In the coming days, Charlie Bush’s tenure as Sequim city manager will end.
City councilors agreed on Monday to a severance package with Bush in a 4-2 vote, two weeks after the same councilors called for his resignation.
As part of the agreement, Bush will receive six months of pay ($60,000) along with $23,256 in unused vacation time and 12 months of paid health insurance.
Bush said he would not comment on the agreement and that he might sign it by Tuesday, Jan. 26; if he does, Bush has seven days to revoke his decision, but if not his time with the city ends on the eighth day.
The agreement states once it’s signed by Bush, a press release will go out saying the reason for the resignation and agreement were “philosophical differences between the City Council and City Manager.”
Both Bush and the city would review and approve the release, which is to include positive notes about his accomplishments and time in the city.
The agreement was approved Jan. 25 after a 45-minute executive decision.
Councilors also agreed unanimously to appoint Charisse Deschenes, assistant city manager, as the interim city manager. Mayor William Armacost and Deschenes will negotiate a salary for approval at a later date, city officials said.
Rally for Bush
Council’s decision came a few hours after more than a hundred people rallied in downtown Sequim seeking the council to retain Bush.
Members of the new group Sequim Good Governance League submitted a petition with 1,239 signatures asking to retain Bush to the city council with more than 680 people designating their city as Sequim, including at least four former Sequim city councilors.
“We want to let Charlie know that his community is behind him, and he’s a great city manager,” said Shenna Younger, a member of the Sequim Good Governance League and founder of the petition.
“This community is not OK with the actions of our city council.”
For part of the severance, Bush would agree to release the city and past and present city councilors from future claims. He also agreed to state to future employers he resigned from his position.
City councilor Brandon Janisse and Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell spoke out against the call for Bush’s resignation with Janisse saying at the Jan. 11 meeting to Bush, “I don’t agree with what’s going on. I’m sorry you’re being put through this.”
Rescind of resignation motion denied
On Monday, Ferrell asked if they could vote to rescind the resignation “because of the clamor.”
“We owe it to the citizens to show we’re looking into it again,” he said. “Our four people who voted yes have seen a lot. I thought it would be appropriate to make that motion.”
Armacost, who made the original motion on Bush’s resignation, denied the motion because he felt it was past the point to add items to the meeting’s agenda.
“There’s been a fair amount of time and energy … that brought us to this point,” he said.
“I question the intent behind rescinding it other than the obvious. I don’t know if it’s going to change the outcome.”
Armacost said his inbox has “been inundated with emails since the last council meeting” and he doesn’t believe the “public comment today was much different than from a certain group of individuals sharing their thoughts.”
Armacost added, “We’re in a democracy and that’s a beautiful thing. That is why we have public input.
“However, if we’re going to stick to a rule of order, this should have been brought up at the beginning or prior to the session beginning. (There’s been) ample opportunity to add this to the agenda.”
Both Armacost and Bush choose not to comment on any specifics of the resignation. However, Armacost said on Jan. 11 in a phone interview it was “a combination of things over quite a while” and “not a knee-jerk reaction.”
Councilors Keith Larkin and Sarah Kincaid, who voted for Bush’s resignation and severance, wouldn’t comment either, but Kincaid said QAnon was not an issue related to the resignation.
Bush and Armacost seemed to clash last summer when he told the mayor it was inappropriate for him to share his support for QAnon after a listener question on a Coffee with an Aug. 27 Mayor KSQM radio broadcast. Armacost publicly voiced his support for QAnon, a conspiracy theory whose supporters allege a cabal of elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business and the media are plotting against President Donald Trump.
Armacost later said in a statement it was inappropriate for him to air his personal views on the program, while Bush said the mayor’s opinions do not reflect policy positions of the city.
Bush has been called out by community members opposed to the location of the medication-assisted treatment (MAT) facility for his role in its permitting process, but it’s not publicly stated by any city officials if this played a part in the call for the resignation.
Bush said was planning to resign last February to hike the Appalachian Trail but due to the spread of COVID-19, he asked to be reinstated, which councilors agreed to do on March 23.
Some supporters and detractors of Bush spoke during the 40-minute public comment session.
City resident Nicole Hartman questioned the council’s “lack of transparency” with appointing new members and Bush’s resignation.
“I fail to understand why you would call for the resignation of a highly qualified individual who has built relationships and brought Sequim into a strong position,” she said.
Hartman called the “philosophical difference” as not having “anything substantive to back up this decision.”
She said, “That is not acceptable when three of those voting to remove Charlie were not elected by the people you serve. If there is no just cause for asking for Charlie’s resignation, then it does not make good fiscal or ethical sense to go through a complicated recruitment process during a pandemic, only to try to find someone we can only hope to be as much of a leader as Charlie has been.”
Ken Stringer, a Sequim resident who lives outside of city limits, said the area has “benefited enormously during Bush’s tenure” and he questions why he was asked to resign.
He asked if they don’t value “a demonstrated record of professional competence,” “good governance” and “greater inclusivity and open, honest, civil dialogue about the obstacles we face.”
“Or are the ‘philosophical differences’ actually policy or political differences?” Stringer asked.
He added that Bush led the city to approve the MAT facility, which has been upheld through administrative and judicial reviews and that “it’s no secret that many of you remain unalterably opposed to the MAT clinic and intend to continue fighting it.”
Springer also questions why Armacost hasn’t disavowed QAnon, saying, “any elected representative that traffics in or spreads the malicious absurdities of QAnon or its off shoots is not a practitioner of good governance. Is that why you want Mr. Bush to resign?”
Springer added, “Sorry, folks, this whole thing just don’t pass the smell test.”
Gayle Baker of Sequim questions where the “uproar” was when Bush resigned last year.
She said when COVID-19 hit, reinstating Bush seemed necessary but “in hindsight, that probably wasn’t the best decision by council because it’s led to where we are today … with opposition against the MAT still raging and Charlie Bush the poster child for the MAT’s evolution.”
Baker said she feels supporters of Bush feel he is essential because he’s seen as “pro-MAT.”
Baker said, “The pro MAT faction is not content with the legal process determining the outcome of the MAT. They are afraid they will lose because they know the Rule of Law is not on their side.”
She said law was “perverted” with the MAT’s permit acceptance, hiring of the hearing examiner instead of an “uninterested part,” a change in city code on a Saturday night to keep land use permits with the hearing examiner, and “with reckless interpretation by the city’s hired attorney as to what the elected City Council is allowed to do or not do, hear or not hear, see or not see.”
She said bullying the city council is not acceptable and they were “elected and appointed to represent the citizens of Sequim.
“So sorry that all of them are not of your political affiliation. Get over it! It’s called Democracy.”
To Bush, Baker said he hopes he’ll reflect on his “role in the destruction of what used to be a sweet, quiet, friendly community.”
“It didn’t have to be this way, by following city code and by doing the job you were hired by the city to do, you would have determined that this location is wrong for a drug rehab center and you and your staff would have denied the permit,” Baker said.
A Clallam County Superior court decision on a Land Use Petition Act (LUPA) appeal by Save Our Sequim (SOS) has not been determined as of Tuesday to make city staff review the MAT clinic’s application again under a different process.
A hiring process for Bush’s replacement has not been established yet.