WAPATO — The Wapato City Council took a second unanimous vote of no confidence in Mayor Dora Alvarez Roa at Monday’s council meeting, and passed ordinances to compel her to follow the law and to hold her responsible for any actions that further hurt the interests of the city of Wapato.
Alvarez-Roa, who was appointed as mayor in September 2018, was not present Monday. Neither were council members Joel Torres, Ralph Sanchez or Barbie Hilario. Newly appointed Police Chief Michael Campos was absent Monday, and no law enforcement from any agency was present. In recent months, someone from law enforcement has typically attended Wapato council meetings.
Councilman Keith Workman, who served as mayor pro tempore given the mayor’s absence, informed the public that Alvarez-Roa was not cooperating with Yakima County Sheriff’s Office deputies in the ongoing criminal investigation into the city’s actions.
Workman also noted that Alvarez-Roa had recently placed the city Clerk-Treasurer Kimberly Grimm on administrative leave, effectively leaving the city without someone trained to handle the city’s finances in the midst of a declared financial emergency.
Alvarez-Roa did not respond to requests for comment.
Workman introduced several new ordinances, which passed with a unanimous vote from those present, that aimed to minimize future damage to the city.
One ordinance passed requires that Alvarez-Roa comply with council orders and the law and authorized the city attorney to seek an injunction through the courts against her in the event of unlawful or questionable action.
Another ordinance established a two-signature sign off, involving a combination of the mayor, the mayor pro tempore and the city clerk treasurer, for any checks made payable from the city.
In introducing the ordinance, Workman noted that a $4,600 water purification system was installed in City Hall without the council’s knowledge or approval. Workman and Councilwoman Brinda Quintanilla-Bautista also noted at a previous council meeting that $3,000 of expenses, tied to former City Administrator Juan Orozco’s credit card account with the city, also had been permitted without council’s knowledge or approval. The council voted at that meeting, on Aug. 7, not to approve the expenses with the rest of the payroll.
The ordinance related to the signatures also imposes a penalty, of up to $1,000, for any unauthorized individual who tries to sign off on a city-related expense, including a deputy clerk. Though not mentioned in the ordinance, Ericha Rocha, Orozco’s daughter, serves in that position.
The council also passed an ordinance through which they will no longer pay Rocha or Cristina Roselli, a city employee who helps with public records requests for the city. Workman noted that both positions had been eliminated through a council resolution on Aug. 7 that defunded a number of city positions given the city’s financial crisis.
Fire Chief Bob Clark asked the council whom he should contact for financial or human resource related issues since the city did not have a working city clerk-treasurer.
Workman said his hands were tied: Even as the mayor pro tempore, he did not have the authority to appoint someone to the position or to reverse Alvarez-Roa’s decision to place Grimm on administrative leave.
Grimm, who was present, declined to comment on her situation, deferring inquiries to her attorney, Timothy Carlson of Carlson Hinton Law.
Carlson spoke on Grimm’s behalf during public comment, noting that she was an experienced employee who did not deserve to be placed on administrative leave given the arbitrary whim of Alvarez-Roa.
Carlson noted that Grimm had complied with law enforcement requests for records. Grimm then allegedly was confronted and admonished by Alvarez-Roa, who handed her a letter saying she was placed on administrative leave.
“She is a person who has served your city well,” Carlson noted. “I’m asking this council to recognize that a wrong has been done.”
Grimm had been working directly with a consultant with the Municipal Research and Services Center to get Wapato’s finances back on track. MRSC Consultant Mike Bailey noted in a letter to city staff that Grimm was making steady progress with the city’s finances and had completed training at the city’s expense.
But Grimm was targeted by Alvarez-Roa as soon as she became a “whistleblower,” Carlson said. He asked the City Council to vote on a resolution he presented that effectively would allow Grimm to return to work Tuesday.
Workman said he was unwilling to vote in favor of the resolution without first running the text by the city’s attorney, Julie Norton of Ogden Murphy Wallace, who was not present Monday.
“This is in the legal realm, and I am not an attorney,” Workman said. “We need to be very cautious legally, because Wapato does not need any more problems of any kind right now.”
The resolution failed to pass with a 2-2 tie, with Workman and Stephens voting against and Quintanilla-Bautista and Councilwoman Irasema Cantu voting in favor.
The council then took a separate, unanimous vote in which they stated they did not agree with Alvarez-Roa’s decision to place Grimm on administrative leave.
Public Works Director Jeff Schumaker also spoke on Grimm’s behalf, saying she had done a tremendous job with the city and had been adamant about working with the state auditor.
Workman said he had been in contact with the city attorney and was committed to continuing that work.
“I will be working with the city attorney, but the mayor is still the mayor and I can’t usurp her power,” he said. “My hands are somewhat tied.”
Vote of no confidence
Also on the agenda was a second call for Alvarez-Roa’s resignation. Without Alvarez-Roa present at the meeting, the council discussion was short-lived.
“It’s pretty obvious to everyone that it’s time for her to step down,” said Councilman Chuck Stephens.
The council then took a second vote of no confidence in Alvarez-Roa, which passed 4-0. The council previously took a vote of no confidence in her at a meeting earlier this month.
Editorial note; This article has been updated to reflect that the council voted on several proposed ordinances.