SEQUIM — City of Sequim leaders look to pass the baton to other community groups to carry on community conversations about race, equity and inclusion.
At Monday’s Sequim City Council meeting, the vote was 6-1 — with Council member Brandon Janisse opposed — to stop formal conversations and turn the effort over to the community, with staff and council allowed to participate at their discretion.
Along with stopping formal conversations, council members agreed 4-3 to not renew a $1,000 membership to The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), described on its website as “a national network of government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.” Council members Brandon Janisse and Rachael Anderson as well as Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell were opposed.
Council member Keith Larkin, who made both motions, said he feels the city has done a tremendous job in recent months for a “great community conversation.”
Ferrell said when conversations began, it seemed like the community was in pain.
“We’re at a point now, like a continuation of the discussion, that’s not necessarily led by the city but a rotating leadership group,” Ferrell said.
He added he’d “love to see the other organizations in town involved, and we stand ready should we need to be.”
City staff held guided, virtual conversations on March 20 and March 23 with moderators asking four questions about race, equity and inclusion.
The conversations followed multiple rallies and online and in-person conversations on race, equity and inclusion in the area leading the city council to pass a resolution condemning discrimination and racism.
Barbara Hanna, Sequim communications and marketing director, said she has one more meeting with the Community Conversations Design Team, which includes staff and members of the community that helped design the first two conversations, to thank them.
“We’re hearing from a lot of other community organizations delving into this work,” Hanna said.
Anderson said she wants to see conversations continue so as to make emotional and mental health safety just as important as physical safety.
“Having these conversations allows that to happen,” she said.
Larkin felt the city had gone through the conversation process, so he felt it was appropriate to not renew the GARE membership.
He asked that the $1,000 membership fee go instead to help children who cannot afford membership in Sequim Youth Soccer.
Interim City Manager Charisse Deschenes said when the city faced race and equity details that staff members were unfamiliar with, they looked for help from other organizations such as GARE.
“Many cities were looking to find a resource to help with community conversations,” she said.
Deschenes added that, since the city joined GARE last June, the organization has helped with some internal operations.
She said there have been politics arising around race and equity and that is some of the reason why GARE is being targeted.
“For the most part, GARE has been very helpful,” Deschenes said.
Sequim is the only city with a GARE membership on the North Olympic Peninsula, with mostly larger cities across the U.S. holding memberships, Larkin said.
He said similar resources were available through the Association of Washington Cities.
Deschenes said city leaders with Port Angeles and Port Townsend have asked them about membership, but she’s unsure of their willingness to become members.
“I understand where you’re coming from and we can certainly not renew that,” Deschenes said. “We appreciate that support, but can look at other ways for race and equity (information) and let you know how we’re using the resource.”
Ferrell said he didn’t have a problem with the membership. Discussing it felt like micro-management, he said, adding that it should stop.
“We’ve got to trust the city manager to do her job,” he said.
Mayor William Armacost said the national narrative on race and equity brought up concerns in Sequim he felt didn’t apply in the town.
But he told Ferrell he was proud the city passed the resolution and that “city staff have gone above and beyond” with the community conversations.
Anderson said she agrees with Ferrell and she doesn’t “think race and equity issues are ever going away.”
As for the $1,000 in funds, Larkin said he learned 15 percent of youth soccer players can’t afford membership and he felt the city could help.
Ferrell said it could become difficult trying to earmark small funds when there are many groups with many needs.
Sue Hagener, Sequim’s administrative services director, said the city doesn’t have a mechanism in place to allocate funds like that through a parks and recreation district, and it would have to go through an application process for the poor and infirm.
City Attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross suggested speaking with the group and/or Sequim School District to see how their sports program applications work, while Deschenes suggested not earmarking the funds specifically but rather putting the funds generally towards the effort for now.
The city will review the Parks Master Plan this summer, Deschenes said.