The race for Mayor of McCleary is narrowed to two candidates: incumbent Brent Schiller, and newcomer Jared Berken.
Shortly before the primary election, it became clear that Berken was not eligible to run because he hadn’t lived within the city for at least one year, however, neither the county Auditor’s Office nor the city took action regarding the matter. Any McCleary voter could have filed a complaint with the county challenging Berken’s candidacy but no complaints were filed.
Schiller was appointed to fill the vacancy left by the abrupt 2015 resignation of former mayor Gary Dent. Dent had filed to run for election again this year, but he did not earn enough votes to continue on in the general election.
The general election is Nov. 7. Ballots will be mailed by Oct. 20.
Tell me about yourself (profession and education):
Schiller: I served in the U.S. Navy from 1989-1993. Since leaving the military I have worked in several areas to better my career aspects and myself. For the past 18 years I have been employed by the state Department of Transportation.
Berken: I graduated from Aberdeen High School in 2010 before earning an associates degree in history and my commission as an officer in the U.S. Army Reserve from New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, N.M. in 2013. I then earned my bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in criminal justice administration from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania in Mansfield, Pa., in 2015. My military service while attending college in Pennsylvania included stints with a cavalry scout unit in the Vermont National Guard and an Abrams tank unit in the Pennsylvania National Guard. In addition to my academic pursuits and military service, I managed a $2.1 million budget while holding office as the treasurer and vice president of the Student Government Association at Mansfield University. I currently work as a police officer for an agency within Grays Harbor County and serve as a battalion intelligence officer for a U.S. Army Reserve unit.
I’m going to come right out ask what I think is the biggest question of this race… Should Mr. Berken be running? Given that he has admitted that he is not eligible to hold office and was not eligible to hold office when he filed to run, should he still be in the race or should he step down and wait until he is eligible?
Schiller: Personally, I thought this matter would be addressed by the county Auditor. However, Mr. Berken is now on the ballot and it appears that we should move forward in this election. May the best person for the position be elected Mayor of McCleary.
Berken: It is insulting to the residents of McCleary that The Vidette’s apparent position, regarding the current mayoral campaign for our city, is to focus on technicalities which have been used to sensationalize headlines and sow confusion within the populace. As I’ve repeatedly stated and explained to anyone who has asked, there is a path to me holding office in 2018. My opponents during this campaign declined to file an affidavit with the county challenging my candidacy after the primary, indicating their apparent indifference for the political process, while the voters of McCleary showcased a desire for competition and options in their election. My refusal to back down from this challenge is a prime indicator of how I will tackle the issues that are facing McCleary right now. The biggest question of this race is not one of candidate eligibility, but rather one of who and what is best suited to secure McCleary’s future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren.
What can the city do to tackle rising utility rates?
Schiller: I have been concerned about the financial situation McCleary is currently in. I believe there are solutions and want to work with the council members and townspeople. I believe it is time for our community to change our mindset on allowing economic growth. With economic growth, McCleary could then ease the cost of utility rates to its customers.
Berken: Mismanagement, in a broad sense of the term, has led us to the current utilities crisis we are in. The three main topics that need to be addressed are management accountability for the entire city, starting with the office of Mayor, the upgrading of our utilities infrastructure, and the negotiation of more advantageous rates with our power and related service providers. Perhaps the team at City Hall might even find a legal, plausible and sustainable way to break from the Bonneville Power Administration, which could ultimately provide McCleary residents with a lower electricity bill. At the end of the day, McCleary is built on the people that live here. The city government needs to do everything in its power to make McCleary a secure and affordable place to live.
What should the city be doing to stimulate economic growth and attract jobs?
Schiller: As of recent, the City of McCleary has begun working with a steering committee to build a new comprehensive and strategic plan. With the guidance of the steering committee the city will take direction and advisement to build the future of McCleary’s economic and community needs.
Berken: My wife and I enjoy living in McCleary because it is a small town and not a big, bustling metropolis. Although some people do work in McCleary, I believe that the future composition of the city will be primarily made up of individuals who choose to live in McCleary and work in the surrounding areas. We, as a community, need to embrace this point and the city needs to continue to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the park, utilities and public service sectors to make McCleary an even more enjoyable place for new and existing community members to call home. To clarify, I am absolutely supportive of new businesses exploring their options within McCleary, so long as they do not compromise the integrity of what makes McCleary great. My case in point for our communal integrity being compromised: the residential treatment facility project, which is being facilitated by positions such as current Mayor Brent Schiller’s and is encapsulated by his statement in The Vidette of “As mayor, it is my role to remain neutral and non-biased on this matter.” That indifference and non-committal attitude is not what I want leading my city.