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Jori Burnett: Ferndale City Administrator

CDN’s weekly community profile

Jori Burnett started working for the city of Ferndale in 2007, first as a planner, then community development director. (Eli Voorhies/Cascadia Daily News)
By Julia Tellman Local News Reporter

Jori Burnett (he/him)

Age: 49

City: Ferndale

Lived here for: Born and raised

Originally from: Sandy Point

Notable: Jori Burnett attended Ferndale public school. He started working for the city in 2007, first as a planner, then community development director. He became the city administrator in 2019.

Why Ferndale?

Because it’s home. I was living in Massachusetts and a report came about the top 10 most polluted water bodies in the country, and there’s Bellingham Bay in fourth place. It made me think, why the heck am I in Boston? So, I went back and got my master’s degree at Western. I hooked in with the Bellingham Planning Department. Then I worked for Whatcom County. At that time, in 2007, Ferndale was going through a lot of different changes within City Hall. My boss at Whatcom County went to Ferndale and asked me to come with him. I’ve been here ever since.

How do you view the role of city administrator?

The city administrator helps to set the direction of the overall city. We really try to be intentional about being collaborative here in Ferndale, sometimes to an extreme, where we have rather lengthy senior staff meetings.

One of the great things is that we have been able to encourage people to become their best selves, to give them that confidence that they can do maybe more than they’ve been given permission to do before, or sometimes more than what they think that they can do.

What we hear about Ferndale’s identity is that it has that ‘small town feel.’ Part of our task is to figure out what gives a community that feeling, and how that can be preserved, or even enhanced, as we grow.

What are some accomplishments you're proud of?

I think we’ve been really successful at changing the narrative for ourselves as a city. In the past, it seemed like there was a feeling that Ferndale shouldn’t spend money to improve itself. But showing how we can provide more value to the community by spending that money wisely is important.

Eight years ago we built Star Park, which is by far our most popular playground. We had 2,000 volunteers that worked on it, spending close to 10,000 hours over the course of a week. It’s a source of pride for the community, like a good old-fashioned barn raising. When the public is asked to stand up in Ferndale, they do. You saw that also in the 2021 floods. People saw that their community was under threat and they came down and pitched in. 

The Metalworks Skate Park is under construction right now. Last December the council was gonna make a decision on the budget. If the vote was no, the skate park would not have happened.

We had over 100 people show up from the community and they shared their stories. After hearing the importance of this relatively small project to the community, the council voted yes. How empowering is that for the Ferndale people who had never spoken in public? Knowing that for the first time, ‘I participated in this political process. I fundamentally changed where this project was going.’

What's your vision for the next decade?

Really, what are we picturing for the next 20 years? We’re doing the 2025 Comprehensive Plan, which has a 20-year planning horizon. Growth is a fact of life in the Northwest and probably will be for a long time to come. Concentrating on how to mitigate the bad impacts of growth and to accentuate the positive parts of growth are a way of thinking about the Comprehensive Plan. That’s the story that the plan is trying to tell, that’s the equation that it’s trying to solve.

When I was growing up, the best and brightest would leave Ferndale. We’ve been a city of opportunity for 100 years and haven’t necessarily lived up to it, but I think that we’re trying to now.

I think ‘Why Ferndale,’ was your first question. I mean, for me it’s a simple answer.

It’s like, where else would I want to be?

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