have 30 days to declare the vote results official.
Rodriguez, 39, will continue to serve until the election is official - unless he resigns beforehand. He has held the seat since January 2019, after finishing second second among seven candidates for three council seats in the 2018 election.
Rodriguez netted 1,147 votes then - five times more than favored him in Tuesday's recall election.
Scott Winkels of the League of Oregon Cities said that most recalls in Oregon stem from a policy decision.
“The council or the board or whoever makes a decision that is unpopular with enough people that they will recall the members as opposed to using the initiative process to overturn the decision,” he said. “That’s what we typically see.”
With Rodriguez, that wasn’t the case.
Rodriguez, elected to the Ontario City Council in 2018, has been at the center of controversy since he was accused of domestic abuse when an Ontario woman obtained a court restraining order against him in 2020.
That case brought into view a string of domestic abuse allegations dating back more than a decade, established by an investigation by the Enterprise. He contested the order, but a state judge ordered him to stay away from the woman for a year. She recently applied to the court to have the order extended a year - a renewal Rodriguez is contesting.
He was the subject of one recall drive in 2021 that failed to get on the ballot because enough signatures weren’t obtained. In May, a second effort obtained the required 502 signatures, forcing Tuesday’s special election.
Rodriguez opted not to resign and instead face a decision by voters.
“To everyone begging me to resign and circumvent 10,500 citizens, I have always made sure the voters have their views heard. I will do no different here,” he wrote on Facebook as the recall campaign started.
Rodriguez has focused on painting the allegations as distortions. In his 200-word ballot statement, Rodriguez called the attacks “unfair” and that his side had been “silenced”.
He directed voters to go to his website “www.HonestyForOntario.com” to learn more information about his past. He has posted repeated self-filmed videos to one of his Facebook accounts, defending his actions. He created a website where he presented his account of criminal charges dating to 2003 related to domestic abuse allegations.
The ballot, which contained only the recall measure, included a petitioner’s statement, written by recall leader Cydney Cooke of Ontario, which cited Rodriguez’s multiple restraining orders, history of domestic violence and the harassment of local citizens on his social media as grounds for his removal. While the county and city clerk’s offices have 30 days to make the election official, both offices said that they don’t expect it to take that long.
According to Trotter, the county clerk’s office will have a 14-day challenge period to certify all the votes. During the challenge period, if there is a ballot without a signature, the office sends an attestation form for that person’s signature. If a ballot’s signature does not match the registration card, the office sends the person a letter and a new voter registration card for a new signature.
That period will end July 20 and the Trotter’s office then has six days to give an abstract of the votes to the city clerk’s office.
Barnett said she hopes to get the abstract on July 21.
Barnett plans to give the abstract to the Ontario City Council at the July 27 meeting, which would then make the recall official.
The council would then have to make the decision of replacing Rodriguez, which Barnett said she will ask them to do at the July 27 meeting.
The council can either leave the seat vacant until the next election, go back to the last election for the seat Rodriguez won and and choose the runner-up, or consider applicants for appointment to the vacant seat. That option was used when Dan Capron resigned from the council in 2020.
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