Strong mayor format in Mukilteo could get the boot by voters

The May 20 City Council meeting might put the issue on the general election ballot in November.

Jennifer Gregerson

Jennifer Gregerson

MUKILTEO — Jennifer Gregerson may be the last elected mayor of Mukilteo since the city was incorporated 72 years ago.

The Mukilteo City Council could decide May 20 whether to pursue a measure on the November ballot for voters to transform how the city is run.

The council passed a motion Monday for city staff to draft a resolution to change the form of government from a mayor-council to manager-council format.

The way it is now, the bedroom community of about 21,500 residents is run by what is called a “strong” mayor who is the city’s full-time CEO, and a city administrator hired by the mayor.

The measure would mean there would no longer be a full-time mayor. Instead, the seven-member council would choose one of their own to serve in that capacity. The city’s day-to-day operation would be overseen by a city manager hired by the council.

Mill Creek, Mountlake Terrace and Bothell have manager-council governments.

The city of Snohomish has gone the other direction. Voters there, by a narrow margin, opted in 2016 to do away with their manager-council form of government in favor of a strong-mayor system.

Councilmember Scott Whelpley proposed Monday’s motion.

“Mukilteo has a reputation of being disorganized with a lack of leadership. It didn’t just start with this administration,” Whelpley said Friday by phone.

“It is time for the city to run professionally and remove the politics from it.”

Well, in theory at least.

The city manager, though no longer directly responsible to voters, is selected by the City Council, whose rifts are obvious at meetings.

Monday’s meeting lasted three-and-a-half hours.

Whelpley’s motion passed with five votes in favor. Council members Bob Champion and Richard Emery voted against it.

Those same two dissented in an August motion when the majority of City Council members delivered Gregerson a vote of no confidence in her leadership.

Councilwoman Anna Rohrbough proposed the no-confidence vote in response to what she described as Gregerson’s refusal to take responsibility for not informing the council of severance payments and other spending decisions.

The no-confidence vote was not binding, rather it was a statement.

Since 2012, the mayor has inked a dozen severance agreements totaling more than $250,000, according to state auditors. Councilmembers were unaware of the payments until last summer when Whelpley obtained copies of agreements revealing what some ex-workers received.

The council in December approved hiring an outside attorney to investigate the mayor’s spending practices. A report in March by state auditors concluded there were no clear rules that prevented her from making those payments.

Gregerson was a council member before being elected mayor in 2013 and was re-elected in 2017. She is a Democratic candidate for a seat on the Snohomish County Council. Rohrbough has joined that race, running as a Republican.

The meeting is at 7 p.m. May 20 at Mukilteo City Hall, 11930 Cyrus Way.

Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.

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

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