The city of Wapato will lose its municipal insurance on Jan. 1.
The Herald-Republic obtained copies of correspondence between Wapato City Administrator Juan Orozco and staff at the Association of Washington Cities Risk Management Service Agency, the official risk-sharing pool through which the city was formerly insured, through a public records request to AWC.
Those documents show that the city of Wapato’s membership will be terminated Jan. 1.
The documents also note that the city will not be able to rejoin or re-apply for membership for the next three years without special permission from the board.
The topic came up after a brief and tense meeting of the Wapato City Council on Wednesday. Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa said she was not answering any questions.
A quorum of council members was not present, with only council members Chuck Stephens, Ira Cantu and Keith Workman in attendance. Councilmembers Joel Torres, Ralph Sanchez, Brinda Quintanilla-Bautista and Barbie Hilario were absent.
Torres, Hilario and Quintanilla-Bautista are running for office in this year’s election.
No action can be taken at meetings unless a quorum — at least four council members, in Wapato’s case — are present. The meeting adjourned after the Pledge of Allegiance.
When approached by the Yakima Herald-Republic with follow-up questions about the company’s insurance and other recent events, Alvarez-Roa said, “I am not answering any questions.”
AWC Chief Executive Peter King sent Alvarez-Roa and members of City Council notice on June 26 that the board of directors had decided to drop Wapato from the risk-sharing pool.
The decision followed an initial April 18 notice from the insurance company that Wapato was on probation because city actions posed too great a danger to the other
98 members in the risk-
sharing pool. Along with that probation came changed terms for membership, starting May 1.
Those conditions included that any claims filed by the city of Wapato with the insurance company would come with a $10,000 deductible per occurrence.
On May 16, Orozco sent back a three-sentence response saying that he accepted the new terms of the city’s membership. King responded on May 24, saying that he appreciated Orozco’s response but that to comply with the company’s agreement, approving the new terms needed to bear the City Council’s approval.
“In order to comply with the intent of the interlocal agreement of RMSA, I respectfully request that the City Council formally acknowledge and accept the terms by ordinance or a resolution,” King wrote.
City staff then submitted a resolution dated June 5 and signed by Alvarez-Roa, Clerk-Treasurer Kimberly Grimm and the city’s attorney, Julie Norton of Ogden Murphy Wallace, that the City Council had accepted the new terms at the monthly meeting.
The next correspondence AWC sent Wapato was the notice of termination.
Torres and Sanchez did not return calls for comment about why they were absent from Wednesday’s meeting.
About a five minute walk from the council meeting, Hilario was at a soccer field, helping with the Wapato high school girls’ program fundraiser.
“I’m the head coach of the girls team,” she said, explaining her absence from the council meeting. “There are about 210 kids here, and I’m an organizer.”
Quintanilla-Bautista told the Herald-Republic in a follow-up call that she had missed the meeting because she was stuck at an out-of-state airport. She had gone to visit her husband, who is in the military, in California and missed her flight back.
Quintanilla-Bautista said she messaged Alvarez-Roa through Facebook Messenger as soon as she knew she would not be able to make the meeting.
“I called the mayor and asked if I could call in for the meeting, but I never received a response,” Quintanilla-Bautista said, adding that Messenger showed the message had been received.
Workman said the situation was appalling.
“Our city insurance has been canceled, and any action we take will have to wait till next month,” he said. “I’m appalled. Dora and Juan talk about how great things are here and then this.”
No hard copies of agenda packets or schedule were available at the meeting. Agendas posted to the city’s website often are inaccurate.
Richard Gilliland, a Yakima-based attorney whose firm is representing several Wapato residents in an ongoing lawsuit alleging violations of the state’s open meetings act against Wapato, said that at least one agenda item was going to be a discussion about settling the case.
Gilliland received a settlement proposal from Norton that included the removal of Orozco from the city administrator role, he said.
“The plan was to come up with a resolution at the meeting today,” Gilliland said, referencing the Wednesday meeting. “I received a specific settlement document in which Orozco was removed from office.”
The fact that the meeting adjourned due to the lack of the quorum means those terms, including Orozco’s removal, will be delayed.
Those who attended Wednesday’s council meeting were visibly upset about the cancellation of the meeting, with several calling it a “setup.”
Diane Diaz, a Wapato resident, said she started attending council meetings as soon as Orozco became mayor in 2017 — even though doing so often rushes her work day — and was frustrated that Wednesday’s meeting was canceled.
“The people who didn’t show up are always here,” she said. “We take our own time, rush through dinner, to come down here. I feel like this is a game to them.”
Rosie Reyes, also a Wapato resident, said she also made a special effort to come to the meeting.
“I didn’t even get to walk in,” she said. “When I got here, everyone was walking out.”