McCleary mayoral candidates

Brent Schiller, Gary Dent and Jared Berken all are seeking the City of McCleary’s top seat.

The City of McCleary has seen turbulence in the past several years, but now three candidates are vying to serve in the city’s top elected seat.

Current Mayor Brent Schiller, former mayor Gary Dent and Jared Berken all have filed to be mayor. The position will go to primary ballots (Aug. 1) and the candidate with the fewest votes will not be on the general election ballots in November.

Schiller was appointed by the McCleary City Council to serve as Mayor following Dent’s abrupt resignation in 2015. Dent had cited health issues in his resignation — he now says his health is on the mend and he’s ready to serve again.

Brent Schiller is the current mayor and he works for the state Department of Transportation. Since 2010, Schiller has served the city, as a city councilman and then as mayor following the 2015 appointment.

Jared Berken currently serves as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Reserve as a Battalion S-2 (intelligence officer) and is a police officer for an agency within Grays Harbor County.

Gary Dent is a former mayor of McCleary and a retired teacher who taught in McCleary schools.

What makes you qualified to serve as mayor?

Schiller: I have 7-plus years serving as councilmember and later as Mayor, and I have been a volunteer fireman for the McCleary Fire Department for almost 21 years. Because of my extensive volunteer service, I have worked with the community, businesses and city staff. From this experience I’ve gotten to know the small town needs and have a passion for the community and businesses and desire for its success.

Berken: My job in the Army requires me to paint and project a picture of the “battle space” within which my unit is set to operate. Identifying proper courses of action, as well as improper courses, is crucial to the effective functioning of a mayor and is something I continually practice in my military role. Additionally, my full time job as a police officer requires me to manage conflicts every single day. This is crucial for a mayor, as they have to work for and with other elected and appointed officials as well as their own constituents.

Dent: I have lots of experience having served in city government.

Define the role of mayor:

Schiller: The Mayor is the CEO of the city, from managing day to day operations, to policy decisions while working with council, staff and other local and government agencies. It is a role of building partnerships and being a strong and reliable neighbor to our local cities.

Berken: A mayor needs to be a decision maker. They won’t always have the answers but they need to educate themselves and then execute. An effective mayor is one who can build bridges between stakeholders while still having the internal fortitude to hold individuals and groups accountable. I believe that any mayor should go by the saying “The buck stops here.” At the end of the day, as a mayor you are the chief executive of a city. People and their families are counting on you to get things done. Go out there and make it happen.

Dent: The role of mayor is acting as chief executive and administrator in charge of all departments and employees. Also to hire or fire city employees is the mayor’s responsiblitiy. Also shall have general supervision of all city interests, shall have veto power, shall preside over all meetings of the city council. The mayor shall be the official and ceremonial head of the city, etc.-etc.-etc.

What is the biggest challenge facing the city and how would you address that challenge?

Schiller: McCleary is a small city facing big-city challenges. The ongoing challenge that never stops is finding the funding for our crucial services and infrastructure. Funding for the police and fire departments is a constant challenge, along with keeping up with current regulations and standards set by federal and state agencies. We need to manage the growth of the city with careful attention in maintaining our core values of being a small city and to protect our local businesses.

Berken: The biggest challenge facing McCleary is multi-faceted. There is an onslaught against the quality of living within our community. We are looking at increased utility rates which can be attributed to, in large part, mismanagement by our past two mayoral administrations. Accountability and foresight need to be implemented in order to fix this. Also, we have state politicians and bureaucrats trying to force a mental health treatment facility in a residential neighborhood down our throats. How this can seem like a good idea to anyone is beyond me.

Dent: The hospital issue on zoning, problems with water and sewer facilities and difficulty of finding funds to correct the sludge issue.

What is your feeling about the residential treatment facility issues?

Schiller: As mayor, it is my role to remain neutral and non-biased on this matter and provide all facts relating to the treatment facility to the council. As mayor I need to let the city’s legislative process proceed its course and then enact their decision.

Berken: The city and people of McCleary need to do everything in their power to stop the residential treatment facility from being activated at the old Mark Reed Hospital building. First, it is a liability to our community and our families that we simply cannot afford. While Great Rivers Behavioral Health Organization claims that all patients would be secured, there is nothing that would require them to release the patients back to where they came from. There is also a misconception that the patients at the proposed treatment facility would all be from Grays Harbor. Although there may coincidentally be some Grays Harbor originated patients, that overall message is a lie. We have an excellent police force in McCleary, but the burden that a residential treatment facility could place on them is something that we simply cannot afford. Would you rather have your McCleary Police Department responding to issues that will arise at the facility or would you prefer they respond to your calls for assistance?

What would you prioritize in the city budget?

Schiller: I will continue to focus on utility funds and their appropriation and continue to follow all state law and regulations mandated for those funds. Public safety is always a priority and I will continue to focus on the current expense fund revenues and expenditures.

Berken: What makes McCleary a great place to live for my wife and I is the small town atmosphere and generally safe feeling we have in the city. To secure that, we need to prioritize several items when it comes time to budget. We need to ensure our police and fire departments have the equipment they need. We also need to ensure our infrastructure is up to date and that our roads aren’t falling apart. We need to accomplish these tasks in a way that reduces, or even avoids, any potential tax hike.

Dent: Cutting costs where possible.

(Rephrased for Schiller) What is your view of the direction the city is going? If elected to serve a full term, will you stay the course or what changes will you make and why?

Schiller: For the past two years I would say McCleary has gone and made a 360-degree change from its past and we are moving in a direction that could build a prominent future. Starting with the governing body, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a council that is willing to talk and solve problems in our community, with the willingness to accept change and let voices be heard. If elected I will stay the course, with the focus on building a sustainable and a livable community for the citizens of McCleary. The future is going to bring many challenges to McCleary and I look forward to taking on those challenges head on with the support of the community.

(For challengers) Do you agree with the direction the city council and current administration is taking? What would you do differently?

Berken: As a whole, I do not agree with the direction that the city is taking. We have an individual running for mayor, who previously served in the position, that in the past threatened legal action against their own city council. When working together towards common goals, what kind of a message does that send to the community? We also have another individual running for mayor who was fined for their involvement in an Elk poaching operation in Montana while they were a sitting McCleary City Council member. If that person was willing to sweep Elk poaching under the rug, what else has been hidden from us? We need trust and accountability from our elected officials, not threats and illegal behavior.

Dent: I have no comment at this time.