The Independent Advisory Association on Monday canceled a Sequim City Council candidate forum it had planned on Wednesday.
Instead of a forum in council chambers at the Sequim Civic Center, 152 W. Cedar St., the IAA will host a meet-and-greet of candidates on the steps of city hall at 6 p.m. Wednesday, said Donnie Hall, one of the IAA’s two founding principals.
He and fellow IAA founding principal Jim McEntire decided with city officials that the outdoor venue is safer given the recent rise in the spread of COVID-19, according to Hall.
“With COVID going kind of crazy right now, we thought that prudence was the best thing to do,” Hall said. “We didn’t want to take the risk.”
City of Sequim staff earlier this week sent out a letter to all organizations holding reservations with city venues, noting, in part, “To hold an indoor event in City facilities, all participants and attendees must enforce the State and County indoor mask mandate for anyone aged 5 years and older regardless of vaccination status,” and “To help contain the spread of the virus, it is recommended that you consider holding your event at an outdoor venue or online platform.”
Hall said that a second forum planned Oct. 14 is still scheduled and that he and McEntire would weigh the risks as the date approaches.
Ballots will be mailed Oct. 13 for the Nov. 2 general election.
Hall said he was inviting all the candidates for the five open seats to the meet-and-greet.
The five open seats, and candidates vying for them, are city council Position 2: Sarah Kincaid, office holder, Kathy Downer; Position 3: Mike Pence, office holder, Vicki Lowe; Position 4: Rachel Anderson, office holder, Daryl Ness; Position 5: Brandon Janisse, incumbent, Patrick Day; Position 6: Keith Larkin, office holder, Lowell Rathbun.
Four of the Sequim City Council members running for election were appointed, making Janisse, the only previously elected incumbent.
All were invited to the forums. Those backed by the Sequim Good Governance League — Anderson, Downer, Janisse, Lowe and Rathbun — had declined to participate while those listed as “Our Candidates” on the IAA website — Kincaid, Pence, Ness, Day and Larkin were expected to attend.
Janisse said on his Facebook page, Reelect Brandon Janisse Sequim City Council 2021, that a majority of council members attending would violate the Open Public Meetings Act.
Rathbun declined because he believes the forums would unfairly highlight the association’s endorsed candidates, and that there is “little or no chance of being impartial or non-partisan.”
Lowe also declined, saying she intends to participate in a League of Women Voters forum this fall because “they are a trusted organization in our community.”
Anderson said she was not going to attend because there wasn’t a virtual option for people unable to participate in-person due to the pandemic, and she doesn’t believe the group is “independent.”
“It’s two men that hold leadership roles within the Clallam County Republican Party, so it’s far from independent in my eyes,” she said.
Downer said she was looking for a debate, not a forum “where all candidates are lumped together to answer questions.”
Some members of the SGGL had objected that to the use of the council chambers.
“The event is a campaign event masquerading as a non-political candidates’ forum,” said Karen Hogan in a complaint filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission, which she said has not responded to her complaint.
In an emailed answer to a complaint received at the city, Kristina Nelson-Gross, city attorney, said: “We have contacted the PDC regarding the IAA and they indicated that as long as all candidates have been invited and allowing use of City facilities is part of its normal course of business, it is allowed.”