Six of the nine candidates seeking to fill a vacant spot on the Sequim City Council got a chance to detail their views and qualifications on Feb. 9 at a virtual forum.
The Sequim Good Governance League, a new group seeking more transparency, respect and reasoned dialogue in local government, hosted its first of two scheduled virtual Sequim City Council applicant forums on Tuesday, Feb. 9.
Candidates introduced themselves and talked on a range of topics including solutions for bringing the community together, criteria for hiring a new city manager, and their stance on the proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic.
Candidates Rachel Anderson, Janine Bocciardi, Kathy Downer, Vicki Lowe, Daryl Scott Ness and Lowell Rathbun were in attendance.
Karen Hogan, co-communications chair for the League, said other candidates Cynthia Dinan was ill, David Rich had family obligations, and Autumn Wolfgang could not be reached.
The nine candidates seek an appointment from the city council to fill former mayor/councilor Dennis Smith’s vacant seat after he resigned in January.
The position would be the fourth appointment in 12 months for the city council. Five of the seven council seats go up for election in November.
A second forum was set for Tuesday, Feb. 16, but now Sequim city councilors set their special meeting to interview and potentially select a candidate at 6 p.m. that night with more information at www.sequimwa.gov.
The League rescheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 15.
More than 50 people attended the first online forum (including the candidates).
When asked why they seek an appointment to the council, Lowe, executive director of the American Indian Health Commission for Washington State, said health and human services agencies and the people they support need a voice on council.
“It’s a part of our community that is more marginalized and needs more of a voice,” Lowe said.
Ness, a retired railroad worker, said he felt his management skills could be helpful to the council.
Rathbun, a retired engineer, said he holds three main reasons for seeking an appointment: the city should take more action for families and lower income people, increase awareness for human services needs in the city, and seek to return to civil discourse.
Anderson, an OlyCAP and Sequim Education Foundation board member and full-time student, said she doesn’t feel that “young families and low income people are truly represented” on council, and, “I’d really like to be a voice for them.”
Downer, a retired nurse, cited her experience as a former city councilor and how she served on committees for streets and utilities, working across party lines to get things done.
Bocciardi, an educational database designer and coder, said her political activism began with promoting school bonds and levies in her neighborhood saying “education is paramount to most things including good council work” and that she seeks educational equity.
City manager criteria
Candidates were also asked about their criteria for choosing a city manager following the exit of Charlie Bush after four of six councilors called for his resignation on Jan. 11.
Downer said the person needs to be experienced and hold a vast background in project management and human resources similar to Bush’s requirements.
Ness said they need to look for someone like Bush with experience in finance and development and knows how to bring jobs to the area.
Lowe said the person should have an “eye to equity,” which Bush focused on, adding, “It will be hard to replace him.”
Bocciardi said a city manager must have a good grasp on public policy in the city, county and state.
Anderson said experience and accomplishments are key along with their people skills and ability to work with a team.
During a portion of the forum concerning diversity on the council — and a possible mandate to have a minimum number of women — Anderson said she hopes more women would be “brave enough to run as a candidate.”
She added, “Part of the problem is not enough people vote.”
Rathbun urged councilors to appoint any of the women to the position, asking why the council would want to “put another old white man on the council.”
Bocciardi said that six women applying for the position is “a great start.”
“We do have a slightly larger demographic of women in this town (and) it’d be lovely if it represented it,” she said.
One forum listener, Donna MacLean, said she felt current city councilors select people of the same mindset and background.
“What’s to prevent them from appointing another one of their applicants?” MacLean asked.
Not expecting to be selected
In recent months community members have sparred in-person and online over support for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and its efforts to build a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic within city limits; lawsuits have resulted over the permitting process.
Lowe said she agrees with the clinic, and had a front row seat to the opioid epidemic and contrary to rumors she did not write a grant for the clinic’s funding.
Lowe said she doesn’t expect to be appointed, citing racism — “I know I won’t be chosen because apparently my Indian blood makes me biased,” she said — but that she plans to run for an open seat in November.
Anderson said she doesn’t believe she’ll be picked either possibly because of her perceived appearance as Native American.
“I know life isn’t fair (but) it’s important for everyone to be represented,” Anderson said. “It’s not about me looking native. It’s about me wanting to serve my community.”
Anderson said she also will likely run for a city council seat in November if not selected.
Another listener asked whether or not candidates support the MAT clinic, to which Bocciardi replied, “my views should have nothing to do with the MAT clinic in Sequim” because the council was not involved in the planning decision.
“How we feel about that shouldn’t even come into bearing,” she said.
Anderson said she sees the clinic as a “healing center.”
She said she worked hard to overcome a family history of alcoholism, and that she believes “everybody goes through hardship.”
When asked about methods for healing division in Sequim, outreaching to the community and being honest were principle points for candidates.
Ness said it’s important to find the best city manager replacement, seek what citizens want and find some common ground.
Downer shared a similar sentiment that councilors must seek input from constituents because “you represent everybody.”
“You are there to be the go-between with residents,” Downer said, adding that councilors should try to get citizens involved at all levels.
Rathbun feels restoring trust is less on the city council and more on the people so that the “city council is not allowed to go off and do weird stuff.”
Lowe said residents and councilors “have to be honest we have a problem.”
“I don’t see our current city council seeing that we have that,” she said.
Lowe said she felt reaching out to people who work at night and unable to attend meetings is important.
Anderson said being “honest and upfront” is important.
“(I’ve) tried to live life that way,” she said.
As a follow-up question on creating a “Sequim we want it to be,” Lowe said she feels Sequim is the way it should be but is a “fixer upper.” She said she wants to give more of a voice to marginalized people and advocate for affordable/workforce housing and family-wage jobs.
Bocciardi said Sequim should focus on evidence-based methodology and data-based reasoning.
She also wants local leaders to lead by example, and not stop trying to get people to pay attention to issues.
Moderator Ken Stringer asked candidates about the pros and cons of Sequim’s current form of government.
Bocciardi said she sees Sequim’s council-manager form of government set up so “the council isn’t taking over and doing things not in the best interest of the city” and that the city manager and staff have the expertise to best run a city.
Downer said she doesn’t have an issue with the current form of council-manager setup so long as the city has “an invaluable city manager like we did with Mr. Bush.”
She added, “We don’t realize how lucky we were when we had him.”
Lowe echoed that Bush was a great manager and prefers the current government system because “we’ve come a long way with this form of government.” Having an elected mayor made more sense when there were less people and issues, she said.
Ness said elected officials should be making the decisions but said he comes from bigger cities. He added that city staff should receive their goals from the city council.
“I kind of like the elected official route, but I wish we had an elected mayor that people had voted in,” he said.
Both Anderson and Rathbun shared sentiment that the City of Sequim’s staff is knowledgeable and superb.
“It’s important that the council is more advisory and that they listen to city staff input … and represent issues constituents might have,” Anderson said.
Rathbun added that the city council “serves as a policy interface between what they want and the policies they’d like to see staff carried out.”
“Politics should stay out of day-to-day operations of the city (and) it should be run on a professional basis,” he said.
Editor’s note: not all candidates answered the questions or were able to for various reasons. — MD