SEQUIM — The Sequim City Council is considering an online poll about the proposed controversial medication-assisted treatment center.
The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe has purchased 20 acres of land zoned for health care on South Ninth Avenue, adjacent to U.S. Highway 101, where it will build a 15,000 square-foot medication-assisted treatment facility that will eventually treat approximately 250 patients for opioid addiction. The hope is to open it in 2021.
The MAT facility is opposed by members of Save Our Sequim and others, while some residents say they favor it.
Sequim City Council members on Monday discussed posing questions about the facility to Sequim residents through its new polling system Polco.
They ultimately opted for city staff to construct a proposal for the Sept. 23 meeting after reaching out to the tribe and community members.
Barbara Hanna, the city’s marketing and communications director, said Polco offered to pilot Sequim’s program for free for a year to increase civic engagement.
New questions were to be posted twice a month. Current questions focus on how residents rate Sequim, as well as solid waste and recycling questions.
Council member Ted Miller said he’d like to use the service to ask about the MAT facility.
“(We can) find out who supports and opposes it and they can provide reasons for why,” he said.
His proposed questions are:
“The Jamestown Tribe is planning to build and operate a regional (Clallam & Jefferson counties) mental health complex in an Economic Opportunity zone near Costco. The first phase will be to construct a Medicated-Assisted Treatment (MAT) facility. This involves the use of FDA-approved medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a ‘whole-patient’ approach to the treatment of substance use addictions or disorders. Some of these medications are addictive.
• Do you support or oppose the construction of a MAT facility near Costco? Support/Oppose/Unsure?
• If you indicated that you support, check any of the following reasons that explain why:
— I support the addition of new medical facilities in Sequim.
— I support the addition of a MAT facility in Sequim.
— The chosen location is one of the best available.
— Countering addiction is a very important goal of modern medicine.
— MAT treatment will result in a lower crime rate.
• If you indicated that you oppose, check any of the following reasons that explain why:
— Addiction is a social problem, not a medical one.
— MATs are ineffective and a waste of money.
— I oppose the use of my tax money for this purpose.
— The taxpayer financing could be better used for other mental health needs.
— Sequim is the wrong site since it has very little addiction problem compared to the rest of Clallam and Jefferson county.
— The selected facility site is the wrong location within Sequim.
— The MAT will result in an influx of addicts and a higher crime rate.
• If you indicated that you are not sure, what information do you need to decide? (optional)”
Following Miller reading his questions, audience members questioned the idea of using polling only because some community members may not use the internet.
Community and City Council members proposed additional poll locations through surveys in newspapers, in utility bills and/or at the Sequim Civic Center.
Hanna said people can reply only once after logging into Polco.
“We have a method; it’s a constrained method, but that doesn’t mean we can’t use it,” said council member Bob Lake. “We may use it, and want to use other methods too.”
Mayor Dennis Smith said the city hasn’t found a perfect way to do it but that “he appreciates the opportunity to poll the people.”
Lake said the measure could not be placed on a ballot.
“If we were making the decision on if we want this clinic or not and had the authority, I would recommend putting it on the ballot,” Lake said.
“We don’t have that choice, so that’s not something we can choose with our legislative decision … all we can decide is if it meets our current law.”
Another audience member asked the council if it could do anything about the facility.
Miller said it comes down to legal and social issues.
“Legally there’s nothing we can do,” he said.
“If the tribe insists on building a MAT, there’s really nothing we can do about it. However, if the number of people are overwhelming opposed to it, they may change their mind.”
City Attorney Kristina Nelson-Gross said when an application for the facility comes forward and if it rises to the level of coming before the planning commission or City Council, she’ll recommend the application go before a hearing examiner because “every single one of you would be subject to appearance of fairness issues.”
Nelson-Gross said that she cautions council members against using the online poll as a way to gain information regarding public sentiment, for reasons listed by lawyer Jeffrey Myers, who offered a presentation on Monday centering around liability and potential lawsuits from not following city staffs’ advice around the state and/or going against a hearing examiner’s ruling.
Deputy Mayor Candace Pratt said she’d vote against a possible online poll because she believes votes would be skewed by misinformation.
Pratt also said people without computers wouldn’t be able to do the survey.
She said she talked with a woman last week last week who said she doesn’t use a computer but lives across from the proposed MAT facility.
“’If I’m not concerned why should anyone else be?’” Pratt said the woman asked her.
“No matter how the vote comes in, there’s not one thing we can do about it,” Pratt said.
“The council can’t change zoning and there’s no building proposal to vote on it.”
Lake encouraged asking the tribe and public for input.
Wendy Goldberg, an active participant with the Save Our Sequim group, said she thinks the proposed questions were well-written and the tribe’s public relations firm would “spin it and call it a ‘healing campus.’”
Lake said the council has final say on what goes to the public.
Proposed question edits and additional questions can be sent to Ted Miller at [email protected] or 360-417-9236.
To sign up for the monthly questions, visit polco.us/sequim.
For more information on Polco, call the city at 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].