AG: Wapato city administrator should step down, pay back wages

AG: Wapato city administrator should step down, pay back wages
Photo courtesy of Yakima Herald-Republic 

Wapato City Administrator Juan Orozco could be required to forfeit his position and pay back the city any wages earned: an amount likely approaching $50,000 or more as of June.

Those requirements are just a few in a list of orders Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson is asking the Yakima County Superior Court to impose in a lawsuit filed Thursday against Orozco and the City of Wapato.

After reviewing state auditors’ reports released in May, Ferguson says in the lawsuit that Orozco violated the state’s Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers (CEMO), which prevents officials from using their power to give themselves special privileges.

In the lawsuit, Ferguson argues Orozco used his former position as mayor to create the city administrator position, set the salary and get himself appointed to the job without applying: violating state law and public trust.

“Orozco’s scheme to use his office to secure a lucrative contract for himself violated CEMO,” Ferguson said in the lawsuit.

Orozco drew up the contract for the city administrator position to include a salary of $95,000 a year for seven years, which the city would continue to pay if he was fired — with an additional six months’ severance pay, the lawsuit said.

At a Sept. 4, 2018 “special meeting” Orozco had the council create the city administrator position — with his name already on the contract — and resigned as Mayor, the lawsuit said.

Immediately after the “special meeting”, at the regular business meeting, Orozco was appointed as city administrator by current Mayor Dora Alcarez-Roa.

In the lawsuit, Ferguson says that although the audit report doesn’t address whether Alcarez-Roa violated CEMO, “it appears she likely did so by using her position as mayor to secure special privileges for others.”

Orozco and the City of Wapato also violated the state Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), which is designed to keep transparency in government, so the people can “retain control over the instruments they have created,” the lawsuit said.

The September “special meeting” was held without advance notice to the public about the subject of the meeting, which is a requirement for special meetings under OPMA.

Ferguson pointed to additional violations of OPMA detailed in the state auditor’s reports, and categorized the Sept. 4, 2018 meeting as, “part of a pattern of ignoring the requirements of that statute,” according to the lawsuit.

Altogether, the violations “reveal a pattern of indifference” to the goal of the law, which is to ensure government remain open, transparent and under the control of the people of Washington, the lawsuit said.

In the lawsuit, Ferguson is asking the court to require Orozco to repay the city the funds he “improperly directed to himself” and forfeit his position as city administrator.

Ferguson is also asking the court to void all actions taken at the Sept. 4, 2018 “special meeting” — including the creation and appointment of the city administrator position — and to require Wapato city officials complete training on OPMA.

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