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A waterfront city of 20,000, Mukilteo has plenty of problems to solve: traffic snarls, pedestrian safety, a huge ferry terminal relocation on the horizon.

But it's a hiring decision by the recently elected mayor that's getting all the attention at city hall, with one side alleging political paybacks and cronyism and the other saying sour grapes.

When Jennifer Gregerson was elected in November, she asked the council to approve a full time policy analyst. Fifteen people applied, but the mayor selected a friend - State Senator Marko Liias - setting him up in the office right next to hers, except when he leaves for months at a time to do his senate job in Olympia.

I don't think that there's a conflict, I think he's able to do the work for our city and represent us, said Gregerson.

Why give a fulltime job to someone who's unavailable for part of the year?

We'll be able to save money in our department by having months when he's unpaid, and because he's really qualified, said Gregerson.

But concerned city council members say Liaas shouldn't be collecting two government paychecks, both funded by taxpayers.

Our major concern is I don't believe he can do both jobs at the same time, said Council President Randy Lord. There's a perception that people believe that there's payback.

Councilmember Steve Schmalz, who lost his own bid for mayor in the primary, says a citizen asked him to look into campaign finance documents filed with the state public disclosure commission--and what he saw looks fishy.

It looks like there's a political debt that was paid back, that the mayor owed, this is like a political payback, said Schmalz. One could look at it that way if you follow the money.

The PDC filings show that in October 2012, Marko Liias' political fund donated $11,000 to the 21st Democrats, which is chaired by Jennifer Gregerson.

Two days later, the 21st Democrats gave $10,000 to the One Washington Pac which is directed by Marko Liias.

Then a year later, the Pac spent more than $5000 on a direct mail flyer that helped Gregerson win the mayor's race.

A few months later, Gregerson hired Liias for the policy job.

Gregerson s critics would say this looks like a conflict of interest and it just looks like it was rigged, help me get elected and I give you a job.

That's certainly not what happened and not what the process has been about, Gregerson said.

When asked if this was rigged and if he promised the job, Liias said No. The job didn't even exist until Feb or March. I don't remember when the job description was approved sometime this year. So certainly, I can't be promised a job that doesn't exist.

Since the council can't fire Liias and the mayor vows to keep him, it looks a stalemate.

In the meantime, both sides agree, the bitter feud doesn't make it easy to focus on solving Mukilteo's more important issues.

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