Keith Workman entered the world of Wapato politics as a council member in 2016.
“It seemed like it was time to become civically engaged,” he said.
Workman was born in Yakima, where he lived with his grandparents for a short time before they moved to Wapato. After briefly moving back to Yakima, Wapato became home.
“I’ve been here pretty much consistently since I was age 2,” he said.
Workman started college at Yakima Valley College as a pre-med major but transferred to North Lake College in Irving, Texas. He had to stop his studies to help take care of an ailing step-grandfather. But he later returned to his studies at YVC, earning an associate degree in nursing. Workman tutored students in microbiology and human anatomy and physiology at YVC.
Then he became a council member.
Workman, who said he’s been there since day one of the Juan Orozco administration, said he noticed changes as soon as Orozco took over.
Orozco, elected mayor in November 2017, resigned in September 2018. The mayor appointed to replace him, Councilwoman Dora Alvarez-Roa, immediately hired Orozco as city administrator for $95,000 a year.
It was a job that didn’t exist until Alvarez-Roa gave it to Orozco.
Money from funds for specific city uses was suddenly being moved into projects that didn’t fit those purposes, Workman said. He asked for a financial summary of the city’s situation and never received it. He requested information he felt he needed to make informed decisions as a councilman — and waited.
“It took them a significantly long time to even begin to answer those requests,” Workman said. “When Orozco took over, it was apparent that there would be problems. What came out in the audit did not surprise me.”
The state auditor published an audit in May, covering Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2018. It included eight serious findings, including that city officials had misappropriated $243,000 in taxpayer fees: $125,894 from the garbage fund that went to pool renovations, and $117,111 from the sewer fund used for paying city legal fees.
For guidance, Workman has consulted with Richard Gilliland, a Yakima-based attorney representing Wapato residents in a lawsuit against Wapato that alleges multiple violations of the state’s open public meetings act. The city’s new attorney, Julie Norton, asked in an April 19 email that Workman refrain from doing so.
But in a recent declaration filed with that lawsuit, Workman said he has “little or no faith” in the attorneys chosen by Orozco to act in the best interests of the city.
“I feel like I’m being pressured to not ask for advice from outside sources,” he said in a follow-up phone call. “If I can’t do that, I can’t make informed decisions, and I can’t help the residents.”
Workman, who has filed to run for mayor, said he is not going to back down.
“I want to take this city back, and the only way we’re going to do that is transparency and accountability,” he said.