Wapato City Council members, from left, Chuck Stephens, Keith Workman, Ira Cantu and Brinda Quintanilla-Bautista attend a recent council meeting.

Wapato Council Sept 3

The Wapato Council took immediate action to safeguard public records and city resources at a Sept. 3 council meeting.

WAPATO, Wash. — Wapato’s mayor pro tem and city attorney had troubling news to share at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

The cables to the cameras monitoring the back doors of City Hall had been cut. There also were “deeply troubling” rumors — from credible internal and external sources, according to the city attorney — that public records documents were being altered or destroyed.

Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa was not present at the meeting. Councilman Keith Workman presided as mayor pro tem, with city attorney Julie Norton close by to help with proceedings.

The council, by unanimous vote, passed two measures to increase safeguards at City Hall: to re-establish working cameras at the back of the building and to create immediate policies and procedures for the protection and preservation of public records and city funds.

An ordinance, which passed with a unanimous vote, also authorized the city attorney to report any suspected violations of law to investigating agencies, including the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and the state Attorney General’s Office.

Subpoenas, warrants, and public records requests would not be needed for city employees to cooperate in investigations, the ordinance also noted — reversing a directive issued by Alvarez-Roa to city staff last week.

Given the emergency nature of the city’s situation, the ordinance noted that the changes took place immediately.

Council action on both an almost-identical proposed ordinance and resolution gave Norton immediate authorization to investigate and report allegations of theft or misappropriation of funds and unauthorized removal or destruction of public documents and records.

“There are enough troubling rumors from credible sources,” Norton said. “This gives the council clear guidance.”

The ordinance notes the city attorney had been made aware that city records “may have been removed or destroyed in violation of record retention schedules” and other regulations under state law.

The document noted that unauthorized removal or destruction of public records is a felony.

The ordinance also established nine immediate protective measures, including directives to city employees to:

  • Refrain from physically removing, deleting, destroying, or altering documents from city offices.
  • Remove all shredders from City Hall and city buildings and retain bags of shredded materials
  • Change all computer and account passwords to ensure that separated employees and officials don’t have access to city computer systems and accounts.

Th ordinance also required staff to change the locks on the internal doors at City Hall — particularly on the mayor or former city administrator’s offices — and to ensure that Workman had a key and access codes to any locked doors or safes at City Hall.

The ordinance is not the first to target Alvarez-Roa; action at an Aug. 19 meeting compelled her to follow the law and authorized the city attorney to seek a court injunction to stop her if she did not.

Alvarez-Roa has said she has no plans to resign. The council again voted unanimously — for the third time — to ask for her resignation at Tuesday’s meeting. Alvarez Roa could not be reached following the meeting.

More misappropriation?

The ordinance also noted that city attorneys had become aware that additional city funds may have been misappropriated — or stolen — through use of credit cards and checks signed by city employees who were unauthorized to release the funds.

The council previously questioned more than $3,000 of expenses that Alvarez-Roa said were tied to then-City Administrator Juan Orozco’s credit card account. The council voted against releasing funds to cover those purchases at an August council meeting.

That freeze has led to problems for other city officials.

Fire chief Bob Clark noted that the department’s city-issued credit card was declined when he tried to use it to pay for car washes for trucks used in the city’s Harvest Festival parade over the weekend.

Public Works Director Jeff Schumacker noted that his attempts to purchase additional road signage for Ninth Street, where residents have identified dangerous speeding, were declined.

Norton noted that given the city’s precarious financial situation, all city credit cards issued to specific individuals would be cancelled. Credit cards issued to departments were under evaluation.

City officials would have to purchase supplies and equipment through check and warrant processes, with city employees to be reimbursed for approved expenses, she noted.

“Unfortunately, the city needs to get a handle on the claims that are outstanding, because of the uncertainties as to what is being spent,” Norton said. “The idea is to get the department and city credit cards back to the way they are meant to be used.”

In the meantime, there would be “a little reining in,” she noted. Workman asked city officials to be patient with the process.

The ordinance also placed several additional safeguards on city resources, including that all checks and withdrawals of funds from city accounts required the signature of Workman on behalf of the council. The city’s financial institutions also will be advised that no money could be withdrawn without Workman’s knowledge or approval, according to the ordinance.

Other Wapato news

The council voted to vacate Councilman Joel Torres’ seat, given that he had missed three consecutive meetings.

The council also signed off on a severance package for Dominic Rizzi, the city’s former police chief whom Alvarez-Roa terminated on Aug. 2

The council signed off on settlement agreements for three tort claims filed against the city for defamation, including a $3,500 settlement for Trent Wilkinson; a $9,000 settlement for a defamation claim and outstanding public records claim from Dave Simmons; and a $5,000 settlement for Luz Aguirre

Norton confirmed that city Clerk-Treasurer Kim Grimm was fired Friday and that any appointment by Alvarez-Roa would require council approval.

Councilwoman Irasema Cantu was appointed clerk pro tempore, with responsibilities only to sign off on council resolutions and ordinances.