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Mukilteo City Council gets new faces, new leadership, and revisits a past bill

MUKILTEO, Wash., January 5, 2022 – The City of Mukilteo’s Jan 3 City Council Regular Meeting began with the swearing-in of the mayor, three city council members, and two firefighters. The council members also discussed their process to fill their vacant position. The meeting ended with the decision to reconsider the passing of Bill 20-103, which included the approval of seven community grants.

Oaths of Office

Mayor Joe Marine and City Councilmembers Louis Harris, for Position 1, Tom Jordal, for Position 2, and Steve Schmalz, for Position 3, were sworn in by Mukilteo’s new City Clerk, Kara Johnson.

Then, after being sworn in, Mayor Marine led Probationary Firefighter Tony Coleman and Probationary Medic Firefighter Daren Deibler in taking their oaths of office

Discussion surrounding the mayor’s tie-breaking ability

The first business item of the meeting was the election of the City Council President and Vice President. After Councilwoman Elizabeth Crawford read aloud the duties of the Council President position, Councilman Riaz Khan motioned to exclude the mayor from making a tie-breaking vote on the Council President vote. Councilman Steve Schmalz seconded the motion.

Khan explained that the council members should elect their leader. “It is a simple thing,” he said. 

Schmalz pointed to where it states in the agenda that the President and Vice President positions “are to be selected by a majority vote of the City Council at the first Regular Meeting of each year.” Then he explained that he wasn’t sure if the motion was necessary and only intended to make a point of clarification, not second the motion. 

He then referred to the council’s experience in 2018, when there was a tied vote for the Council President position and how they were able to resolve the matter without the mayor’s input.

“The mayor breaks ties in votes on issues that don’t deal with monetary situations if I’m correct from the city attorney. But in something like this, I think it’d probably be appropriate that the council decides,” Schmalz said.

Mayor Marine shared his thoughts on the matter. “Let me tell you, from my perspective on it, I haven’t even heard a recommendation yet, let alone that we’re going to get to a tie,” he began.

“I have no problem leaving that up to the council to decide. I don’t need to choose your president for you.” 

Interested to know the city attorney’s perspective on the topic, Marine asked, “can the council take away authority to vote or not vote on something the mayor has authority to vote or not vote on?”

With that, City Attorney Daniel Kenny shed some light on the issue. “It’s a very unusual situation, to be totally honest,” Kenny began. 

“The language in the RCW (Revised Code of Washington) allows the mayor to have a tie-breaking vote in situations other than the situations that are listed; this is not one of those situations. So I think, technically, under state law, you would have it,” he continued. “You don’t have to utilize that particularly in this type of situation, but that will be left to you.”

“And like I said,” Marine responded, “I probably wouldn’t support the council taking away my authority to be able to do something that I have the right to do—for what that’s worth.”

Schmalz reiterated that he did not intend to second the motion and formally withdrew it. Marine opened the floor for another second on the motion, and none was made.

Though the motion died, Marine stated that “it was great clarification.”

The votes for Mukilteo City Council President and Vice President

Crawford received the first nomination for Council President from Councilman Richard Emery, and Jordal supported it. Then Khan nominated Schmalz for the position.

Crawford began sharing her thoughts on becoming President for 2022, explaining that she has high expectations for anyone who would take the position. “Personally, I have other things that are in the forefront, and if I were to be your council president, I would want to give my 110%, and I don’t know that I can do that this next year,” she said. 

“So I respectfully decline the nomination. Thank you very much.” Crawford concluded.

After thanking Crawford for her honesty, Emery offered another nomination for Councilman Harris.

Harris expressed how he felt honored to be nominated but echoed Crawford’s same sentiments. “I don’t personally think that I’m ready for the role, and I’m going to be very honest about that. And with that, I would like to politely decline the nomination,” he concluded.

Schmalz followed this nomination by detailing the qualities he expected in a Council President and said, “I have experience as council president and would be honored if you selected me as council president.”

