As discussions continue about inequality across the country, Sequim city councilors approved a resolution Monday that condemns racism and discrimination.
They also directed City Manager Charlie Bush to facilitate community discussions with trained city staff about concerns and potential issues in Sequim’s codes and services.
Councilor Brandon Janisse brought the resolution forward at the request of Sequim resident Shenna Younger, who with others proposed a resolution in March and then started a recent online petition asking the council to condemn systemic racism.
The petition garnered more than 2,200 signatures from June 9 to late last week.
Janisse said the resolution was formed not as a response to any one event and that the issues need to be addressed in the community.
“It’s good it’s coming from a member of the community and not a politician,” he said, adding later that, “citizens want to have a discussion.
“That’s completely appropriate, but it needs to be meaningful,” Janisse said. “It’s easy peasy for us to sit here and talk about it. To move it forward, it needs to be a community building event.”
On June 8, a majority of city councilors said they wanted to hold off on a community discussion until emotions settled in the community. They voted 6-0 Monday — with councilor Troy Tenneson abstaining — to pass an amended resolution; Tenneson did not indicate why he abstained.
Bush said he’ll meet with Janisse, Younger and councilor Sarah Kincaid to discuss next steps for facilitating community conversations.
“We’ll take a little bit of time to structure it so it’s effective,” Bush said in a phone interview.
Bush said he plans to update the city council on the process at their July 13 meeting and that the resolution could be updated as conversations occur with the community and stakeholders.
As for possible outcomes from the discussions, Bush said staff may look at city policies and procedures “to make sure nothing institutionally is embedded in those.”
He said the city also wants to hear stories from people and what staff can do to improve services.
Bush, who proposed a community conversation on June 8, said he and his team are “ready and willing” to speak with the community and he doesn’t think it’d just be one conversation. He said he wants to work with other community stakeholder groups to discuss racism and discrimination holistically, too.
“I feel like we could make a lot of progress,” Bush said. “It’s a time when a lot of people want to talk about it.”
Bush said he doesn’t know what will come out of the conversations, but “we have the opportunity to move the needle with all these other organizations.”
Tenneson asked Bush if he feels the city has a problem with racism in its codes.
“As we do the code scrub (review), this becomes another lens that we may not have had,” Bush said. “We don’t (have obvious issues) but we want to make sure we don’t. We don’t think we do, but we want to make sure we don’t.”
Mayor William Armacost issued a statement on June 11 that partly reads, “The City of Sequim is opposed to racism, bigotry, intolerance, and bias of any form. Based on current racial tensions, the City wants to assure the community that the organization, including its governing body and staff, will manage and lead to ensure equal and fair treatment of every citizen.”
Tenneson said he supported the statement and felt it meets the need.
Other councilors like Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell said they liked the statement and the resolution.
“The letter nor the resolution are … going to change someone’s character out there,” Ferrell said. “(We’ve) got to find ways to get out to the community and talk these things out.”
Janisse said he agreed with Armacost’s statement and that it could be tied into the resolution later on, and that city councilors could support his statement and the resolution.
Ferrell said he and Janisse met with Younger about the resolution and was impressed and he gained more confidence in the resolution after meeting.
Councilors favored much of the resolution’s verbiage but made some changes, such as removing mentions of “hate speech” from the document because of federal law potentially preventing it.
Ferrell said the Supreme Court allows hate speech and it cannot be prohibited unless it’s related to “imminent danger” despite “how ugly the language can be.”
“As it stands now, (the resolution) is pretty powerful,” he said.
City attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross said resolutions could allow the verbiage since they don’t hold the same legality powers as ordinances. However, she said, as a political matter there could be a lot of questions asked about the phrase’s inclusion.
Councilor Sarah Kincaid said lines mentioning the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe make the resolution less broad and no one group should be mentioned.
Ferrell agreed and recommended adding in a line promoting Sequim’s police force. However, these proposals weren’t included in the final resolution.
A call for a resolution stems from a March 9 city council meeting where Younger and fellow Sequim residents Nicole Clark and Vicki Lowe held signs of example racist comments against the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe they said they saw on the Save Our Sequim (SOS) Facebook page.
Younger said Monday’s resolution was largely the same, aside from amendments city councilors made.
Save Our Sequim’s board of directors, a community group opposed to the location and size of the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s proposed medication-assisted treatment (MAT) clinic, issued a statement on June 11 denouncing racism, saying that, “SOS has standards that we adhere to and moderators of the SOS Facebook page immediately remove objectionable and/or racist posts as soon as they come to their attention.” SOS leaders also wrote they stand against racism.
However, SOS chairman Jodi Wilke wrote on a June 17 Facebook post that the March 9 meeting was not about generalized racism but telling the city council to censure SOS.
“Comments taken from SOS Facebook were never validated or authenticated. And they were certainly never endorsed as I stated publicly during that meeting,” Wilke wrote.
She added that the “petition against racism relies on misconstrued events painted to look as if racism is endemic in our city and County agencies and all throughout the public.”
Younger in a June 11 Facebook post said the resolution and petition don’t mention SOS and that neither were about them.
“There is a real issue in Sequim and I just asked to have a conversation with a councilman and I was stonewalled,” she wrote.
Younger added, “Why anyone would be against holding our elected officials accountable to have a discussion as well as a petition to end racism in our community is beyond me.”
She added that she called out all local, online platforms where racist and hateful comments were happening.