Local Election

Leadership styles at heart of Ferndale mayor choice

Jon Mutchler
Jon Mutchler Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

While the two candidates for Ferndale mayor certainly don’t agree on every issue, what separates them more than anything may be their styles of leadership.

Cathy Watson, a former NASA meteorologist, public affairs officer and aerospace engineer, says her experience allows her to see the big picture when making critical decisions.

Jon Mutchler, a pastor at Ferndale Alliance Church and a member of the Whatcom Charter Review Commission, says the city needs someone who listens and responds to the needs of citizens.

Watson and Mutchler, both current City Council members, are seeking to replace Gary Jensen as mayor of Ferndale. Ballots for the Nov. 3 general election were mailed Oct. 14.

Jensen, who is running for Port of Bellingham commissioner, and State Sen. Doug Ericksen have endorsed Mutchler. Watson has earned endorsements from four City Council members and was chosen to be the stand-in for the mayor should he be absent.

Watson said her experience managing scientific teams and budgets at NASA is a unique skill she can put to use as mayor.

“Jon tends to think about businesses, and how this is going to affect businesses — that’s kind of his first go-to,” Watson said. “Because I’m a former scientist, I think of the city as a system — so if you put a business in one place, how is that going to affect businesses in other places? If you do something with one road, how is that going to affect the other roads?”

Other than finding a way to connect Thornton Street to Second Avenue, a goal both candidates share, Watson says one priority of hers is to bring more business and family-wage jobs to the city. She thinks that can be accomplished by putting together a marketing plan during her first few months as mayor.

Because I’m a former scientist, I think of the city as a system.

Cathy Watson

“We’ve got a good core group of industrial and manufacturing businesses, and I’d like to try and leverage those to bring more businesses to Ferndale, preferably some people that are looking to relocate maybe from King or Pierce County, but also find a way for entrepreneurs to start their business here,” Watson said.

Mutchler, when asked his priorities if elected, said he would first like to bring a sense of respect toward citizens back to the council.

“Our council has been known at times to be a little bit rough on citizens,” he said. “The citizens of Ferndale should never be afraid to come to a council meeting.”

He also said he would make sure developers and businesses have a good experience when they come to City Hall. That, in turn, could attract more jobs to the city, he said.

Mutchler said another priority of his is the city’s relationship with Lummi Nation. He said the tribe, which has endorsed Mutchler for mayor, will be the largest partner and developer for the city over the next few decades.

Both candidates have hesitations about the proposal on the November ballot that would create a new taxing district within the city’s boundaries. The metropolitan park district, as it would be called, would raise money for parks and trails in Ferndale.

Watson is opposed to the premise of creating a new taxing district, but said she wanted to send it to voters anyway so they could decide. She said she would rather see Ferndale do something similar to Bellingham’s Greenway levy, so staff could go to voters with a levy request every 10 years.

The citizens of Ferndale should never be afraid to come to a council meeting.

Jon Mutchler

Mutchler, on the other hand, doesn’t mind the concept of a new taxing district, but thinks it was a mistake to put it on the November ballot without the support of the parks, recreation and trails advisory board. He said it was “cynical” of Watson to vote to put a measure on the ballot if she doesn’t support it.

Mutchler has further questioned Watson’s leadership ability and accused her of not being responsive to citizens. He cited a vote last October to kill a resolution that would have declared Horizon View Park a surplus property to be sold to developers.

More than a dozen neighbors of the park showed up to that city council meeting in 2014 to point out that the council was misinformed about the park, and they urged the council not to sell the property. All council members agreed to kill the resolution except Watson.

“That struck me as unresponsive to the citizens and neighbors of Ferndale,” Mutchler said. “I think a leader has to be willing to admit when they make mistakes.”

Watson stands by the decision. The money the city received for selling the park would have helped pay for other park projects like the Star Park Playground Project. She added that she would have been happy to discuss selling the park but the council voted to kill the resolution before it was discussed with residents.

“Bottom line, there are times when a leader must say ‘no’ to a group of people because that’s what’s best for the city as a whole, and that’s what I did,” Watson said.

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.

Reach Wilson Criscione at 360-756-2803 or wilson.criscione@bellinghamherald.com.