The Wapato City Council accepted a settlement agreement Tuesday offered by the state Attorney General’s Office.
As part of the settlement, Wapato will refuse to pay its former city administrator, Juan Orozco.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the city in June, alleging that Orozco had used his position to unjustly enrich himself and that the City Council had violated the Washington Open Public Meetings Act.
The lawsuit used findings from a state auditor’s report published in May, which cited eight findings of serious mismanagement by city officials.
Orozco, who was elected as the city’s mayor in 2017 and appointed to a newly created city administrator position in September 2018, resigned in a separate agreement with the AG’s office July 19. He agreed to depart without severance pay, to never seek city employment and to pay a $500 fee to Wapato for violating the Code of Ethics for Municipal Employees.
That didn’t resolve the lawsuit against Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa, the city and the City Council, however.
The remainder of the lawsuit was settled Tuesday. Under the agreement, the council and all Wapato city officers will undergo yearly ethics and open government training.
They also agreed not to rehire Orozco.
Ferguson said in a news release that the settlements ensure Orozco will never again be able to receive payment or hold office in Wapato, while also positioning city leaders to make more informed decisions.
“This resolution with the city confirms they will not hire him (Orozco) again in the future and will not pay his unlawful contract,” Ferguson said. “It also holds the city accountable and requires training to ensure they know better, so they can do better in the future.”
Wapato City Councilman Chuck Stephens said he was happy to undergo the training.
“I’m all for the training because I got elected in without a lot of knowledge. I had some, but nothing like what I thought I would need,” Stephens said. “I believe any council member should have training. I’m happy for that.”
Stephens wasn’t elected to the council. He was appointed on a 3-1 vote in October.
He replaced Tony Guzman, who was dismissed by Orozco, then serving as mayor. Orozco resigned as mayor in September and was immediately appointed city administrator by Alvarez-Roa.
Orozco’s guaranteed contract paid him $95,000 a year.
Alvarez-Roa did not make it out of the Aug. 6 mayoral primary. Guzman is on the November ballot as a council candidate for Position 5.
Councilman Keith Workman also called the resolution of the lawsuit, and its requirements, a great thing.
“We have a new council coming in, so we need to have all the training we can get,” said Workman, the leading vote-getter in the mayoral primary. “They need to be provided the information to be able to do the job. They also need to take it upon themselves to read through that information.”
The lawsuit is the fifth that has been settled this year. Three lawsuits alleging violations of the state’s open public records act were settled for a collective $130,000 in January, and a lawsuit alleging that Orozco used police officers in efforts to intimidate opponents was settled in April.
Two lawsuits remain ongoing that allege open meetings act violations. One additional lawsuit alleges wrongful termination and ongoing harassment by Orozco. That was filed by two former city staff members, both female.