Questions arise about Marko Liias’ severance payment

State senator turns in receipts and college transcripts
Aug 31, 2018
Marko Liias

Former Mukilteo policy analyst Marko Liias’ University of Washington transcript and tuition receipts have finally been shown to Mukilteo City Councilmembers three weeks after the topic first came up.

Liias, a Democrat, is the current state Senator in the 21st Legislative District, which serves a portion of Edmonds. He is running for re-election in the November general election against Republican Mario Lotmore.

Councilmember Scott Whelpley brought to the council’s attention that some former City of Mukilteo employees received severance payments that went against the city’s policy. Now, the council will approve all severance agreements, whereas Mayor Jennifer Gregerson had been approving them.

Mukilteo’s severance policy was that employees were allowed to receive two months of wages, paid monthly, if terminated without cause.

The Beacon obtained severance paperwork for four former city employees where that policy was not followed, including Liias, who was Mukilteo’s policy analyst for over three years.

Liias and another employee received a third month’s pay in their severance payout, and the payments were lump-sum payments, meaning they were paid up front in one payment.

The other issue council had with Liias’ payout was with his tuition reimbursement for the University of Washington, which totaled $6,355.

The city has a tuition reimbursement program where the city reimburses employees who go back to school if they give a receipt for their tuition and proof they passed their course.

In the documents obtained by the Mukilteo Beacon, the city didn’t receive a receipt or transcript from Liias’ time at UW.

Mukilteo Councilmember Anna Rohrbough asked Gregerson at last Monday’s council meeting if the city had received the receipt and transcript. Gregerson said she did not. Rohrbough then filed a motion for a vote of no confidence in Gregerson’s leadership, which passed 4-2.

Subsequently, in emails obtained by the Mukilteo Beacon on Aug. 27, Gregerson emailed copies of Liias’ UW transcript and receipt to councilmembers.

Liias’ tuition did cost $6,355, and he passed his coursework.

Copies of Liias’ specific requests in his severance package also were included in Gregerson’s email.

In an email to Management Services Director Steve Edin, Liias asked for his severance to be a one-time payment.

Whelpley felt Liias had too much influence in negotiating his severance agreement.

“I don’t know of any other company/organization that can have an employee set their severance, tuition assistance, and payment terms that violates city policy to the tune of $30,000. Do you?” Whelpley said in an email. “Next time I think we should elect/hire someone who is a little smarter on city policy and what is best for the citizens they serve.”

In that same Dec. 5 email, Liias told Edin he had a copy of his tuition statement if the city needed it.

In an email to The Beacon on Aug. 27, Liias said his request for a one-time payment was due to the way he was dismissed, which was through a council vote on Dec. 4.

“I asked for the lump-sum payment because I was pretty disappointed in the way my position was eliminated, and I was ready to move on,” Liias said.

Liias said he wasn’t aware his request could potentially violate the city’s policy.

“I had not read the relevant personnel policy since my arrival in May 2014, so it didn’t occur to me that this might violate city policy,” he said. “It was also a request, and had Mr. Edin reminded me of the city policy, I would have understood and complied.”

Liias said he worked exclusively with Edin on his agreement.

“Because of his HR expertise, I assumed Mr. Edin was vetting my agreement with the policies, which was why I asked if he needed a tuition statement and accepted his answer when it wasn’t deemed necessary,” Liias said.

“I guess in retrospect, I should have independently confirmed with the finance director, but since Mr. Edin was my only point of contact as we negotiated my agreement, I worked exclusively through him.”

Brandon Gustafson is editor of the Mukilteo Beacon.


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