Wapato Budget

FILE — Wapato City Clerk-Treasurer Kimberly Grimm and Public Works Director Jeff Schumacker presented the City Council with a preliminary budget at a Dec. 16, 2019, meeting. The budget won unanimous approval.

Wapato has a new insurance carrier, despite a four-day window to find only one and denials from several risk management pools that wanted nothing to do with the claim-riddled city.

The Association of Washington Cities, the city’s former risk management pool, notified Wapato in June that its insurance would be canceled Jan. 1, 2020.

The decision followed an April 18 notice from the association that Wapato was on probation because city actions posed too much of a danger to the other 98 members in the risk-sharing pool.

A Washington State Auditor’s Office audit found violations of the city’s nepotism policy, but there was also ongoing litigation related to alleged violations of open public meetings and open records laws; city attorney turnover; and the firing of key personnel, including the city’s former clerk, police chief, fire chief and public works director without notice to AWC.

On Monday, at the Wapato City Council’s first meeting of the year, City Clerk-Treasurer Kimberly Grimm said that Cities Insurance Association of Washington — or CIAW — agreed to provide the city with insurance and that Jedean Corpron, of PayneWest Insurance of Yakima, is the city’s new broker.

The coverage came with conditions.

Corpron said the new risk management pool hadn’t initially wanted to cover the city, so CIAW insisted on certain provisions. The new insurance will not cover ongoing claims brought against the previous administration, which would still be handled by AWC. The city would face a $100,000 liability deductible for any allegations of wrongful acts by city leadership or the City Council. The company can terminate coverage at any time with 10 days notice, Corpron said.

“We want to make sure the city of Wapato will work with us, on training for the City Council, training for the employees of the city of Wapato, and making sure moving forward that we really employ some of the risk management services that are free,” Corpron said.

Wapato’s former insurance coverage with AWC — after the city had been placed on probation — involved a $10,000 liability deductible and 180 days of notice prior to termination.

Councilman Jesse Farias questioned the steep increase of the liability coverage and wanted more time to review the insurance information Corpron handed out at the meeting. Farias asked the council to table final approval to the council’s next meeting.

Mayor Keith Workman entertained the motion, saying the most important thing was that any costs were paid in the meantime so the city didn’t lose its new insurance. The motion carried 5-1, with Councilman Chuck Stephens voting no.

“I felt we needed to get the insurance finalized as quickly as possible,” Stephens said in a follow-up interview. “We need insurance to do what’s best for Wapato.”

The insurance coverage went into effect Jan. 1, so the city will retain coverage until the council gives final approval.

Grimm stressed the importance of having insurance.

“I called four other companies, and before I could get ‘City of Wapato’ out of my mouth, they denied us,” she told council. “What you need to understand is that, yes, the coverage is a little expensive, but that’s due to a past administration, and we’re going to continue to pay for that until we make things a whole lot better.”

Both Corpron and Grimm said insurance liability costs would decrease once the city’s track record improved. Grimm pointed out that the city’s approval of its 2020 budget had led to savings that would allow the city to pay for the new insurance.

“I want to thank CIAW for coming forward to help us,” Grimm said. “No one else wanted to give us that chance, and it’s very important that the city is covered.”

Wapato’s next meeting will take place Monday, Jan. 20 at the Wapato Community Center on South Camas Avenue.

Reach Lex Talamo at ltalamo@yakimaherald.com or on Twitter: @LexTalamo.