Wednesday, December 11, 2019
Elected officials get melancholy at the end of their service and as we prepare for the transition to a Greg Hansen administration, I want to ponder where we’ve journeyed as a city.
When I took the reins from Mayor Gary Jensen, the city was in good shape. We were coming out of the deepest recession in a generation and had clawed our way back to financial health. Over the last four years, we grappled with the challenges of Ferndale’s popularity and the demands placed upon a 21st century community. Beyond the encouraging graphs and statistics, there a few moments to reflect upon.
June 2016: It was hot and the air at the Star Park construction site was full of dust and sound. It was the last day of construction and we had just received the news we weren’t going to make our 5pm deadline for opening the park. In the last six days, more than 2,000 volunteers and 300 organizations had contributed time, money and sweat to build the largest playground in the city during one of the hottest weeks of the year. Volunteers had been there from sunup to sundown every single day and the news was hard to take.
But we are Ferndale. We rallied, busted our butts, and got the playground in working order by 7pm for hundreds of waiting children. Today, thousands of children find joy at this iconic playground and it inspired a renaissance in Ferndale parks and recreation.
The next year we invested in a recreation program that brought activities, music and food trucks to our parks, with more events being added each year. Star Park proved that even though we have grown as a city, we are still a small town and can come together to move mountains.
September 2017: It was a morning like any other. I was sitting and sipping at Woods Coffee, reading my city materials, with my “Visit with the Mayor” sign out front. Throughout my time as mayor, I tried to be available to the public; not just at City Hall, but in more casual places where the public could come and share their thoughts.
And they came and shared their ideas, concerns and hopes. In return, I listened and occasionally found new volunteers for our city boards and even future council candidates.
On this day, it was a thoughtful realtor named Greg Crim who had some fresh ideas on what we could do to inspire more neighborly neighborhoods. With a little prodding, he agreed to be my nominee to the Planning Commission, where he volunteers his time to keep our zoning and development rules up-to-date and Ferndale-friendly.
During my time as mayor, I appointed more than 100 citizens to various advisory boards and commissions, including expanding the membership to the Arts and Parks boards, and forming the Ferndale Youth Civics Council and the North Whatcom Poverty Task Force. Bringing more people to the table has always been central to who I am, and it often starts with a civil conversation over a cup of coffee.
July 2018: It was fresh, clear and a little bit salty and came from 1,000 feet beneath my feet. That was the first time I tasted water from our new city well. It was a gamble to drill to that depth, but it was clear that our regional aquifer, a mere 200 feet down, was being impacted by regional growth. Going back to Nooksack River water was prohibitively expensive and there were only so many conservation measures we could enforce without impacting our residents and businesses.
So, we dug deep, and at just over 1,000 feet down, we struck gold: an untapped aquifer. This subterranean source will provide a reliable, clean and quality water source for our city. With the final blessing of the Department of Ecology, we are on track to connect the well to the city water system next year. After many years of anguish over the city water, a solution was finally in our grasp, and it tasted great.
December 2018: Kevin Turner stood in our City Hall meeting room and raised his right hand, taking the oath of office as our new police chief. It had been a yearlong process between Chief Michael Knapp informing us of his retirement and the installation of Chief Turner. After many phone calls, background research, interview panels and a well-attended community “meet and greet,” the choice was clear.
A new police chief is a big deal for our city and one of the largest decisions a mayor makes. The chief needed to be strong but kind, patient yet firm. An effective manager and a darn good cop. Luckily, Chief Turner was all that and more. Chief Knapp left some large shoes to fill but the “man from Utah” has done an excellent job building on success and creating his own legacy.
We continue to invest in cops and, as a result, our crime rate has plummeted, making us one of the safest cities in the state. Our officers continue to go above and beyond, serving with honor and distinction, with Chief Turner leading by example, starting that first day he took his oath to serve the City of Ferndale.
April 2019: The most important votes are always the closest. Everyone had said their piece and now it was time to cast their votes. I held my breath as councilmembers voted, “nay, nay, aye, nay, aye, aye, aye,” and there it was. The catalyst program passed four to three. A narrow victory but a powerful one; a game-changer for the future of the city.
After years of stagnation in our downtown, our planning staff came forward with a dramatic move. What if we solicited big proposals for the old buildings and spaces in our downtown core? Big buildings that would include plenty of downtown housing, commercial and retail space and serve as an anchor for an active downtown. We set the standards high, requiring public benefit and an accelerated construction schedule—in return, we could waive impact and connection fees. It was gamble and the council was deeply divided. But when the dust had settled, the Catalyst program was alive and this year we will see the final proposals go forward.
This program will change the shape of our downtown and hopefully inspire a revival for our thriving core filled with business and nightlife and all the things we hope for in Ferndale. This Catalyst is a real vote of confidence for the future of our city.
Today: Between all these moments, there’s the business of the city. The ribbon cuttings, the chamber meetings, the ordinances and resolutions, the big stuff and the little steps. It isn’t easy to take the high road, but I’ve tried my hardest to be a man of integrity throughout my public service. Looking back, I can say I’ve kept my promises.
I’m proud of the team I’ve promoted, recruited and retained at City Hall. We have an incredible and dedicated team of people working to improve our city every day. I’m proud of the work we’ve done to keep the city in good fiscal health and to build on our strengths.
But most of all, I’m proud of our city, making its way in the world to be a community where people want to live, work and play. Thank you for all the moments we shared together. We can all be pleased at the healthy and thriving city we are handing over to a new mayor and council.
Jon Mutchler is mayor of the City of Ferndale.