Ferndale mayor's big raise goes away after he steps down

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 5, 2014 

FERNDALE - Mayor Gary Jensen received a 57 percent pay raise in 2008 to clean up the mess left by his predecessor, City Council members said. Now that Jensen is stepping down at the end of 2015, the mayor's salary will come down, too.

The City Council voted 5 to 2 on Monday, Feb. 3, to effectively reduce the mayor's salary by tying it to the salaries of mayors in Washington cities with populations between 7,500 and 14,999. Ferndale's population is 12,290.

The mayor made $2,619 a month in 2013. Under the new formula, the mayor would make $1,805 a month. Council members Jon Mutchler and Brent Goodrich voted no.

The new salary takes effect on Jan. 1, 2016, right after the next mayoral election in Ferndale. Jensen said he will not run again.

"I want to stay married," he told council on Monday. In an interview on Tuesday, Jensen said he believes in term limits.

"I kind of have a thing - you shouldn't be mayor forever," Jensen said. "Eventually you kind of need new blood."

In February 2008, less than two months after Jensen took office for the first of his two terms, council gave Jensen a raise from less than $1,600 a month to $2,500 a month. Raises since have been cost-of-living increases.

"They did it while I was on vacation," Jensen said. "At first, when I came in, I really wanted to change how City Hall was being run. I guess the council recognized that."

Council member Keith Olson was more direct in his account of why Jensen got the big raise.

"He was going to have to take a lot of time from his private business, Sullivan Plumbing, in order to turn around and undo all the damage of the previous mayor," Olson said.

Jensen defeated incumbent Mayor Jerry Landcastle in November 2007, 84 percent to 16 percent. Landcastle was censured by the council in 2007 for "disrespectful conduct" to Olson, city employees, citizens and the media. Landcastle was investigated that same year for criminal misconduct, after an email surfaced in which he instructed his planning director to approve a building permit.

Jensen said he still puts in 52 hours a week as mayor. But the job is part time, Olson said, and the pay should reflect that after Jensen is gone.

"The next mayor shouldn't benefit from the salary bump that you got for the amount of work you've done to restore the city," Olson said at Monday's meeting.

Council member Mel Hansen had reservations about reducing the mayor's pay so steeply because of the precedent set to give a big raise to a mayor who is working hard. He ended up voting for the pay cut, which according to the state constitution cannot be enacted during a mayor's term.

"Do you really want a system where, let's give the guy two or three months, and then if he's doing a better job we'll give him more money?" Hansen said. "Unfortunately, it doesn't work the other way around."

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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