Mayor Marine then brought the council to vote for Schmalz, who was elected unanimously as Mukilteo City Council President for 2022. 

After noting how Crawford had voiced her willingness to fulfill the role earlier, Harris nominated her for the Vice President position. Schmalz nominated council member Khan for the same position.

When accepting the nomination, Crawford said, “I believe that I would be a good council vice president because I think that we need some leadership that will be able to preserve the council priorities.” She also spoke of her willingness to learn from Council President Schmalz.

Khan said he accepted the nomination and spoke about how committed he would be to the role. Mayor Marine then began the voting process, which ended with Crawford receiving four votes, and Khan receiving two. And with that, Marine announced Crawford as the Council Vice President for 2022. 

The process of filling the council vacancy

As Marine held Position 7 on the council before being elected mayor, the position is currently open. The last agenda item from Monday’s meeting was addressing this vacancy. Council members discussed their process in selecting one of the ten candidates to fill the role. 

As council members discussed said process, Councilman Schmalz brought up the mayor’s tie-breaking vote again. “I still go back to the process, if there’s six of us and there’s a three-three tie—again, we’re picking a fellow council member. My feeling is that we should work through it as a council,” Schmalz said. “I just believe that we’re the body of the council. The six of us should select the next council member.”

Council Vice President Crawford stated that she shared Schmalz’s sentiment. “I do think that this is a council process to pick a fellow council member,” she began.

“And then in looking at the process, we do have the mayor leading the discussion of determining each candidates’ strengths and weaknesses to determine their qualifications. So would that also be a matter of having that discussion be led by council and not by the mayor?” she asked. 

“I would suggest that, since the mayor runs the meeting for you, it’s appropriate to leave that part of the meeting in his hands, if for nothing else just for the ease of uniformity,” Attorney Kenny responded.

“And again, the process does allow for the mayor to have one of those questions—again, building on history, so I think that keeping the mayor as part of the process in that fashion probably makes sense,” he said.

“Okay,” Crawford began, “and then the ability of the mayor to submit their question as well is that a part of [the] requirement or is that our own doing?”

“This whole process is the city’s,” Kenny answered. “As I understood it, it was well-received in 2014 when it was developed […] looking at the historical record, which is why we’ve repeated it and [are] repeating it tonight.”

After acknowledging the sensibility of having the mayor facilitate the discussion, Crawford said, “I do think that this should ultimately be the council’s decision, and the council should work together if we did have a tie to figure out who the next council member will be.”

Councilmember Harris added his voice to the discussion, saying, “I have faith in each of the council members present to work through our process to make sure that we come up with at least a relative consensus.”

After closer examination of this particular RCW, Kenny noted an important distinction. “The RCW says that the ‘remaining members of the governing body shall appoint a qualified person to the position.’ What it doesn’t say is by a majority vote or anything like that—the other one did,” he explained. 

“So this, to me, defers to the council to create a process to appoint a person,” Kenny continued. “So it’s your process on how you get to the appointment of filling the vacancy.”

Mayor Marine’s comment on the tie-breaking issue

Eventually, Mayor Marine said, “I am perfectly fine not breaking a tie. I don’t know that that’s probably the best way to be bringing in a new council member anyway. However, I’m a little dismayed at the council trying to push me out of the process.” 

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to use my institutional knowledge,” he continued. “This is probably [my] fifth time. The very first time I went through this was in 1998 as a brand new council member, and we had to replace the mayor’s seat basically […], and that was an interesting process.”

After expounding more on his past experiences, Marine mentioned how he knows the majority of the candidates. “I’m not going to make the choice for you, but I think I bring some value in terms of qualifications,” he said before indicating that he is fine serving in whatever capacity the council deems best during the process. 

“But I would just say that I’m looking at going into this as a team, and I’m going to be reaching out to council for your help, and I would expect you do the same. And I don’t think that sends a good message to continue to say, ‘well, we just don’t want the mayor to be a part of it. We don’t want him to vote. We don’t want him to be a part of the discussion.’ It just doesn’t seem to me like a team,” Marine noted.

