City commits not to pay city administrator’s unlawful contract
YAKIMA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today, as a result of his lawsuit, the Wapato City Council and all Wapato city officers will undergo ethics and open government trainings and commit to not paying former City Administrator Juan Orozco’s unlawful contract, and to not employ Orozco in the future.
Based on an investigation by the Washington State Auditor’s Office, Ferguson filed a lawsuit against Orozco, the City of Wapato, the Wapato City Council and current Wapato mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa. Ferguson accused Orozco of violating the Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), and the Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers. The lawsuit also accused Alvarez-Roa and the Wapato City Council of violating the OPMA.
“As a result of our case, and the Auditor’s work, Mr. Orozco is out of office for good,” Ferguson said. “This resolution with the city confirms they will not hire him again in the future, and will not pay his unlawful contract. It also holds the city accountable, and requires training to ensure they know better, so they can do better in the future.”
The resolution requires City Council members and other city officials to undergo training on Washington’s Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers, Open Public Meetings Act, and Public Records Act, and fully resolves Ferguson’s lawsuit against the city. An individual resolution filed previously requires Orozco to pay a $500 fine, the maximum allowed by law, for violating the Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers, and prohibits him from seeking or accepting employment from the City of Wapato or any elected office in the city in the future. Penalties for ethics violations are paid to the city where the violation took place.
The Auditor’s Office conducted a regular audit of the City of Wapato and provided the audit report to the Attorney General’s Office in May 2019.
Orozco was elected mayor of Wapato in November 2017. According to the auditor’s report, in August 2018, Orozco asked the Wapato city attorney to draft an ordinance creating the position of city administrator, along with a lucrative contract for the position. The contract set the salary at $95,000 and a contract term of seven years. If the contract ended early, even if the city administrator was fired, the contract entitled the city administrator to payment for the entire seven year term plus an additional six months of salary.
On Sept. 4, 2018, Orozco called a special meeting of the city council just before its regular meeting, without notice of the meeting’s purpose, in violation of the OPMA. The mayor and city council may hold a special meeting, but only after providing notice to the public, including via print and media publication, of the time, location, and “business to be transacted” at the meeting.
Notably, the auditor’s report states, “The City Administrator contract, provided to the Council within their packet before the special meeting on Sept. 4, already had the Mayor’s name filled in.” The report also notes that the city council was “not aware” of Orozco’s plan to create the city administrator position “until September 4, 2018, the date of the special meeting.”
The city council adopted the ordinance, in violation of the OPMA, which prohibits taking final action on any business not specifically identified in the notice setting the special meeting. The council’s approval also violated a separate statute, prohibiting them from taking final action or adopting an ordinance at a special meeting.
Immediately after the council adopted the ordinance, the auditor’s report states, Orozco resigned as mayor.
When the council convened for its regular meeting, it appointed Councilmember Alvarez-Roa mayor. She then appointed Orozco as city administrator, without discussion.
The Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers clearly states that “[n]o municipal officer may use his or her position to secure special privileges or exemptions for himself, herself, or others.” Orozco violated this law by using his position as mayor to create a lucrative position for himself as a city employee.
More information on the OPMA, including trainings for elected officials and an Open Government Resource Manual, is available on the Attorney General’s website here.
Assistant Attorneys General Andrew Hughes and Suzanne Becker handled the case.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com