Talking sewer contracts, council compensation, business relief and much more, new city councilors went through a marathon first official meeting for about four hours Monday.
For the virtual meeting, assistant city manager Charisse Deschenes — acting as interim city clerk — swore in new councilors Kathy Downer, Vicki Lowe and Lowell Rathbun, along with re-elected councilors Rachel Anderson and Brandon Janisse.
New city manager Matt Huish, who started on Nov. 1 after being hired in late September, was also sworn in Monday evening.
“I’ll do everything in my power to serve citizens honorably and energetically,” he said.
A bulk of the meeting came in reports from partnering agencies that either contract with the city for health and human service contracts, recreational services, and/or economic development.
(Editor’s note: A follow-up story on the city-agency partnerships is planned for a later edition.)
Huish said city staff remain in conversations with Sequim-Dungeness Valley Chamber of Commerce staff about allocating up to $250,000 in grants through the city’s Small Business Rapid Relief program. City councilors unanimously approved the amount in November on top of $500,000 previously allocated earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Huish said the city’s increased sales tax revenues may lead some to assume businesses are doing well.
“We’re trying to find out where there are gaps and who is in need and make sure we meet that need,” he said.
Huish added that chamber staff agreed to help distribute the funds again once city council approves policy decisions on the funds.
Mayor William Armacost encouraged doing something earlier because there are businesses hurting.
The item may come up at the council’s next meeting aet for 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10.
Election of mayor/deputy mayor
Councilors agreed to keep the voting process the same as when Armacost and deputy mayor Tom Ferrell were nominated and elected to their two-year positions.
The city council will make nominations on Jan. 10 and vote on the positions, which run through Dec. 31, 2023.
On the city staff hiring side, Huish reported they’re reposting the vacant public works director position to get a deeper candidate pool.
The council unanimously voted to direct staff to prepare a Salary Commission, similar to the City of Port Townsend, to review city council’s compensation.
Anderson proposed the idea saying she favored having a third party do the process.
“In my opinion, to have a third party determine that with comparable cities would be appreciated,” she said.
Anderson said she didn’t have a timeline in mind for a review, but wanted to know if the new councilors wanted to follow previous policy decisions or form a commission.
The city council voted 6-1 on Nov. 8 to rescind a March 22 ordinance allowing future pay increases for all city council seats. Downer proposed a motion to reinstate the pay increases Monday night, but no councilor seconded the motion.
Armacost said Monday that the decision to rescind pay increases was based on increases in gas, food and goods and property taxes and other burdens on businesses and citizens. However, he said he liked involving citizens in the process.
City Attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross said she’d bring back an ordinance to the second January meeting that covers procedures and appointments for councilors to consider.
Sue Hagener, director of administrative services, said the increases would have been less than $10,000 over a year, and that they have some comparable salaries already lined up.
Hearing examiner talks
In 2022, city councilors will once again discuss options for using a hearing examiner.
City staff and councilors agreed to hold a work session in late January/early February about quasi-judicial decisions, the appearance of fairness, and how it relates to using a hearing examiner.
Janisse asked to discuss it because he feels there are multiple projects between developers and staff that would prohibit him from sitting in a quasi-judicial hearing.
“I’d like council to get out of that,” Janisse said, so that he can freely interact with individuals without concerns of fairness.
Last July, city councilors voted 4-3 to let an interim ordinance related to potential city project appeals expire, which would send some appeals to Sequim city councilors for a final decision rather than a hearing examiner.
Councilors approved the interim ordinance during the appeals process for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic after the city’s appointed hearing examiner Phil Olbrechts felt the city’s Municipal Code had an error.
Olbrechts said it prevented him from hearing the tribe’s appeal for the city’s State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) decision under the A-2 process, and any decision he made could be easily overturned in court.
A majority of councilors felt then that a hearing examiner could be hired if needed.
On Monday, Armacost said he felt a work session would be positive and it should bring everyone up to speed on the legality.
Jamestown sewer contract
Councilors voted 6-1, with Armacost opposed, to an updated contract with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, allowing the tribe’s staff to take over daily operations and maintenance of its Blyn sewer system connected to the city’s system.
Sarah VanAusdle, interim public works director, said the former operations agreement brought city staff to Blyn for daily maintenance and servicing, and they were billed for time, equipment and materials.
The new contract would only use city staff for emergencies and service help at a reduction of about $36,000 per year, she said.
“It’s not revenue; it’s costing the city that much,” VanAusdle said.
Armacost asked to pull the agenda item from the consent agenda because he was worried about potential liability due to the tribe agreeing to a limited waiver of sovereign immunity.
He wanted to know if a Jamestown employee was involved in a car wreck while working on the sewer line, if the city could be liable somehow and sued for a large amount of money.
Nelson-Gross said the agreement doesn’t waive every foreseeable scenario but she believes the contract protects the city.
“I feel confident that should issues come about that we have the ability to properly and defend the city,” she said.
Nelson-Gross added that despite the mayor signing the contract, he would not personally be held liable as he’d be acting on behalf of the city.
The city and tribe signed an Interlocal Agreement for Wastewater Disposal in 2018 and updated it in June 2020.