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Sequim council candidates talk city managers, public health

Virtual forum features seven of 10 candidates

The resignation of former city manager Charlie Bush, the hiring of Matthew Huish as his replacement and other city-related topics went under the microscope as seven of 10 Sequim city council candidates spoke at a League of Women Voters of Clallam County virtual forum on Sept. 29.

Participants included: Kathy Downer for Position 2; Vicki Lowe Position 3; Rachel Anderson, incumbent, and Daryl Ness, Position 4; Brandon Janisse, incumbent, and Patrick Day, Position 5; and Lowell Rathbun, Position 6.

Organizers said incumbents Sarah Kincaid, Position 2, and Mike Pence, Position 3, declined to participate, with Kincaid saying in an interview she felt the league’s format has too many “gotcha moments.”

Keith Larkin, incumbent for position 6, declined on Sept. 25 due to “an unexpected conflict,” league organizers said. The three councilors did not have a representative speak on their behalf.

Previously, five other candidates — Downer, Lowe, Anderson, Janisse and Rathbun — declined to participate in a forum to be hosted by the Independent Advisory Association in September; that forum was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns anyway. Some of the candidates said they didn’t plan to participate because they questioned the association’s objectivity as it had endorsed each of their opponents.

For the League of Women Voters’ forum, Norma Turner of Port Angeles moderated the approximate two-hour event.

To see this forum and others, visit lwvcla.clubexpress.com.

Former city manager

When candidates were asked their thoughts on the call to ask Bush to resign in January, Lowe, executive director of the American Indian Health Commission, said she still wonders why he was asked to resign and she’d like it to be clarified to the public.

“I would appreciate more transparency … and less executive sessions,” she said.

Anderson, a volunteer for multiple nonprofits who was appointed to city council in February, said she would have voted to keep Bush.

“It kind of feels like constituents are owed an answer why a decision was made,” she said.

Ness, a retired railroad administrator, said from his experience with a large corporation the only person who can make an issue like Bush’s transparent is him.

“He chose not (to address the issue),” Ness said.

Janisse, a control room technician at Clallam County Jail, said he asked to move the discussion out of executive session and he feels Bush did “great things for the city.”

Janisse said that “citizens deserve to know why he was let go.”

Day, a retired California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation employee, said in his role as a chairman of a trust he’s had to let people go and he’s been asked what happened. But the decision to be private or public is up to the employee, he said.

“If they were to put out why, then he could sue for libel,” Day said. “There’s obviously more to the story, but how I would have voted, I truly don’t think I could answer that.”

Rathbun, a retired engineer, said he was disappointed with the decision and listed Bush’s accomplishments, such as good performance reviews, balanced budgets, spending a night outdoors to better understand homelessness and more.

Downer, a retired nurse, said there are reasons such as hirings and firings to be dealt with in executive session, but she wishes there were more reasons than “philosophical reasons” cited in a city press release for the call for Bush’s resignation.

“I’m very disappointed he was asked to resign,” she said.

New city manager

Community members also asked about the timing of hiring of Huish — whose contract was finalized on Sept. 30 and has a start date of Nov. 1 — so close to the General Election with five city council seats up for election. They also asked about Huish’s hiring despite him being investigated alleged sexual harassment in 2018; Huish was cleared, but his emails were found to be “unprofessional and inappropriate at times” by an investigator.

Anderson said she heard many citizens were concerned about the allegations but from the information she was given by consultant search firm Colin Baenziger and Associates they were false allegations.

“In his resume, he talked a lot about how he has learned from that,” Anderson said about the hiring, adding she would have delayed hiring until after the election.

Ness said he only reviewed the council’s votes on the candidates and with a 6-1 vote for Huish in the final tally, he felt that “sounds like a solid decision.” He said he was unsure if he would have voted to withhold the city manager search, though.

Janisse said he felt Baenziger did a good job researching the topic but it was still an issue he took into consideration. He also would have preferred to wait until after a new council was seated.

Day said the council could have waited on hiring but it can be best to bring someone on board quickly. He added that Huish was cleared of allegations.

Rathbun chose not to comment on the allegations because he may be working with him on council soon. However, he said Bush being replaced by a majority with mostly appointed city councilors “shows a distrust of the voters.”

“Charisse Deschenes (Sequim’s interim city manager and a city manager finalist) was well qualified to lead the city until after the election,” Rathbun said.

Downer said a decision should have been held until a new council was voted in, and that no one should handle any sexual harassment situation lightly.

Lowe echoed that, saying if the hiring was delayed, a different candidate could have been probable.

