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Rantz: Mukilteo Mayor’s cronyism problem

Mayor Jennifer Gregerson. (City of Mukilteo)

What the hell is going on in Mukilteo? Just as soon as I was ready to dismiss a story of low-level political cronyism, Mayor Jennifer Gregerson’s office set off one giant red flag.

There was a story in the Daily Herald my producer and I took a weird interest in. State Senator Marko Liias, a Democrat and an ally of the mayor, held an $89,000 a year job as a policy analyst for Mukilteo. That position was recently axed to save money by the city council.

One of the leading critics of this position is the council’s vice president, Steve Schmalz, who claimed the position is a potential conflict of interest and that it seems like Mayor Gregerson was rewarding her buddy Liias with a job after he helped get her elected.

The conflict of interest criticism seems baseless to me; if anything, Mukilteo would benefit from Liias in the state senate. Though, it should be noted that Gregerson claimed that if Liias’ job was eliminated, she “questioned how interested Liias might be in representing Mukilteo’s interests in the Legislature after being fired by the city,” per the Herald. She later apologized for the statement, claiming it was made in anger (which is a bizarre way to express your anger, seeing that her statement made Liias look incredibly petty and undeserving of the policy analyst job to begin with).

But I was curious about the relationship between Gregerson and Liias. The job salary is $89,000 for Liias, which is more than the $70,000 base salary for the mayor’s office. Mukilteo has a population of just over 21,000: what kind of policy analysis must be done for a city of this size that requires such an insanely high salary? And is Liias doing all the work necessary? He chose not to take a salary for the months he served in Olympia. Well, did policy analysis get done? And if so, then is it really a full-time job worth such a high salary? If the work wasn’t done, why would you keep Liias on the job?

It’s not that I’m against giving your friends or allies jobs — if they’re qualified for it, then I’m not going to scream that something’s wrong. But the salary here doesn’t make sense.

In fact, the more I dug into this story, the more curious information I found, such as, back in 2013, when she was running for Mayor, Gregerson railed against high salaried support staff, like the city administrator. From the Herald:

Gregerson said a deputy mayor or policy analyst could be hired for $60,000 or $70,000 a year to help the mayor.

“I think you need project-specific support, I just don’t think you need to pay $160,000 for it,” she said.

She said the money saved by eliminating the administrator position could go toward a full-time human resources director, a position the city has never had.

Granted, the position of administrator and policy analyst are different, why the sudden interest in a high pay job to a political ally?

I had questions. I’m not familiar with Mukilteo government. Producer Jacob reached out to Gregerson for a quick chat. She declined, as is obviously her right. But the way her Executive Assistant responded set off those internal red flags I rely on when I’m sussing out a story. She wrote, “The Mayor respectfully declines the offer to be interviewed. She believes she has said everything that can be said on the topic and wants to move ahead.”

Oh, well, if Gregerson thinks she’s said all that needs to be said, I guess I should go on my merry way. My eye-roll while writing that sentence caused temporary blindness. The press is here to ask the questions and we have some general leeway in deciding when we believe everything that can be said on a topic has been said, not the subject of our suspicion.

With respect to Gregerson, I don’t think she’s said all that needs to be said and her reluctance makes it seem like she wants to bury this story so we don’t call this arrangement with Liias what it sure is starting to smell like: cronyism. And if that’s what’s going on here, well, then, I guess she’s right to hide from the media asking her questions.

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