The Snohomish County Council Wednesday called on Executive Aaron Reardon to take a leave of absence, escalating a political crisis for Reardon as the State Patrol continues its months-long investigation into his spending.
The Snohomish County Council on Wednesday called on Executive Aaron Reardon to take a leave of absence, escalating a political crisis for Reardon as the State Patrol continues its months-long investigation into his spending.
“Frankly, we have lost the trust of the public in county government,” said Councilmember Dave Somers, who sponsored the resolution after media reports detailing Reardon’s using public trips, time and money on an affair and his campaign for re-election. Somers said the investigation is a distraction and that Reardon should be on paid leave until the allegations are resolved.
Reardon said he won’t step down or comment on the allegations.
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“It is what it is,” he said of the council’s action. “The investigation hasn’t been a distraction at all.”
A county employee, Tamara Dutton, went to Somers in October to say Reardon spent county funds on their six-year affair. When news broke that her allegations would be investigated by state troopers, Reardon said the investigation was a political attack and blamed his Republican opponent.
Three and a half months later, though, it’s his fellow Democrats who are asking him to step down. Four of the five council members were present for Wednesday’s unanimous vote to support a leave of absence. Of those, three were Democrats.
They said news coverage last week convinced them the executive should take a break and let Deputy Executive Gary Haakenson — a former Edmonds mayor — take over.
“Rumors and allegations have been replaced by a documented list — a long list — of legal concerns,” said Councilmember Dave Gossett. “That changes the situation that we’re in. Any county employee in a similar situation would be required to go on administrative leave.”
The County Council doesn’t have the power to put Reardon on leave.
The Seattle Times reported last week that text messages, Facebook messages, plane tickets and other documents backed Dutton’s claim that she went on trips with Reardon when he was supposed to be doing county business. She said he skipped conferences and meetings to be with her on trips in 2007 and 2010.
Other media reported that emails and calendar discrepancies indicate that Reardon was doing campaign fundraising on county time, when he was scheduled to be in staff meetings. He also used his county-paid cellphone to talk for hours to Dutton and to campaign consultants.
Reardon released a video statement Wednesday after the council’s vote. In front of a floral painting and in a jacket and tie, the executive said he was focused on “the issues that the people of Snohomish County care about and doing the work that matters.”
Bill Phillips, the chairman of the Snohomish County Democrats, said there is no reason for the executive to leave.
“We should wait for all the facts to come in,” he said.
The Snohomish County GOP has said the executive should go on leave while the investigation is under way, in light of media reports that party Chairman Bill Cooper said show the allegations are “sustainable.”
The State Patrol says it has at least a couple of months left in its investigation. In the meantime, Somers said, the investigation was the focus of people he spoke to on a recent lobbying visit to Olympia.
When President Obama flew into Paine Field last week, Reardon did not greet the president on the tarmac alongside Gov. Chris Gregoire, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson and King County Executive Dow Constantine.
Neither Reardon nor his spokesman has been willing to say whether Reardon was invited to welcome Obama. Asked Wednesday, Reardon said he went to the speech in the Boeing plant instead. “I was talking to 2,000 people inside the hall [whom] I work for,” he said.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.