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Election 2007: Conard faces Burton in town mayor race

For the first time in 12 years, Coupeville Mayor Nancy Conard will face an opponent in November’s election.

Gordon Burton is making his first foray into public life by throwing his hat in the mayor’s race.

The retired networking engineer decided to run primarily because he disagrees with having Conard serve both as mayor and administration.

“I don’t like to see someone reporting to themselves,” Burton said, arguing that the two positions should be separate to maintain a system of checks and balances.

He would also transfer some of Conard’s duties and bring in some additional staff. If elected, he said he would even consider hiring Conard as town administrator.

Conard doesn’t agree with Burton’s view.

“I don’t think that’s an honest argument,” Conard said.

The town council ultimately decides who serves as administrator. Whoever is elected mayor will have to present a plan for administration for town council approval within 90 days of being elected.

Conard decided to run for a fourth term because she is excited about the projects that are coming up in town, many of which will improve the town’s environmental stewardship. The town will be hiring a part-time employee to help implement a climate protection plan.

Another project the town is starting to work on is the feasibility of diverting stormwater and treated sewer water to irrigate the farm fields. If it works out, the water could help local farmers expand the types of crops they grow.

“It could make a huge change to the farmers on Central Whidbey,” Conard said, pointing out it could boost farming which is important to the culture of Whidbey Island.

In addition to Conard’s dual role as mayor and administrator, several other issues have cropped up recently in town.

One contentious issue lies with a proposed town regulation that would have allowed new buildings for a “water enjoyment” use to be built on Front Street in downtown. Critics argued the provision violated the state shoreline plan; town officials ultimately decided not to include it in the town’s shoreline plan, opting for the stricter “water dependent” uses.

Conard said that the provision wasn’t illegal, but the state regulations aren’t clearly defined. She said the town decided to not risk a disagreement with the state Department of Ecology, and possibly the Growth Management Hearings Board, should that decision be appealed.

“I don’t feel it’s worth taking it to the mat and finding the compelling argument,” Conard said.

Burton said that the town has to follow the state law and if an owner comes up with a water dependent use on their waterside lots on Front Street, then they should be able to build. He said someone could apply for a variance from water dependent uses, but those variances should be handled cautiously.

The town also is expanding its water system further outside town limits. The expanded system will someday basically cover most of Central Whidbey Island from Admirals Cove to Libbey Road.

Burton said the expansion is a double-edged sword. The system should be expanded but he was concerned about it promoting growth outside of town.

Conard said expanding the water system will protect the resource by having homes draw from one water source rather than by having each one install a well.

“What it’s intended to do is protect the aquifer,” Conard said.

Both candidates are doing grassroots campaigning. They have been spending their time doorbelling and visiting potential voters in their homes.

If elected, Burton would like to examine affordable housing in Coupeville. During his visits to local residents, he noticed some living in substandard conditions.

“You got some pretty bad slum housing in Coupeville,” Burton said.

He would also like to form a committee to look at Main Street because it isn’t very artsy.

Conard has served as mayor for 12 years. She ran unopposed each time in the prior elections, but said she welcomes the challenge of having an opponent in the race this year.

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