Accusations of cronyism against state senator



Posted on June 16, 2014 at 4:19 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 16 at 6:58 PM

MUKILTEO, Wash. -- Newly-elected Mayor Jennifer Gregerson has hired her friend Marko Liias as a “policy analyst” for the city of Mukilteo.

The full-time position pays $65,000 per year plus benefits, but Liias already has a job as state representative for the 21st District, which includes Mukilteo.

It’s an issue that has some crying cronyism at City Hall.

“Rigged, greed, self-serving, conflict of interest. These are some of the words I’m hearing,” said Mukilteo resident Christine Awad Schmalz, an outspoken critic of the hiring.
Liias effectively works about four months a year in the state senate in Olympia, earning about $42,000, plus benefits. That’s time he would not be spending at City Hall, but according to the terms of his initial employment agreement with Mukilteo, Liias would be getting paid. The question is can Liias adequately perform both jobs, especially since taxpayers are writing both paychecks.

“I don’t see how that can happen,” said Schmalz, wife of a Mukilteo city councilman. “Here we have a state senator and a city employee that can’t do either job full-time.”

Mayor Gregerson says the city is trying to work out an unpaid “leave of absence” for the time Liias would spend in Olympia.  Despite the accommodations being made for her admitted friend, the mayor says Liias is not getting special treatment and remains the best person for the job.

“He knows the community really well. He knows the issues in Mukilteo and has been a great asset to the city already,” said Gregerson.

As a state senator, Gregerson says Liias would not be able to vote on matters pertaining specifically to the city of Mukilteo, but he would still be able to vote on larger issues that impact both the city and his district, including transportation issues.  

Schmalz says the whole thing just smells bad.

“This is what you do in high school. You get your best friend on the student council,” said Schmalz. “This isn’t high school. This is real life.”

State Senator Liias did not return a call for comment on this story.