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Unrest continues at Mabton Council meeting

MABTON -Mabton City Councilman Mario Martinez asked Mabton City Attorney Phil Lamb at last night's regularly scheduled council meeting about the possibility of the city suing Mabton Mayor Velva Herrera for the way she has handled the city's affairs.

"Our city finances are dwindling because of the neglect shown by the mayor," a visibly irritated Martinez told Lamb. "Someone has got to take responsibility."

What drew Martinez's ire was information he said he received this week informing him that the city has not been forwarding a portion of the funds it receives from municipal court to the county. This, he said, has resulted in the city owing Yakima County more than $107,000.

What's worse, Martinez added, is that only $10,000 was appropriated in the 2009 budget to cover any costs the city might incur in a PERC hearing dealing with a fired employee. The city ended up losing the PERC hearing and had to pony up nearly $65,000 in back pay and benefits to the employee.

Martinez claimed Herrera thought the city would win the case so only budgeted money for legal fees. This, he said, has left the city nearly $200,000 over budget for 2009.

That number can't be verified because the city still doesn't have its 2008 numbers finalized.

Results from a recent audit have yet to be released but Martinez said it will show there are no internal controls at City Hall. His ultimate goal, he said, is for the city to sue the mayor for any money that was overspent. He later claimed that in Herrera's term as mayor the city has overspent its budget by $400,000.

Lamb, who seemed surprised by the request, told Martinez he felt the best course of action was to wait until the audit report is released. He said he believes the report will be a searing, critical document. Lamb said it will show the city didn't track receipts or expenditures, was over budget every year and can't prove how any thing was resolved.

"I feel the best action to take is to wait for the audit and tackle it from there," Lamb said.

Lamb also reminded Martinez that this is an election year and elections have a way of resolving problems. He said if the city took litigation against the mayor it wouldn't be until two or three years down the road before any decision was made. Another concern was money.

"You don't have the money to war with each other," he told Martinez.

After the meeting the mayor claimed Martinez's request was politics as usual.

"If they want my job so bad why don't they just run for it like I did," she said.

Herrera earlier this year said that she will not run for mayor in the November election. Asked again last night by the Daily Sun News if she still has no plans to run, Herrera said, "no comment."

Another subject that irritated Martinez was the revelation that the city would not get two grants administered by the Office of Community, Trade and Economic Development. One grant was for water rights and a new well and the other was for a sewer system report.

Martinez said the reason the grants were denied was because the city didn't receive a high enough rating. This was due, he said, to two grants the city received in the 1990s still were not closed out. A concern over whether City Hall had people with the expertise to administer the grants was also a concern for the Office of Community, Trade and Economic Development, he said.

Mabton City Clerk Kitty Zavala is scheduled to attend a CDBG Grant Administration workshop in June but both Martinez and fellow councilman Angel Reyna are against her attending, citing the concern of wasting money.

Both Martinez and Reyna have said they have no confidence in the job Zavala has done as city clerk. They repeatedly ask for current budget numbers and to see the final 2008 numbers but have yet to see them.

Zavala said she feels she is being attacked by Martinez and is being unfairly targeted. Zavala said she inherited the financial mess the city is in and has received only minimal training.

Martinez has called for her to resign in the past.

Despite last night's drama the council was able to get some city business done in the nearly three and a half hour meeting.

Mayor Herrera read a statement she was ordered to read at a city council meeting concerning Frank Tijerina. It was Tijerina that was fired by the mayor and then was reinstated after a PERC hearing.

The statement revealed that the city of Mabton did discriminate against Tijerina and will not do it again. The council also approved funds up to $65,000 to cover costs of back pay and benefits for Tijerina.

The council also passed the consent agenda although not without some drama.

Martinez wanted to pull the payroll from the agenda. He stated he didn't feel comfortable authorizing payroll when he knows a city employee is manipulating the time clock. He said this employee wasn't working the full 40 hours but was getting paid for it.

Lamb suggested to Martinez he share this information with him in private, stating it will be privileged that way. Lamb also suggested to the mayor that she immediately review time clock procedures.

Martinez declined to reveal which employee he thought was cheating the time clock.

Council voted 3-1, with Martinez the lone no vote, to approve the payroll.

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