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Q&As From Mayoral Candidates Forum

Photo: Discover Ferndale
2015 Mayoral Candidates Forum
Photo: Discover Ferndale

Last night, July 15th, the candidates for Mayor of Ferndale participated in a forum sponsored by the Ferndale Senior Activity Center. In attendance were:


Candidate Carol Bersch was unable to attend.

Each candidate was given 1 minute to answer questions collected ahead of time. A signal was given to the candidates when only 10 seconds were remaining and again when time had expired.

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The following are the questions asked with the responses from each candidate. The sound system at the event presented some challenges so in some cases the entire answer may not be provided (designated with a ” … “) or the response is paraphrased to some extent.


What personal, religious, political or social agenda do you bring with you that might impact the people of Ferndale?


Jon Mutchler – I’m have served the community for 28 years as a pastor. I have been on the city council for 6 years and have yet to hear from one person that I have brought a religious agenda to my role on the council.

Manuel Reta – I respect all people and all nationalities. I am a servant of the community. … The way I was raised by my family, I respect all nationalities.

Vicca Thompson – I don’t have any religious agendas. God brought us all here on the earth right now to … I believe we can believe what we believe without getting in each other’s way. Ferndale is a wonderful place, full of wonderful people. We need to encourage that.

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Cathy Watson – I don’t have any agendas. I am not a part of any political party. Ferndale is a wonderful place and we all want the same things.

What are your plans for the City of Ferndale regarding traffic flow/congestion on Main Street, I-5 and the I-5 corridor.


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Jon Mutchler – We have the advantage of learning from other cities with what they have or haven’t done well. We have been able to make plans ahead of large developments like what is expected on Slater and Main Street. When people come and buy property in Ferndale to develop they need to submit traffic mitigation plans so we don’t end up looking like the Guide Meridian or Bakerview. We need to pursue that aggressively. I pledge to continue to.

Manuel Reta – Over the past ten or fifteen years this has been a major issue in the traffic downtown. By now things should have changed. I believe that something can be done in a short time even if temporary.

Vicca Thompson – I agree traffic is an important issue. The Cargill plant is holding up a lot of our traffic most of the time and I’ll ask that family to help support the Thornton Overpass. Our traffic lights downtown need improvement as does traffic handling along Grandview.

Cathy Watson – Bellingham controls the lights downtown and we are working with them to install cameras and new controllers that will enable implementing real-time control. That’s something we can do now. Also a study is underway to analyze traffic from I-5 and from that will come recommendations like light changes and building roundabouts to better control the flow. Grandview is outside the city so not within our area of influence. Slater will be getting attention from the state as roundabouts get built up to full size in 2019.

Tell us about your plans for more affordable housing for seniors and first-time home owners.


Jon Mutchler – We have a number of things that make things more affordable. One is allowing smaller homes on smaller lots with smaller setbacks. This enables more homes on the same property and decreases the costs.

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Manuel Reta – As a commissioner I have been working with low-income housing. Zoning is needing to be corrected to provide for more housing. Taxpayers need to voice their opinions, we need your voices.

Vicca Thompson – There are lots of opportunities for housing including providing incentives for builders to provide housing for seniors. We need to make the city easier to work with and to make more land available. Also, inviting ecological building designs that would be eligible for grants.

Cathy Watson – One thing I would like to try is something called “Incentive housing zones.” Development fees are waived in these areas. One of our biggest problems is the downtown flood plain. We have already worked with FEMA and need to continue to deal with prime real estate being in the flood plain.

How do you feel about the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point?


Jon Mutchler – This is not a cop-out but this is a county council decision. There are a lot of studies and applications to be made at the state and county levels that will indicate what the environmental impacts will be. When that report comes it will be the county council’s responsibility to make the best decision for Whatcom County.

Manuel Reta – I am for jobs for our kids but the coal terminal, that process has already started. As elected officials we will have to wait for all results to see if it fits within regulations. I worked at Intalco for 20 years and I believe in a clean environment.

Vicca Thompson – I have heard a lot of opinions. Personally, I need to see that they can do it without hurting anyone or the earth. I think that is possible. I agree that the Lummis have a really strong position and deserve the water and land they’ve always had but it can bring jobs and prosperity.

Cathy Watson – I agree with Jon that there is nothing the mayor of Ferndale is going do. It will be interesting to see what the environmental impact report says. … It’s a complicated polarizing issue.

What actions will you take to enhance the quality of life for residents in Ferndale?


Jon Mutchler – Top priority is the environment. I love the city. I have seven children and I want them to live in a safe place. As mayor I want the city to be a safe and healthy place. I want them to be able to find jobs and policies that attract businesses can do that. For instance, we are one of the few cities that have no B&O tax.

Manuel Reta – Very simple, taxpayers need to have the city the way you want. Safety, the environment, jobs, all those things. I need everybody to be involved. There needs to be transparency in the community. … I will absolutely do what will make Ferndale better.

Vicca Thompson – I see the biggest problems are pollution and health issues, like serious conditions from emissions. Jobs and prosperity can come from an effort to clean up the community.

Cathy Watson – I think a more vibrant downtown will lead to a better quality of life. A lot of our teenagers have nowhere to go. I would like to see a teen center set up to give them somewhere to go.

At this point in the forum, everyone agreed with Jon Mutchler’s recommendation to change the order in which the candidate’s respond to questions.

What role do you feel the City of Ferndale play should play in supporting the Senior Activity Center?


Cathy Watson – I’m a member and joined at age 55. When my mom’s Senior Center was closed she quit going anywhere and was always home on the couch. I saw what the senior center did for her. She had a place to go, friends to play cards with, it was her home. It was really important for her.

Vicca Thompson – It is an important and critical service. … I think that Ferndale hopefully will be able to support this important service and its critical impact here.

