SEQUIM — A search for a new permanent Sequim city manager will begin soon with assistance from a national firm.
Sequim City Council members opted to begin the search in a 4-3 vote Monday with those in favor saying time is needed to find the right person — even if that is Charisse Deschenes, Sequim’s interim city manager.
Deschenes accepted the position in February after serving as assistant city manager to previous city manager Charlie Bush. Bush left after a majority of council members voted in January for him to resign. Mayor William Armacost said in a press release then that the decision came between Bush and some city council members over “philosophical differences … on some issues facing the city,” issues that have not been made public.
At the March 8 council meeting, Armacost said he received several communications from constituents asking why the city hadn’t begun a search for a new city manager, so he asked it be put on the March 22 agenda. He recommended not using a national firm because of cost, and said the decision to start a search was not “discouraging or taking away” from the appointment of Deschenes as interim city manager.
“I’m extremely pleased with Charisse and it may produce she is the best candidate for that position,” he said.
“We have constituents we have to answer to, and to see what the field of opportunity is out there.”
On Monday, Armacost reiterated he’s pleased with Deschenes and “100 percent behind her” but he has a responsibility to listen to constituents to do a search.
Council member Keith Larkin said if Deschenes is the “truly best candidate then it’ll come out in the process.”
“In a sense, she’s given a great opportunity to outshine other candidates (as interim),” he said.
Larkin added that it’s in the best interest of the city to have an outside firm involved because they are neutral.
Council member Mike Pence said he felt the council was against a time limit since Deschenes’ interim contract runs through Aug. 16.
He called recruiting a Catch-22, asking rhetorically, “What do you do in that interim time frame? Wait ’til the end of August to decide to recruit? That makes no sense to me.”
City staff will work with a committee of three city council members on a request for proposal (RFP) for firms before bringing it to fellow city council members in a special work session. The work session has not been scheduled.
Emily Stednick, city human resources manager, said using a firm to help find and vet candidates could come at an estimated cost of $15,000 to $25,000.
Attorney Michael Bolasina with Summit Law Group, who consulted with the city to help begin the city manager search, told council members he thinks the process will go smoothly because firms receive RFPs all the time, that “they’ll know what to do” and that the city should get prompt responses to questions.
Council member Brandon Janisse, who voted against the resignation of Bush, said that the council should see Deschenes’ contract out to the end.
“She’s qualified, and I stand behind her and the rest of staff,” he said.
Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell, who also voted to retain Bush, said he felt Deschenes is already qualified for the position.
He said Armacost negotiated with Deschenes on her interim contract in good faith, but there’s “nothing in that contract that talks about turning around and recruiting right away,” adding, “as a city councilor, that was not in good faith.”
Bolasina said beginning a search isn’t a breach of contract, and her contract allows for a search at any point.
However, Ferrell said, “I’s a breach of good faith, and I wouldn’t be saying that if I didn’t think she was a heck of a person.”
Council member Rachel Anderson agreed with Ferrell and Janisse.
Deschenes “seems like she knows what she’s doing and she seems super level-headed,” Anderson said. “I’m not sure why we’re talking about recruiting when we have a contract through August.”
Anderson, who was appointed in February, added that since four council members are appointees, it would be best to wait until after the November election to make a decision.
That echoed a statement from Candace Pratt, former Sequim mayor and now a member of the Sequim Good Governance League, in a press release issued last week by the league.
Pratt said in the release that the council should wait on a decision until after the November election. Choosing a new city manager is “one of the most important decisions that the council makes on behalf of the citizens of Sequim,” Pratt said.
“It is a simple matter to extend (Deschenes’) contract a few months to provide for a smooth search process and that would have the added advantage that whoever is hired as city manager will know who will be on the city council, which is their boss, for the next several years,” she added.
Said Eileen Cummings, president of the league: “There has been enough turmoil at Sequim City Hall in the past few months. (Deschenes) has only been in her current position for a month. Why are they talking about replacing her without giving her a chance to do the job?”
For more information about the Sequim City Council, visit sequimwa.gov or call 360-683-4139.
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 [email protected].