Guest column: Public process in treatment facility issue left wanting

Informative, thought-provoking, generally positive – and something that should have occurred two months ago. That’s the takeaway from last Thursday’s (Aug. 8) community forum at the Guy Cole Center regarding the Jamestown S’Kallam Tribe’s proposed Medication-Assisted Treatment clinic for opioid addiction.

Imagine had this forum occurred in late May rather than three months after most Sequim residents became abruptly aware of the tribe’s plan to build a 15,000-square-foot clinic behind Costco. That’s time this community could have invested in intelligent, informed discussions — pro or con — with the tribe, city council and healthcare professionals from Olympic Medical Center.

Instead, many Sequim residents have endured rumor, anxiety, and accusations of engaging in misinformation campaigns since May 6, when the story broke in the Peninsula Daily News, all compounded by a culture in city hall overly steeped in “process.”

Little about the long delay for this community forum can be fairly pinned on the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe. They’ve not kept their plans a secret. The MAT clinic has been mentioned in the tribe’s monthly online newsletters going back several months. Their application for a $7 million state grant to help fund the clinic is a matter of public record. The tribe is probably surprised, and understandably so, at the substantial push-back against the location of the proposed addiction-treatment facility.

Focal point for this paucity of detailed information prior to Aug. 8 is the Sequim City Council and Mayor Dennis Smith. Rather than spearheading efforts to bring his constituents up to speed sooner than later, Smith has been hand-wringing over the clinic’s opponents. In a July 8 email sent to city manager Charlie Bush, Smith expressed concern that emerging community groups opposed to the MAT facility were acting based on “misinformation.”

Likely they have, but how is that not attributable largely to city officials not asking the tribe to provide detailed information sooner? City officials have instead told concerned citizens to contact the tribe for details. So I did. No one returned my calls. And exactly how long did the mayor expect groups such as Save Our Sequim to wait for more facts? Was it until, as some fear, their voices no longer mattered to city hall?

Oh, and Mr. Mayor, a little advice. Perhaps you should refrain from sending e-mails containing sentences like the following: “Needless to say, I believe we should take action ASAP to deter this movement which seems to be based on inaccurate information.”

Guest column: Public process in treatment facility issue left wanting
Guest column: Public process in treatment facility issue left wanting

Words like “deter” mean something, and in the highly charged civic atmosphere surrounding the MAT clinic, their interpretation can balance on a knife’s edge. The mayor did reply to my e-mail asking him for clarification about statement, which was contained in the e-mail to Bush. “Deter in this case was meant to prevent people from reacting to inaccurate information,” Smith said. “(I) had no intent to stifle any civic action whatsoever.” The July 29 special council meeting was part of that effort, he added.

Fair enough, but nonetheless it’s poor phrasing, especially in this era when government isn’t trusted.

What’s becoming tiresome is city hall’s banal mantra, “An application for a permit has not been filed. …” So? How would that prevent the council digging up accurate information on our behalf or arranging a community forum with the tribe sooner? How would that remotely equate to making a comment for or against the MAT clinic prior to the tribe submitting a formal application? It doesn’t. It’s a weak-kneed rationale based on unfounded fears of unlikely litigation simply for seeking information to give to constituents.

Apparently, as regards the MAT proposal, the council and mayor are quite content with the city attorney and city manager leading them around by the nose, using the guise of “process” to provide cover for their inactivity.

The Aug. 8 community forum with the tribe was too long in coming. Perhaps much of the angst the greater Sequim community has experienced since May 6 might have been obviated had our elected officials strove to make that forum occur sooner.

Our community would have been better off for it.

Paul Schmidt first moved to Sequim in 1974 and is a graduate of Sequim High School. He and his wife returned to Sequim in 2018. His first career was in journalism. He currently works in the railroad industry.