Questions swirl over Mukilteo’s hiring of state senator

MUKILTEO — Marko Liias has two jobs. One is state senator. Another is policy analyst for the city of Mukilteo, where he works with his longtime friend and the city’s mayor, Jennifer Gregerson.

Questions about his dual jobs have swirled since Liias was selected for the city job in May. His hiring is scheduled to be discussed again at Monday’s City Council meeting, which begins at 7 p.m.

Some residents and council members wonder about potential conflicts between Liias’ city and state government jobs. His role as a state senator from the 21st District will require him to leave his city post for about three months a year to represent the Mukilteo area in Olympia.

City Council President Randy Lord said he told the mayor last month that he would give her 30 days to consider her options, including asking Liias to resign.

“We know the mayor has the right to hire,” Lord said. “At the same time, we set policy. I’m trying to look and see if (Liias’ appointment) is best for the city of Mukilteo.”

Gregerson said she has no plans to ask Liias to resign.

“Monday is a chance for council to continue to get their questions answered,” she said.

Gregerson said the council confirms some department heads and directors, but no positions below department directors.

“I think Marko is the best candidate for that position,” she said. “He’s qualified. He has the educational background. He knows Mukilteo well. He’s doing a good job in that role.”

Lord said he has no quibble with Liias, who is a former council member himself.

“Personally, I like the guy,” he said.

Lord said he thinks that Liias could do a good job either as the city’s policy analyst or representing the 21st District as its state senator — but not doing both.

Being a state senator means campaigning for office, in addition to serving in Olympia during legislative sessions, Lord said.

The city’s policy analyst job is a full-time position, Lord said. “I believe the citizens want us to pay for a policy analyst, not for a campaign.”

Liias said that being a member of the Legislature is considered part-time work, and many have jobs outside state government — in education, law and other fields that are affected by legislation.

Liias’ city duties include producing the city’s newsletter, responding to questions from the public, overseeing the city’s grants, keeping tabs on garbage, cable and gas contracts, and advising the mayor and department heads.

Liias said he will take unpaid leave when the Legislature is in session. He estimates the salary he will make this year for his city job, which started in May, will be $39,187. Next year, it will be $46,113, he said. He is paid $42,106 as a state senator.

Liias said he feels his background, which includes a bachelor’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University and graduate courses at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs, are good qualifications.

But some wonder if his friendship with the mayor was nonetheless a factor, introducing an undercurrent of politics to his hiring. Christine Schmalz, wife of Councilman Steve Schmalz, who ran for mayor last year, has called the hiring “cronyism at its finest.”

Liias served on the City Council with Gregerson. “It’s a small community,” Liias said. “It’s not a surprise that we all know each other. I’m happy to call her a friend.”

The city always has critics, Liias added. “I do think there are a set of people out there who are questioning every decision that the city makes.”

Gregerson said that the policy analyst job came about as part of a reorganization of city government. That included eliminating the job of city manager. The job of assistant to the city administrator was changed to create the policy analyst position, she said.

Administrative changes recommended by an outside consulting company included creating a management services director in lieu of the city manager’s job, creating a human resources manager job, and creating a third job that was part policy analysis and part city communications, Gregerson said.

The job description for the policy analyst was written in April. The job opening was posted on the city’s website, at the UW’s Evans School of Public Affairs and at the Association of Washington Cities, Gregerson said.

Fifteen people applied. A human relations manager in the Mukilteo School District did an initial review of applications. Gregerson said she wasn’t involved in the hiring process until the final candidates were selected.

Gregerson thinks that the city will be able to handle Liias’ absence during the legislative sessions, with other members of the executive team filling in his duties. The money saved during that time helped pay for the city’s human resources manager job, she said.

A city attorney who deals with labor and personnel issues has been asked to be at Monday’s meeting.

Lord said he asked for the item to be put on Monday’s agenda so the City Council could come to some conclusion on the issue.

“We don’t want to do anything rash, but we want to understand what it is we can do,” Lord said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486; salyer@heraldnet.com.

Meeting

The Mukilteo City Council is scheduled to discuss the hiring of Marko Liias as the city’s policy analyst during a meeting scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Monday. The council meetings are at 11930 Cyrus Way in Mukilteo.

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