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Originally published December 30, 2009 at 9:37 PM | Page modified January 4, 2010 at 3:55 PM

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Tiff with Nickels delays McGinn's move to Seattle City Hall

Seattle Mayor-elect Mike McGinn and his aides were supposed to move into their City Hall digs today— one day before he officially takes office. But the long-scheduled Dec. 31 move-in was canceled at the last minute by the departing administration of Mayor Greg Nickels after a spat over health coverage for some Nickels aides.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle Mayor-elect Mike McGinn and his aides were supposed to move into their City Hall digs today— one day before he officially takes office.

But the long-scheduled Dec. 31 move-in was canceled at the last minute by the departing administration of Mayor Greg Nickels after a spat over health coverage for some Nickels aides.

Instead, McGinn's staff members were told they can't take over the mayor's 7th floor City Hall offices until McGinn is legally in charge, after midnight on Jan. 1.

The welcome mat was yanked after McGinn refused to allow some top Nickels' staffers to remain on the city payroll until Jan. 5 so they'd be covered by city health insurance through January.

Deputy Mayor Tim Ceis acknowledged he nixed McGinn's early move-in after the health-insurance decision, which affected Ceis and five other Nickels' aides.

Ceis said some Nickels' aides had been assured the January insurance coverage would be no problem. Those assurances were "rescinded at the last minute" by McGinn, Ceis said, leaving the Nickels' staffers just a few days to work out health insurance before the new year.

"They made a decision, and it's within their right to do, and that's fine," Ceis said.

But in turn, Nickels' office exercised its right to keep McGinn out of the mayor's office until the new year.

"They are more than welcome to have it at midnight on the 31st," Ceis said.

Phil Fujii, McGinn's deputy mayor for operations, said McGinn couldn't justify paying for the Nickels' staffers' health coverage when they were no longer working for the city.

"I'm sorry Tim [Ceis] feels this way," Fujii said. "I really respect him, but with a new administration coming in, we're being very protective of public funds."

Fujii said he was not aware of any promises made to Nickels' staffers about health coverage for January. Besides Ceis, other Nickels' aides affected by the health-insurance decision were: Mary Jean Ryan, head of the city's Office of Policy and Management; Sue Nakamura, Nickels' executive assistant; Viet Shelton, a community outreach aide; Emelie East, head of the city Office of Intergovernmental Relations; and Rachel Smith, who headed up Nickels' climate-change initiatives.

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Those employees were cashing in unused vacation or leave for the first few days in January, so there was nobody "enriching themselves" at the city's expense, Ceis said.

McGinn's decision "caused some obvious consternation" to the Nickels' aides, Ceis said. "People just felt disrespected by it because it came so late."

Before the spat, the Nickels administration had been helpful to the incoming McGinn staff, setting up briefings and agreeing to the Dec. 31 move-in date as a courtesy. City employees, including computer and phone technicians, had been all set to assist the McGinn move-in today. The date made sense, since Jan. 1 is a holiday, followed by a weekend.

McGinn spokesman Mark Matassa said that by pushing the move to the holiday weekend, the city may have to pay overtime for city workers. He did not have an estimate on the cost.

"It's not a giant move, but it's inconvenient and an expense. All it's doing now is pushing into next week," Matassa said.

Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or jbrunner@seattletimes.com

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