Letter to the Editor: Conflicts of interest – follow the money
Last updated 6/22/2022 at 10:52am
The Port of Everett hired a large Seattle consulting firm to assist in coming up with a vision and guiding principles for Mukilteo's waterfront. Although this was billed as a "partnership" with Mukilteo, Mukilteo staff spent no time or money on this process. Council was not asked to approve what the Port was doing. It was a Port project.
At the June 13 Council meeting, Port CEO Lisa Lefeber presented what the Port had come up with. At the end of her presentation she made a surprise announcement. The Port has had an agreement to purchase the former ferry holding lot used for cars waiting to board at the ferry terminal.
She disclosed this conflict of interest the Port has had while developing what the Port wants the Council to adopt as Mukilteo's waterfront vision and guiding principles.
She told Council she removed this purchase agreement from the Port Commission's agenda for their next day meeting. Removed because on June 6 Council decided to defer action on Mayor Joe Marine's proposed ordinance to change Mukilteo's downtown parking code.
Councilmember Louis Harris said, "To me that sounds like there's something more going on than what meets the eye." How right he was.
On June 6, Council felt they should study the downtown parking situation and not make a hasty piecemeal decision to change the zoning law until Mukilteo's entire downtown parking needs and other significant parking matters could be determined. No urgent need to change the downtown zone parking code.
Last week, the Beacon reported the Port did not go forward with their purchase agreement. They wanted the downtown parking code to be changed so the property could be used as a commercial parking lot to provide revenue the Port wanted as a return on its planned investment.
The zoning code change would permit the Port or any owner of that property to use it for commuter parking, which is not now permitted. Competing with the long-standing 100 commuter parking spaces Mukilteo rents to Whidbey Island commuters for $200 a month, $240,000 annually – money Mukilteo needs to help pay City expenses.
The downtown parking code change would result in a large additional amount of commuter parking, using waterfront parking that is needed for expected future enjoyment of our waterfront. If commuter parking expands there is no way to reverse it. Most do not want Mukilteo to use more of its limited waterfront parking for Whidbey Island commuters.
Council President Steve Schmalz reminded Council of this and recommended a complete comprehensive analysis of all downtown parking issues later this year before the Council considers or makes any changes to the parking code. Council agreed.
Instead, Mayor Marine immediately put his proposed parking change ordinance, that Council deferred June 6, on a special meeting agenda for June 27 without consultation with Council to determine if they wanted him to bring his proposed parking changes back to them for an immediate approval vote.
Does Mayor Marine want the Port to buy the property and turn it into commuter parking? Why did he put it on a special meeting agenda without consulting with Council? Citizens are not permitted to testify at special council meetings.
Not only does the Port have a conflict of interest. Mayor Marine's family has relatives that own the property the Port wants to buy, and they have been trying to sell it for quite a while. Marine said a few years ago he does not have an ownership interest but his family has relatives that do.
At the Port Commission meeting mentioned above, one Commissioner said he had breakfast that morning with Joe Marine who told him he was confident he could convince the Council to pass the zoning code parking changes without any problem.
At the Port Commissioners' meeting they seemed fully aware of the situation and their CEO's stated position. That she did not want them to buy the property unless the Council voted at least 6-1 or preferably unanimously to make the parking code changes. A 4-3 vote would be a split decision in her opinion and she said that would be insufficient. She told them she would feel the Port was not at risk with their investment only if Mukilteo's Council fully agreed to make the zone's parking code changes.
Will the Council be bullied and out maneuvered by the mayor, the Port and the property owners to now rush to pass the parking code changes they voted two weeks ago to defer and consider later this year or early 2023? Council recognized the huge impact these changes would have and needs time to come up with their best decision about downtown Mukilteo parking.
City policies, zoning laws, and finances are the Council's responsibility, not the mayor's. His responsibility is to follow and implement Council policies and financial decisions.
Conflicts of interest need special attention. Follow the money!
Twice former Mukilteo Councilmember
Editor's note: Mayor Joe Marine said that his wife's uncle and aunt are owners of the property where the former ferry lanes holding lanes are located. Marine said he does not have any ownership of the property. "I am in no way connected," he said. "I have no monetary connection, financially or otherwise."