City Council candidates share thoughts on Mukilteo issues

This week: form of government
By Brandon Gustafson | Jul 10, 2019

We’re in the swing of things in election season, and the August primary is less than a month away.

Here in Mukilteo, there are four City Council seats (Positions 4-7) on the ballot this year, and three candidates are running for each seat. As such, this primary matters greatly, as just the top two vote getters in each race move on to the general election this November.

The crowded field is an interesting one this year. We have a former Mukilteo mayor trying to get back in Mukilteo politics, two current councilmembers running against each other for a seat neither holds, multiple candidates who have run for Mukilteo City Council before, and a few new faces, as well.

To give Mukilteo voters an opportunity to learn more about where the 12 candidates seeking office stand on various Mukilteo issues, The Beacon sent out six questions for the candidates to answer.

Over the following few weeks, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one or two of these questions leading up to the primary election.

This week will focus on potentially changing the City’s form of government to a city manager-council form. The Mukilteo City Council adopted the ballot measure earlier this year, and Mukilteo citizens will vote on whether to change the form of government this November. Mukilteo has had a mayor-council form of government since the City’s inception in 1947.

Candidates were allowed a maximum of 150 words for their responses. Responses will be listed in order of which seat they are running for (Position 4 first, 7 last), and in alphabetical order by last name.

First, a little information on the candidates.

 

Who is running?

As mentioned, there are three candidates for each of the four seats. All seats are four-year terms.

Steve Schmalz currently holds Position 4 and is not seeking reelection.

Current councilmembers Scott Whelpley (Position 5) and Richard Emery (Position 6) are running for Schmalz’s seat. The two councilmembers are joined by Charles Eakins, who ran unsuccessfully for City Council in 2015.

Emery was appointed to the City Council in 2008, and kept his seat in the 2009 election. He then lost a bid for reelection in 2013, but ran for Position 6 successfully in 2015. Whelpley won the Position 5 race in 2015. Eakins ran against Christine Cook for Position 6 in what he called “a paper campaign” when he saw she was running unopposed.

Initially, Emery ran to keep his seat, while Whelpley filed for Position 4 on the last day of the filing period because it had the fewest candidates. Emery switched to Position 4 because he wanted to run against Peter Zieve, who had filed for Position 4 on the first day of the filing period. Zieve ended up switching the seat he was running for, while Emery remained in the Position 4 race with Whelpley and Eakins despite a last-minute attempt to swap seats.

In the Position 5 race, perennial candidate Riaz Khan, the president of the Islamic Center of Mukilteo, is facing off against James Yoo and Christopher Maddux.

Yoo ran for Position 1 in 2017 but lost to Anna Rohrbough in the general election. This is Maddux’s first run for public office.

Khan ran for Position 1 in 2017, but lost in the primary to Rohrbough and Yoo. He ran for Position 5 but lost to Whelpley, and he has also failed in bids for state senator and state representative.

The Position 6 race sees one familiar face and two new ones. Zieve, the owner of Electroimpact, will face first-time candidates Elisabeth Crawford and Exekiel Aranez.

Zieve ran for City Council in 2017 against Bob Champion in the race for Position 2, but lost in the November general election.

In the Position 7 race, former Mayor Joe Marine aims to get back in Mukilteo politics, and is facing competition from Tina Over and Kristina Melnichenko.

Marine is a former Mukilteo City Council member, and a former two-term mayor. He lost a bid for a third mayoral term to current Mayor Jennifer Gregerson.

Over ran for Position 2 in 2017, but lost in the primary. Melnichenko is a first-time candidate.

 

Charles Eakins – Position 4

I think we shouldn’t be afraid of trying something new. We can always go back if this doesn’t work out. And ultimately I’m glad that Mukilteo citizens get a say on this, one way or the other.

Richard Emery – Position 4

I’m opposed to changing it. The main reason is this would leave the City without a full-time advocate who can network and advocate for Mukilteo’s interests at county, state and federal levels.

These interests include: transit and parking; bridge replacement; waterfront development; growth management; and environmental and clean energy goals.

Since politics involves people maneuvering to pursue goals, it’s not clear why politics would go away with the proposed changes as has been asserted.

The strong mayor form appears to be the preferred structure of the majority of Washington cities, (227 out of 281) who are making it work.

Since the Council would hire what would be the chief executive, voters would have no say in who runs the City.

Lastly, it’s debatable changing the form of government would save money.

The level of compensation to attract a quality city manager could equal the combined expense of a mayor and management services director.

 

 

Scott Whelpley – Position 4

I support a city manager-council form of government.

After elected, I rolled up my sleeves and studied the past performance and decisions made by previous administrations and how our tax dollars were utilized.

We have all sat back for years, watched the nonsensical decisions, and misguided spending practices by past executives, based primarily on personal and political motives. The acute lack of leadership is documented and validated by absentee executives, inappropriate relationships that undermine our democratic process, and the egregious mismanagement of our tax dollars.

A small city of this size with a small general fund should not be having so many personal and financial difficulties.

The city would run effectively and efficiently with a city management professional whose priority is people, not politics.