Schmalz clarified that they would rely on the mayor to lead the discussion but reiterated his strong feelings about the council choosing their next member. He stated that he welcomes the mayor’s expertise and history. 

“I just think that looking at the language, I’d like to just get this out in the open and discuss this before we get into it, and if it comes up, I’d rather be proactive [on the matter]. I’d rather to discuss it now before we move on,” Schmalz explained.

The reconsideration of Community Grants

After all the items on the agenda had been discussed, Mayor Marine asked if there was any more business the council wished to bring forth. Council Vice President Crawford said that she wanted to “recount a vote” she took on Agenda Bill 21-103

Bill 103, which passed last month, awarded $10,000 worth of community grants to Mukilteo Senior Association, Mukilteo Police Foundation, MukFest Pirates, Mukilteo Way Garden Club and Mukilteo Lighthouse Quilters, Mukilteo Community Garden, Lynnwood Times, and Workforce Development Center. 

“The tricky thing about this specific vote was that it encompassed a variety of things, and there’s just one thing that I would like to go back on the table on,” Crawford said.

But as Marine explained, going back on the vote would bring “the whole thing back open,” and from there, the council can re-examine the specifics. 

With that, Crawford moved to reconsider her vote on Bill 21-103, the Community Support Grant recommendations from Dec 6, 2021. Harris seconded the motion. 

Crawford began discussing the bill, saying, “After a lot of thought, and some more thought, I do think that we moved forward with awarding the Lynnwood Times $1,000 and that just didn’t seem right because they are a private company. And I know that at that time, there was already discussion from other council members that this was not, maybe, the right move to make, so I’d like to reconsider the vote on that.”

Harris offered his thoughts on the matter. “I’m really glad Councilmember Crawford brought this to the floor ‘cause I was one of the council members that was pretty adamant about not accepting the Lynnwood Times as a grantee for the community grants, on really several basises [sic],” he said. “But I think the most pertinent is that it is a private company, and so I’m going to fully support this.”

Councilmember Schmalz asked if the subject could be tabled to a later date if the reconsideration motion were passed, to which Marine responded affirmatively. 

“It’s my understanding that the community grant descriptions and standards allow for grants to be made to for-profit entities,” said Councilman Emery.

Emery suggested it would be helpful to have that information confirmed in the next meeting, saying, “I think we should be clear about that if that’s the basis for the concern, it may not be a valid concern, so we should know that.”

Councilman Harris clarified that that was not the only reason he believes “the Lynnwood Times should not get that grant.” 

“I think that the point is that I personally want to see that reconsidered in its totality,” Harris said.

The grant in question awarded the Lynnwood Times $1000. According to the bill, the purpose thereof is to “provide an internship for a student journalist who will report and contribute articles to the Lynnwood Times of high school events, activities, appreciation/recognition, achievements, and sports to be published on their website, social media accounts, and print newspaper.”

But, as the mayor indicated, the council would have to reconsider the bill in its entirety and all the grants that were passed therein prior to addressing the single grant of concern. 

Mayor Marine said it was an odd situation given that the City Council had a “different body” when the bill passed, referring to all the new elected officials now on council. He believed it prudent to table it to a later date so that new council members could have time to learn more about the matter. 

“It’s certainly an unusual circumstance,” said Attorney Kenny, “but the council rules and procedure—it really has to do with the motion maker and whether they voted for it, and it’s within the timeline. Whether somebody is off of council or added to council or you went through an election or change, it doesn’t matter.”

Mayor Marine brought the motion to vote, which passed 5 – 1, with Councilman Khan dissenting. 

Then Schmalz made a motion to postpone the item to the next regular meeting, which falls on Jan 18. Councilman Emery seconded it, and the motion passed unanimously. 

To view this council meeting in its entirety, click here. To watch past Mukilteo City Council Meetings, click here.

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