Public health

Candidates were asked about their potential role in citizens’ health and welfare, and their opinion on the council’s September resolution regarding vaccines and businesses. Ness said Dr. Allison Berry, Clallam County health officer, makes the county’s decisions and believes that’s where decisions should be.

“The resolution was not to change it, but wishing they were more informed (of regulations),” he said.

Anderson said one of the city council’s top priorities should be health. She said the decision to mandate vaccinations for restaurants comes down to either showing proof of vaccination to dine inside, or not and “have everyone get sick and have businesses shut down.”

Janisse said he feels the city council “has a fundamental interest to make healthcare the best it can be” and to work with partners such as Olympic Medical Center. He said the city needs to be concerned about things in its purview, which health mandates are not, and that’s why he voted no on the resolution.

Day said the resolution was a statement to the county people who wanted to be more involved in the decision making regarding mandates. He added that the resolution didn’t change anything, but showed people wanted to be more involved.

Rathbun said “the function of leaders is to unite, get vaccinated and get this pandemic as far behind us as possible.” He called the resolution “bad policy” and “dangerous.”

Downer said the resolution was unconscionable for council to pass.

“Unless unanimous, it doesn’t mean anything,” she said of the resolution. “They should have contacted the health department and asked how they can help. They need to model good behavior. We need elected leaders with critical thinking skills.”

Lowe said the resolution was “inappropriate and confusing,” violates a public health order, didn’t help the community, and that the four councilors who voted for it “stepped out of their chain of command.”

Housing, homelessness

Regarding the council’s role with affordable housing, and homelessness, Day said the city needs to look again at building impact fees and how high they are and if impacting building. Addressing homelessness, he said the city has to look at root issues specific to each individual and determine whether it’s mental health, drug-related or something else.

Janisse said if fees are lowered that takes away from the city budget and other elements of city operations, which he would be in favor of possibly to help bring in doctors, teachers and other professionals. On homelessness, he said the city “needs to be more proactive than reactive” and help schools and other agencies address issues before they get worse.

Rathbun said the “housing market has gone crazy” along with rent prices and impact “fees in this town are huge.”

Grants should be the focus to seek options for affordable housing and potential developments, Downer said. For homelessness, she said people do not choose to be homeless and they need wrap-around services to help them along with many other issues.

“I don’t know of any city that has solved this issue without working with a larger authority,” she said.

Lowe said the city can do more work on growth management with developments, such as multifamily units, being built. She added her concern that women older than 70 are one of the largest growing populations of becoming homeless.

Anderson said the council can establish partnerships with agencies that can help with building, such as OlyCAP and developing an apartment building in Port Townsend.

“It took several people working hard for several years to get a state funded grant,” she said.

Ness said fees are too high in the city and that builders have a hard time coming up with money for duplexes and apartments. Regarding homelessness, he suggested studying other communities’ efforts to “make sure we’re not making the same mistakes.”

Trust

Each candidate was asked how they’d promote trust and civility between the community and council if elected.

Janisse said he’d encourage keeping items out of executive session, councilors to be civil with each other, and keeping the motto that “transparency is key.” He noted, “It’s why I have a newsletter I put out after each council meeting.”

Day said the city council should “show integrity and honesty” and not roll their eyes and/or stomp out of meetings as he’s seen in public meetings. He added that the council needs to protect its citizens and recognize that “people have choices and we have to respect that.”

Ness said it’s important for councilors to remain neutral, listen to the people they represent and take into account what they’re saying, and find better ways to communicate with the public.

“Trust within the group will be better among the council,” he said.

Anderson said since she was appointed in February she feels she’s done a good job of building trust and civility by always replying to emails, listening to everyone and being as transparent as possible.

“Being able to walk the walk and talk the talk is important,” she said.

If elected, Rathbun said he’d encourage councilors to refrain from character assassinations of each other, to listen politely to people with opposite opinions, and try to refrain from executive sessions.

Downer said she wouldn’t limit city council meetings’ speakers to 10 people. She added she would never turn off her camera during a public speaking portion either.

Lowe said she’d focus on facts over emotions, listen to constituents, and she likes Downer’s idea of opening up public comments. She’d also like to reintroduce race, equity and inclusion forums she helped moderate earlier this year.

Ballots will be mailed Oct. 13 for local voters for the Nov. 2 General Election.

Kathy Downer

Kathy Downer

Vicki Lowe

Vicki Lowe

Daryl Ness

Daryl Ness

Lowell Rathbun

Lowell Rathbun

Patrick Day

Patrick Day

Brandon Janisse

Brandon Janisse

Rachel Anderson

Rachel Anderson

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