Earlier this year, Sequim City Manager Charlie Bush, 45, said in a telephone interview to “expect the unexpected in 2020.”
More than a month later that comment echoed in city hall, as Sequim’s lead administrator announced he’s stepping down from his position effective Friday, April 17.
Bush made the decision public during his report at the Feb. 10 Sequim city council meeting.
He told city councilors that the decision was a culmination of events in the last year, and was his choice to resign.
“I did it this early to help with the transition and to help get the ball rolling,” he said.
Bush started in Sequim on Aug. 15, 2015, following city manager Steve Burkett’s retirement.
Deputy Mayor Ted Miller, the longest serving council member, said he appreciated Bush’s time in Sequim.
“I’m very regretful,” Miller said. “I suspect when we find your replacement we’ll have to settle for second best, although I hope we don’t.
“We’ve been privileged with two consecutive city managers who have been extraordinary. I hope for a hat trick and get a third one.”
Bush began contacting city councilors Monday morning about his decision and emailed staff that day.
Bush called his decision a mid-career break to pursue his goal of hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“I’ve been thinking about doing a hike through the Appalachian Trail since I was kid,” he said in an interview.
Mayor William Armacost said in a press release that “life is too short.”
“Those who have a bucket list need to discover the wisdom of a to-do list,” Armacost said. “The key to a full life is discovering the 18-inch highway from your head to your heart. Follow your passion. I want to wish Charlie all the best as he pursues his dream and future endeavors.”
Bush’s decision was a combination of factors including the recent loss of his father, he said.
“I had a lot of cross-country flights to think about it,” he said.
Bush said he was supposed to be out for nine to 10 days, but ended up being out for all of November helping with family matters.
He also said the permitting process for the proposed medication-assisted treatment facility, and the changeover in city council have been “intense experiences,” but reiterated his decision wasn’t due to a single thing.
“It wasn’t political,” he said of his resignation. “Life is more complex than that.”
Community members in public comment and online have called for Bush’s resignation over permit processing for the MAT clinic.
Bush said “it wasn’t a great experience” to have his name mentioned in those discussions. He said there were times he was uncertain he’d still have a job.
This summer, Bush anticipated hiking portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, and if he had lost his job he would have taken an extended hike.
“That was in my head; I was going to do that,” he said.
He chose the Appalachian Trail instead because it’s more rugged and has more elevation gain.
“It’s probably a trail best done when younger, although people of all ages do it,” Bush said.
He plans to begin in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, at the end of April, and hike to Maine, and then go to Georgia and hike back to Harpers Ferry.
Bush said he anticipates finishing his hike in September.
He said his wife, who will join him at some point on the trail, plans to send him resupply boxes from Sequim along his journey with vegan food options because “it’s hard to find vegan food in small shops along the trail.”
Bush said he considered taking a leave of absence, but that he “wanted to hike with an open mind and didn’t think it was fair to request (the leave).”
Once he returns to Sequim, he and his wife will look at future employment options, he said.
Bush has been managing his chronic fatigue since 2011, he said.
“It’s an illness where stress definitely makes it worse,” he said. “It’s the perfect storm where I needed to step away and recharge myself.”
Bush said he went to work with city government at age 23 after finishing his degrees.
“I’ve been doing this a long time, and I never really took that break, so i’m doing it now,” he said.
For now …
Bush has a little more than two months to complete some of his city checklist items. Some of those, he said, include working on broadband issues, resolving the park docent situation at Carrie Blake Community Park, discussing affordable housing options, and others.
In his resignation letter he lists numerous accomplishments. In a follow-up interview, he noted some that stand out include renewing the Transportation Benefit District, helping to establish the YMCA of Sequim, working to reconstruct West Fir Street, establishing a state legislative agenda, establishing a rainy day fund, finishing the Guy Cole Event Center and growing the city’s emergency management training.
Within the city, Bush and staff implemented and developed training and performance models to increase staff’s abilities and output, and enhance community engagement. Under his leadership, the city was recognized on a state and national level for its innovation, partnerships and creative problem-solving.
Despite his decision to leave, Bush said the “dynamics are here” for Sequim to be in a good position.
“It’s a great place. There are great people,” he said. “I helped add my value while I was here. All indications to me was this was a good time to walk away.”
In his letter, Bush said working with city staff was the highlight of his career calling them “engaged, dedicated, caring and highly capable professionals working cohesively as a team.”
No timeline is set for filling Bush’s position yet.
For more information on the City of Sequim, 152 W. Cedar St., visit www.sequimwa.gov or call 360-683-4139.