City of Sequim to recruit new full-time attorney

SEQUIM — The Sequim City Council has taken action on the future of city legal counsel as well as on two new amendments concerning utilities and fencing.

The City Council gave the go-ahead Monday to advertise for a full-time, in-house city attorney following the anticipated retirement of Craig Ritchie in the coming months.

City staff considered contracting out attorney services but said an in-house attorney would cost less than solicited rates they found, ranging from $150 to $300 an hour because of the workload.

Ritchie currently makes $151,392 a year in salary and benefits.

City Manager Charlie Bush said he’s worked with both contracted attorneys and in-house attorneys and said staff find they are second-guessing when to call the contracted attorney due to costs.

City Council members unanimously agreed to hire an in-house attorney.

“On many instances in council meetings, we have referred to our city attorney on issue after issue . . . he’s probably prevented us from making actions that would not be advisable,” Councilwoman Genaveve Starr said.

Councilman Ted Miller said litigation is becoming more common, so the city would get the full value of an in-house attorney.

Utility services

An amendment to the city’s code that was unanimously approved Monday requires that owners be the only ones who can disconnect from utility services and certify they understand the costs to reconnect.

City staff also would notify utility users how much it would cost them to reconnect to city services.

Ritchie said the amendment “lets the public know about the consequences of disconnecting.”

The amendment was prompted by an incident concerning the Great House Motel at 740 E. Washington St., where a former employee of UniBank canceled utility services on the property after taking back ownership, Ritchie said, despite city staff advising them to keep services on.

City Council members agreed to overlook $126,485 in charges Dec. 14 to have the business back in operation.

The new owner agreed to pay $20,000 in past standby, interest and penalty charges as if the business had never disconnected.

Chain-linked fences are now allowed in city parks, playgrounds and sports fields following a new amendment.

Chris Hugo, director of community development, said the original code appeared to focus on the city’s aesthetics and cut down on the brightness of metal fencing.

Strict design standards

“Our designs standards for fences are pretty restrictive, and they didn’t have to be so restrictive,” he said.

The update requires any new fencing be covered in dark earth tones such as brown, black or green in vinyl or paint.

The City Council approved it 6-1 with Mayor Dennis Smith opposed to the code change, which previously restricted chain-linked fencing to industrial and storage properties and required all fencing be attached to wood, stone iron, brick or concrete.

In response to a question from Miller and a group of community members — “Why have fences at all?” — Hugo said it’s “a matter of safety so that they [players] don’t go off the courts.”

New kiosks

City staff members are crafting a process for community groups to apply and have their logos appear in new kiosks built by a Boy Scout for an Eagle Scout service project.

The two kiosks would host up to nine logos each at the end of the sidewalk on West Washington Street prior to the roundabout by Verizon Wireless and on Simdars Road as vehicles come off U.S. Highway 101.

The proposed policy states eligible community organizations would be “a voluntary nonprofit, nonpolitical, non-commercial organization with the primary goal of providing services that directly benefit the citizens of Sequim.”

Ritchie said religious organizations would be eligible because “there are many who do a lot of service.”

He said including the word “nonprofit” and requiring the group be a service organization is “about all we can do.”

The proposed policy also states it would cost a one-time fee of $50 for each sign and allow only one sign per community organization.

How groups are chosen hasn’t been determined, but there was discussion of a lottery system or a first-come, first-posted system. The City Council will discuss the policy again Feb. 8.

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Matthew Nash is a reporter with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. Reach him at mnash@sequimgazette.com.

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