MUKILTEO — It could be a reality TV show.
Tune into “Keeping up with the Mukilteans.”
The most recent episode June 17 revisited the mayor’s severance contract saga and centered on a conundrum the City Council has found itself in.
As you may recall, this rift stems from funds — to the tune of about $250,000 — that Mayor Jennifer Gregerson paid to departing employees without the council’s knowledge.
A public records request by Councilman Scott Whelpley disclosed those contracts.
This matter went beyond the chambers of City Hall in this bedroom community of about 21,500. The state auditor’s office got involved, and cleared the mayor of wrongdoing. The auditor found the city’s policies weren’t clear and suggested the council would do well to rewrite the rules to make crystal clear how it wants the mayor to act.
Gregerson defends her actions.
“It was done in good faith,” she said in a phone interview Friday.
She wants to move on. “This is not the only item we are paying attention to,” she said, citing road projects and waterfront improvements. Meantime, she is running for a seat on the Snohomish County Council.
But a majority of council members aren’t quite ready to let it go, as they don’t think the state auditor got it all right.
They have a letter from a lawyer they hired to look into things, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $10,000.
It’s three pages long and says there seems to be something fishy about the mayor’s actions, which, by the way are no longer happening. But, it concludes that sorting it out will be an expensive and lengthy undertaking.
“The majority of the City Council disagrees with the (State Auditor’s Office) determination that the City’s delegation was unclear and believes this contracting authority lies clearly within the purview of the Council,” the letter reads.
“Furthermore, while the Auditor’s determination is persuasive, it is not determinative,” it says. “While there is still the potential that the courts would find that the contracts were improperly executed, a definitive answer could be costly and would take additional time.”
You can read it, if you know where to look on the city’s website. The “Letter to Citizens Regarding Severance Agreement Concerns” is under “Business items” in the agenda packet for the June 17 council meeting. It takes some digging and clicking to find it.
Councilman Steve Schmalz, who supported hiring the outside lawyer, wants to make the letter more easily accessible to the public. Not surprisingly, Gregerson said the city won’t post a special link to it on its website.
Schmalz and some of his cohorts aren’t ready to close out this drama.
“The system is broken,” he said. “There is no oversight. The contracts and appropriation of funds should have been approved by the council.”
Schmalz put it this way: “Picture two lanes of road that go parallel. You have the council authority and then you have the mayor’s authority. The mayor blew through two roadblocks and she went into our lane and our authority. She approved contracts and then she veered off and went into the city’s vault and took out a bunch of money to give to her friends.”
The council will discuss ways to get the letter more exposure at its July 15 meeting. A mass mailing is not likely due to cost, he said.
Jerry Cornfield contributed to this story.