By Jerry Cornfield
Democratic state Sen. Marko Liias has landed a job with the city of Mukilteo and the wife of a councilman thinks the lawmaker’s friendship with the mayor helped him get the gig.
Liias got hired last month as a $65,450-a-year policy analyst in the administration of Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, a good friend and longtime political ally. His duties will include managing the city newsletter and other projects assigned by his new boss, interim City Administrator Rex Caldwell.
Liias, a south Everett resident, may earn less however, as he expects to take unpaid leave during legislative sessions per a contract under negotiation.
Christine Schmalz, wife of Councilman Steve Schmalz, has been particularly incensed by the hiring. She thinks the mayor provided a good-paying job to a political friend then tweaked the duties to meet his needs by making it part-time. She claims it’s been in the works since Gregerson took office a few months ago.
“It’s cronyism at its finest in Mukilteo,” she said.
Gregerson rejected the charges.
“We conducted an open hiring process,” she said. “We were able to get the best candidate.”
Councilman Schmalz expressed concern that having a part-time employee in a full-time job means some duties won’t get performed. He’s also concerned the new job could “disrupt” Liias’s effectiveness as a state senator.
“Will we get our money’s worth?” he asked rhetorically.
Liias referred all questions about his hiring to Gregerson and Caldwell.
“I think it was as straightforward as it could be,” Caldwell said.
Fifteen people applied for the job and 10 were determined to meet the minimum qualifications for the job, he said. Their applications, with the names redacted, were sent to a human resources manager at the Mukilteo School District for assistance in whittling the list to four candidates.
A panel of two city employees and two government professionals from outside the city interviewed that quartet of hopefuls and forwarded two names to Caldwell. Those finalists, one of whom was Liias, were interviewed by Gregerson and Caldwell May 16.
“I am confident the city hired the best, most qualified person for the job; one who was ready to fit into our organization and provide communications and policy support of the executive department on day one,” Caldwell wrote in an email to Christine Schmalz.
She’s not convinced and plans to speak out at the June 16 council meeting.
“Retrofitting the job description to fit into Marko’s schedule is totally unacceptable and disturbing,” she emailed council members June 4. “This reeks of cronyism and it is not the mayor’s job to find Marko a full time or part time job with such a steep salary because they are friends.”
Liias won’t be the only senator working for a public agency. For example, state Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, is a Mason County Commissioner and state Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, is Clark County’s director of environmental services.