Sequim speaks and council listens

Built out of a desire to increase transparency and citizen involvement in Sequim’s local government, the city council, in a 5-1 vote, has given the go-ahead to a Citizens Advisory Committee.

The vote came during the council’s regular June 23 meeting. Councilwoman Susan Lorenzen was absent.

The idea for the group was from Councilman Ken Hays, who proposed the committee that would draw membership from both inside and outside the city in order to deal with growth management issues. Hays says that very quickly the concept became something larger and broader — more of a means of strengthening a two-way line of dialogue between Sequim’s government and the city’s residents.

“I’m pleased and proud to say it’s moved forward,” Hays said. “I hope the council will see the value in this.”

The concept was pulled into focus by a committee comprised of residents from the city, as well as the surrounding urban growth area and the county. This group was formed purely for planning reasons, although, according to member Del DelaBarre, some members are interested in applying for the advisory committee.

The fact that people from outside the city limits were the planning committee’s majority had some city councilors concerned the advisory committee also would be comprised mostly of citizens residing in the county or urban growth area.

“I will not vote for this if the majority do not live within the city,” Councilman Walt Schubert said.

The proposed concept for the citizens advisory committee would be to cut the city into four quadrants separated by Washington Street and Sequim Avenue. The committee would have 19 to 22 members, three of whom would be appointed to represent the city, the county and the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. The remainder would have to apply following a public “call for participation.” Out of that pool of applicants, each city council member would be allowed to choose one applicant. The remainder would be appointed by random drawing, allowing for at least three applicants from each quadrant.

“It’s a much broader group than you deal with on a day-to-day basis,” Sharon DelaBarre said. DelaBarre presented the concept for the committee to the city council on June 23.

Schubert expressed concerns regarding political ties and activities one commmittee member had, saying he wanted to make sure “we’re not creating political pods or cells here.”

DelaBarre assured council members the committee was not in any way political, only another avenue of communication between the city and its residents.

Councilman Paul McHugh, who has been a long-standing critic of the committee, said that residents already had a means of communicating their concerns and issues: public comment.

“I’m still struggling with what the responsibilities are going to be,” McHugh said, adding that he worried the committee would not listen or bring forth the concerns of all residents, only the ones they agreed with. “Why does it need to be sanctioned or financed by the city?”

DelaBarre answered that it was never the committee’s intent to filter any information between the community and the government.

“One of the priorities of this group is transparency,” DelaBarre said.

McHugh was the only council member to vote against the advisory committee. The planning group will meet once more to establish a timeline, identify a date for a informational Town Hall meeting and create an application document.

Councilman Bill Huizinga, who supported moving forward with the committee, commended the concept but said he was still unsure if the committee would be as good in practice as it was on paper.

“I’ve never seen a committee of 20 work,” Huizinga said.

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