History and the data have confirmed electing a mayor does not guarantee a competent and moral leader.

It’s time to make a move toward positive change.

 

Riaz Khan – Position 5

I always look at what is in the best interest for the Mukilteo residents.

Since 1947, the City of Mukilteo has done fair and efficient business as being a mayor-council form of government.

Currently, few surrounding cities are going through tough times trying to pick a city manager-council type of person that is the right fit.

Allow Mukilteo residents pick the mayor based on their credibility and qualifications. Let City councilors focus on other important City issues.

 

Christopher Maddux – Position 5

No system is going to be perfect. The best we can do is strive for continuous improvement.

This issue came up because of concerns with the current mayor. I’m not convinced we need to change the form of government because of one individual.

Switching to a city manager-council form would mean that the City Council would appoint someone to run City business instead of someone that the voters elected. In cases such as this, I would say it is best to let the citizens choose. I would prefer an elected official making the decisions over an appointed official.

We were successful before with a mayor, we can be successful again.

Ultimately, it is up to the voters to decide how they want the City to be run.

 

James Yoo – Position 5

I prefer the mayor-council form because of the separation of powers between the executive and legislative functions, which provide checks and balances.

This form of governance allows the mayor to execute and oversee the implementation of the legislative measures approved by the City Council, whereas the city manager-council form allows the manager to run the City at the wishes of the council, since the latter hires former.

Furthermore, in the mayor-council form, the mayor holds office through an election and has a fixed term, whereas, the manager is hired by the City Council and has no definite term of office.

The manager could be easily influenced because his term of office is at the mercy of the council.

 

Exekiel Aranez – Position 6

For right now, I am leaning towards the mayor-council format.

From what I follow about potentially changing the City's form of government, the problem was not about our government. It was about the conflict between leaders.

I want to reiterate that our government is "of the people, by the people, and for the people." It is about political leaders representing the people in their diverse communities. The Constitution of the United States of America is built so that political leaders have limited powers, no one is above the law, and our government will never be corrupted. The most important reason that our government exists is to better serve the people.

It is very significant that our people can access any points of our government vertically (bureaucratic) and horizontally (federalist).

 

Elisabeth Crawford – Position 6

Mukilteo has grown significantly since 1947, making this a good time for voters to reassess the form of government most appropriate for our current city needs.

Both forms of government afford the mayor the opportunity for community engagement and developing connections with local stakeholders, which benefits Mukilteo greatly. However, Mukilteo can also use an experienced professional who is trained to address City finances and day-to-day operations, and that can be held accountable by elected officials.

The council-manager form of government would allow the city to thrive under an experienced city manager while still building and maintaining strong relationships with the community through a mayor.

A decision of this magnitude is rightfully left to be decided by the voters and, regardless of the outcome, I am prepared to work hard and collaborate with either form of government.

What is most important is that our government is working together for Mukilteo.

 

Peter Zieve – Position 6

If the choice is between a mayor and no council or a council and no mayor, I pick the mayor.

We had a city administrator until 2007, Richard Leahy. Fortunately, Joe Marine convinced him to move on after a year and things got much better.

Enjoy the May 14 quote of Joe Marine in The (Everett) Herald: “I’m not a big supporter of Jennifer, but it’s not about her,” Marine said. “It’s like we need new carpet, but let’s burn down the house. That’s what elections are for. You don’t throw out the whole form of government.”

I don’t agree about Mayor Gregerson. She is sharp, and when I ask her a question by email or in person, I get a detailed, well thought out answer.

Things are going well in Mukilteo. It’s because of her leadership, not in spite of it.

Give me a mayor, not a city administrator.

 

Joe Marine – Position 7

We should keep the mayor-council form of government.

When I came in as mayor in 2006, we had a city administrator that acted more as a city manager.

The staff at that time were told not to talk to the mayor or City Council. The financial books were in disarray. I started making many changes as in getting a new city administrator and finance director.

I strongly feel we need an elected voice in City Hall.

It’s too easy to hide problems when you only have one person in control of information. The change of government seems to be more about personalities than form of government.

It is not a question that was brought from the people; it is more about a couple of councilmembers that have issues with the current mayor.

Isn’t that what elections are for?

 

Kristina Melnichenko – Position 7

I strongly support a professional, full-time city manager to be the chief executive officer of the City because this position would have unambiguous duties, responsibilities, and requirements.

Fully defining a role of this caliber is also good governance because it means increased transparency and accountability.

I believe separating the public-facing and operational aspects of government will alleviate potential sources for distraction and conflict.

For these reasons I believe shifting the management duties of the City to a professional vs. a political role is the right choice for Mukilteo.

 

Look for candidate responses to five other questions posed by The Beacon in the following weeks leading up to the primary election. The primary is Tuesday, Aug. 6. The two candidates with the most votes move on to the Nov. 5 general election.

 

Editor’s Note: The Beacon did not receive any response from Tina Over. Should she respond at a later date, The Beacon will publish responses for that week, but will not include her response to the city manager-council form of government. Additionally, due to how our website works, we are only allowed three photo galleries per story. Because of this, candidates for Positions 6 and 7 have their photos in the same sidebar gallery.

 

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