City Council candidates make cases
Last updated 10/30/2019 at 1:43pm
The Mukilteo City Council will have at least three new faces next year, and those candidate hopefuls, as well as a pair facing off to remain on the council, made their cases for election Wednesday, Oct. 23, at Rosehill Community Center at the Mukilteo Candidate Forum.
The forum was sponsored by the Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce, the Mukilteo Beacon, and the Lynnwood Times, and a majority of questions were pre-prepared by the event’s sponsors ahead of the event.
Council Positions 4-7 are on Mukilteo ballots this year, and feature a mix of familiar and new faces, as well as the two incumbents squaring off.
Candidates for each race were asked questions that they and their opponent would each answer before a new question was asked to candidates in a different race.
Below are some key points and takeaways from the debate. To see this portion of the forum in its entirety, visit the Mukilteo Chamber of Commerce’s YouTube channel.
Position 4 is currently held by two-term councilmember Steve Schmalz. Schamlz announced he would not seek reelection this year, and after some late filing and seat swapping, incumbents Richard Emery and Scott Whelpley are facing off for the seat. Whelpley and Emery hold Positions 5 and 6, respectively.
Emery initially filed to keep his Position 6 seat, but later swapped to Position 4 in order to face off with Peter Zieve, who then swapped to the Position 6 race. Whelpley filed for Position 4 because, at the time of his filing, the race for Position 5 had the most people in it, while Position 4 had the least.
Emery won the primary race with 41.4%. Whelpley earned 37.58%.
The two were asked about the future of the waterfront in regards to the Tulalip Tribes’ land. The Tribes recently announced they were not pursuing a parking lot on that land, much to the relief of many in Mukilteo, but plans for that land are not clear. The councilmembers were asked what they’d like to see done with that land in cooperation with Mukilteo.
Whelpley said it’s not that easy.
“We were directed to be respectful to the Tribes because pretty much they can build what they want there,” he said. Whelpley said he’d like to see something built that shows off the Tribes’ heritage, but that’s unlikely.
“The Tribes are very intelligent, very smart,” Whelpley said. “They understand that it’s not drawing revenue. That’s probably one of the reasons they didn’t want to do that.”
Whelpley said the City needs to keep good communications with the Tribes going forward.
Emery said the Tribes have made it clear that they want to keep the property for a long time and have no intention of selling it.
Additionally, he said the City still has a role to play.
“The City’s task is to find some kind of mutual acceptable and compatible use that will allow the Tribes to put a facility there of some kind that will produce revenue,” Emery said.
With both having experience on the council, the two have likely heard from a number of business owners over the years about issues they face in having a business in Mukilteo. Emery and Whelpley were asked about just that.
Emery said two main issues facing business owners are likely business license fees as well as sales tax. Mukilteo is tied for the highest sales tax in Washington at 10.5%.
“We need to work with the Chamber and our business community to make sure what we’re asking of our businesses is fair and equitable,” Emery said. He also said there needs to be a balance between what helps the business community and the Mukilteo community as a whole.
Whelpley agreed with his opponent regarding business license fees, which he said are rising and hurt small businesses. He disagreed on sales tax, saying he “spearheaded” that because people who come to Mukilteo businesses use the city’s roads and potentially its first responders “and those outsiders “needed to pay as much as we did.” He said he did this because the other alternative proposed was racing car tabs in Mukilteo, which he opposed.
Whelpley added that the City also needs to continue to help small-business owners due to the rising minimum wage.
The race for Whelpley’s current seat features a perennial candidate and a first-timer.
Riaz Khan, a fixture on Mukilteo ballots for the last few years, both in Mukilteo and state Legislature races, was the first candidate to announce their candidacy in 2019, saying in January that he would run for Position 5 as Whelpley had said he was unlikely to run again. Khan is the president of the Islamic Center of Mukilteo, and has been on numerous organizational and volunteer boards in the area.
He faces off with first-time candidate Christopher Maddux, an IT specialist and an Army paratrooper veteran. Maddux has lived in Mukilteo for a number of years, and has repeatedly touted his work with the Harbour Pointe Middle School Music Boosters, which he has been a part of for a number of years.
Maddux led the way in votes during the primary with 37.02% to Khan’s 35.23%.
The opponents were asked about what the City can do to bring “living-wage jobs” to Mukilteo.
Khan said that there should be incentives given to businesses who can provide those types of jobs, and that he is in support of wages in Mukilteo going up.
Maddux said there needs to be consideration for what City government is able to do because there are limitations, but there are ways the City can look at making it less expensive for businesses in town to operate.
Another way to look at it, he said, was to make it less expensive to live in Mukilteo.
“So that way the living wage doesn’t have to be as high,” he said.
Maddux said taxes in town, such as the sales tax, have continued to rise, which makes it harder for jobs in town to pay living wages.
When asked about annexation, the two mentioned supporting it, but not necessarily in its entirety.
The City has discussed annexing nearby areas of unincorporated Snohomish County, such as the east side of Mukilteo Speedway where Azteca and Pizza Hut are, as well as further into Picnic Point down to 148th.
