City manager Charlie Bush’s tenure with Sequim tentatively ends this week, but contention against Mayor William Armacost continues.
The city issued a press release Monday afternoon announcing Bush and the Sequim city council have agreed to his resignation.
Bush said in a phone interview on Monday that he signed the agreement on Sunday, Feb. 7, and that his last day will be Friday, Feb. 12.
“What’s next is up in the air because of COVID,” Bush said. “I’ll be thinking a lot and refocusing while hiking.“
He continues to not comment on the situation regarding his resignation. Doing so could jeopardize a severance package that includes six months of pay ($60,000), along with $23,256 in unused vacation time and 12 months of paid health insurance.
City councilors voted 4-2 to call for his resignation on Jan. 11 after an executive session and agreed two weeks later in another 4-2 vote to the severance agreement.
Bush has seven days to revoke his decision after signing it, but did not indicate he plans to do so. The press release was part of the agreement between Bush and the city.
Armacost said in the release, “As you all know, these last few weeks have been difficult. Due to philosophical differences between Charlie and certain members of the City Council on some issues facing the City, we had decided that it would be in everyone’s best interest to part ways.”
Armacost continued, “Charlie appreciates the support shown for him by the community and the employees. The City Council appreciates how professionally Charlie and the employees have handled the transition.
“Speaking for myself, I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with Charlie Bush during my time on City Council. I personally want to thank Charlie for rescinding his resignation when we were hit with the COVID-19 Pandemic. We will always be grateful in our time of need and his service to the Council and the community.”
Armacost also read a city-agreed upon statement at Monday’s city council meeting with similar sentiment to the press release.
He said that “Charlie and I agree that this coverage has been overblown (about conflict between him and city councilors), and we do not want that focus to news to detract from the years of productive work we have done together. Nor do I want the fact of Charlie’s resignation to take away from his contributions to the City.”
Some of the accomplishments Armacost listed include Bush “successfully leading Sequim through the COVID-19 pandemic,” “the reconstruction of Fir Street,” and “further development of the City of Sequim into a High Performing Organization.”
Armacost thanked Bush for his professionalism in the transition and that the council fully supports assistant city manager Charisse Deschenes as acting city manager while they search for a new city manager.
After the Jan. 11 meeting, Armacost said in an interview that Bush did nothing illegal and his resignation was “a combination of things over quite a while” and “not a knee-jerk reaction.”
He has not commented further, citing privacy concerns with the executive sessions.
In Feb. 2020, Bush announced his plan to resign to hike the Appalachian Trail, but with the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic he asked to be reinstated, and council members agreed on March 23.
In his current resignation press release, Bush said “the opportunity to serve Sequim as City Manager was one of the highlights of my career to date.
“I am grateful to the City Council for the opportunity to work here over the past five-and-a-half years, to our staff for their steadfast dedication to excellence, and to our community for their love of Sequim. I wish everyone well.”
Calls for resignation
Some community members, sometimes associating themselves with the group Save Our Sequim (S0S), have called for Bush’s resignation in the past two years as he was seen as a main figure in the approval process of the proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT). They said they felt Bush led the application process to a staff review approval rather than allowing for more public input and a city council review, which is still being petitioned for in Clallam County Superior Court.
Now some community members with the new group Sequim Good Governance League, who led a petition to retain Bush, have called for Armacost’s removal related to Bush’s resignation and his alleged support for QAnon.
In last August’s Coffee with the Mayor program on KSQM, Armacost encouraged listeners to seek out a video explaining QAnon. However, on January’s Coffee with the Mayor, when answering questions from Kyung Lah, a CNN senior national correspondent, over the air, Armacost said he’s “never endorsed or said I was a QAnon supporter.”
Media reports state QAnon beliefs hold that some public figures and institutions are secretly involved with child trafficking and civil unrest, and that President Donald Trump has a secret plan to bring this group to justice.
When asked by Lah if he’d resign in regards to his opposition, Armacost replied, “We’re all entitled to our own opinion.”
At Monday’s city council meeting, a few of Armacost’s detractors and supporters spoke up.
Ken Stringer, a member of the Sequim Good Governance League, said national attention on Sequim related to Armacost and QAnon is damaging Sequim’s image, reputation and economy.
“The path we are heading on now is in the wrong direction and a dangerous direction,” he said. “You can still change course. I urge you to do so now by selecting a new mayor.”
Shenna Younger, also a league member, said she’s heard from countless citizens in and out of city limits that “the message is consistent and clear that we need a new mayor.”
She said, “If you really care about Sequim, like you say you do, allow Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell to be the face of the city. Please step down.”
Linda Melos of Sunland said she was appalled at the “witch hunt” directed at Armacost and that “people should be more open-minded and not be stoning people who don’t believe what we believe.”
She questioned if those calling for his resignation are in the majority. She said she thinks Armacost is a great mayor and hopes he stays in the position.
Sequim resdient Colleen Rayburn said there’s a vocal group in the minority who “look to silence concerns about the methadone clinic (MAT).”
“It’s cancel culture on steroids,” she said. “QAnon is the new headline.”
She said some people either seek personal gain or to bully city councilors for opposing the clinic.
“I appreciate the mayor standing up for the citizens of Sequim and hope the city council will not be bullied,” Rayburn said.
Prior to an executive session in a special meeting on Jan. 31 to discuss Deschenes’ job duties, councilor Brandon Janisse asked via email to discuss “how we are going to address the negative light the city is now in.”
He wrote, “We need to discuss steps on how we are going to improve public relations, our image in the community at large, how we are going to build trust again, but within the city and public, and how we are going to protect city staff from a negative agenda.”
Janisse spoke briefly on the topic at Monday’s meeting saying he wanted to present questions to the council about the city’s image as a whole and it wasn’t centered on one single issue.
“(We’ve) been hit left and right with everything under the sun,” he said.
He described how citizens were feeling as “tense … it’s just a powder keg.”
Some of the questions he posed were: “How are we going to improve our public relations with the public and the community at large?” and “How are we going to build trust not only with constituents but as a whole with each other?”
“Riffs have begun to open up. How do we trust each other?” Janisse said. “Right now, people should be worried about kids, school, finances, jobs, every worry out there; not being able to trust their government should not be a worry for our citizens.”
He referenced an open letter to the community from the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce from Monday; the letter quoted Thomas J. Donohue, CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: “We call on all elected officials across the country and at every level of government to promote calm in their communities.”
The letter also states that “hundreds of phone calls, emails and letters have poured into our offices from deeply concerned citizens, customers, and business owners. Folks who have decided not to retire here, shop here, or even visit because of concerns about recent events.
“The Chamber emphatically stands behind our small businesses – they need our support as they weather the economic storm, not punishment.”
Janisse said “we want to make sure we’re not pushing people away or from starting businesses in the city.”
Armacost said building trust with councilors and the public was a good point.
He added that they’ve been unable to hold an annual advance (retreat) as councilors because of the pandemic, which has prevented them from meeting in-person and doing critical thinking together.
Armacost expressed an interest in “developing that trust (between constituents and councilors) and looking at those concerns of council ethics.” He also encouraged councilors to review parliamentary procedures.
Janisse said he’d look to discuss the topic later when Ferrell was in attendance.