WAPATO, Wash. — A filing in Yakima County Superior Court this week alleges officials in the city of Wapato violated state law in appointing Juan Orozco as city administrator during a special City Council meeting in September.
A memorandum that’s part of a lawsuit says then-mayor Orozco and at least one member of the City Council violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act by meeting in secret and creating a city administrator position for Orozco. The law requires that meetings of governing bodies of public agencies, including cities, counties and special purpose districts, be open to the public.
On Sept. 4, the council met for a special meeting at 8:30 a.m. during which Orozco resigned as mayor, saying he had fulfilled promises he made while running for office. When the council convened its regular meeting at 9 a.m. — with Orozco in the audience — the council appointed Dora Alvarez-Roa as mayor. Alvarez-Roa then appointed Orozco as city administrator, a position that had not existed until then.
“There is no other reasonable explanation for this situation other than at least one Council member, and in all probability several members, held a meeting with Juan Orozco prior to the September 4, 2018, Council meetings and decided to create a City Administrator position for Juan Orozco,” the memorandum says. “It is inconceivable that Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa would appoint Juan Orozco to the position of City Administrator, a position which he did not apply for or openly express an interest in during open Council meeting, unless this decision was pre-orchestrated.”
Orozco said the city does not comment on pending litigation.
The memorandum is part of a lawsuit filed against the city in September and is meant to support the eight plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment. Such a motion means the plaintiffs believe the facts they’re alleging in their lawsuit are so self-evident that a trial isn’t required. The memorandum was filed in Superior Court earlier this week by Yakima-based attorney Richard Gilliland. He said the eight plaintiffs live in or around Wapato.
Gilliland said the plaintiffs hope to remove Orozco and install a City Council not made up of Orozco’s “cronies.”
“We’re trying to get rid of the corruption,” he said. “Orozco thinks he’s a feudal lord in a little fiefdom and thinks he can do what he wants. We’re trying to return the rule of law to Wapato.”
The memorandum — which cites testimony from council member Keith Workman, as well as council meeting minutes — says that, during the special meeting, council members had an already-drafted city administrator contract for Orozco in their meeting packets before he resigned.
It also alleges Orozco helped draft his contract and negotiated it with himself. These actions, the lawsuit says, are also a violation of state law.
“Juan Orozco was a municipal officer who, by his own admission, negotiated with himself a contract, and directly guided the drafting of this contract — a contract which handsomely compensates him personally,” it says. “Therefore, the creation of the city administrator contract under the supervision of Juan Orozco was in direct violation of” state law.
Under state law, “No municipal officer shall be beneficially interested, directly or indirectly, in any contract which may be made by, through or under the supervision of such officer, in whole or in part, or which may be made for the benefit of his or her office.”
Orozco’s contract requires the city to pay his $95,000 annual salary for however many years he has left to serve — up to seven — even if he is fired. As city administrator, Orozco serves under the mayor.