Election 2007: Conard/Burton talk issues

At the end of a nearly two-hour forum, Coupeville mayoral candidates Nancy Conard and Gordon Burton gave each other a warm hug.

It highlighted the fairly civil contest for Conard’s position as Coupeville mayor. The November election marks the first time in 12 years that Conard is facing a challenger for her position.

Both Burton and Conard were on hand Wednesday night for a second forum, sponsored by the Whidbey Examiner. Like the forum a week earlier sponsored by the League of Women Voters, both candidates fielded questions about Conard’s dual role as mayor / town administrator and the recent controversy with the town’s draft shoreline plan.

Burton is running basically on one issue. He would separate the mayor and town administrator positions if elected mayor.

He said there aren’t any checks and balances with having Conard serving both positions. He said Conard’s role of holding both positions caused misinformation, which led to an attempt to water down regulations when the town developed its shoreline plan.

Conard said she doesn’t understand Burton’s concerns about checks and balances. She said there is a check and balance in existence between the mayor and town council that is similar to the legislative and executive branches of government.

As for the Shoreline Management Plan, she agreed that there has been misinformation swirling about the plan.

The plan sparked criticism because of a provision that would allow construction of building over the water on downtown Front Street for water enjoyment use. Critics charged that such a provision violated state regulations. Eventually, the state Department of Ecology, which has to sign off on the plan, said the town would have to provide a compelling argument for such a provision to be allowed.

Conard said the town went through a two-year community process to develop the plan. The proposed over-water construction regulation was to allow new buildings in Coupeville that are consistent with neighboring ones already standing on Front Street.

Once residents started criticizing the regulations, the town decided to hold off on the approval of the plan, hold more meetings and have a workshop with Ecology. She said the town ultimately decided against the over-water regulation.

“It wasn’t worth the dissension that was erupting in the community,” Conard said.

Burton was asked why he said he’d consider voting for Conard at a previous forum. He said that was a ruse to draw attention to him since his opponent has been in office for 12 years and he has been campaigning for three months.

Both candidates were asked why impact fees haven’t been increased.

Burton said the town needs to undertake a community impact study to determine development’s true cost to the community.

Conard said the town is limited in what it can ask for in impact fees. She added the town has negotiated with developers to pay for sewer and street upgrades, incorporate open spaces into projects and allow projects to go through design review.

“We’ve been successful in getting developers to provide more than what we can legally ask for,” Conard said.

Wednesday’s forum was the second time the Coupeville mayor candidates spoke to the public. This year’s election is the most competitive one in years. Three town council positions and the mayor’s seat are all up for election this year.

Ballots are mailed out to voters next week and the election takes place Nov. 6.

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