PORT ANGELES — After surviving an effort to unseat her as mayor, Port Angeles City Council member Sissi Bruch said Thursday she was mistaken to say muskets held by metal cutout soldiers on a fence at Veterans Memorial Park are objectionable.
The characterization was part of her justification for her controversial proposal for the memorial park, one that that led to a City Council meeting Wednesday night packed with critics and a split council vote to strip her of her mayor’s title with just three meetings left in her tenure.
In interviews after Tuesday night’s council meeting and Wednesday in an email, Bruch wrestled with responding to the barrage of criticism from two dozen speakers and three of her council colleagues at the council meeting.
Council members Jim Moran, Michael Merideth and former Mayor Cherie Kidd, who made the motion to remove the title of mayor, voted for the move.
Council members Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, Mike French and Deputy Mayor Kate Dexter voted against the motion.
The motion failed for lack of a 4-2 majority. Bruch recused herself from the council discussion and vote.
Bruch did not run for reelection in this week’s election.
Before the meeting began, Bruch had withdrawn the agenda item to discuss removing the guns.
In a council memo, she had cited “many complaints” regarding the metal cut-out soldiers with guns affixed to a community-funded fence protecting the Liberty Bell replica from damage by homeless people who frequented the covered area on Lincoln Street next to the county courthouse.
“Flags, eagles, and anchors could be used,” rather than the guns, she said in the memo. Later she clarified that she sought to use symbols that signified what veterans fought for and not what they fought with.
She said she understood concerns about the guns “given that our nation is experiencing an outbreak in gun violence in our schools and our communities.”
Bruch said in an interview Tuesday night that, in retrospect, she would have removed the sentence from the memo that said “modifying the soldiers so that the guns are not there would also be less objectionable.”
She said it was a mistake to use the word objectionable.
“It was the wish to see a different symbol, that’s where I caught the commotion,” she said.
“The words I used failed to convey and communicate an idea and instead had the unintended consequence of Veterans being insulted,” she said Wednesday in an email.
“I have to take responsibility for my words. No offense was intended, and it was a mistake to have failed to anticipate how these words were received.”
Bruch was silent throughout Tuesday’s meeting on the memo, deferring to Dexter at the outset of the meeting to inform the council that Bruch had pulled the agenda item from the evening’s schedule.
More than 200 people packed the chambers, the city hall area outside the chambers and a stairway to the second floor.
Dexter acknowledged the “very strong emotions” generated by the memo, expressed hope that the council “can move forward as a body,” and called for official recognition by the city for veterans and Monday’s Veterans Day ceremonies at the Ediz Hook Coast Guard station.
Gary Velie, president of the Clallam County Veterans Association, said he was gratified the agenda item was pulled.
He noted the large per-capita population of veterans in Clallam County. His organization honors deceased veterans in a bell-ringing ceremony at the memorial park every month — 30 in a recent ceremony.
“The depictions of the individuals on the gates are colonial soldiers representing those brave soldiers that fought the Revolutionary War that gave us the freedoms that we enjoy,” he said.
“These soldier are carrying muskets, the firearms that they used at the time.
“I ask for myself and the many veterans that I represent that the colonial soldiers remain on this new fence that surrounds and protects the Liberty Bell replica from any further destruction and desecration.”
Other speakers accused Bruch of conflating active shooters hurting innocent people with military veterans. They said Bruch “offended” them and called the issue she raised a “paper tiger.”
“The doorway to liberty is framed with muskets,” Dan Shotthafer said.
“This council owed the public an apology, which was received tonight,” Kevin Bagwell said.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” said Matthew Rainwater, founder of Pennies for Quarters, which aims to help homeless veterans.
Bruch was calling for a recess after the two hours of public comment had ended when Kidd suggested replacing Bruch as mayor.
“The city council’s proper operation of democratic government requires that we, as elected officials, are bound to observe, in our official acts, the highest standards of performances, and to discharge faithfully the duties of our office, regardless of personal considerations,” Kidd said.
“Recognizing the public’s interest must be our priority concern in our official actions as we represent the people of Port Angeles.
“And I am the wife of a retired Marine, and therefore I make a motion to remove the title of mayor from Sissi Bruch tonight.”
Kidd said it did not matter that Bruch had three more meetings to go before leaving the council.
“It’s a matter of principle, it’s not a matter of time,” Kidd said in an interview.
During council discussion of the motion, Moran called Bruch’s actions “a failure in leadership,” saying it was part of two years of problems.
Merideth said he did not have “trust and confidence” in Bruch, adding, “there has to be a line drawn, and it has to stop.”
French said Bruch made “a serious error when she put this on the agenda” but that he would rather “find real solutions to real problems,” such as homelessness.
Schromen-Wawrin said Bruch did not violate her powers as mayor and said, “this is pretty absurd, and it ignores the various things that really matter.”
Bruch’s action did not hurt the community, Dexter said, adding that Bruch realized she made “a mistake.”
“I don’t believe Mayor Bruch has done anything that warrants removal,” Dexter said.
Bruch said it was “a complete surprise” that Kidd, a former mayor, made the motion that Bruch be removed as mayor.
“I was really calm, but it was like, if the council doesn’t want me, it’s OK, because this is democracy at work, so I’m OK with this.
“My ego is not all involved in this.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].