Maddux said there’s areas that are “considered Mukilteo” that are no-brainers to annex, such as that east side of the Speedway. But other areas, such as close to Highway 99, not so much.
“Highway 99 does not fit in to this small, wonderful town that we have,” he said.
Khan described annexation as a potential “cash cow” for Mukilteo, namely that eastern strip of Mukilteo Speedway.
“It is time,” he said.
Like Position 5, the race for Position 6 features a former candidate and a new one, with former candidate Zieve and first-time candidate Elisabeth Crawford vying for Emery’s current seat.
Zieve ran in 2017 in what many felt was a controversial campaign against then-council president Bob Champion. A focus point of Zieve’s campaign was a rumor that Champion and Mayor Jennifer Gregerson were engaged in an affair, as well as that Champion is not a business owner and has no children. Zieve has six children and is the founder of Electroimpact, Mukilteo’s largest business. Zieve used “sign toppers” on his campaign signs that had checkmark comparisons between he and Champion.
Crawford is an occupational health and safety specialist at Boeing and is a current Mukilteo Parks and Arts commissioner. She previously worked at the Snohomish Health District.
Zieve used the sign topper technique again, as well as in paid ads in The Beacon, comparing that he has children and owns a business and has lived in Mukilteo for a number of years, while Crawford has no children, doesn’t own a business, and has lived in Mukilteo for just under a decade.
Crawford earned 55.64% during the primary to Zieve’s 32.24%.
The debate between these two has been the talk of the town since Wednesday evening, as it was discovered Zieve had the forum questions in his notes ahead of time with pre-prepared answers. Candidates were not given the questions beforehand. (We will not be focusing on that in this story. For more information on that, see “Zieve caught with forum questions” on the front page).
The question asked when the issue arose was what the City can do to diversify its source of revenue. Zieve said the City already has an incredibly diverse revenue stream, noting that the City receives far less of its money from property tax compared to Snohomish County, and utilities and sales tax are two of the other big sources of income for the City.
Crawford said there should be a deeper dive into the budget to look at what’s working and what isn’t, and there should be more emphasis on grants.
The two were also asked about parking in Old Town, which has been a topic of discussion among residents for a number of years.
Zieve lauded the new parking program at the waterfront that allows for a maximum of 12 hours for certain spots compared to the regular maximum of four hours, which is still the case for a majority of spots.
Zieve said residents are “in pretty good shape” because of the residential parking pass program that many take advantage of, but the issue comes from non-residents, primarily in the summer when Lighthouse Park is at its busiest.
“I believe we should be looking for a parking facility up in Old Town – not on the waterfront,” Zieve said.
Crawford noted Mukilteo is essentially built out as it currently stands.
“We have about 2% of land to build on,” she said.
She said the City’s options for building a parking structure are limited, and the City’s comprehensive plan states the City should look at partnering with current parking lots to provide waterfront and ferry parking for those who need it.
She also said Sound Transit’s ST3 plan has $40 million to fund projects in Mukilteo and Edmonds, and money from ST3 could be a source of revenue to provide a structure that limits traffic and parking impacts to Old Town residents.
Council President Chris Cook announced she would not run to keep her seat after six years on the council, and Former Mayor Joe Marine and first-time candidate Kristina Melnichenko are squaring off for Cook’s seat.
Marine is a former councilmember, state Representative, and a two-term mayor. Melnichenko has worked as a data analyst, office manager, and business administrator. Marine received the most votes in the primary of any of the four Mukilteo City Council races with roughly 65%. Melnichenko received just under 19%, beating out Tina Over for the second spot in the general election.
The first question the two were asked was about the severance agreement dispute that dominated council discussions for roughly a year.
Melnichenko said councilmembers and mayors are elected to uphold “the laws and rules that govern us,” and electeds should aren’t elected to “choose the laws to govern.”
She said the City should have been, and should be going forward, following state law and being transparent.
Marine called the situation “unfortunate,” and said it should have never happened and gotten as bad as it did.
He said the issue didn’t start during his administration as mayor.
“I never had anyone leave with a severance package,” he said.
The two also had the chance to talk about their top priorities if elected.
Marine said his main concern is the City’s budget.
He said he would “delve back” into the budget to figure out why the City had so much money in reserves but that appears to be all gone. Marine noted his administration took place during the last recession, and now the economy is good.
“The economy now is thriving and somehow we’re having budgetary problems. There’s an issue there that needs to be fixed,” he said.
Marine said he wants to look at getting a park and ride in Mukilteo, as he tried to do when mayor, and to continue to maintain control over Mukilteo’s waterfront, support aerospace manufacturing, and fight future expansion at Paine Field.
Melnichenko said the budget is also her top priority, and said that while Marine had left with general fund reserves around 38%, it was 68% when he took office and now it’s around 22%.
“I agree something needs to be done, and one of my top priorities I have is to put some eyes on our taxes,” she said. “When the growth is coming from the business activity, and we’re seeing the same old solutions and approaches applied to the new challenges and opportunities.”
She said other cities have shown there are new ways to tackle newer challenges in regards to business growth and taxes.