Wapato Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa has denied allegations that she failed to comply with a Yakima County Sheriff’s Office investigation by refusing to sign a needed document and accused the Wapato City Council of overstepping its legal authority.
At Monday’s council meeting, which Alvarez-Roa did not attend, Mayor Pro Tem Keith Workman moved for the council to once again direct Alvarez-Roa to comply with law enforcement investigations and public records requests. In introducing the motion, Workman noted that Alvarez-Roa had refused to sign a needed document.
The council also approved a contract with an independent contractor to help with public records requests for up to 30 hours a week.
Alvarez-Roa did not respond to multiple media inquiries following the meeting. But on Tuesday, she forwarded an email she sent City Attorney Julie Norton.
“I have never seen the document that you are referring to, so how could I refuse to sign it?” she wrote, adding, “Which law demands that I sign anything for the Sheriff’s Department?”
Alvarez-Roa added that the City Council had no right to interview or hire a public records officer.
“The power to hire and fire lies within the position of the strong Mayor, and I have not delegated this responsibility to anyone,” she said.
Norton, in response, said the motion passed at Monday’s meeting related to the previous ordinance passed that compels all city staff and officials to cooperate with lawful investigations. She also clarified that the council had remained within its authority by entering into a contract with an independent contractor, not a city employee.
Cooperating with investigations
The Wapato City Council passed an ordinance and resolution compelling Alvarez-Roa to follow the law at an August council meeting. The council then passed an ordinance in September that took immediate action to safeguard public records and city funds and required all city staff and officials to cooperate with lawful investigations.
Workman noted Alvarez-Roa was refusing to sign something related to the ongoing investigation.
“She’s not wanting to sign that, so we need to try to remedy that,” Workman said, during the open public meeting. “I ask that we take this action and implore her to sign this, or we’ll have to find another way to get it done.”
Workman did not share details about the alleged document, beyond saying a signed copy was needed for the investigation. The council unanimously agreed to approve the motion compelling Alvarez-Roa to follow the law. It also approved a second motion allowing Workman to sign any documents needed to further the investigation should Alvarez-Roa refuse to do so.
In her Tuesday email to Norton, which the mayor forwarded to the Herald-Republic, Alvarez-Roa demands more information.
“Can you supply me with a date when I received this document, where the alleged document was delivered and when I refused to sign it? I have never seen the document that you are referring to, so how could I refuse to sign it?” she wrote.
In the email, Alvarez-Roa also questions whether refusing to sign a document would constitute not cooperating with an investigation.
“Which law demands that I sign anything for the Sheriff’s Department?” she wrote.
Alvarez-Roa continued by saying she has made every effort to assist in the investigation.
“The City, and I as Mayor, have authorized the release of financial records, two lap top computers, the recording device for the cameras — which was taken without notifying me, to be turned over to the Sheriff’s Department,” she wrote. “I believe that we have made every effort to assist in this ‘investigation.’”
Sgt. Judd Towell, who is a chief investigator in the sheriff’s office criminal investigation, said he could not comment on the situation given the ongoing investigation. Norton, in a follow-up email, clarified that council’s motion on Monday related to the previous ordinance passed.
“It was an oral motion directing Dora to comply with lawful investigations (which in this case included signing a document alleged to be needed as part of the investigation),” Norton wrote.
Public records officer
The council unanimously approved entering into a contract with an independent contractor to help with public records requests for up to 30 hours a week. Workman noted that not properly responding to public records requests opens the city to public records-related lawsuits. The city already has paid out more than $130,000 to settle lawsuits related to public records.
Alvarez-Roa said in her email to Norton that her role as a strong mayor grants her — and her alone — hiring and firing power.
That’s true for the hiring or firing of city employees in second-class cities like Wapato. But council action Monday did not attempt to usurp Alvarez-Roa’s authority or exceed the council’s own authority, Norton said.
“The Council has the authority to budget for positions and enter into contracts,” Norton wrote in a follow-up email. “In this case, the city has retained the services of a contractor using its contract powers. It has not retained an employee of the City. As explained to Dora, it’s no different than the Council retaining a code enforcement officer, building inspector, attorney, or other contracted position.”
Norton added that the contractor would not supervise or be under the supervision of city staff.