“And hopefully that will happen soon, and there will be a different article on the subject.” – Ferndale Mayor Gary Jensen, March 18, 2013, during the Ferndale City Council meeting.
The City of Ferndale’s water source switch from Nooksack River water to well water (on December 31, 2011) is a touchy subject for Mayor Jensen and the Ferndale City Council which voted for that switch, because Ferndale residents have questioned the decisions the city made regarding that water source switch. Mayor Jensen, as the city’s leader, received a good deal of criticism on that subject.
Some of those questions were raised by a Ferndale High School student who wrote an opinion piece for the school newspaper, the Eagle Eye, in February 2013 about the city’s water switch. The student explained in her piece that she had
first started looking into the water switch in an attempt to disprove a theory that she said was suggested to her about whether there was any personal motivation behind the water switch on the part of Ferndale’s mayor Gary Jensen, as he owns a plumbing business. The student’s article was fairly benign and even concluded there was not enough information to say one way or the other on that question.
Mayor Jensen took umbrage with the student’s opinion piece, however, and contacted Ferndale School District Superintendent, Linda Quinn, about the opinion piece. Ms. Quinn responded by intelligently explaining the concept of First Amendment rights to the mayor.
The situation must have still been simmering because at the March 4, 2013 Ferndale City Council meeting, Council Member Keith Olson voiced his frustration on behalf of the mayor, saying, “I’m still kind of pissed off about what Jon [Mutchler]
brought up about what the school did to you [the mayor]. Is it too late to do a council resolution condemning the school district for, in effect, bullying, and calling it free speech? I mean, they want to cower behind, uh, we can’t bully anymore—that’s not free speech, but yet they can use the bully pulpit to attack you [the mayor] for unsubstantiated rumors.” Mayor Jensen then says, “I’d have to throw that at my clerk [Sam Taylor]. City Clerk, Sam Taylor answers, “We can pass a resolution on anything we want. We can bring it to the next meeting.” Mayor Jensen concluded by saying, “Um, we’ll bring that to committee.”
There seemed to be no voice of reason in the council chambers to say that a resolution condemning the school district for backing a student’s First Amendment right would be a very bad idea, and a potential PR black eye for the mayor and the council, but then again the city’s decision to switch to well water is a touchy subject. To my knowledge, the suggested council resolution did not surface again after that March 4, 2013 council meeting.
A couple days after the March 4, 2013 Ferndale City Council meeting, Mary Beth Tinker came to speak at Ferndale High School sharing her story of having been the plaintiff (at 13 years old) in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that generated the most significant legal decision to date protecting students’ First Amendment rights. She told the students how important their voices are in speaking up about issues in their communities.
Even after Ms. Tinker’s memorable visit to Ferndale reminding students about their First Amendment rights, Mayor Jensen did not stop this quest to defend his wounded water switch honor, and to potentially get a new story written. At the March 18, 2013, Ferndale City Council meeting, during Mayor Jensen’s mayor’s report, he said, “Speaking of Ferndale water,” that he had met with the Eagle Eye newspaper Advisor, Timothy Lucas, about the article and that meeting resulted in an invitation to the mayor and Council Member Mutchler, to come address the Journalism class, and then Mayor Jensen would meet individually with the student who wrote the opinion piece. Mayor Jensen then said, “And hopefully that will happen soon, and there will be a different article on the subject.”
By the way, in the written meeting minutes for March 4, 2013, there was no mention of the discussion regarding the possibility of a resolution against the school district. I had to listen to the audio recording of the meeting minutes to learn about that.
For what it’s worth, I didn’t think that the city of Ferndale’s water switch had anything to do with the fact that Mayor Jensen has a plumbing business. But the student wasn’t alleging that was the case. She was just trying to investigate the issue.
What Mayor Jensen didn’t seem to realize then, is that his over reaction to that high school student’s opinion piece reflected poorly on him and on his judgement, more so than any information in the student’s opinion piece.
That kind of over reaction and poor judgement by an elected official is not what I want for our Port of Bellingham.
Vote for Lloyd Zimmerman for Port!