Recruitment for a new Sequim city manager is now open and will continue through at least early July.
Sequim city councilors agreed in a special virtual meeting Wednesday, June 3, to post a Sequim profile created by consulting firm Colin Baenziger & Associates to use in finding the city’s next top administrator.
The firm interviewed all seven city councilors and several city staffers, and held a virtual forum on May 28 to garner information on what Sequim wants in a leader.
Councilor Keith Larkin, who serves as the city liaison to the firm, said the profile is a compilation of input from various sources. The profile went live on Friday, June 4, through the firm’s resources, he said.
Applications will be open through July 2 and screened July 3-Aug. 16, with finalist interviews tentatively scheduled for Aug. 26 and 27.
Councilors voted 6-1 — with Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell opposed — to post the online profile that describes Sequim and the surrounding area positively, along with the area’s history, and advantages such as recreational opportunities and fair weather.
Along with the city’s demographics, cost of living and other numbers, the firm analyzed city operations and current conflicts.
Some city councilors and community members asked one sentence be changed about the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe with the profile saying “… Their decision to open a medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic in Sequim has been the source of some local controversy.”
Councilor Rachel Anderson said she’d like something more positive and that it’s time to move past the issue.
“I know I’m new and controversies are important to know, but I feel it’s important to move past it and look forward to the future and come together as a community,” she said.
Brent Simcosky, the tribe’s health services director, phoned into the public comments portion of the special meeting to say he felt the profile was positive and that it’s fair to mention the MAT clinic.
However, Simcosky contested that the clinic was not “the source of some local controversy,” saying the tribe legally purchased the property which was allowed under city code.
“We’re going to put up this clinic after the first of the year and it’s not going to have any negative impact on the community,” he said.
The profile also states that the next city manager will face the challenge of bringing the community together following conflict over the clinic and that “groups formed on both sides and it became personal.
“Allegations have been made about motives and lack of transparency, (and) the termination of the most recent, permanent City Manager (Charlie Bush) added to the divide.”
The firm wrote, “The next Manager will need to work diligently to heal the wounds and bridge the gaps. Ensuring maximum transparency and communication will go a long way towards solving the problem.”
As for the city’s ideal candidate, the firm listed dozens of qualities, stating the candidate should be accomplished and professional, a team builder, a healer, a superb communicator, unquestioned in integrity, active in the community, forward thinking and more.
Some community members and city councilors continued to ask why a majority of councilors are going forward with a city manager search prior to November when five council seats are up for election.
Councilors voted 4-1 on April 30 to work with Colin Baenziger & Associates to start the search again similar to 2015 when they led a search for Sequim that resulted in the hiring of Bush. A new search is on after Bush was asked to resign in January over “philosophical differences.”
Assistant city manager Charisse Deschenes accepted the interim city manager role in February, signing a six-month contract through August.
Ferrell and councilor Brandon Janisse — who voted against asking Bush to resign — were absent for the April meeting with Ferrell saying on June 3 he was/is supportive of Bush and Deschenes.
He said there could be “dramatic changes” in the makeup of the council and with a potential city manager hired before the election that person could be asked to leave a few months later.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Ferrell said.
Lynelle Klein with the search firm said a good candidate would understand that and adapt to change. She said there was a similar situation in the City of Burien but the city manager remains today.
However, Ferrell said he felt with Bush’s resignation it was more contentious and he that the profile doesn’t explain that situation well.
“There’s no reason to zip through this with an election coming up,” Ferrell said. “In a sense, it’s irresponsible.”
Janisse agreed with Ferrell, saying Deschenes is a “more than qualified candidate.”
Mayor William Armacost said when Bush opted to resign for personal reasons in February 2020 there was no response or outcry and “we responded as professionals; it was a decision he made and we accepted it.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, Armacost said councilors and Bush felt he could help in establishing an emergency response to the pandemic, so his resignation was agreed to be rescinded.
Armacost said that, according to the Association of Washington Cities, the average city manager tenure is three to four years, and the most consistent reason to move on is because of a change in council, which Bush referenced.
“It’s more a mutual understanding rather than the implication he was fired/encouraged to resign, which was not accurate,” he said.
In a Jan. 5 email to city attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross and fellow city councilors, Armacost wrote, “I believe the council members wish to discuss whether or not to continue the employment of Charlie Bush. I explained this to Charlie and suggested that he resign, otherwise that we would hold an executive session to discuss his employment during our council meeting January 11, 2021.”
Bush did not sign off on his resignation until Feb. 7.
Ferrell said Bush resigned at his wish the first time and that many feel he would have stayed prior to the second resignation being asked for.
He said if he were a city manager candidate he “would not even touch (the application) with the discord that’s happened.”
He told councilors he accepted the April vote despite not being in attendance, but “ (for the) future, we need to have full disclosure with candidates or we’ll find ourselves in hot water.”
Armacost said he feels the profile offers full disclosure and transparency and that the parting of Bush over “philosophical differences” was chosen by Bush and Nelson-Gross.
“Those trying to expose the truth will find the profile quite accurate and complete,” Armacost said.
He added that a candidate will do their due diligence and “the challenge will be following the truth and not what the media makes the hot ticket item for that moment or second or that hour.”
Extension, salary increase
Councilor Mike Pence said the timeline for choosing a city manager worked backwards from Deschenes’ six-month window as interim, and that recruiting could take at least six months.
Ferrell said a contract extension would be a simple solution; however, councilor Sarah Kincaid noted, “As contentious things have been, the longer things get drawn out the more contentious things will become.”
Sequim residents echoed Ferrell’s comments at the town hall and special meeting, saying that they felt the person the city is looking for is similar to Bush, that Deschenes would be a good candidate, and that the city should wait until after November for a decision.
Councilors also agreed — with Ferrell and Janisse opposed — to increase the salary range for the city manager from $131,185 to $180,000 to account for increased real estate prices.
Klein said by July they’ll likely compile 10-12 candidates to vet by asking for specific references from their previous positions.
For more information about the listing, visit cb-asso.com.