WAPATO — The Wapato City Council amended the city administrator contract at its monthly meeting Wednesday, including a big cut in the payout City Administrator Juan Orozco will receive if he is fired.
Juan Orozco has held the city administrator position since September 2018, when the position was created at a controversial meeting, the conditions of which have since been deemed unlawful by a May state auditor report.
Orozco was elected mayor in November 2017. He resigned at the Sept. 4 meeting and was appointed by the new mayor, Dora Alvarez-Roa, to the newly created city administrator position.
The terms of that contract started Orozco at $95,000 a year, payable for seven years even in the event he was fired.
But Wednesday’s council meeting changed that. After an executive session that lasted about 20 minutes, Alvarez-Roa moved to reduce the severance pay of the contract to nine months in the event Orozco is terminated.
The motion passed on a 4-2 vote, with council members Joel Torres, Barbie Hilario, Ralph Sanchez and Irasema Gonzalez Cantu voting in favor and Chuck Stephens and Keith Workman voting against. Councilwoman Brinda Quintanilla-Bautista was absent, as was Orozco.
The difference in Orozco’s payout, if fired, is significant. Under the old contract, if terminated, he would have walked away with an additional $570,000. Under the amended contract, he would receive $71,253 if he is fired.
The Yakima Herald-Republic used Orozco’s annual salary and his remaining six years under the contract to determine the payout under the old contract, and a monthly rate based on his annual salary to calculate the severance pay under the new contract.
Following the council’s executive session, Alvarez-Roa moved to simply adopt “the amended contract.”
Audience members then shouted across the room that they couldn’t hear what was being said. They shouted that they wanted to know what had been covered during the executive session; they wanted to know what was being amended.
Alvarez-Roa then quickly outlined the changes, noting that the initial contract called for a 7-year payout in severance, whereas the amended contract would allow only 9 months.
During discussion preceding the council vote, Workman said he felt the council was acting too soon.
“I don’t think this is the right decision,” Workman said. “We haven’t had enough time for this to sink in.”
At that point in proceedings, several members of the audience shouted that Orozco’s contract was “illegal.” They shouted questions about whether Alvarez-Roa planned to fire Orozco. As the mayor, she is the only individual with the authority to do so.
“That’s what we want!” one woman shouted. “Fire him!”
Alvarez-Roa said she believed Orozco had done a good job for the city and cited repairs to the city cemetery. In April, she had told the Herald-Republic that she had no plans to fire Orozco.
The mayor’s pronouncement met with more shouting from the audience of about 30 who had gathered for the meeting. Wapato Police Chief Dominic Rizzi stood up and told members of the audience that they needed to quiet down or he would have to remove them from the proceedings.
The meeting then resumed. Other actions taken at the council meeting regarded what the council considered excessively high prices for summer activities and a rowdy introduction to the city’s new attorney, Julie Norton.
The summer youth program at the Wapato Community Center was slated to start on June 17. The proposed cost for the weeklong camp was $125 for the first week and $50 for additional time, which included meals and activities ranging from martial arts to arts and crafts each day from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Several council members took issue with the prices.
“I would love for my granddaughter to participate in this, but the prices are awfully high,” Stephens said. “I know where I stand financially, and I can’t afford it.”
Workman, Hilario and Torres also said the cost was too high. The council moved to delay finalizing prices until the next monthly meeting, though Alvarez-Roa warned that the camp’s opening also would have to be delayed until July.
Several council members — including Workman, Stephens and Hilario — also felt that the city’s proposed prices for daily access to the swimming pool were too high. Daily pass prices were set at $3 for youths, $5 for adults and $22 for families, which Alvarez-Roa said was comparable to the costs of other cities.
Workman noted that other cities weren’t relevant, as Wapato is one of the poorest areas in the county.
Prices for swimming lessons also were deemed too high, ranging from $60 to $65 for nonseason pass holders and from $45 to $55 for season pass holders.
Hilario asked Norton whether the council could approve the costs but later revisit and revise them at the July meeting. Norton, who was present at council for the first time since her firm signed a five-year contract with the city to act as the official city attorney, starting April 1, said the council could. The resolution passed 4-2, with Workman and Stephens voting no.
Having no idea who Norton was, several audience members then shouted to learn her identity.
Norton introduced herself and clarified later, during the public comment section, that her role as the city attorney was to help ensure that meetings ran smoothly and to offer guidance should the council request it.
Her responsibility was not, she said, to engage with members of the community during the proceedings.
During the mayor report, Alvarez-Roa shared that several members of the community had noted that they appreciated city efforts at the cemetery on Memorial Day, in which city staff handed out free flowers and water to those who had come to visit the graves of loved ones. Alvarez-Roa said the city paid for the flowers and that she hopes the event can happen annually.
Audience members were allotted a full 20-minute comment period by Alvarez-Roa before the meeting adjourned in a peaceful manner.