Last September, Ferndale Mayor Jon Mutchler announced he would be traveling to Tateyama, Japan as a Bellingham Sister City Association (BSCA) ambassador to run in the Wakashio Marathon and has since been preparing with long runs around Whatcom County and lower British Columbia.
According to USA Fit Bellingham Program Organizer Holly Graham, “the BSCA and its counterpart in Tateyama, Japan, have had a marathon exchange program for several years.” Mutchler said citizens from Tateyama also come to Bellingham each year to run the Bellingham Bay Marathon.
According to Wakashio Marathon organizers, “Every year over 10,000 people come from all across Japan, as well as from Tateyama’s sister cities in the US and Australia.” The marathon has been held on the last Sunday in January since 1981 and provides a 10K full marathon course and a 2K family course.
BSCA Past President John Gargett said, “We have been [sending ambassadors] for years and the BSCA participants are warmly greeted, treated like royalty and experience a true person-to-person cultural experience.”
Mutchler said he will have the opportunity to visit Ferndale’s sister city, Minamiboso-shi, Chiba, and meet with its Mayor while in Japan.
Freeland & Associates, Inc. President Tony Freeland has paid the airfare and marathon entry fee for two USA Fit Bellingham members each year for the past 2 years according to Graham.
Graham said each year a drawing is done, “literally names on index cards drawn out of a paper bag,” to determine who will go. “The first two drawn got their flight paid by Tony and the third person paid his own way.” Graham said Mutchler had entered the drawing last year but his name was not one of the first 3 drawn.
This year there were 3 USA Fit Bellingham members entered including Mutchler. One determined they qualified for a free flight due to family employed by an airline. This left only Mutchler and one other in line for Freeland’s assistance. “No drawing was necessary,” Graham explained.
Considering Mutchler is a public official currently in office and Freeland & Associates has had business dealings with the City of Ferndale in the past, the gift of international travel might raise some eyebrows. According to Mutchler, he approached the City’s Attorney Dannon Traxler in September 2017 regarding this. “She assured [City Administrator] Greg Young and I the trip was fine since the ticket was received outside my role [and] duties as mayor. And no city funds were involved,” Mutchler said in an email.
Mutchler said he is scheduled to leave January 24th, run in the marathon on the 28th and return on the 30th.