In Mukilteo, mayor-council friction over diversity appointees

The balance of power between the mayor and City Council members has played out at recent meetings.

Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

Mukilteo Mayor Joe Marine. (Kevin Clark / Herald file)

MUKILTEO — Will there be more “Wait … what?” moments at upcoming Mukilteo City Council meetings?

Tune into another episode of filling three seats on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission and the new matter of the mayor’s pick as finance director.

A council meeting March 7 demonstrated the balance of power between Mayor Joe Marine and the council, which did not approve his selections for the DEI commission.

“I just get a feeling they’re already trying to undermine my authority at every turn,” Marine told The Daily Herald after that meeting.

Marine told the council he talked to all six applicants for the three open spots on the seven-member DEI commission.

“I looked at time in the community … at the diversity factor … at a number of different things,” Marine said. The six applications were on the meeting’s public agenda site.

The DEI commission has two councilmember liaisons, Louis Harris and Elisabeth Crawford. Their input was not sought.

It was up to the City Council to approve the mayor’s recommendations: Mike Dixon, an African American man; Polish American Ewa Wheeler; and Gauri Sanghvi, who represents the Indian community. At the March 7 virtual meeting, applicants were present to take questions.

Instead, it was Marine who was questioned.

“I thought that the three applicants not chosen were very highly qualified for the position,” Crawford, council vice president, said at the meeting.

The three, a Latinx man and two women from South America and Ukraine, had diversity team workplace experience.

Harris challenged “the objectivity of the decision-making process.”

The application process, which did not have a stated closing date, was another concern.

Still, things were moving along — until the vote.

It was 3-3 when the deciding vote reached Jason Moon, a new councilmember and a former DEI commissioner.

Moon abstained.

Marine stated his mayoral power to break the council’s tie and pass the motion.

Not so fast …

Councilmember Richard Emery changed his “Yes” vote to abstain.

Meaning it failed.

Marine told the council: “I’m quite frankly not sure exactly what the council wants. … I was voted as mayor. It is my prerogative to choose these.”

After the meeting, Marine said, “I was surprised. I thought the people I picked were great. … I think they (the council) are not understanding the process. I have an opportunity to appoint and then they can confirm or not.”

Contacted by phone, Council President Steve Schmalz agreed on the last point.

“The council per state law can either confirm or request the mayor reconsider his appointments,” Schmalz said. “That’s state law. There’s no ambiguity on this.”

The six DEI commission candidates are still in the running. The application process was reopened for new submissions until March 25.

Marine told The Herald he plans to select three without input from liaison councilmembers, but that he might get opinions of DEI commissioners. He will present his picks at a meeting in April.

Meanwhile, at a virtual meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, the mayor plans to seek approval for a new finance director. Last week, he asked Shawn Hunstock, hired by former mayor Jennifer Gregerson, to resign from the post.

Marine wants to hire Scott James, the city’s finance director from 2007 to 2014 under his former two-term mayorship. James was finance director of the city of Edmonds until 2020 and currently for Snohomish.

The mayor is requesting the council waive the standard recruitment process to fill the position and allow a direct appointment for James. The starting date is April 1 at a monthly base salary of $12,618.

It’s up to the council on Monday to either approve James or request the mayor reconsider and find another candidate.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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