Mayoral five pack

From left: Dora Alvarez Roa, Brinda Quintanilla Bautista, Gina Ramos, Leah Smartlowit, Keith Workman.  Not pictured: Joseph "JC" Wofford

Six people are running to be Wapato’s next mayor.

Whoever steps into the mayoral position will inherit significant problems. The Washington State Auditor’s Office recently identified eight findings of gross mismanagement and egregious disregard for open government and accountability, including nepotism policy violations, ethics violations by City Administrator Juan Orozco, repeated violations of the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, disregard for proper competitive bidding and a lack of internal controls over cash receipting and finance that led to a significant decline in the city’s financial stability.

In 2016, Wapato had close to $2 million in reserve funds. By February 2019, the city was operating at a deficit of more than $41,000, according to a May audit. A previous audit also found that between 2011-17, the city’s former deputy clerk-treasurer misappropriated more than $300,000.

The city is facing four ongoing lawsuits, including a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general, and nine civil tort claims that could become lawsuits. Wapato also is set to lose its insurance in January 2020, after the city’s risk management agency determined that city actions posed too great a risk to the other members in the pool.

The mayor position comes with a four-year term and a salary of $1 per year, which the City Council reduced from $12,000 in November 2018.

The primary election is Aug. 6. The top two candidates will advance to the general election Nov. 5. The mayor’s position is nonpartisan.

Individuals who filed for the position are Dora Alvarez-Roa, Brinda Quintanilla-Bautista, Gina Ramos, Leah Smartlowit, Joseph “JC” Wofford and Keith Workman. Alvarez Roa is the current mayor. She was appointed by the City Council in September 2018 after Orozco resigned as mayor. She then appointed Orozco to a newly created city administrator role with a $95,000 annual salary.

We asked each candidate the same four questions. Here are paraphrased summaries of their answers.

Dora Alvarez-Roa

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Alvarez-Roa

How will you rebuild public trust in city government?

This question implies that there was prior trust. The theft of over $300,000 from 2011-17 and total decline in public services shows that any trust was misplaced. The majority of the citizens of Wapato trust the current administration and are happy with the major improvements that have been made in public safety, cemetery beautification and services that have been provided.

What will you do to resolve the lawsuits and tort claims filed against the city?

I will continue to work in good faith to either negotiate or win in court against the individuals who are suing the city.

Does the community need a city administrator?

Wapato definitely needs a city administrator. A part-time mayor cannot oversee a full-time, complex operation. Under the last two part-time mayors, over $300,000 was stolen, our community pool was closed, our community center was closed and our cemetery became one of the worst in the Valley, plus women were abused in our jail. Today is a sum of all those past yesterdays.

How will you address budget issues and provide city services such as law enforcement, while keeping the cemetery in good shape and the pool and community center open?

We will aggressively go after grants to assist in the pool and community center costs. The cemetery doesn’t pose any real problems now that we’ve brought it back from the horrible state it was in. Law enforcement is improving in Wapato with new officers and new vehicles.

Brinda Quintanilla-Bautista

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Quintanilla-Bautista

How will you rebuild public trust in city government?

I will work hard to rebuild that trust by being honest, keeping the public informed of all meetings, events and activities, involving the public and being accessible. Not only will notices be mailed home (about) community events and meetings, but I also want to set up an automated phone system to send announcements via phone and text to our community. I want our community to be well informed. I will invite our community to speak and ask questions during meetings. If you have something to say I want you to be given the chance to be heard, negative or positive. We are here to serve our community!

What will you do to resolve the lawsuits and tort claims filed against the city?

I will work with the city attorney and council members to resolve these issues. A payment plan will be put into place. I will work to get our city insurance reinstated. I will give the community an opportunity to give their opinion and feedback. We are in this together.

Does the community need a city administrator?

We do not. The city administrator position will be eliminated. We need to save all the funds we can to move forward. As mayor, I will work with council members, our schools and our community to strengthen our town.

How will you address budget issues and provide city services such as law enforcement, while keeping the cemetery in good shape and the pool and community center open?

I will address budget issues by evaluating all positions and salaries and make cutbacks everywhere we can. Outrageous wages for employees with no degree or experience will be stopped. The city administrator position will be eliminated. I plan to have a lot of community fundraisers. I plan to work with school counselors to get student volunteers to be involved and get their community hours. The swimming pool revenue is something we will be able to count on as well. I will work with our city attorney, council members and community to move forward to strengthen our law enforcement.

Gina Ramos

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Ramos

How will you rebuild public trust in city government?

