LAKE STEVENS — The mayor of Lake Stevens will soon be a full-time job with, potentially, a six-figure salary.
City Councilmembers, in an unscheduled move and with little debate, voted 5-2 Tuesday night to convert the part-time elected political post to a full-time gig starting this week.
The decision came at the end of the meeting, concluding a process launched in July by council members and the city administrator who contend the change is overdue and recognizes the job’s demands are mushrooming as challenges facing the city increase.
“We’ve grown a lot. It’s time,” Council President Marcus Tageant said in an interview. “I think it’ll be great for us.”
First-year Mayor Brett Gailey said he’s “good with the decision” as it will ensure “Lake Stevens will be well-represented at the tables” in regional and statewide discussions on critical issues such as transportation and economic development.
Councilwoman Anji Jorstad dissented Tuesday because of her disagreement with the process. To her surprise, the item was added to the agenda at the start of the meeting even though last month the council approved her motion to table action until Oct. 13.
She wanted to “talk through all the ramifications” at an upcoming council retreat including concerns raised by residents opposed to making the switch now. Her attempt Tuesday to put off a vote was rejected.
“I am supportive of Lake Stevens moving towards a full-time mayor,” she said. “I am concerned that this is not the right time.”
Critics of the decision voiced frustration Tuesday with the lack of forewarning and continued afterward to question the council majority’s rush to act on a matter that will cost the city thousands of dollars in additional salary payments.
“It’s just disappointing all the way around,” Stephanie Steele said. “If they followed the process, maybe I would have been swayed. All I know was the optics and the chain of events made it look like they were trying to be deceptive. It felt like they were taking from the taxpayers like a thief in the night.”
Earl Gray, who like Steele spoke Tuesday, said in an interview Wednesday that he didn’t think it was “an emergency.”
“I actually think this needs to go to the people one way or another,” he said. “I want the people to weigh in because it is a pretty big change.”
In Lake Stevens, a city of 34,000 residents, the mayor is directly elected to serve a four-year term. The job currently pays $26,804 a year.
The city operates with a strong-mayor form of government, which means the part-time mayor is the city’s CEO responsible for hiring key staffers, representing Lake Stevens in various civic roles, and serving as the public face of government. The mayor hires the city administrator to handle the day-to-day operations but is kept in the loop.
While there are state laws dealing with the election of mayors, there is nothing specific on whether the job should be part- or full-time. Making the office full-time does not require a vote by the public and a change can be made at any time, according to information compiled by the Municipal Research and Services Center, or MRSC, a nonprofit which provides legal aid and policy guidance to local governments.
The idea of having a full-time mayor in Lake Stevens is not new.
John Spencer, who preceded Gailey as mayor, pledged in his 2015 campaign to work as hard as a full-time mayor even though it was a part-time job. That turned out to mean dealing with mayoral duties nearly every day of his four-year tenure. He said he could afford to do it on what was then a smaller stipend because he was retired.
“Not only is it a full-time job, it is a colossal interruption in your life,” he said. “It’s what you sign up for and you take it.”
City administrator Gene Brazel said Gailey has been tackling the job in the same manner as Spencer.
“That was the driver behind this, you have people working full-time hours for part-time wage, and is that fair?” Brazel said.
Gailey’s new schedule goes into effect on Sept. 18. His duties won’t change much, but he’ll have more time to represent the city, Brazel said.
“The hours are necessary to represent the city in Olympia, looking for grant funds and that type of thing,” Brazel said. “The mayor acts as the economic development champion for the city, essentially — so meeting with developers, business owners, and promoting the city of Lake Stevens.”
Gailey could be in for a serious bump in pay.
It’s not clear yet what the salary will be for the full-time position. The city’s citizen salary commission is set to determine the new income. It then goes through a public comment period, Brazel said.
In Snohomish County, a handful of cities have full-time strong mayors earning full-time salaries.
Lynnwood, with a population of 40,690, pays its mayor $107,124, according to data compiled by the salary commission in December. In Edmonds, which is slightly more populous, the mayor earns $125,928, while in Marysville, which has 69,180 residents, the salary is $138,696.
The mayor of Everett, the county’s largest city with 112,700 residents, draws a salary of nearly $189,000 while in Mukilteo, with just over 21,000 residents, the mayor makes $70,800 annually.
When Gailey, 47, ran for mayor last year, he had a full-time job with the Everett Police Department. He retired in May, shortly after the settlement of his civil lawsuit against the city in which he argued he was wrongfully and repeatedly passed over for promotions.
The city denied that it ever discriminated against Gailey but agreed to pay him $357,000, including money to cash out his vacation and sick leave. Another $192,000 went toward Gailey’s attorney fees.
Two months after Gailey’s retirement, the Lake Stevens City Council began in earnest to make the mayor a full-time job.
That timing aroused suspicions with some critics who said this was not an issue in last fall’s campaign.
“Mr. Gailey is no longer with the Everett Police Department. Now there’s all this rush to have this happen,” Gray said. “It kind of smells like a guy who doesn’t have a job and wants one.”
Tageant called the timing “fortuitous” and didn’t deny that Gailey’s willingness and availability factored into the council discussion.
But Tageant said he wasn’t sold on the idea initially. After consulting with Spencer — with whom he served and saw toil relentlessly on behalf of the city — he concluded Lake Stevens derives tangible benefits from having a full-time mayor.
As to those who want to put it to a vote, he said, residents already showed their backing of Gailey.
“They wanted him in leadership. I don’t see how that changes with this,” he said.
Spencer, reached Wednesday, urged the City Council in July to make the change.
“I often thought whether the City was ready to have a full time and paid Mayor as well as a City Administrator. That day is here, the answer is “Yes,” he wrote.
“Your staff need the leadership of a full time Mayor, citizens deserve easy access to the Mayor,” he wrote, “… and Lake Stevens must continue as a leader at the regional level to not fall back into being just ‘a place between Arlington and Snohomish.’”