The Snohomish County Council took emergency action Wednesday to remove a department from County Executive Aaron Reardon’s control, part of an escalating fight between Reardon and the county’s legislative branch.
The council withdrew Reardon’s control of the Department of Information Services in response to allegations that the county executive’s staff is targeting county employees who cooperated with an investigation into Reardon last year by the Washington State Patrol.
Kevin Hulten, a Reardon staffer, used a fake name when he requested extensive public records on the whistle-blower in the case and several others, including county prosecutors who turned the case over to the State Patrol, the county auditor, two County Council members and their aides, and others who spoke with state patrol investigators.
The council and Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe are seeking an outside, criminal investigation about the records requests, according to the council. The records requests were detailed in recent stories in The Herald newspaper in Everett.
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“It is incumbent on the council to ensure that all county records are appropriately maintained and kept available for investigative and legal purposes,” the council said in a statement.
Reardon released a statement Wednesday that said it was legal for Hulten to request the records. The executive criticized the council’s action and questioned whether the council was trying to hide public records by taking away control of the department.
Reardon’s statement said, in part: “This action was taken without public notice or comment, without notification to employees within the department and with no analysis or discussion by the County Council. … The highly unusual step taken today creates a distraction from county business while raising serious questions about council’s intentions and the content of the records they question the need to release.”
No charges were filed in the Patrol’s six-month investigation of Reardon, which wrapped up last year.
Reardon and the council have never gotten along, but the investigation further isolated the executive, especially when the State Patrol released interview notes quoting elected officials criticizing Reardon.
At one point, the council called for Reardon to step down.
He released a 30-second video statement, refusing.
The Herald uncovered the connection between the records requests and two members of Reardon’s staff members, Hulten and Jon Rudicil.
The newspaper reported that the two also are behind spoof email accounts, Tumblr accounts attacking Reardon’s political opponents, and a corporation registered with the state.
Last week, Reardon’s office sent out a statement that said Hulten made his requests as a private citizen. “His motivations were his own,” the statement said.
The executive has not acknowledged Rudicil’s involvement.
Hulten followed up with his own emailed statement, saying he used a fake name to request the records because he was worried about retaliation.
He requested the records, he wrote, because “they relate to potential future litigation and the possible exposure of improper dealings by some of those whose records I seek.”
In another email exchange with The Seattle Times, Hulten said that he is looking into whether county prosecuting attorneys behaved improperly by talking to the media during the State Patrol’s investigation of Reardon.
The bipartisan, five-member council expressed unanimous disgust about the alleged intimidation campaign by the executive’s office.
County employees “deserve better than to to be painted with the broad brush of misconduct that taints the executive office. We all deserve better,” said council member Brian Sullivan.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @EmilyHeffter