Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Joseph Brusic will not attempt to oust Wapato Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa, saying it would do more harm than good right now.
Brusic has been considering the use of an arcane legal provision called quo warranto, which would allow a court to forcibly remove Alvarez-Roa.
“It simply would not be successful and would further stress the city of Wapato,” Brusic said in a news release.
Alvarez-Roa was appointed mayor by the Wapato City Council at a controversial Sept. 4, 2018, meeting, which a state auditor report noted had violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act. She almost immediately appointed former mayor Juan Orozco to serve as the city’s first city administrator with a $95,000 annual salary.
The city of Wapato has since faced eight lawsuits, almost a dozen civil tort claim filings, more than $566,000 in settlements and attorney fees, an ongoing criminal investigation, and eight egregious findings of gross misappropriation of government resources and unlawful activity — including violations of nepotism and ethics policies and the state’s open meetings act — during Orozco’s administration, as identified in a state auditor report.
Orozco resigned as part of a July settlement agreement with the state Attorney General’s Office. Alvarez-Roa has refused three requests to resign from the City Council, which unanimously passed multiple votes of no confidence in her leadership. The council has since passed several ordinances to limit her power and compel her to follow the law.
Despite her refusal to resign, Alvarez-Roa will be out of office following November’s election.
‘More harm than good’
Brusic said in a news release that his decision to hold off on quo warranto likely will be unpopular with Wapato residents, whom he acknowledged have suffered based on “their perception and opinion of incompetent governmental leadership.”
Brusic said he factored in the facts, law, and time and resources facing the city of Wapato in making his decision. He enlisted the help of Pamela Loginsky, a staff attorney with the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, who has overseen two successful quo warranto filings.
Both Brusic and Loginsky wrote they felt that starting a quo warranto claim to oust Alvarez-Roa at this time would cause more harm than good.
“The action would increase the city’s already sizable legal services bill and there is no guarantee that the ousted individuals would not be reappointed by the council,” Loginsky said in a 10-page memo sent to Brusic.
Quo warranto is Latin for “by what warrant,” and is a procedure used to oust a person unlawfully exercising the powers of a public office.
Quo warranto proceedings are lengthy, Loginsky said in her memo. Brusic would first have to file the information with the Superior Court, then the case would have to wait for a trial or judgment hearing. With no delays whatsoever, a judge could hand down a judgment within 48 days of the original filing, she wrote.
Filing for quo warranto likely would not bear fruit before the November election, she said. Even if a decision happened before the end of Alvarez-Roa’s term in November, the council’s replacement mayor would only serve “a handful of days” prior to a new mayor taking office, she said.
Quo warranto also becomes moot once the individual is out of power. Alvarez-Roa didn’t advance in the primary, and the new mayor will be sworn in after the election results are certified on Nov. 26.
Loginsky also looked at the use of quo warranto for several council members appointed last year during Orozco’s tenure. Her memo said there is legal and factual support for quo warranto actions against council members Barbara Perez, Ira Cantu and Chuck Stephens, along with Alvarez-Roa, but a court’s decision could be rendered moot if they are reappointed at a meeting that complies with the open meetings act or if their terms expire.
Voters get a say
Loginsky notes in her memo that “the remedy for incompetency” is for the voters to choose someone else in the election. Brusic also encouraged Wapato residents to select their next mayor carefully.
“This entire dark and demoralizing political period for the city of Wapato underscores how important each and every person’s vote is in electing public officials,” he wrote in the news release.
A criminal investigation into actions at Wapato City Hall started in July by Brusic’s office and the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office remains ongoing.
“I will continue to seek justice on the behalf of Wapato residents regarding any criminal law violations,” Brusic said. “No one is above the law.”