A Coupeville mayoral candidate challenging the incumbent wants to make some changes to the town structure.
Molly Hughes is running for her third term as mayor of Coupeville, and for the first time, she will have an opponent on the ballot. Meg Olson, owner of Kingfisher Bookstore on Front Street, is challenging Hughes for the mayoral seat in large part because Olson believes Coupeville would benefit from a town administrator.
Olson, who served a partial term on the Blaine City Council after being appointed to a vacant seat, has lived in Coupeville with her husband since 2018. She said the intended outcome of her vision to hire a town administrator and subsequently reduce the hours and salary of the mayor is twofold.
First, this change would free up the mayor to spend more time interacting with community members. Second, it would make the position of mayor more accessible to any prospective candidate with strong leadership skills by eliminating the need for him or her to be deeply familiar with the technical administrative details of day-to-day municipal operations.
“Democracy in a small town means that leadership should be open to anyone,” Olson said, adding that a professional with a background in public administration would be more adept at navigating a “complex regulatory environment.”
Hughes said she believes there is no one right way to structure a town’s government, and that she has made changes herself to adapt to different circumstances, such as combining the utilities and public works departments. Still, the mayor said she doesn’t think it’s a good idea to jump head first into such a major change without first getting a better idea of how the town currently operates.
“It worries me for my staff that someone that doesn’t know any staff members, doesn’t know how the work is distributed, doesn’t know what the different departments are right now would use that as her main campaign,” Hughes said. “That’d be scary if I was an employee of the town of Coupeville.”
Hughes, who served on the Coupeville Town Council for 12 years prior to becoming mayor, said her council service prepared her for the role. Even after more than a decade in the town government, she was shocked by how much there was to learn when she became mayor.
But learning something new every day is one of the things that Hughes loves about the job, she said.
Hughes said that if reelected, her top priorities for the town over the next four years would include the continued maintenance of town infrastructure and improving town parks by installing updated playground equipment, performing repairs on the boat ramp and possibly instating a parks and recreation committee.
Climate adaptability is also on the mayor’s mind; the town recently completed a vulnerability assessment to collect data on the anticipated impact of climate change on the town. Hughes said the next step is to consult with experts about the town’s options for mitigating this impact.
Olson also cited climate change as a top concern among Coupeville residents she has met with. She said that solutions to the climate crisis are sure to be “regulatorily burdensome” and “tremendously expensive.”
Housing was another top issue for both candidates, who each cited the potential for accessory dwelling units to provide additional housing for Coupeville residents.
Hughes said she would like the town to take a professional housing inventory so that town officials know what they’re working with.
“For a little tiny town, I really believe we have a remarkable diversity in housing,” she said, noting that the town has several trailer parks, apartment buildings and low income options, as well as duplexes, condos, townhomes and large and small single family units.
Olson, however, said that “off the cuff remarks” about trailer parks and apartment complexes are largely anecdotal; the town will need to think of creative, outside-the-box solutions to provide housing that is sufficient for the town’s needs without compromising its character. She said she would like the town to conduct a housing needs assessment.