Council members look to election

Most city office-holders plan to run in November

PORT ANGELES — Current office-holders will crowd the Nov. 2 ballot for city council races in Port Angeles and Sequim, according to interviews with those planning to register anew for positions during candidate filing week May 17-21.

But in Forks, 12 years was long enough for council member John Hillcar. Council member Joe Soha was undecided as of Friday, while elected Forks Mayor Tim Fletcher vowed to seek a second term.

And in Port Townsend, three-term incumbent Michelle Sandoval, the council-appointed mayor, is opting out of another four years. Council members Ariel Speser and Pamela Adams are joining Sandoval’s exit.

Incumbents in Clallam County intending to file include two tribal members — Fletcher, a member of Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde in Oregon, and La Trisha Suggs, a Jamestown S’Klallam tribal member on the Port Angeles City Council.

None of the office holders on the Port Angeles City Council who are running in November — Suggs, Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin, Mike French and Kate Dexter — were sworn in before January 2018. Navarra Carr, Brendan Meyer and Charlie McCaughan entered office with Suggs in January 2020.

But the newness still shines for the incumbent quartet, including council-appointed Mayor Dexter, who had her doubts about running for a second term.

Dexter, an administrator in the Peninsula College nursing program, has, like three other council members, school-age children — a break from recent councils dominated by older members.

“I wanted to be confident in my ability to show up and be one hundred percent, and I feel like I can do that,” Dexter said.

She said she wanted to see things through that she started in her first term, echoing council members across the county.

That includes rewriting city codes, and again, like her political colleagues other cities, focusing on providing affordable housing. To that mix Dexter added permanent supportive housing.

“We just need more housing,” she said.

French said he “has quite a bit left to do” in a second term.

“We’ve just set the table on a new street plan,” said the owner of the downtown First Street Haven restaurant. He is looking forward to development of a downtown plan — Elevate Downtown Port Angeles 2026 — spearheaded by the Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce as part of a $45,000 contract with the city.

“We haven’t done what we need to do as a downtown,” French said.

Schromen-Wawrin, a lawyer and, like Dexter and French, first sworn in at a January 2018 ceremony, said back then the strategic plan called for encouraging market-rate housing, “which I think now we understand is not a sufficient plan,” he said.

The housing crisis and homelessness need to be addressed, he said.

Schromen-Wawrin said it’s important to keep utility costs down, He also noted a sizeable backlog in the street maintenance program.

Suggs was appointed barely a year ago in January 2020 to fill the seat of the late Jim Moran.

Serving over the last 16 months “has kind of allowed me to determine and find out two things, is this something I like, and am I good at it,” Suggs said, adding although that abiding by Open Public Meetings Act guidelines that restrict contact with council members has been a challenge.

“I’m a person who likes to discuss things,” she said.

Suggs, restoration planner for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe, wants to focus on affordable and low-income housing and child care.

“Taking over the waste management contract for the city of Port Angeles, that’s going to need some attention,” she said, adding improved broadband services to her list of priorities.

Four of the Sequim City Council members running for election were appointed, making the fifth candidate running, Brandon Janisse, the only incumbent seeking a second term.

“I’m a glutton for punishment, I think,” he said.

“You are living under a rock if you don’t understand what’s going on in Sequim right now.”

Hiring a new city manager to replace the forced-out Charlie Bush is but one of the many challenges that Janisse is girding himself to face if he is re-elected, he said.

Janisse acknowledged being on the losing end of numerous 4-3 votes on a council that has “a very sharp divide,” he said.

“Communication is also something I think that needs to be addressed with the council.

“It absolutely needs to happen to have a functioning council.”

Janisse’s top priorities include pursuing housing and getting a crime lab to locate in the city to address a backlog of criminal cases.

Sequim council members Rachel Anderson, Keith Larkin and Mike Pence were all appointed.

Sequim City Council member Sarah Kincaid, appointed the same night in April 2020 as Pence to fill out the unexpired term of Jennifer States, who resigned, said Friday she has not decided if she will seek the position but that she would make a decision after she met Friday with advisors.

Kincaid ran an unsuccessful write-in campaign in November 2019 general election for States’ seat.

Pence, who retired as a public works supervisor in Liberty, Mo., is filling the unexpired term of the late Ted Miller.

“We need to have ways to have cost-effective housing by reducing building fees where it’s more feasible for development to occur,” Pence said, also citing a need for the 24-7 emergency medical facility.

“We need to reduce some regulations and fees to encourage more businesses to locate in Sequim,” he added.

As for controversy focused on the City Council that led to a news segment on QAnon on CNN, “we just keep getting thrown under the bus,” Pence said, blaming “an outside group that has no intention of making Sequim a better place to live.”

The group, which he said he was unable to identify, “is trying to tear [the city] down and I don’t know what their reasons are.”

Keith Larkin, a retired California fire chief, was appointed in October to fill the unexpired term of Troy Tenneson, who resigned in August.

Larkin said his familiarity with government operations “are skills I could probably bring to the council and help support what’s going on in the city.”

Larkin’s “first and foremost” priority is hiring a new city manager followed by addressing the need for affordable housing and fostering managed growth, he said.

He, too, cited the need for a 24-7 urgent-care facility.

Larkin said he recognizes much of the ongoing political disagreements are emotionally charged.

“Having worked in the fire service for 41 years, I’m pretty good about handling emotional situations,” Larkin said.

Rachel Anderson was appointed Feb. 16. Three days later, the 30-year-old business college student, wife and mother of three registered her candidacy with the PDC.

“I love getting to hear public comments and reading all the emails from all the citizens and hearing their concerns,” she said.

“It’s no secret that most of the council is older than me, so I was kind of concerned that there would be kind of like a barrier as far as communication goes, but honestly, it hasn’t been too bad. I’ve loved the job.”

She said her family is low-income, allowing her to bring that perspective to her decisions to help those in need.

Affordable housing is the priority for her, as well as the 24-hour emergency clinic and small-business and environmental sustainability.

With filing week beginning in eight days, “it feels just like Christmas,” Anderson said.

“I just want everyone to feel happy and to feel like faith and comfort, and that’s a lot of my personal philosophy.”

Tim Fletcher, the Forks mayor, said if re-elected to a second term he will continue his efforts for community support of area Native communities, which he initiated about a year ago.

“I will continue efforts to get in place finances for a sewer upgrade to support expanding housing and continue my support of local businesses,” Fletcher added.

Soha, also completing his first term on the Forks City Council, said he was uncertain if he will run again, a decision he and his wife, Linda, will make.

“We just had a baby last week and we are just not sure yet,” he said.

Emmett joined the couple’s other son, Henry, 2.

Hillcar’s decision not to seek a fourth four-year term was “a hard no,” he said.

“There have been some sad times for our community and some good things during my time on council.”

Hillcar said he is proud of his work passing wheeled all-terrain-vehicle legislation and for pushing for Forks police presence at the city transit center.

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Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected]

Forks Forum Editor Christi Baron contributed to this report.