Biggest dispute in Mukilteo mayoral race is the job

MUKILTEO — The strongest disagreement between Mayor Joe Marine and his challenger in this year’s election, City Councilwoman Jennifer Gregerson, is related to the mayor’s job itself.

More precisely, it’s over how the top of the city’s administrative pyramid should be formed.

Gregerson, a 10-year veteran of the City Council, doesn’t believe the city needs a full-time administrator in addition to the mayor.

City administrator Joe Hannan makes about $117,000 in base salary, according to Gregerson. Marine makes $70,800.

“We spend $250,000 on the mayor’s and city administrator’s salary and benefits,” Gregerson said.

Marine, finishing his eighth year as mayor, says both a full-time mayor and administrator are needed to run the city.

“The city administrator is a manager and the mayor’s a leader,” Marine said. He said Edmonds and Lynnwood, cities larger than Mukilteo but that deal with similar regional issues, both have high-level staff members who provide considerable support to the mayor.

He said if push comes to shove, if one of the positions has to be cut, the mayor’s position should be reduced to part time.

“She (Gregerson) wants the salary for the full-time mayor so she’s going to get rid of the administrator before she realizes she can do the job,” he said. “I can tell you there’s a very big difference between the city administrator and the mayor’s position.”

Gregerson said a deputy mayor or policy analyst could be hired for $60,000 or $70,000 a year to help the mayor.

“I think you need project-specific support, I just don’t think you need to pay $160,000 for it,” she said.

She said the money saved by eliminating the administrator position could go toward a full-time human resources director, a position the city has never had.

This issue came up earlier this year after the hiring of city public works director Rob McGaughey. He had been accused of harassment by some female employees in a previous job as public works director and chief engineer at Okanogan County. Marine has said he’s satisfied the accusations are false and McGaughey is still working for Mukilteo.

“I think if you look at the missteps in our public works hiring process, it’s important to have someone in city hall to protect the city from the liability and the risk,” Gregerson said. “Our employees deserve to have an HR manager.”

Marine stands by McGaughey but says the city now will do more thorough background checks on candidates for high-level positions.

Longtime city administrative assistant Shirley Engdahl, who recently retired, did double duty and handled many of the human resources duties in recent years. Marine said he is considering several options now, including contracting with an outside firm or hiring a full-time director.

Marine said the city is covered on the liability front by its legal firm, Ogden Murphy Wallace of Seattle.

In another recent controversy, the city lost huge chunks of electronic data last year when its central computer system overheated.

Most of the data was later recovered. The city’s information technology director was fired and Mukilteo now contracts for IT services, saving about $40,000 a year, Marine said.

Gregerson said she’s OK with that, at least for now.

“It seems like it’s working but I would want to talk to staff and make sure we’re being as efficient as we can,” she said.

Gregerson said many voters have told her they hope the city can put the brakes on raising city property tax levies, which have gone up 1 percent per year for seven years.

“I think we need to take a break and look inside our budget at what we can cut,” she said.

Marine said his current proposed budget for next year does not include a tax increase. He said he remains “cautiously optimistic” based on projected tax revenue that he’ll be able to stick to that plan.

Gregerson has been a leading proponent of preserving Japanese Gulch for recreation. The city currently has $4.3 million — including $3.5 million in state and county grants — to purchase a 98-acre parcel on the west side of the gulch that straddles the Mukilteo-Everett border north of Paine Field.

The city could still be up to $1.5 million short, depending on a pending appraisal, she said.

Gregerson said the city could piece together money from its park acquisition fund, real-estate excise taxes and cutting travel budgets and the mayor’s cellphone stipend to make up the difference.

“I’m happy to use my cellphone (for city business),” she said.

Gregerson in 2009 drew attention for using her phone for a late-night tweet about a dinner “debriefing” at Ivar’s restaurant at which a majority of City Council members showed up. She later said participating in the accidental quorum was a mistake.

Marine said he supports preserving the gulch. He’s confident the city will find the money it needs without raising taxes.

“We will come to council when we know that the appraisal is,” he said. “I’m fairly certain I won’t have to cut someone’s cellphone.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

Meet the candidates

About the job: The mayor of Mukilteo is elected separately from the City Council and is not a voting member of the council except to break ties. The Mukilteo mayor oversees 138 employees. The base salary for the position is $70,800.

Jennifer Gregerson

Age: 35

Experience: Mukilteo city councilmember, 2004-present; master’s degree in urban planning from the University of Washington.

Independent sales representative for Herff Jones Yearbooks

Website: www.jennifergregerson.com

Joe Marine

Age: 50

Experience: Mayor of Mukilteo, 2006-present; city councilman, 1998-2001; state representative 21st District, 2001; serves with several regional boards, commissions and associations. Former Medicare and long-term care insurance agent

Website: mukilteomayorjoe.com

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