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Mayor’s Q-related comments cause continuing controversy in Sequim

You may have heard about Mayor William Armacost of Sequim, Washington, who has promoted QAnon conspiracy theories. That revelation has thrown the town into turmoil. Especially after the city manager — a critic of the mayor's comments — was forced to resign.

Ed Evans is the News Director at Sequim’s community radio station KSQM. He’s been following the story closely.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Evans says it all started last summer, during a radio show called Coffee with the Mayor.

Evans: On August 27, as he was chatting with us, a listener submitted a question by email. In that question, he asked the mayor to talk about his beliefs about QAnon. He said, "I want to hear what you as the mayor, a QAnon enthusiast, is saying on QAnon being labeled as a political, domestic terror threat by the FBI."

Then the mayor went on to talk about his beliefs about QAnon. He was calling it a truth movement, and a movement that encourages you to think for yourself. Then he referred people to a video on YouTube to see what that's all about.

Well, needless to say, our listeners, I won't say erupted, that's probably a little too much, but there was a lot of concern being expressed by the listeners at that time.

Your listeners had a strong reaction. How did folks on the city council and city officials react to that?

Well, the reaction came from the city manager in part. He helped author a news release, a statement to suggest that what the mayor was saying were his personal views and that that was probably not the specific forum where issues other than issues specific to the city should be discussed.

He said in his statement that any responses to questions reflecting the personal opinion of the mayor do not reflect policy positions of the city of Sequim or the Sequim City Council organization.

Then a few weeks ago, the city manager, a man named Charlie Bush, was forced to resign after a closed-door vote by the City Council. We should say here that Mayor Armacost gets to vote on the council. He was one of the members who voted to force the city manager to resign. Did the council give any reason for the city manager's dismissal?

No, they have not. That's a big controversy going on right now in town. When the council met a couple of weeks ago, they did meet an executive session. By law, the mayor and the other council members that participated in that say that they are not allowed to talk about what happens in an executive session.

The only thing that came out was that the mayor said that he, the City Council, and the city manager had philosophical differences. He is not talking at all about what those philosophical differences might be.

Needless to say, it's caused something of a turmoil in the community. People are wondering what's going on. Why was this very popular city manager asked to resign in this in this fashion?

This story has attracted national attention. CNN did a story. How would you describe how this attention has impacted the community?

There are mixed emotions. Actually, there are a lot of emotions. A lot of people are suggesting that this has been a real embarrassment for the community.

I was checking some of the comments on our KSQM Radio Facebook site. One person commented, "This is pretty wacky." They were surprised that when given a chance on national television, he did not denounce QAnon.

Some people were angry at CNN for even picking up the story. One person said, "CNN is the biggest lying press there is, and just leave the mayor alone." Another person said it put Sequim on the map, and not in a good way. That's typical of the kind of comments that we've been getting. "Sequim is gearing up to be the butt of jokes from sea to shining sea," is what one person said.

Is there any concern that the mayor's potential QAnon beliefs have impacted any policy decisions that have come from the city?

That's hard to say. He himself is saying he is wanting to keep separate his personal beliefs from the work he does as the mayor of the city, and from his business, and that those are just his personal beliefs. He's trying to make the case that what he believes in in that field is not impacting what he's doing on the city council.

The mayor first made his comments about QAnon back in August. What is he saying about QAnon now?

He's trying to backpedal a little bit. During that interview with CNN, he said, "to make things perfectly clear I've never endorsed or said I am a QAnon supporter. I was asked a question back last year. I shared the philosophy, which I still do." Essentially, he's saying that he did not say publicly that he believed in that on that August 27 broadcast, but he does admit he shares their philosophy.

Is it clear to you what he believes?

It's hard to say. He’s been very silent. He won't talk about this publicly. And he refuses to talk about the reasons why he led the effort to have the city manager removed, saying that, again, he's repeated this several times, that he is legally bound not to say anything that was discussed in the executive session.

Is there anything else that you want our listeners to know about this story, and your city?

Only that there's a real sense of angst in the community. There's a lot of tension in the community about this issue, and about what's going on with Covid, and the election, and those kinds of things. The feeling in the community right now is pretty unsettled. I'm really hoping that eventually this is going to get settled down and we'll be able to get back to something in the way of normal.

Evans also told me there are some community members calling for the mayor's resignation. Here's Sequim resident Karen Hogan, who made this comment to the mayor on the radio:

“You of course have the right to your opinions and beliefs. But as mayor, you have an obligation to protect the health and welfare of Sequim residents, and follow the law. You have proven yourself unfit to meet that obligation. In the interests of good governance, I ask you to resign from the city council. If you refuse to resign, I ask city council members to remove you as mayor.”

Evans told me the Sequim City Council is unlikely to remove the mayor. We also reached out to Sequim Mayor William Armacost himself. In a statement, he said:

“I have never said that I'm a member of or support QAnon. I encourage all citizens to seek truth. Do your own research. Think for yourself.”

Listen to the interview by clicking the play button above.