Five people are facing off in the Aug. 4 primary election to become the next mayor of Ferndale. The top two vote-getters will move on to the Nov. 3 general election.
Ferndale mayor is a nonpartisan office with four-year terms. The mayor makes 90 percent of the average salary for mayors in similarly sized Washington cities, and will earn $1,690 per month in 2016. The position is part time.
The Bellingham Herald asked the candidates a series of questions about their qualifications and key issues in the city. Responses below are verbatim as submitted but in some cases were shortened for length. This is the first of two articles on their responses. Full, unedited candidate responses are available at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog.
The order of candidate responses follows the order they were randomly assigned for the ballot. The candidates are: Carol Bersch, 61, sits on Ferndale City Council and owns Carol’s Cake Designs; Vicca Thompson, 43, owns and operates The Grow Shop and Ferntucky Medical; Jon Mutchler, 55, sits on Ferndale City Council and is the pastor at Ferndale Alliance Church; J. Manuel Reta, 64, owns Colima Design Alteration store and serves on the Washington State Commission on Hispanic Affairs; Cathy Watson, 55, sits on Ferndale City Council and worked at NASA’s Johnson Space Center before moving to Washington.
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Why are you running for Ferndale mayor?
Bersch: Ferndale deserves leadership that has the community’s best interests first and foremost. I am an advocate for the sustainability of small business and helping those businesses thrive as they bring revenue and jobs into the community. I believe in the power of the community to come together and have their voices heard. I believe you, your neighbor, friend, relative can make a difference and this all begins in our own neighborhood. I have a strong economic mindset for development while maintaining a gatekeeper’s attitude about taxpayers’ dollars. The issues that the Mayor must address are much larger than the promise to lower your taxes. My vision for Ferndale is broad enough to assure a future we can all depend on and afford yet specific enough to encompass the goal of ensuring that every one of our citizens has a government that is responsive to them. There must be no surprises. There must be no secrets.
Thompson: I Love Ferndale. I moved here for the clean air and water and the down-home kindness so freely shared by many Ferndale residents. I experienced some bullying and personal loss at the hands of the current City government. When I shared my experience with neighbors I heard that many other kind folks felt hurt, oppressed, and unheard.
I have spent my life enjoying and fighting for the Freedom we ALL deserve. When I found out my cute little town had a mean streak, I felt obligated to help shine the light of Love on the situation.
Mutchler: Folks from the left, right, and center, along with city employees and a large spectrum of citizens (small business owners, educators, law enforcement, home builders, etc.) have asked me to run.
Most notably to me are citizens who have not always agreed with positions I’ve taken on council (They tell me!) but still think I am the best choice to succeed Mayor Gary Jensen who asked me to run and has endorsed my candidacy to be your next mayor. ...
Ferndale has elected me in my last three races (two for council, and Charter Review Commission last year). That is more success than the total electoral wins of the other four candidates combined. I know “politics” is a dirty word to some, but I bring to the office integrity and respect and those skills are needed when working with other city, county, state, and tribal leaders.
Reta: The reason I am running for mayor is to bring a new chapter into a city that needs a new direction because of the fast growing enviroment. The experience I have obtain in life will help our young and seniors in our community.
Watson: I’m running for Mayor because I have a deep love for Ferndale, having found a home in our amazing community after living in eight states in 30 years. My experiences in other cities have shown me what works and what doesn’t, and helped me form a vision of what our city can be if we all work together. I want to help our residents, local businesses, City staff and Council build a thriving, prosperous community we’re all proud to call home.
I also want to focus on bringing more family-wage jobs to Ferndale. As Mayor, I will work with the WWU Small Business Development Council and our local Chamber of Commerce to market our city to new businesses trying to find their first brick and mortar location and existing businesses looking to relocate.
Have you attended any Ferndale City Council or other official meetings in the last year? If so, which ones?