Manuel Reta – It should be enlarged with more resources available to all seniors and should reach out to our kids. You are the center for our kids. Mentoring kids should be happening and it should be started here.

Jon Mutchler – I appreciate the senior center. I come here a few times a year to play piano. I do not think we are obligated to help at the city level. For example, three years ago a request was made to the city. I wish I could have written the check. But the amount represented 2% of everyone’s property taxes. I hope the economy will get better so the city will be able to provide financial support.

The following questions were asked during an open question period where people from the audience stood up and asked questions.

After you leave office, what will people say about you?


Jon Mutchler – I hope people will say about me what I think they say about me now; you can trust him, we may not always agree with Jon but he listens to us. That he is a person of integrity, he cares about the community. I hope my children who live here will say daddy made some tough decisions, smart decisions and left the city in better shape.

Manuel Reta – … I can provide my work. What I have accomplished in a short time. I will have made it better with more involvement from the taxpayers. I will have better leaders involved in government.

Vicca Thompson – They will say, she was honest, fair, listened, saw what needed to happen and made it happen.

Cathy Watson – I hope to hear people say, “She gave it her all.” Everything I do, I do for the community. I remember hear at Pete Harksell’s funeral about how a quite unassuming person really helped the community.

Minus current incentives, what are you personally going to do to entice livable wage jobs to Ferndale?


Vicca Thompson – I would seek out the companies with the jobs and find out why they aren’t coming here and find out what we can do. And the jobless, who do they want to work for and what are they skilled to do? …

Cathy Watson – From talking to businesses I have been told we don’t have enough trained workers. So I am working with the school district to keep kids in school and … I would also like to go out and attend conferences and market Ferndale. Many other small cities are out there marketing themselves already. Also someone starting a business should be able to access a venture capital fund. We are competing with the rest of the world for these jobs.

Manuel Reta – Our kids need jobs. To attract jobs we need to enable investors to get permits faster than they are now. We need different nationalities and ideas to make this a better Ferndale.

Jon Mutchler – At a recent city council meeting we discussed allowing restaurants to have seats on sidewalks. One council member asked how can we tax that. Finding ways to tax business every time we do something for them isn’t how I think. I would like to see more zoning flexibility. Current zoning is pushing businesses out.

What in your past working experience or educational background makes you qualified for this very important job?


Manuel Reta – My entire life of hands-on work including picking cotton, milking cows, mentoring kids, contacting legislatures. …

Vicca Thompson – I studied business administration. I have worked a lot of jobs including IBM and Little Caesars and have been successfully and happily self-employed. …

Cathy Watson – I have over 20 years management experience. Worked with NASA for over 15 years. … I have been both a follower and a leader too.

Jon Mutchler – I’ve been pastor and Chaplin here. I’ve been out in people’s homes more than most realtors. I have been on the council 6 years and served on the Charter Commission. And after parenting 7 kids, nothing scares me.

I live east side of tracks not too far from the Cargill plant. Stopping RR cars, vibrating cars and hitting them with sledge hammers at 3am makes it very hard to sleep. I’m looking at lower property value as a result. We have gotten nothing out of City Council so far. This is being ignored.


Vicca Thompson – I live nearby and this is a big problem for us. I think we should go right to the Cargill family and let them know what is happening to our town. They are good people and if they hear what’s happening they can do something for our town.

Cathy Watson – Thank you and we spoke on the phone. We have spoken to the city’s new code-enforcement officer who will help with these things. We are having the police out there in the early morning hours collecting information so we can document what’s happening. Then we can do something.

Jon Mutchler – Agree with councilman Watson. It is so tempting to feel like we can fix everything. This is something that we will measure and assess. I believe they want to be a good neighbor.

Manuel Reta – I believe the wheels are already turning the right way. But if this was happening for years, the city council should be held accountable. They have to deliver the things that are right for the community.

What is one way or thing you can do to make Ferndale better?


Jon Mutchler – I’d like to see throughout city hall, the council and community is the ability to respect people with who we disagree. For instance, we are working with the Lummi Nation as they are going to be the biggest developer in Ferndale in upcoming years. While we are disagreeing with them about how that should proceed, we should be respectful as we work with them.

Manuel Reta – We need to communicate with the Lummi Nation. I have the ability to talk with anyone on the reservation. … I am known as a bridge builder. We need a safe environment in Ferndale.

Cathy Watson – Try and find a way to get people more involved as a community. We come together when there are tragedies. I would like to find a way for to feel like community all the time. I grew up at a time when people gathered at the parks to have picnics and be together. I would like to get people to come out of their houses and talk walks and have picnics in the park.

Vicca Thompson – I think Cathy Watson’s Ferndale sounds great. I want an easy way for everyone to be heard, to be able to say what they want at all times. And healthcare, a lot of us are struggling. I want to find a way to enable organizations that can help to find better ways of reaching out into our communities.

Final comments from each candidate:


Jon Mutchler – I want to share a story: The city voters were recently asked to pass gas tax which I supported. It wasn’t passed by the voters and I’m okay with that. But I was touched to receive a campaign check from a gas station owner who said that while we don’t always agree on everything …

Manuel Reta – I would like to thank the Center for providing this forum. I desire to work hard at it. I have a lot of experience. I have invested in houses and then restaurants. That’s how I know about business. … I have a lot of knowledge that way. We as a community can grow together.

Vicca Thompson – I am honored to be here in Ferndale. I’ve lived here for 16 years and it’s changed my life. I want to make it better and I am willing to listen and consider any ideas anyone has.

Cathy Watson – I have lived in 8 states in 30 years and this is the first place I have ever felt at home. I love Ferndale very much. … I will work with everyone to make it the best we can.

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