Sequim city councilors at a Feb. 22 meeting donned hard hats handed out by City Attorney Craig Ritchie to emphasize their new duties as directors of the Transportation Benefit District. Sequim Gazette photo by Brian Gawley
After two contentious elections that saw a massive change on the city council and a protracted search for a new city manager, Sequim city politics seem to have settled into a new period of calm.
How long that period lasts and where the city goes from here remain unknown, but the new mayor, Ken Hays, and new city manager, Steve Burkett, say the first step in that process is the March 5-6 council retreat.
“I’ve seen a lot of real positive things and I’m working well with the city council. There’s been a lot of 4-3 votes but not huge conflict,” Burkett said.
Knew of turmoil
He understands there’s been a lot of turmoil but that was something he researched before taking the job, Burkett said. He wanted to make sure that wasn’t an inherent part of Sequim.
Hays said the tremendous growth the city saw a few years ago was sudden and hard to grasp for many people. The slowing of that growth and changes in city government and on the council will help the city deal with effects of that growth, he said.
Hays, along with Laura Dubois, Erik Erichsen and Susan Lorenzen, was part of a new council majority elected in 2007.
Dubois followed longtime councilor Walt Schubert as mayor and served in that role for two years. She now is deputy mayor.
Burkett was selected unanimously in October 2009 to fill the city manager position left vacant since the new council majority fired Bill Elliott in May 2008.
Putting pros in charge
Hays said they are solidifying the transfer of the city to professionals such as Burkett.
“What I saw initially was the pendulum had swung too far in one direction.
“It was never with any malicious intent but it was not managed well at the city level.
“Steve is exactly the person we were seeking to help us transition to a small rural city,” he said.
“Sequim is a pretty harmonious place. I came on the council to put the pendulum back to the middle. I don’t want it to swing too far the other way,” Hays said.
Burkett said he hopes to develop an agenda, how the city will look in 10 years, at the March 5-6 retreat.
Hays said that was something the new councilors lacked when they took office two years ago.
“It appeared we had an agenda but not really, and that’s the problem,” he said.
Burkett said there’s a perception of a no-growth approach in the city but that’s an impossibility.
“We can’t control growth either way, people will move here if it’s an attractive place to live. The question is how are we going to grow?”
Hays said the proposed impact fees are one part of how the city is going to grow.
A public hearing on the proposed impact fees is set for 6 p.m. Monday, March 8, followed by a council meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, March 22, both at the Transit Center, where adopting the fees will be considered. They also will be discussed at the March 5-6 council retreat.
Hays said impact fees aren’t about regulating growth but paying for it; it’s fiscal responsibility.
“If the city can meet its obligations, there won’t be as much as anxiety,”
Hays said nobody likes to pay more but there’s been a conversation on what is reasonable and he’s been really impressed.
Developers want a development process that is reliable, predictable, fair and consistent so they know how to arrange their financing, he said.
“A good development process can cost less.”
Maintaining the city’s downtown
core in face of “big box” development on the city’s edges is an issue common to many cities and one that the proposed sub-area plan is supposed to address.
Burkett said Ted Miller, while campaigning, found a lot of angst regarding residential development, but people were split pretty evenly regarding big box development.
Hays said cities have tried to control big box developments but it’s so important to complement a city’s downtown, a city can have both.
Burkett said some of the best cities have both big box stores and a downtown.
Hays, an architect for more than 20 years, also sees opportunity in what has been a major issue for many cities, including Port Angeles: storm water.
The city needs to deal with it, which probably will be done with a storm water utility as Port Angeles has done, he said.
But Hays also said since storm water never has been an issue here on the prairie, this is an opportunity to use it as a resource by filtering it and returning it to the groundwater.
Reach Brian Gawley at firstname.lastname@example.org.