Monica MickHager knew she was going to be running for City Council the moment filing week was over for the last City Council elections, in 2018.
That year, City Council members Pam Adams, Michelle Sandoval and Ariel Speser (who was running for the first time) ran uncontested.
“I instantly regretted my decision not to run when the week was over for filing,” MickHager said.
MickHager, who has lived in Port Townsend for over 30 years and has been on the city’s planning commission for 10 years, wanted to see some public dialogue.
But since no one stepped up to challenge any members of the council in the last election, MickHager decided she had better do it herself this time.
Concerned with the way City Council was treating members of the public and voting on legislation with minimal public discussion, MickHager filed to run for City Council in August of 2018.
“I thought, I am going to file and I am going to run, mainly to see if anyone else in our community felt the way I did,” she said. “I thought there might be a really good chance that I would start campaigning and people would say, ‘No, we’re totally fine with City Council.’”
But as soon as she started doorbelling, she realized she was not alone in her concerns.
Not only are there more contested races this year than during the last election—with Bernie Arthur going up against incumbent Amy Howard, Tyler Vega challenging David Faber and then later withdrawing from the race, and Bob Gray deciding not to run again, to be replaced with candidate Owen Rowe—but MickHager found that citizens want change on the council.
Her main campaign strategy so far is going door to door to speak with residents at their homes. MickHager and what she calls her “campaign family,” have knocked on 2,300 doors so far. She hopes to hit 3,000 by the end of the campaign.
From Port Townsend’s ragged roads to the city’s $600,000 Visitor’s Center park project, to the lack of public restrooms and the deer (people are both for and against the deer, MickHager said), people want to see some change happening in the city.
After having filed with no idea as to whether people really wanted to see change, MickHager said she suddenly realized she had a chance at possibly winning.
But she is going up against an opponent with years of experience. Mayor Deborah Stinson has been on the City Council since 2012. And with a new city manager coming in, her supporters argue that Stinson’s experience will be a necessity.
“I am running on my record of public service dedicated to implementing our community’s adopted vision,” she said in emailed answers to reporter questions. Stinson was unable to schedule face-to-face or phone interviews.
Since she first ran for City Council in 2012, Stinson has seen the concerns of the public evolve.
“Jobs were top-of-mind back in 2012,” she said. “Interestingly, another theme I heard in that first campaign was the impression that we had too many police officers and too stringent parking enforcement.”
Now, citizens want city road improvement and more parking enforcement, as it becomes nearly impossible for downtown employees to find a parking space during the tourist season.
According to Stinson, city road improvement has been something the council has been grappling with for some time.
“Repairing residential streets is one of the uses council stipulated for the property taxing capacity resulting from annexation to the Fire District last year,” she said. “We have some related plans and options coming forward that the new Transportation Committee and interested residents are studying.”
With nearly 90 miles of streets in Port Townsend, the big question is how to pay for road improvement.
“Whether or not to utilize tax revenues or bonding capacity (debt) to accomplish this and other community-stated goals was, is and will continue to be part of council’s ongoing dialog with residents,” Stinson said.
But MickHager argues that she’s not hearing that “ongoing dialogue.”
“The City Council was moving farther and farther away from public process and inclusion,” she said. “It was also worrisome how they were making their decisions on the projects they wanted to do and personally to me, it felt like they were not only not taking public input, but I questioned how much research they were doing themselves and how much they were just leaning on our ex-city manager.”
As she has been doorbelling, MickHager said she realized not many people knew that the city has $17 million in debt.
Even if she doesn’t win, MickHager is glad to get some of these issues into the public dialogue.
“We had no conversations last time around,” she said. “We are American. It’s in our constitution: ‘We the people.’ That means that we are a citizen government.”
MickHager believes there needs to always be two people running, particularly if there is an incumbent seeking re-election.
This dialogue is evident in The Leader’s opinion section, where letters to the editor have been flowing in for MickHager and Stinson. So far, there have been a total of seven letters for MickHager and 10 for Stinson.
“We need to ask some questions about their decisions,” MickHager said. ”We put a lot of trust in our City Council members.”
But if she does win, MickHager realizes she has to decide carefully what she wants to change first.
“We’ve seen people campaign on unrealistic ideas and then end up alone in the corner,” said George Yount, a former port commissioner.
One example of this is City Council member Bob Gray, who is often the singular “no” vote on City Council decisions.