Some type of change in city government appears very likely

Decisions on government structure, mayor’s salary, will be decided soon
By Brandon Gustafson | May 08, 2019

The way the city of Mukilteo’s government has operated both recently, as well as since its incorporation 72 years ago today, may very soon change based on City Council discussions Monday, May 6.


Government form

At the meeting, Councilmember Scott Whelpley proposed a motion directing city staff to draft a resolution that looks at changing the city’s government to a city manager-council form, a change from the mayor-council structure the city has had since 1947.

Whelpley has discussed his intention to possibly change the city’s government throughout 2019, saying the city’s executive department was “top heavy.”

He first brought the potential change up at the council’s Feb. 18 meeting during discussion about the city’s executive department.

To change the city’s government structure, the council must approve a resolution to send a proposed ballot measure to Snohomish County. After that, a majority of Mukilteo voters must approve the change.

Whelpley wanted to start the process as soon as possible, as the paperwork to get the measure on the ballot is due Aug. 6 – the day of the primary election. If voters approved the change, it would go into effect when ballots are certified Nov. 26.

Under a city manager-council form of government, the city would still have a seven-member city council, but instead of a mayor being the lead executive, a paid, unelected city manager would run day-to-day operations.

Mill Creek and Mountlake Terrace are two nearby cities that have manager-council governments.

Councilmembers choose one councilmember to be “mayor,” similar to how the council has a council president each year. The mayor runs council meetings, and is more of an honorific position.

One Mukilteo resident, former Mukilteo Beacon editor and former Mukilteo city planner Glen Pickus, voiced his support for the government change, describing it as “more modern.”

Pickus also said even if he didn’t support the change, he would like Mukilteo citizens to have the opportunity to vote on it.

“Over the past year, there’s been a significant amount of acrimony between some councilmembers and the mayor,” he said, “and as a result, a lot of scarce city resources and time have been diverted away from the important task of running the city to deal with this discord.”

Pickus noted that the city has seen similar tension between councilmembers and the mayor, dating back to the 1980s when Brian Sullivan was mayor, as well as in the Don Doran era in the 1990s and early 2000s.

“Now is the time to at least ask us, the voters, this most fundamental question of whether or not we think a change to the modern, less political council-manager form of government would be right for Mukilteo,” Pickus said.

Whelpley’s motion passed 5-2. Councilmembers Bob Champion and Richard Emery voted in opposition.

Now that Whelpley’s motion passed, city staff will draft a resolution and bring it back at the council’s May 20 meeting, where councilmembers will likely vote on whether to send the decision on Mukilteo’s future to voters.



Mayor’s salary

As reported in The Beacon, Councilmember Steve Schmalz has voiced his intent to reduce the mayor position to part-time, and reduce the annual salary to $30,000 with no benefits.

Schmalz brought the issue up again at Monday’s meeting, filing a motion draft an ordinance to be voted on at a future council meeting, which would implement those changes during the next mayoral term, beginning in 2022.

The change would only take effect if the change in city government didn’t make it to the ballot either this year or in the next few years, or if it did make it to the ballot but was denied by voters.

The mayor position was essentially part-time until former Mayor Joe Marine asked for, and received, a significant pay raise in 2009. He was mayor until 2013, when Gregerson defeated him in the general election. Gregerson has been a full-time mayor ever since.

Schmalz said giving the pay raise to Marine was a mistake.

“It’s time to correct that mistake,” he said.

Whelpley made the same motion in November 2017, the day before the general election. Councilmembers weren’t ready to vote that day, so discussion continued a few weeks later, where the motion failed on a 3-3 tie.

Due the city’s code, the salary change can’t take place during a current term, and must be implemented for the following term – in this case, it would start Jan. 1, 2022.

Emery asked what the impact of the motion would be, and Gregerson said it would likely help potential candidates for mayor because they would know the salary and time expectations well in advance.

Some councilmembers thought a vote should wait until later on, such as in November, after the general election, to see whether voters potentially approve the change. Schmalz disagreed, as he told the council his intention to make the motion more than a month ago.

“I gave 34 days. April 1 is when I introduced the motion, and today is May 6,” Schmalz said. “It was in the paper, it was announced at the council (meeting). I said ‘Here’s 34 days where you guys can look at the motion and decide what you want to do with it.’ What do you want? Two months? Three months?”

Councilmembers Emery and Sarah Kneller voted against Schmalz’s motion. The ordinance will be presented, and likely voted on, at the council’s June 17 meeting.






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