Two lawsuits against the city of Wapato could end if City Administrator Juan Orozco agrees to resign as part of settlement agreements offered by attorneys.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the city of Wapato and Orozco in June, accusing Orozco of using his former position as mayor to unlawfully enrich himself by creating — and accepting — the $95,000 city administrator’s position.
Another lawsuit filed by community members alleges the city had violated the state’s Open Public Meetings Act on multiple occasions, and that Orozco’s appointment was illegal as a result.
The city has been given a proposed settlement by the attorney general’s office, according to attorneys.
A hearing in the open public meetings lawsuit is scheduled for 2 p.m Friday, July 19, in Yakima Superior Court. Quinn Plant and Julie Norton, representing the city of Wapato and city officials named in the suit, have asked to halt the lawsuit until they can determine what information Wapato City Councilman Keith Workman shared with Richard Gilliland, the attorney representing the Wapato residents suing the city.
Gilliland said the hearing hinges on whether Orozco decides to resign by noon Friday.
Gilliland said he confirmed with Wapato’s city attorney, Julie Norton of Ogden Murphy Wallace, that she had received a settlement offer from the attorney general that would end the agency’s lawsuit if Orozco resigns by the end of the business day Friday.
Orozco referred to Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa for comment. Alvarez-Roa did not comment on the proposed settlement.
“I believe the focus of the hearing tomorrow is to discuss the ethical violations committed by Mr. Gilliland and Mr. Workman and possible sanctions,” she said.
Gilliland’s firm had previously extended a settlement offer to Wapato in the case that requires Orozco’s resignation. The Wapato City Council was supposed to consider that settlement offer at a council meeting July 3, but the meeting was canceled for lack of a quorum.
Alvarez-Roa has stated in the past that she will under no circumstances consider terminating Orozco because she believes he has done a good job.
Gilliland said he told Norton he would reduce his requested attorney fees in settling his firm’s open public meetings act lawsuit by $20,000 if Orozco agrees to resign by noon Friday.
“We don’t want to bankrupt the city,” Gilliland told the Yakima Herald-Republic. “We’ve simply wanted the city to follow the law, and Juan Orozco and Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa are not able to do that.”
Norton confirmed that she had received a settlement offer from the attorney general but would not comment on the specifics.
“We have no official statement at this time,” she said. “I have received the document, and the parties are considering it.”
Settlement offers that have not yet been signed often are not often matters of public record. The attorney general’s office would not comment on specifics of the agreement.
“We don’t have a comment on the matter,” said Brionna Aho, spokeswoman for the office.
Orozco became mayor in January 2018. He resigned in September 2018, and was immediately appointed city administrator by Alvarez-Roa. A report by the state Auditor’s Office this spring found eight findings of egregious mismanagement and unlawful actions by the city since Orozco came to power.