Bersch: I now serve on the Ferndale City Council. I have been attending meetings since January 2014 and have not missed a single meeting so far. I also attend the Committee meetings and serve on the Finance and Administration committee. I am the city liaison for the Heritage Society and the Ferndale Public Market.
Thompson: I attended my first meeting in April to politely ask the city to treat me with common decency. I was met with verbal abuse and told to leave town. As I searched for help from someone in our government, I was enlightened to the fact that the city does whatever it wants without consequence. Many citizens were hurt by Ferndale’s choice to unlawfully shut down The Grow Shop and Ferntucky Medical.
I learned that the council meetings were just for show, and the decisions get made privately. That’s when I knew I should run for Mayor.
Mutchler: I attend nearly all Ferndale City Council meetings and planning commission meetings. Although not required, I attend nearly all city council committee meetings.
I also attend most Ferndale School Board meetings, a number of Whatcom County council meetings, and most of the Charter Review Commission meetings.
Reta: I have attended different city council meeting in which often I have have made comments. The Fiestas patrias is one that I commented and is still going strong.
Watson: As a Councilmember, I attend all Ferndale City Council meetings, as well as all City Council Committee meetings. I attend the monthly Board meetings of the Ferndale Arts Commission and the Ferndale Service Cooperative as their Council liaison. I am also the Council liaison to the Ferndale Employee Wellness Committee, which meets monthly.
I attend quarterly meetings with elected officials and Staff from the County and other incorporated cities to plan for the required 2016 update of our comprehensive plans, a requirement of the State Growth Management Act. I also attend the Phillips 66 quarterly Leadership Breakfast with other City, County and State elected officials and their staff.
What do you think of the plan to ask voters to approve a 50 cents per $1,000 assessed value property tax for a Metropolitan Park District?
Bersch: When the Metropolitan Parks District was presented to the City Council there were two plans for us to vote on: a.) the city boundary, and b.) the school boundary. I voted for the school boundary and voted ‘no’ for the city boundary. I will be voting ‘no’ in the general election and hopefully bring it back to the voters again next year. I see no reason for the residents within the City of Ferndale to carry the burden of maintaining the parks within the city limits for an additional budget increase of approximately $580,000 when it could earn approximately $4 million and elect a Parks Commission to oversee the dollars for those outside the city limits such as Hovander, Sandy Point, Lummi Nation and Island, Custer, Grandview/Portal Way areas all the way to the Blaine Border.
Thompson: I am voting yes to give it a chance. I understand resident’s primary fear that the city will act dishonestly. The more we each get involved and ask for transparency, the more we get it! Good Parks are important for humans!
Mutchler: I was the only council member to vote “no” to send this proposal to the voters on November 3rd. ...
I had three reasons for my “no” vote.
(1) The citizens expressed very strong NO’s to the last two Ferndale tax measures: the one cent/gallon gas tax (to repair roads) and (2) the high school bond levy. These failed by large margins. There’s a message here.
(2) There are some other large tax measures coming up, needing the attention of the voters. First, the county jail, is also on the ballot. And second, the another high school proposal will be coming to us this election or next. We may be asking a lot at one time.
(3) My biggest reason for asking council to wait on this was a lack of shared-vision and support between council and our parks and trail board.
Reta: The .50 and penny tax, the voters will have their say. My concern do they have a say in the Jail issue?
Watson: I do not support the formation of a Metropolitan Parks District because I don’t think creating another permanent taxing district is the best way to fund better parks and outdoor amenities in Ferndale. Sadly, there are too many people in Ferndale who literally cannot afford a $0.50 per $1000 increase in their property taxes.
To pay for specific parks-related amenities, I would prefer the City go to voters with a levy request for each project, which residents can either approve or disapprove on a case-by-case basis. ...
Initially, the Parks Board pushed to create a district bounded by the Ferndale School District, but Council voted twice in 2014 to create a smaller district using City boundaries. I fought hard against the larger district because I believed (and still do) that it would compete with the school district for funds.