I grew up here. A lot of people here know me, they see me out and about, but it’s just going to take time. I want to be the person to go door to door, to have an open communication.

What will you do to resolve the lawsuits and tort claims filed against the city?

I’ve followed the lawsuits. There are some that I don’t feel are truthful, and those I would put on the back burner. The police department lawsuits are the most important and would be the priority.

Does the community need a city administrator?

We don’t need a city administrator. We should have never had one.

How will you address budget issues and provide city services such as law enforcement, while keeping the cemetery in good shape and the pool and community center open?

I would prioritize the police force. Looking at the pool and community center, the kids do need some recreational things. The cemetery is a priority but that could be something that could be put on the back burner. We have to work at these issues one at a time. We’d have to look at the budget to see where we are. We would have to build back trust with the foundations that gave the city grants.

Leah Smartlowit

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Smartlowit

How will you rebuild public trust in city government?

I believe in listening to the people in the community and being positive. I believe in transparency, fairness, ethics and making good decisions.

What will you do to resolve the lawsuits and tort claims filed against the city?

I would continue to follow up with the investigations.

Does the community need a city administrator?

The city does not need a city administrator and it’s totally wrong how (Orozco) got that position. Budgets have different places to take money from, but $95,000 is a lot. Where did that money come from?

How will you address budget issues and provide city services such as law enforcement, while keeping the cemetery in good shape and the pool and community center open?

I would look at the budget again, and that position that (Orozco) created for himself — that’s a lot of money that could be spent elsewhere. The city does need the community center and the pool for our youth, and the cemetery is important because we all have loved ones there. We also do need the law enforcement to keep our laws of the land.

Joseph “JC” Wofford

How will you rebuild public trust in city government?

It’s going to take time. It’s going to take the time to see that you are putting the right people in the right places. If I were elected, it would not be about me or myself gaining. I wouldn’t put cronies into office. It would be based solely on their production.

What will you do to resolve the lawsuits and tort claims filed against the city?

I don’t know if you can unravel the big ones, but the smaller claims are about getting the current administrator out of power. Until we get him out, we’re going to see who is really caring about the city.

Does the community need a city administrator?

I don’t think we need a city administrator for $100,000, but if we could find someone who would not only oversee the city, but also take on a bigger role to get the city back on track, then it might be something to consider.

How will you address budget issues and provide city services such as law enforcement, while keeping the cemetery in good shape and the pool and community center open?

We could be more efficient as a city. There’s excess employees and wages in other areas. You can’t take away from law enforcement. Financially, pools in a small city have to be self-sufficient. We’re trying to run it by charging families $5, and that’s not what this city is built on. We need to make another deal with the (Yakama) tribe. I also have a lot of other great ideas to build revenue.

Keith Workman

Keith Workman

Wapato City Councilman Keith Workman.

How will you rebuild public trust in city government?

The way I plan to rebuild trust in Wapato will be by advocating for its residents while treating them with the dignity and respect they deserve. I will take the time to listen to them, answer any questions they have, and address their concerns. Second, being honest, ethical, and transparent while running the city is crucial to reclaiming the public’s trust.

What will you do to resolve the lawsuits and tort claims filed against the city?

The first thing to do is to fix the problems so we don’t get any more lawsuits. The issues are caused by our former mayor/current city administrator. We need to treat people fairly and most importantly, follow the law. After that, we need to work to ensure that the city is covered by insurance. The reason insurance is so important is to assist in resolving these lawsuits. It is then our responsibility to reduce our risk and act responsibly. We can then start to move forward.

Does the community need a city administrator?

The city of Wapato has existed for over 100 years without a city administrator and still can. Our population size does not warrant having a city administrator and we don’t have the funds to support an unnecessary expense. With qualified department heads and our current form of administrative government we can function efficiently and successfully.

How will you address budget issues and provide city services such as law enforcement, while keeping the cemetery in good shape and the pool and community center open?

My immediate priority will be the critical services provided by the police and fire departments. The citizens of Wapato deserve to have police officers on a 24/7 basis. As for the budget, we don’t even really know how bad it is yet. The current mayor and city administrator refuse to give us any reliable budget numbers. The best information available to us is from audits that were done by the state auditor. (The auditor) was clear that we are operating in a deficit.

Wapato has the ability to dig ourselves out of this hole with sound fiscal planning and some restraints on our spending. The citizens and businesses can’t afford any more taxes so we need to balance our budget within our current tax base. I hope to increase our tax base through development and attracting new business into the city. We are going to need to do a better job of partnering with the Yakama Nation.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.