Leaders with the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce issued an open letter to the community last week, backing local businesses and encouraging transparency among local government leaders after an outpouring of negative feedback from national and regional news coverage toward the City of Sequim.
Anji Scalf, the chamber’s executive director, said it’s not hyperbole in the board’s letter from Feb. 8 that they’ve received hundreds of phone calls, emails and letters from people. The comments indicate people do not plan to retire or visit Sequim anymore because of recent events.
The letter was a response to multiple stories, Scalf said, with the biggest complaint from callers being a Jan. 11 city council vote calling for city manager Charlie Bush to resign.
“(Bush) is a really staunch ally of ours and we were able to do a lot of work with our relationship,” Scalf said.
The city and chamber in recent months partnered to distribute more than $500,000 in COVID-19 Rapid Relief business grants for small businesses.
Scalf said the letter was a consensus of chamber staff and its executive board after receiving 30-plus calls a day about the City of Sequim and front desk volunteers being “harangued.”
The chamber’s letter started as a comment on Bush’s accomplishments but changed after the negative feedback came in, Scalf said.
“We realized we needed to make a bigger statement,” she said.
The Chamber’s executive board wrote that a majority of its members have been hit hard by the pandemic.
“Local governments are important partners in our work, and we need local leaders to practice transparent non-partisan governance, and best business practices to stabilize and recover our economy,” the board wrote.
“Instability impacts our business community, and is doing damage to the reputation of our community.”
“The Chamber emphatically stands behind our small businesses — they need our support as they weather the economic storm, not punishment.”
Chamber board president Charla Wright said the letter’s intent was “to show businesses we support them in a non-partisan way.”
“We stand behind them and want to be a constant in the community to help their businesses and help them grow,” Wright said.
“We want to keep the continuity despite what’s going on in Sequim politically.”
The chamber’s letter ends, “We are committed to listening, learning and improving ourselves, and ask our City Government and local leaders to join us in the work to reconcile the divisions in our society, and be better for ALL of our citizens. This the time to pull together as a community.”
Said Wright, “Sequim is still a town with a big heart. We’ve had enough dissension in our community and no one needs to add to it.”
At a city council meeting on Feb. 8, Sequim Mayor William Armacost said new interim city manager Charisse Deschenes, Bush’s assistant city manager, has “the full support of the council and I believe of staff as well” and that he expects “operations of the city to continue smoothly with her as acting city manager.”
Armacost also read a letter he signed and sent to Gov. Jay Inslee on Feb. 1, criticizing the plan grouping Clallam and Jefferson counties with Kitsap and Mason counties. He joined local legislators in criticizing the plan; the criticism came prior to Inslee moving Clallam and other counties into Phase 2.
Armacost said he spoke to other city councilors about options, with most agreeing that a letter was a good first option —followed by a city resolution if not successful.
“We’re 110 percent behind our small businesses,” Armacost said at the meeting.
“We’re going to do everything we can to get your business to get back into a thriving and surviving component. We appreciate all you’ve done to endure.”
Scalf said the board plans to “put the full weight of the chamber behind Deschenes, who has been an excellent partner, moving forward.”
“The city and chamber working together is critical,” Scalf said.
With the letter out to the chamber’s 350-plus members and the community, Scalf said she hopes they know “we’re looking out for them.”
The chamber hosts its annual membership meeting via Zoom at 11:45 a.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 23, with Scalf sharing a “State of the Chamber” presentation; for more information, visit sequimchamber.com.
Wright said the board is exploring a new membership plan, more Chamber offerings, and more in 2021.
“We’re not going to let negative statements bring us down or change our trajectory of business thinking,” she said.
For more information about the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce, 1192 E. Washington St., call 360-683-6197 or email to email@example.com.
Editor’s note: Eran Kennedy, Sequim Gazette advertising director, is a board member for the Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce. — MD