Council airs disappointment over Marko Liias hireCouncilmembers concerned with conflicts of interest, appearance of fairness
Randy Lord is not happy that the mayor hired her friend Marko Liias as the city’s new policy analyst.
The council president challenged Mayor Jennifer Gregerson’s decision. He said that if Liias doesn’t resign, or she doesn’t terminate him, she has one month to resolve the issue.
This July 21 marked one month. Sen. Marko Liias is still Mukilteo’s policy analyst.
According to state law, the City Council doesn’t have the right to hire or fire city employees. It can lower staff salaries, but only if it doesn’t lead to them quitting their jobs.
“We’re pleased at City Hall with Marko’s job performance so far,” Gregerson said. “He is meeting and exceeding expectations.”
Although the council can’t do anything about it, Lord said he sees the Liias hire as a conflict of interest, as Liias is friends with Gregerson and also serves Mukilteo as its 21st District senator.
Liias said he appreciates that the council shared their concerns, and said that hopes to alleviate those by proving that he’s up to the job.
“I’ve been enjoying working for the city,” he said. “I appreciate that the mayor gave me the opportunity to be a part of a great team at City Hall.”
Lord said he’s also unhappy that the council was told the policy analyst position was a full-time job, but that it is now essentially a part-time job, since Liias will need to go to Olympia 60 or 105 days of the year.
“I know the mayor executes policies, but I get to be disappointed with the decisions that are made, and I am disappointed with this decision,” Lord said.
Gregerson said as Washington has a “citizen legislature,” it is expected that state legislators have other employment in addition to their elected position.
She said Liias’s new job wouldn’t be a conflict, as he can both represent Mukilteo in the state Senate and work for the city. She said Liias is allowed to recuse himself from voting on a bill that solely concerned Mukilteo – but there’s never been one.
Liias will take unpaid leave when he is in Olympia, Gregerson said. The policy analyst position pays $65,400 a year.
However, with unpaid leave, Liias would get $47,000 with 105 days off or $54,000 with 60 days off, Lord said.
Gregerson said the city won’t be hiring a consultant to fill in when he is gone, saving money in the Executive Department.
“Unpaid leave is an option that other city employees have used before,” Gregerson said. “Rex and I were aware of Marko’s schedule when we offered the job to him.
“The executive branch has the right to set employee hours and make those negotiations with new employees.”
Even so, several councilmembers agreed that giving Liias leeway on whether the position is full time or part time seems unfair.
Councilmember Chris Cook said it appears to have been “preferential treatment.” Councilmember Bob Champion said that the move isn’t very transparent.
“I believe that Marko can do a great job,” Councilmember Ted Wheeler said. “If he couldn’t, he obviously wouldn’t be elected as a senator, and he’s been there for a while.
“I just don’t want the city to get in trouble down the road by not treating new employees the same.”
Gregerson pointed out that police Sgt. Cheol Kang and Public Works Director Rob McGaughey have both taken leaves of absence to serve in the military.
“That policy has been applied to a number of employees,” she said. “The ability to do unpaid leave exists as part of the personnel manual.”
Councilmember Steve Schmalz said he feels bad for the others who applied for the position but weren’t told they could take unpaid leave.
Though he doesn’t agree with the mayor’s decision, Lord said he still supports her.
“I am going to let everybody be aware that we are uncomfortable with this,” he said. “I hope it doesn’t affect the future of two of the brightest political minds we have in Mukilteo.
“I have no doubt that this was very carefully researched, and I have no doubt that everything was legal... [but] the legal thing isn’t always the right thing.”