Our View: Public’s business handled in private

  • Wednesday, January 27, 2021 1:30am
  • Opinion

The secret society of Sequim is in session.

Both the Sequim City Council and the Sequim School Board are taking actions of great importance to the public out of the public eye.

The City Council discussed in a closed-door executive session a decision to fire a capable and ethical city manager. To be fair, in the public vote, in which a motion by Mayor William Armacost passed 4-2, no mention was made of firing. Instead it was to negotiate what promises to be an expensive “resignation” with Charlie Bush, who began work with the City of Sequim in 2015.

The public has not been told why Armacost and the majority of the council want Bush out. It was legal for the council to discuss personnel in executive session and then take the vote in public, but most councils will have enough respect for the public it represents to say why it is getting rid of a longtime city manager. Bush himself has declined to comment.

The only information given to the public was from Armacost, who said there was nothing illegal regarding Bush’s actions. The council’s demand for his resignation was not over any one thing, but instead was due to “a combination of things over quite a while,” Armacost said.

“This was not a knee-jerk reaction,” he said.

But it was quick.

In March, Armacost, who made the motion to remove Bush, declared that the city will “benefit from Charlie’s leadership during this challenging time in our community.”

What changed?

We don’t know.

No explanation was given.

There was no transparency.

In another public venue, the Sequim School District placed the high school principal, Shawn Langston, and the district superintendent, Rob Clark, on paid leave in October, citing separate complaints. No reason was provided and school officials rejected a records request from the media, saying that no information about the complaints against the two administrators would be released until investigations were completed.

The high school principal has been reinstated after pledging to work with a mentor to rebuild trust and “help bring reconciliation and healing to Sequim High School,” according to Interim Superintendent Jane Pryne. Then in mid-January, the superintendent resigned.

The investigations must be completed, since district officials and the board have taken action, yet the district has provided no details to the public. In its latest response to a media public information request, it has said it would release documents on Feb. 10, which is — perhaps not coincidentally — after the district’s two levy elections.

We don’t know the nature of the complaints. We don’t know what trust was violated at the high school. We don’t know why Clark resigned, other than school officials announcing in an email that Clark and the board had a disagreement over his style of management and decision-making.

The School Board took a long time — some 16 months — to realize that the superintendent and board did not see eye-to-eye. Clark had been hired as an interim in the summer of 2019 and was named permanent superintendent in January 2020 with praise from the School Board members.

District officials promise to release information later. But action already has been taken. The issue has been resolved.

And we, the public who elects the school board and sends children to the public school, don’t know what happened.

We don’t even know what the School Board decided. In December, it convened a public meeting after an executive session and voted to approve what had been discussed in the closed session without announcing what that was. Later Board President Brandino Gibson said that the board had decided to follow the recommendation of the attorney in regard to Clark.

The public deserves better from its elected officials.

Unfortunately, in the case of the Sequim City Council, three of the six who voted were not elected. They were appointed. Another appointment is in the works. The present mayor originally was appointed and was elected when he was one of three who ran unopposed in 2019.

Appointment by their peers enables those already serving to stack the council any way they choose, if they choose to do so.

The public is being left out of the decisions taken by the council.

And so it makes up its own reasons: that Save Our Sequim prevailed in having Bush resign, something the group had urged months ago; that Armacost took revenge on Bush for his response after the mayor used a city forum to discuss QAnon and his support for the conspiracy theory.

The council’s actions fuel fears of a disturbing and deepening partisanship on the city council, a nonpartisan entity, by appointing members that hold to a certain viewpoint rather than focusing on qualifications.

The mayor wears a QAnon pin to council meetings. He urged Coffee with the Mayor listeners to watch a video about QAnon, an unfounded theory which maintains the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles operating a global child sex-trafficking ring. The video he directed listeners to watch ended with promoting Donald Trump as he sought a second term as president.

Any body of elected officials that wants to keep the trust of the public must be transparent in its decisions and ethical in its actions.

To keep secrets from the community they serve is to divide that community.

That has happened in Sequim.

The job of representatives is to act for the good of the public, to unite rather than alienate.

As the state Open Public Meetings Act says: “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.”

Both the Sequim School Board and Sequim City Council have badly let down the people they represent.

But the people have recourse. They can choose to run for office so that no one runs unopposed.

And they can get out there and vote.

The Peninsula Daily News editorial board consists of Publisher Terry Ward, Executive Editor Leah Leach and Sequim Gazette Editor Michael Dashiell. The Sequim Gazette is a sister paper to the PDN.

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