Mayor, city say ‘Coffee’ sessions is no place for personal opinions

Sequim mayor says personal and political opinions he expressed in late August were “inappropriate.”

Mayor William Armacost said it was “inappropriate” to speak about his support of QAnon during a radio broadcast in late August, given that he was representing the City of Sequim.

Armacost and Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush on Sept. 9 released statements regarding the mayor’s comments about QAnon and his recent trip to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally that he made during an Aug. 27 Coffee With the Mayor program on KSQM 91.5 FM.

Bush said the intent of the “Coffee” meetings — previously held in person but moved to the airwaves in May because of the COVID-19 pandemic — is to discuss issues specific to the City of Sequim.

“Any responses to questions reflecting the personal opinion of the mayor do not reflect policy positions of the Sequim City Council or the organization,” Bush said in the statement.

“The Coffee with the Mayor program has taken place with four different mayors. This is the first time since I began working for the city in 2015 that a mayor has commented on national politics that have nothing to do with the City of Sequim,” Bush said.

Armacost said in the Sept. 9 press release: “To date, as mayor I have kept my personal life separate from my professional life and, as a result, I will not comment as mayor on my personal social media presence.

“While I believe that people should fight for truth and freedom, it was inappropriate to respond to this question as mayor during a program designed to talk about City of Sequim issues.”

Armacost spoke during the radio broadcast of his support of QAnon and directed listeners to a video on the conspiracy theory that ends in promoting President Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, who is seeking a second term.

Kim Bradford, director of communications and outreach with the state Public Disclosure Commission, said the commission received a complaint about Armacost’s comments in regard to RCW 42.17A.555.

The state law says: “No elective official nor any employee of his or her office nor any person appointed to or employed by any public office or agency may use or authorize the use of any of the facilities of a public office or agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office …”

Bradford said in an email last week: “That complaint … is under review and a determination has not yet been made.”

Armacost, a salon owner in Sequim, also said he attended the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, held this year from Aug. 7-16 in South Dakota.

Responding to criticism from a letter in the Aug. 19 Sequim Gazette that he should follow health recommendations to self-quarantine for 14 days following the trip, Armacost wrote that the quarantine “is not required of me by science, experience, regulation or custom” and that “now is the time to advance with clear heads, not a time to regress into a pit of panic.”

This year’s Sturgis rally, reportedly attended by about 460,000 people, has been labeled a “superspreader” of the COVID-19 virus by researchers at the Center for Health Economics & Policy Studies at San Diego State University. Joseph J. Sabia, one of the study’s authors, estimated the event could have infected as many as 266,796 people across several states.

The study is described as “fiction” by South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

The Associated Press reported earlier this month that at least 290 cases nationwide were linked to the biker rally, with one death.

Armacost said in the Sept. 9 statement: “In my personal decision to take a vacation this summer, I attended Sturgis. While there, I took proper precautions to protect my health, my family’s health, the health of my patrons upon my return, and the health of the Sequim community.”

Additionally, some Sequim residents have suggested Armacost should not promote a commercial product on the voice-mail of his personal cell phone; a number to which the city of Sequim re-routes callers.

City of Sequim staff said that, although they do have city phone numbers associated with their personal devices, the mayor and other city council members do not have city-supplied cell phones and are not reimbursed or given stipends for any device.

Interview views

At the end of the Aug. 27 KSQM Coffee With the Mayor program, in response to a written question from a listener, Armacost said he supports QAnon, a conspiracy theory that’s gained political traction recently, and he urged listeners to listen to a YouTube video on the topic.

Calling it a “movement that encourages you to think for yourself,” Armacost said that QAnon adherents are “patriots … fighting for humanity, truth, freedom and saving children and others from human traffic … ”

QAnon began in 2017 and is traced to an anonymous online persona claiming to be a government insider seeking to expose the “deep state” which is said to be working against Trump.

According to media reports, QAnon claims that public figures and institutions are secretly involved with child trafficking and civil unrest.

According to Kevin Roose’s New York Times profile of the organization, “QAnon is the umbrella term for a sprawling set of internet conspiracy theories that allege, falsely, that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.”

Further, the Times reports, some QAnon followers also believe that, “in addition to molesting children, members of this group kill and eat their victims in order to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood.”

Some of the most popular QAnon groups on Facebook, Roose wrote, have more than 100,000 members apiece.

“Even if you count only the hard-core QAnon believers — excluding “QAnon-lite” adherents who might believe in a deep state plot against Mr. Trump, but not a cabal of child-eating Satanists — the number may be at least in the hundreds of thousands,” the Times story noted.

Multiple national news outlets point out that the QAnon theories have no basis in fact.

Armacost was unavailable for further comment about the extent of his QAnon views.

The Coffee with the Mayor program was developed in 2013 as a forum for the city’s mayor to meet informally with community members who have questions, comments or concerns regarding the city. They are held at 8 a.m. on the fourth Thursday of the each month.

The program on KSQM is recorded and recordings — including the Aug. 27 interview — are posted online at www.sequimwa.gov/600/Coffee-with-the-Mayor.

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