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County executive's office scrutinizes council member after criticism

The county executive takes a shot at a councilman over a quote in The Herald.

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By Noah Haglund and Scott North
Herald Writer
Published:
Not long before County Executive Aaron Reardon said he wanted to make peace with the County Council, his right-hand man was directing county staff to dig into a councilman's past.
County e-mails also show that a few months earlier, Reardon suggested that the same councilman, Brian Sullivan of Mukilteo, must be suffering from a head injury.
Reardon made the comment after reading something Sullivan said in a newspaper article.
The Herald obtained the e-mails under state public record laws and showed them to Sullivan.
The councilman said he knows relations are strained, but learning that Reardon's second-in-command, Deputy Executive Mark Soine, had county staff begin checking into his work history at the county left him shocked and saddened. He couldn't see any legitimate reason for the inquiry.
“Potentially, there's some paranoia involved here that's not applicable to the day–to-day governance of the county,” Sullivan said. “This just takes us off road and off track from what our common goals should be.”
Reardon on Wednesday said his staff had been gathering information, but the goal never was to use it against Sullivan. Reardon said the two have since met for a private discussion.
“We had a very frank and candid conversation and agreed to move forward,” he said.
Tensions between Reardon's office and other elected officials have become such a distraction that on Feb. 4 Reardon spent several minutes sharing his concerns during his State of the County speech. Typically, that is a speech focusing on the local economy.
This year, though, Reardon said he was offering to “genuinely extend my hand” to County Council members.
“I am willing to bend over backwards to improve communication and the relationship between the two branches” of government, he said.
Since then, Reardon said he has scheduled meetings with each councilman.
Council Chairman Dave Gossett said he had a productive face-to-face conversation with Reardon last week.
Public disputes have flared between Reardon, the five councilmen and other elected officials, particularly in how well Reardon's office is managing two departments.
Elected leaders have criticized the county's department of information services for not adequately addressing their computer and technology needs.
And the planning department has become a source of embarrassing sexual-harassment and discrimination complaints.
In August, former planning director Craig Ladiser was fired after an investigation found that he exposed himself to a female building-industry lobbyist at a golf tournament hosted by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties. Ladiser was drunk at the time. His tournament fees were paid for by the builders Reardon hired him to regulate.
Reporters learned of Ladiser's departure on Aug. 24. Sullivan, when asked for comment, said, he was “concerned the department could be in disarray without a leader.”
Reardon and some of his staff apparently stayed up past midnight to review the news coverage, which he said was accurate.
“I am however scratching my head over Sullivan's comment. I think he's suffering from a head injury,” Reardon said in an e-mail he sent to Soine and two others of his closest staff. The message was time stamped at 12:08 a.m. Aug. 25.
In January, news broke that under Ladiser's management, several planning employees had made complaints about workplace sexual harassment. The county's equal employment opportunity investigator, Mark Knudsen, documented the concerns but did not recommend punishment.
On the night of Jan. 10, after those complaints came to light, Soine asked county human resources director Bridget Clawson to check on Sullivan's work history when he held a job as a long-range planner, from October 2003 to January 2008.
“Please provide Brian Sullivan's dates of employment with PDS,” Soine's e-mail says. “Did he at anytime complain about any misconduct in PDS to HR? If so, when & what. Please check with Mark Knudsen if he had any complaints from Sullivan. Please provide as soon as possible.”
Soine sent his e-mail at 10:38 p.m. and had his answer before noon the next day.
He wrote Reardon and one of Reardon's executive directors, Brian Parry: “FYI. Even though Sullivan worked for (planning) for over 4 years he never raised any concerns.”
Sullivan is a former Mukilteo mayor and state legislator. He was elected to the council in 2007.
Under Reardon in the planning department position he worked on growth issues as the Snohomish County Tomorrow coordinator, doing long-range planning with leaders of area cities. He also worked with former county executives Willis Tucker and Bob Drewel.
Parry, acting as a spokesman for Reardon's office, on Wednesday offered this explanation of Soine's inquiry about Sullivan:
“Mark Soine asked Bridget Clawson two very narrow questions: What dates did he work in PDS and did he file any complaints about misconduct. Mark wanted to be very clear that no complaints had been overlooked.”
Later on Wednesday Reardon stuck to that explanation and insisted that nobody on his staff was trying to dig up dirt on Sullivan.
“Mark just wanted to be very clear that no complaints had ever been overlooked,” he said.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Timeline

October 2003 — January 2008: Brian Sullivan, now a county councilman, works as a long-range planner at the county's Planning and Development Services department.

Jan. 9, 2004: Reardon hires Craig Ladiser as planning director.

June 24, 2009: During a golf tournament, Ladiser exposes himself to a female building industry lobbyist. Five days later he goes on paid leave to seek treatment for alcohol abuse.

July 8: The woman writes Reardon. An attorney is hired to investigate. Ladiser is quietly fired Aug. 20.

Jan. 10, 2010: Deputy Executive Mark Soine orders a review of Sullivan's county work history, after criticism about numerous sexual harassment complaints in the planning department. The next day he reports to Reardon, “FYI. Even though Sullivan worked for (planning) for over 4 years he never raised any concerns.”

Story tags » County CouncilCounty executiveLocal

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