MUKILTEO — This diverse bedroom community of 21,300 faces an intriguing Nov. 5 ballot.
The eight candidates for four City Council positions include two clashing incumbents, a former mayor, a business owner who launched a secret campaign in 2016 opposing a new mosque, the Boeing engineer who led the mosque project, and several others new to politics.
Four will wind up on the council — with one possibly selected as mayor.
Voters could end the decades-old strong mayor form of government in favor of council-manager. If Proposition 1 passes, a council member serves as mayor and a professional city manager is appointed. About 50 other cities and towns in Washington have adopted council-manager systems, including Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace, Bothell and Granite Falls.
The Mukilteo candidates differ on which works best, but overall favor a strong mayor. Most cited public safety as a priority. The waterfront and commercial air service at Paine Field Airport were other common issues.
Incumbent Richard Emery specifically mentioned a goal for council members to get along better. Members have a history of rifts. Mayor Jennifer Gregerson routinely has to remind the council about the rule against “insinuations or derogatory remarks” about her and other members.
Emery said he’d hoped to face business owner Peter Zieve in the election, but last minute jockeying for positions pitted him against incumbent Scott Whelpley.
Zieve is a household name in Mukilteo.
In 2016, Zieve undertook a campaign with postcards sent anonymously raising concerns about a proposed mosque because he feared it would become a haven for terrorists. He later dropped his opposition and apologized.
In 2017, Zieve ran for City Council with an aggressive ad campaign against his opponent and glorifying himself on a billboard. He lost.
This time, he has used bright yellow signs, glossy mailers and a zealous Facebook campaign to show off his doings in comparison to his opponent Elisabeth Crawford.
Another familiar name is Joe Marine who’s back for Round 2 on the council circuit. The former two-term mayor who lost to the current mayor got the most votes of all candidates in the primaries.
Councilmembers are paid $6,000 annually.
In Position 4, it’s Emery vs. Whelpley, incumbents often on opposite sides of council issues.
Whelpley proposed the council-manager structure on the ballot and pushed to hire an outside attorney to examine Gregerson’s handling of severance payments to former workers.
Emery opposed both the attorney’s hiring and the measure to change the city’s strong-mayor form of government.
“Remove the politics. It will be better for our citizens and our staff,” said Whelpley, 52, a military contractor senior project analyst.
“We have seen inappropriate behavior by mayors and councilmembers that undermine a democratic process. We have seen misappropriated funds and special interest groups influence our elections. We have seen our city struggling to pay its bills because of poor leadership and mismanagement,” he said, adding that he is speaking as “a private citizen, in my personal view.”
In addition to public safety, he said key issues are to “provide a better budget to the residents that doesn’t raise taxes. Continue to ensure the waterfront project is completed quickly and with residents’ approval.”
Richard Emery, 72, a retired contractor, identified important issues as “drama and conflict on the council; traffic and congestion in neighborhoods and the Mukilteo Speedway; and commercial air traffic.”
He said the council must find a way to work together to be “able to appropriately address all the other issues.”
He wants to prevent air traffic from expanding and find ways to mitigate noise for residents in the flight path, such as low-interest loans to help pay for low impact windows and insulation.
“Mukilteo needs a full-time mayor to advocate for Mukilteo’s interests among our neighbors and at the state and federal level,” Emery said.
In Position 5, Christopher Maddux faces Riaz Khan, who lost two prior bids for council and a run for the Legislature.
Both favor keeping the strong mayor structure.
“The city doesn’t have to pay double the salary plus benefits to the city manager,” said Khan, 50, a Boeing engineer and mosque project leader. “Let Mukilteo residents pick the mayor based on their credibility and qualifications.”
Maddux, 48, an IT manager for Electric Mirror in Everett, said it has worked since the founding of the city.
“Changing the form of government because of issues with one person, real or perceived, is a drastic reaction,” Maddux said by email. “Having the city run by someone that can be easily hired and fired by a few people can cause quite a bit of instability with the city staff. If the residents don’t like the mayor, they will vote someone else in.”
Both men list public safety as a concern.
Maddux said issues include “clean parks, safe roads and sidewalks; dealing with drug and mental health problems; not being wasteful with taxpayer money; and working with the county and neighboring cities for responsible growth.
Khan wants to see more robust neighborhood watches and community policing. “I am the captain of our neighborhood watch,” he said.
It starts with accessibility. “I want people to have an idea what is going on inside City Hall and the city. Keeping complete transparency and frequent audits of our books are crucial for public confidence,” Khan said.
In Position 6, it’s Crawford and Zieve.
This is the first run for Crawford, 31, a Boeing occupational health and safety specialist who is a Parks and Arts commissioner
“I want to make sure the City Council plans for the future,” Crawford said. “I want to raise my children in Mukilteo and for them to live in a town as small and charming and quaint as it is now.”
This includes ensuring “the waterfront project preserves pedestrian access and maintains the charm of Old Town,” she said.
“We can use a lot more community engagement in local government.”
She favors a council-manager format: “Mukilteo would benefit from an experienced and certified professional who is educated and trained to address city finances and day-to-day operations.”
Zieve prefers a strong mayor. “I’m very much for keeping the system the way it is,” he said. “The cost would be double to get not as good service.”
Zieve, 65, electrical engineer, founder and CEO of Electroimpact, said his priorities include public safety, services, a balanced budget and preserving Mukilteo traditions.
“The Lighthouse Parade didn’t happen this year. Not acceptable,” he said.
Other concerns are drug addiction and homeless camps.
“I am investigating these homeless camps. Going out myself with friends and cleaning them up. These camps attract more homeless people that are all drug addicts,” he said.
How does he explain to voters sending anonymous mailers in 2016 against the proposed mosque?
“It was years ago,” he said. “Nobody has brought it up. I have no comment on it.”
In Position 7, it’s Joe Marine and Kristina Melnichenko.
Marine, 57, an American Senior Resources insurance agent, served on council from 1998 to 2001. He lost his seat as mayor after two terms in 2013 to Gregerson.
Marine favors keeping a strong mayor “to keep the citizens’ voice, maintain checks and balances, and get things done for the city.”
Without an elected official in the top position, “The citizens have nobody there,” Marine said. “You have a bureaucracy running the city.”
He sees the top issues as protecting aerospace manufacturing at Paine Field; being fiscally responsible; and being proactive on waterfront development and parking issues.
“It seems like Mukilteo is starting to lose their voice in what’s happening down there,” he said.
On commercial air service, he said, “One or two gates is one thing but when it gets to be, ‘Hey, this is working great, let’s have five or six gates,’ then all of sudden it really starts to impact.”
Melnichenko, 34, a data analyst at a collections agency in Lynnwood, said Mukilteo has a tax structure “that overly burdens homeowners, residents, visitors and small business owners, and needs to be updated to align with the new realities and opportunities of our time.”
She said in an email: “A business and occupation tax would allow Mukilteo to realize the fiscal benefit of growing business activity.”
Increasing traffic and airport commercialization are threats to a city with a tax structure that doesn’t tap into all potential revenue streams and where current revenue streams are maxed out, she wrote.
Melnichenko supports a council-manager.
“It means increased transparency and accountability. I believe separating the public-facing and operational aspects of government will alleviate potential sources for distraction and conflict.”
No postage is required to mail ballots. Ballots also can be deposited in any of 22 drop boxes throughout the county that are open around the clock until 8 p.m. on Election Day. There’s one near the Mukilteo library at 4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd.