SEQUIM — The Sequim City Council approved in a 4-3 vote a resolution opposing public health mandates, saying they want to support restaurants and protect personal rights.
The resolution proposed by council member Keith Larkin prompted a great deal of debate at Monday night’s council meeting before it was approved along the usual division in council votes with Larkin, Mayor William Armacost, Sarah Kincaid and Mike Pence voting in favor, and Deputy Mayor Tom Ferrell and council members Rachel Anderson and Brandon Janisse opposed.
The resolution, which carries no weight of law, says the council supports those who oppose public health orders issued by Dr. Allison Berry, health officer for Clallam and Jefferson counties, and Gov. Jay Inslee.
City staff say the resolution is a position statement and does not override state and local law, including Berry’s requirement that customers must provide proof of vaccination to sit indoor at bars and restaurants.
The resolution says policing has been put on owners, causing more work, fewer customers and more strain to dine inside.
It also mentions Inslee’s mandate for state employees to be vaccinated by Oct. 18 or be prohibited from working.
Larkin told council members they take an oath to support the Constitution of the United States and Washington state, and that they “must listen” and “support all citizens and business owners.”
“Restaurants are just starting to get their feet under them,” Larkin said.
“After all the essential workers have done for us, working tirelessly to take care of patients, we’re now going to require to be vaccinated or be terminated from employment.
“It’s an unfair burden we’re placing on these people. And it creates more separation and division in our community.”
Council member Anderson said there was no basis for the resolution.
If people were worried about the financial impact on businesses, they should order curbside, she added.
“It’s safer physically to order curbside rather than everyone getting sick from COVID and shut down,” she said. “That seems like the worst option.”
Anderson said she remains home with her children because they cannot be vaccinated due to their age, and she wants “to do everything I can to protect immunocompromised people.
“I feel it’s in everyone’s best interest to protect each other regardless of how you feel about things,” she said.
Public comments were limited to 10 people.
Pat Howard, a city resident, said the resolution “doesn’t consider the rights of those who have been vaccinated,” and that “vaccination mandates have been around for many decades.”
Gayle Baker, a Clallam County resident, said she chooses not to get the vaccine because “it’s an unproven experiment” with no sign of compensation if something goes wrong.
Lowell Rathbun, who opposes Larkin in the Nov. 2 general election, said Berry “is not some evil dictator” but rather a “dedicated doctor” who “deserves our support.
“This is not the right time to talk about burgers in a bar,” he said. “People are stressed out, and it’s time to support our healthcare workers.”
One unnamed caller said he’s seen “a lot of Hitler tactics going on” with the mandate, and he’s “constantly harassed” for not wearing a mask, and has had “little old ladies screaming F you” to him.
The resolution states the city council resolves to:
1) Uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Washington and to stand in strong support of the people in the City of Sequim and anyone else in the county and the state that believe their constitutional rights are being violated, and
2) Stand in strong support of all our state workers, educators and healthcare workers who are being forced to submit to vaccines with fear of losing their employment, and
3) Stand in strong support with our restaurant/bar owners who will be financially impacted by the requirement to verify customers have been vaccinated prior to allowing them to dine inside, and
4) Condemn any form of discrimination towards any person that does not possess or present proof of COVID-19 vaccine.
Armacost said he’s not suggesting going “against any professional as an expert in their field” nor “suggesting breaking any law.”
He added that the Constitution separates Americans from the rest of the world, and that “people have rights, and they feel they’re not being heard.”
“We’re not intending to be disrespectful, but trying to honor people’s choice,” Armacost said.
Responding to a question from Ferrell about what the resolution does for city businesses, Larkin said it gives recognition to people who stand by a choice not to get the vaccine under Constitutional law, shows that council members support their choices, and says residents shouldn’t be condemned or put in a negative light for those choices.
A “state of emergency does not diminish the rights of the people,” Larkin said.
Ferrell said he respected Larkin’s opinion but didn’t want to share his own and said, “when things are tense in a community, I think of the saying from World War II, ‘Keep Calm and Carry On.’ ”
He later added he wanted to be more productive in helping businesses, such as through more business grant programs.
Janisse said the resolution is “walking a dangerous line,” and he’s “not going to subject myself to a recall and malfeasance.”
Kincaid said she’s not anti-vaccine or anti-mask and believes COVID is real, but she asks “is the cure doing more than the disease?”
For Pence, it’s “freedom of choice” and that “we’re being treated as sheep.”
“We’re just losing our freedom,” he said. “This is all about constitutional law. Our rights are being overridden by Big Brother … Enough is enough. It’s got to stop.”
Anderson said she typically receives two to five emails per council meeting about agenda items, but this time she received almost 70 emails with 60 against the resolution and in favor of restrictions, and the remainder of emails in favor of the resolution.
“It’s a sad day for democracy when local leaders can give into the vocal minority,” she said.
The next city council meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 27 in a virtual session with more information at www.sequimwa.gov.
See the resolution documents here.