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Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2014, 5:16 p.m.

Mukilteo mayor defends hiring of state senator to city job

MUKILTEO — City Council members criticized Mayor Jennifer Gregerson on Monday night for her decision to hire state Sen. Marko Liias as a policy analyst for the city, asking whether he could adequately carry out the duties of both roles.
But at the end of more than an hour of debate, they acknowledged that there was little they could do about Gregerson’s decision to hire Liias.
Council President Randy Lord said that questions have been raised both inside and outside the city on Liias’ hiring.
“I will support the mayor’s ability to do the job to the best of her ability,” Lord said. “It’s the court of public opinion that will soon tell us” whether Liias was the right person for the job, he said.
Council members said they were concerned over whether Liias can adequately fulfill his roles as both a policy analyst for the city and a state senator from the 21st District.
Gregerson and Liias are longtime friends, leading some to allege that Gregerson simply hired her pal for the city job.
During Monday night’s council meeting Gregerson said that Liias was chosen from an initial group of 15 applicants because she thought he was the best candidate for the job.
Gregerson provided council members with a document outlining how the decision to hire Liias was made, his duties and his pay, in which she noted “the responsibility to hire, evaluate and fire employees is mine.”
Liias said that he will take unpaid leave during the time the Legislature is in session. The salary he will make this year for his city job, which started in May, will be $39,187. Next year, it will be $46,113, he said. He is paid $42,106 as a state senator.
After Liias started his city job, one of the first political salvos was fired by Christine Schmalz, wife of Councilman Steve Schmalz, who ran for mayor last year. She called the hiring “cronyism at its finest.”
During Monday night’s meeting, she acknowledged that Liias’ hiring was legal but told the council: “It just stinks. It’s unethical. It’s the mayor hiring her best friend for a job.”
Another resident, William Boyce, told the council that he felt the city would be well served have a state legislator working for the city. “He’ll be able to figure out things in the Legislature that will benefit our city,” he said.
Liias said he feels his background, which includes a bachelor’s degree in foreign service from Georgetown University and graduate courses at the University of Washington’s Evans School of Public Affairs, are good qualifications.
Last month, Lord told the mayor that he would give her 30 days to consider her options, including asking Liias to resign. He asked that the issue be added to Monday night’s City Council agenda.
Lord on Monday said he doesn’t doubt that Liias could do a good job either in his role with the city or as a state senator, but not both.
Councilman Ted Wheeler called the conflict “a sticky situation” for both the mayor and Liias and asked if Liias, who was in the audience, wanted to the opportunity to say anything in response.
Gregerson said she didn’t want city employees called before council to defend their jobs, but Liias could respond to any questions the council might have. None were asked.
Liias did not speak during the meeting but said afterward that if there had been specific questions about his job as a policy analyst, he would have been happy to answer them.
“We’re getting some good things done on behalf of the council and for the people,” he said “I’m really thrilled to work for the city and I’m grateful the mayor gave me the opportunity to to join the team.”
The initial 15 applicants for the policy analyst’s job were reviewed by a human relations director for the Mukilteo School District with the names redacted. Four candidates were interviewed by two city staff members and two people from outside the city. The final interviews with the two top candidates were conducted with Rex Caldwell, the city’s acting management services director, and Gregerson.
Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

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