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State auditor finds many violations of state law in Wapato

May 2, 2019

YAKIMA, Wash. (AP) — The state auditor has found numerous violations of Washington law that have damaged the finances of the city of Wapato, especially in the case of a former elected mayor who created a high-paying position of city administrator and then was appointed to the job.

In a letter sent Thursday to Wapato Mayor Dora Alvarez-Roa, Washington State Auditor Pat McCarthy said her office investigated after it was contacted by residents of the Yakima Valley town concerned about the actions.

“These audits speak to a basic lack of accountability and transparency in the city,” McCarthy said. “The situation in Wapato is deeply concerning.”

Wapato is a farm town of 4,500 residents located just south of Yakima. It has an annual budget of $7.4 million and 36 full-time employees.

The state audit released Thursday found:

—Former mayor Juan Orozco resigned his elected position last September and was immediately appointed by Alvarez-Roa to a lucrative new job of city administrator that he had created. The auditor found that Orozco violated the Code of Ethics for Municipal Officers when he created the position and benefits for a job he was later appointed to fill. Orozco was given a seven-year contract at a salary of $95,000 a year, use of a new sport utility vehicle and a $500 monthly allowance for gas. The auditor noted the salary is “much higher than the market rate.” The auditor’s office ruled that no municipal officer may use their position to secure special privileges or exemptions from hiring requirements.

—The city violated its nepotism policy.

—Did not competitively bid for the purchase of two vehicles, a swimming pool project and engineering services.

—Did not have adequate controls over cash receipts, billing, payroll or credit card activity.

—Did not monitor its financial activity, resulting in a big decline in its financial health.

—City Council meetings were not properly advertised and did not provide adequate notice to residents and one meeting was held without a quorum. The city violated the law by not holding regular meetings at regular times.

“These are serious issues, and resolving them will be challenging,” McCarthy said.

Five civil tort claims have been filed in the last month by Wapato residents, alleging wrongful termination of employment, ongoing harassment and defamation by Orozco.

In February, a state audit found that $308,199 in city money was misappropriated between 2011 and 2017. The city also identified bank deposits that did not include all money collected. The Auditor’s Office investigation found that a former deputy clerk embezzled the money, and the case was turned over to prosecutors. The auditor also found that accounting practices at the city were not adequate to safeguard public resources.