Mayoral candidate Lacher hopes to shatter town's last glass ceiling

Carrie Lacher ... hopes to be first female mayor in Friday Harbor history. - Scott Rasmussen
Carrie Lacher ... hopes to be first female mayor in Friday Harbor history.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

When two of three members of the former County Commission have been female, and four of five Friday Harbor Town Council members have been female, gender would seem to be irrelevant in local politics.

But there's one more glass ceiling to shatter: In the Town of Friday Harbor's 100 years, 24 individuals have served as mayor — all of them men.

Come November, Carrie Lacher hopes to be elected the town's first female mayor.

Lacher, a Town Council member, and county Fire Marshal Robert Low are running for mayor in the Nov. 3 general election. It's the first mayoral election with more than one candidate since 1997.

While Lacher's not pushing the gender issue — she mentions it only once in her blog, which she updates almost daily — she's aware of the historical importance should she be elected.

"I'm not your typical candidate — I have a pink collar job, I live in affordable housing, I'm a woman," she wrote at www.carrielacher.blogspot.com. "That means I can represent MORE of us better AND I'm going to work harder at consensus building AND I'll listen better. And talk about a role model for young girls and teens! I'm so there!"

Lacher, 54, has long been preparing herself for the job. She's served as a Town Council member since 2008, is chairwoman of the San Juan County Solid Waste Advisory Committee, and is a member of the San Juan County Housing Bank Commission. She has served as mayor pro tem in Mayor David Jones' absence.

She's been a consensus builder on the Town Council and on the Solid Waste Advisory Committee; she's particularly proud that the advisory committee voted unanimously on a solid waste utility fee structure to recommend to the County Council, despite some initial disagreements.

But she can dig in and stand her ground.

On Aug. 19, she took offense at Ferry Advisory Committee Chairman Ed Sutton's comments that the council needed to do more to move ferry traffic through downtown. She reminded Sutton that the county had eliminated funding for ferry traffic control, and that the Town Council worked with County Councilman Howard Rosenfeld to preserve local funding for traffic control on a limited basis. The funding commitment from the town and county led to a funding commitment from Washington State Ferries.

She seemed to think that Sutton's comments were too simplistic for such a complicated issue. "There needs to be a broader conversation," she said.

She thinks she can facilitate that conversation as mayor.

As mayor, Lacher said she would be "a very visible presence" at the Association of Washington Cities, which represents Washington's cities and towns before the state Legislature, the state executive branch and regulatory agencies.

"That presence is critical to keep Friday Harbor on Olympia's radar," she said. She wants Friday Harbor and other ferry-served communities in this region to ally, so the region has a collective political voice on transportation issues.

She wouldn't support a single fire department for San Juan Island unless there is clear benefit for the town; she supported the town's participation in a Sept. 25 conference on establishing regional fire authorities. The conference will be presented by the Washington Fire Chiefs and Washington State Council of Firefighters at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum.

Lacher would support Friday Harbor joining the county stormwater utility to further spread the costs of stormwater improvements.

She wants to postpone raising Trout Lake Dam. Raising the dam 7 feet would increase the amount of water available for the town by 62 millions gallons a year. But it would also result in increased utility rates. (Trout Lake was holding 396,101,865 gallons on Sept. 9; the lake's total storage is 468,216,384 gallons.)

She supports a moratorium on utility rate increases while money is raised to fix needy streets. She wants to establish a funding source for street improvements; possible revenue sources include a paid parking lot.

She and fellow candidate Low both propose establishing a funding source for street improvements, which are currently funded with sales tax revenues. When sales tax revenues decline, like they did this year, less money is available for streets.

And both are concerned about safety in the Harbor Ridge mobile home neighborhood on Roche Harbor Road.

Low, who served as town fire chief and fire marshal before his current job, said he thinks the neighborhood is a fire hazard. Lacher is also concerned about the density — and condition — of mobile homes in the neighborhood.

Harbor Ridge is zoned multi-family, which means 14 homes per acre can be built there. There are 64 homes there now, according to Town Administrator King Fitch. But at 15.40 acres, some 215 homes could be built or placed there under current zoning.

Lacher differs with Low on town administration: He said he would consider Fitch's resignation as town administrator; Lacher said she would keep Fitch on the job.

Therein lies the power of the mayor: While the council approves budgets and votes on legislation, the mayor sets the agenda, writes the budget and has ultimate hire and fire authority. But the mayor must work with the council to see his or her goals implemented.

"Mayor David Jones has done an effective job in building team spirit on the council," Lacher said. "He's done an effective job in making sure each person is heard and eliminating contentious cross-talk."

Lacher was born near Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, where her Air Force dad was stationed. The family later moved to Des Moines, and then Los Angeles and Chicago.

Lacher earned a journalism degree from Northwestern University in 1977 and worked briefly at the Oak Ridger newspaper in Tennessee.

She moved to San Juan Island in 1994. She wrote a column, "The Early Years," for The Journal and, from 1998-01 owned the clothing store 10 Cannery Landing. She became bookkeeper for St. Francis Church and assistant director for the San Juan Community Home Trust.

She lives in the Salal Neighborhood on Carter Avenue; she left the Home Trust after being elected to the Town Council, she said, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. She supported the annexation of the Buck property to clear the way for the Home Trust's affordable housing neighborhood there.

After she left the Home Trust, she joined the staff of the San Juan Island Library full-time as bookkeeper and library associate. She continues to keep the books for St. Francis Church.

Of Friday Harbor, Lacher said, "This is an amazing, forward-thinking place to live."

— The mayor of Friday Harbor is paid $148 per meeting, with a maximum of four meetings per month (council members receive $85 per meeting).

— The mayor is the chief executive of the town. The mayor has ultimate hire and fire authority, although most of that responsibility is delegated to the town administrator.

— The mayor has the authority to appoint members of town commissions and committees, although the mayor has traditionally sought the endorsement of the Town Council.

— The mayor works with the town administrator and town treasurer to write the budget, but the budget is approved by the Town Council. The mayor also presides over Town Council meetings, but can vote only to break a tie.

Low says he may replace Fitch with a new town administrator if elected mayor.

Q&A: Carrie Lacher and Robert Low, candidates for mayor of Friday Harbor.

Leaning green: Mayoral candidates say 'no' to campaign yard signs.

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