Town candidates field queries

During Tuesday night’s forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters, Coupeville mayoral candidate Gordon Burton said he would consider voting for his opponent, incumbent Nancy Conard.

He said that Conard is a formidable opponent and he agreed with some of the work she has done as mayor.

“You don’t know how much she paid me to say that,” Burton joked at the two-hour candidate forum at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

Potential voters packed the building Tuesday as the most contested election in years in the small Central Whidbey town picks up. Three council positions are contested this year and the November election marks the first time Conard has faced a challenge in her 12 years as mayor.

During the forum, Conard and the three incumbent council members spent substantial time defending some of their decision-making — which the challengers took pains to criticize — on issues ranging from a really big rock to Front Street development.

Burton is running basically on one issue. If he is elected, he would separate the mayor and town administrator positions that Conard currently holds.

“I want to separate the positions of mayor and town administrator and bring checks and balances back to town hall,” Burton said, adding he would urge Conard to apply for the administrator position should he be elected mayor.

Conard said that critics argue she has too much power in Coupeville, but they are mistaken.

“I think they confuse power with effectiveness,” Conard said. She also rattled off a list of accomplishments the town has achieved during her time as mayor, ranging from implementing a 24-hour police force to resurfacing arterial streets.

When asked if she would apply for the administrator position should she lose the election, she said she couldn’t imagine applying for such a position under Burton.

Conard said she had surveyed the salaries of town administrators in similar communities and those numbers indicate the town would have to pay between $75,000 and $90,000 a year for a separate administrator. That is higher than her current $60,000 a year salary.

She added that it would take a number of years for a new administrator to develop the contacts to become an effective town administrator, while she is already a known quantity.

“You know exactly what you’re getting as an administrator, and that is me,” Conard said.

Another audience member questioned why people should vote for Burton when he was hesitant to file for candidacy.

He agreed that he was extremely hesitant to run for mayor, but he felt the problems on the council need to be fixed. He didn’t elaborate on what those problems are but earlier said the council hadn’t been proactive since Frank Tibbets and Phil Williamson served.

“Do I need to be mayor? Absolutely not,” Burton said.

Besides Conard and Burton, candidates of each council race also had a chance to respond to voter questions as well.

Gary Piazzon is trying to unseat Bob Clay, who is finishing his sixth year on the town council.

But the first question out of the gate was whether Piazzon supports Oh Oh, a community group that unsuccessfully sued to change the zoning on the property where Miriam’s coffee shop stands.

Piazzon said he followed the case closely and thought the land, which is located in front of the “Big Rock” glacial erratic, should have been turned into a park.

Clay said people know his views about the lawsuit and its cost to the town.

Front Street development also came up. Clay and Piazzon were asked about their views on construction on the water side.

Clay said he didn’t favor development, but property owners should be able to build if they can meet requirements.

Piazzon focused on the towns proposed shoreline management plan. He was critical of language put in an earlier draft that would have allowed construction to extend over the water for buildings with a water enjoyment use. He said the town had its planner develop a provision that the state department of ecology shot down. He said the plan would have been approved a year ago without the language for over-water development.

“Stop paying taxpayers money to find a loophole in the thing,” Piazzon said.

Clay disagreed.

“The town didn’t waste any money, the town went through a process,” he said.

Similar development questions were given to incumbent Councilman Marshall Bronson and challenger Ann Dannhauer. In one, they were questioned about high-density housing.

Bronson said there has to be housing that is representative of the community and high-density housing is more affordable.

Dannhauer wants to see more green space and parks in Coupeville. She said that could be done through voluntary down-zoning in town.

Bronson said the town already has a considerable amount of park space.

“I personally think the town can’t afford additional parks,” Bronson said.

Bronson was also questioned about the property the town purchased on Broadway. That property is used to provide construction access to the Krueger Commons cottage housing project.

Bronson said that property will be eventually used to extend Fourth Street.

In the third seat up for election this year, incumbent Molly Hughes is looking to keep her seat, while Roxallanne Medley hopes to win it.

One audience member accused Medley of idle complaining concerning the shoreline plan process and questioned why she didn’t attend the meetings.

Medley said she has been a proponent of the research provided by the Department of Ecology. She has attended the public meetings concerning the shoreline plan.

Medley was also questioned about why she chose to run for town council this year. Medley said she ran for town council six years ago and lost by 19 votes to Phil Williamson. She said that election left her burned out. With all of the projects coming up, she thought this year was the best time to jump back in.

Hughes was questioned about why the town has been slow to utilize low-impact development standards. She disagreed with the idea that the town is slow in using those standard and said the town already works with developers to incorporate such standard into projects.

On the other hand, Medley said their isn’t enough being done for low-impact development. She said the town needs to develop a LID manual that is specific to Coupeville.

Another member of the audience questioned why the new buildings where Christopher’s restaurant is located didn’t incorporate low impact development standards.

Hughes said the lot wasn’t a good candidate for such LID techniques as pervious surfaces. She also complimented the owners for their efforts cleaning the property, which used to be a gas station.

Medley said maybe other LID techniques could have been incorporated such as bio swales or retention gardens.

The upcoming historic preservation plan also came up during the forum. Medley said the plan helps everybody in town and the Design Review Board critically needs the guidelines.

In fact, she said those clear guidelines could have prevented the demolition of the historic Vaughn house that took place last summer.

Hughes said the town already has a demolition ordinance and a preservation ordinance. The proposed guidelines, she said, just pumps up the current regulations. She said the Vaughn house demolition went through an approval process once town staff discovered the house was listed as an historic home.

“I think the town has been up front about the Vaughn house,” Hughes said adding the staff caught the paperwork snafu before it was demolished. “It did go through a process. It did go through the process quickly.”

In addition to the candidates for the town of Coupeville positions, the audience heard from candidates for seats on the Port of Coupeville.

Benye Weber, who is looking to keep her seat, spoke at the forum while her challenger, Dennis Parbs, who wasn’t able to attend. Instead, his wife read a written statement in his place.

The mayor candidates will debate again Oct. 10 at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.

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