Council moves to eliminate Marko Liias’ position

By Brandon Gustafson | Dec 06, 2017

After prolonged talks on 2018’s annual budget at the City Council meeting on Monday, Dec. 4, council Vice President Steve Schmalz filed a motion that could save the city around $85,000 in 2018.

“I’m going to make a motion to eliminate the policy analyst position as of Dec. 31, 2017,” Schmalz said. “We’d save about $85,000.”

The motion was seconded by Councilmember Scott Whelpley.

Ultimately the motion passed four votes to three, and starting in 2018, Mukilteo won’t have a policy analyst position.

The position has been held by Marko Liias, a state senator and former Mukilteo city councilmember, since 2014.

The city also has a management services director position in the executive department, held by Steve Edin, along with the mayor’s position.

Councilmember Randy Lord wanted to see the exact amount that the city would be saving by eliminating this position, but that number was not readily available at Monday night’s meeting.

Financial Director Michelle Meyer said she will have an exact number at tonight’s meeting.

“It would be very difficult for me to vote on something where I don’t know what the value is,” Lord said.

Schmalz said he believes that with the salary and benefits received by Liias’ position, the city would save roughly $85,000 based on looking at past budgets and step increases.

This motion comes after a recent meeting when Councilmember Whelpley offered a motion to reduce Mayor Jennifer Gregerson’s salary to $30,000 per year as well as making the mayor’s position a part-time job.

“Going off of what Councilmember Lord said, that he doesn’t want to vote on something where he doesn’t know what the value is, we went over this the last couple of meetings about the leveling of resources and the redundancy in the position,” Whelpley said. “Since we decided to stay with a full-time mayor, it’s unfortunate we’re going to have to find some place to cut.

“We have just asked our citizens to come up with another tax increase to pay for our roads, and it is our duty to cut where we need to cut because we should be able to find places and cut in the budget if we are asking them for more money.”

“In talking to other cities about what we have with the triple leadership here in Mukilteo,” Councilmember Ted Wheeler said, “they asked me why Mukilteo has three executive positions, and I said that I don’t know.”

Wheeler went on to say he would like to see the city use more consultants to assist Edin, who said that he gets a great deal of help and advice from Liias.

Wheeler also felt that the city could use Liias as a consultant in the future without having to keep him as the policy analyst.

“I think we’re a little top-heavy,” Wheeler said. “I think that could be a position where we can save about $85,000 a year. I think that could be one that could be eliminated that could draw our budget closer.”

Councilmember Richard Emery did not agree with cutting the position.

“We are a small city surrounded by bigger cities, and we happen to be at the apex of a number of things that intersect and impact us,” Emery said. “Over the last few years the city has had someone in this position that has added value. I know there have been previous discussions about cutting the mayor’s salary, but I think we need the positions that we have in order for the mayor to be out in the community presenting, protecting and advocating for Mukilteo in the larger communities.”

Emery concluded by saying he felt that cutting the position was misdirected, but if others on the council wished to pursue it, he would like to spend more time examining it. Until then, he said he couldn’t support cutting Liias’ position.

Ultimately, Vice President Schmalz and councilmembers Wheeler, Whelpley and Christine Cook voted for eliminating the position, while council President Bob Champion and councilmembers Emery and Lord were opposed.

Mayor Gregerson, visibly upset, had a few choice words regarding the council’s position.

“I can’t wait to see what a great advocate the senator will be now that you fired him,” Gregerson said. “I just can’t wait to see that.”

Councilmember Whelpley did not appreciate the mayor’s comment, and said Liias should continue to advocate for Mukilteo.

“Shouldn’t he do his job and support us anyway, regardless?” Whelpley asked Gregerson. “I would think he would. He is an elected official, which the citizens of this city voted for him, so now that we decided that it’s important that we reduce the budget, that we save them money, and now he’s going to be upset and not give us anything because he’s scorned and he’s going to do that for the citizens? I’m pretty shocked.”

Gregerson, fighting off tears, apologized for her previous remarks.

“Let me apologize to the council,” Gregerson said. “I really see the value in the position, and it’s upsetting to me that you’ve eliminated it, so I sort of let that get the best of me, and so I apologize to you for that. I do in my heart believe that it is a short-sighted move, and that it is the wrong one.”

Liias was not present at the meeting, but later echoed Gregerson’s thoughts.

“I am disappointed in the way the council has chosen to make this decision. I don't think it reflects well on the city or sends a positive message to the rest of the staff,” Liias said in an email after the meeting.

“But I have always believed that public service is a privilege and not an entitlement. I am so proud of what we've done at City Hall, especially the work that went into getting new, dedicated funding for transportation, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters.”

Liias said he will continue to work and advocate for Mukilteo, the city that he grew up in.

The council will meet again tonight with hopes of finalizing the 2018 budget, which they had been discussing at Monday’s meeting.


Comments (2)
Posted by: Joe Kunzler | Dec 06, 2017 11:29

I'm happy the Mayor gives a ship about the staff.  No need for Mayor Gregerson to publicly apologize.  I don't get why Mukilteo needs to prune its budget.

Posted by: Denise Sackner | Dec 06, 2017 15:36

Nearly 46% of voters were against a tax increase. Our Council is exercising good stewardship of the dollars entrusted to their care by looking for any opportunity to reduce the budget.

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