A new atmosphere in the county executive’s office

EVERETT — During his first week as Snohomish County’s deputy executive, Mark Ericks was baffled by all of the people walking by his office on the sixth floor and gawking as if on sightseeing tours.

In a sense, they were.

After a particularly mirthful trio of County Council clerks strolled by early last month, curiosity got the better of Ericks.

A secretary explained the situation: The crowds were employees from other county departments who had rarely, if ever, gotten past the key-card-controlled doors and bulletproof glass in the executive office lobby.

For the past decade, the sixth floor of the county’s Admin West building had been the domain of Aaron Reardon, whose administration was marked by secrecy and distrust of outsiders. Access was guarded.

Reardon resigned at the end of May. John Lovick, then the sheriff, was appointed June 3 to take his place. Things changed.

Lovick persuaded Ericks, the presidentially appointed U.S. Marshal for the Western District of Washington, to come work at the county as his second in command.

One month into the transition, people from inside and outside county government have marveled at the difference. There’s a new atmosphere, a new set of priorities, and new faces in key jobs.

“The staff has really appreciated all of John and Mark’s efforts to get to know all of the departments,” County Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright said. “They’re out and engaged.”

Council members were lucky to see Reardon once per year during their regular meetings. Lovick has been at least a weekly presence. Several elected officials visited Lovick’s office more during his first week or so as executive than they had during the nearly 10 years that Reardon occupied the corner office.

Beyond putting out the welcome mat, there’s plenty of work for Lovick’s team. The new administration has spent the first month sizing up priorities.

Among them is luring more aerospace jobs.

“A big deal to us is landing the 777X,” Ericks said.

Another is planning to meet with newly appointed Sheriff Ty Trenary to address operations at the jail, where at least seven inmates have died since 2010.

On another front, Ericks is reviewing the $75 million plan to build a new courthouse. The County Council asked to put preparations on hold to give the new administration time to make recommendations on how to proceed.

Ericks wants to make sure it’s the right building in the right place. Also, the proposed replacement building would be filled nearly to capacity on the day it opens. That’s something Ericks will evaluate.

“It does need to be replaced,” Ericks said. “There’s no argument about that.”

Along with the special projects, there’s the annual county budget to release in the fall.

To get it all done, Lovick has asked some of Reardon’s former top-level staffers to stay on, even as others are packing up.

Gary Haakenson, the former deputy executive under Reardon, will remain through the end of the year. His future role will be as an executive director focusing on public safety issues.

Before joining the county, Haakenson served 11 years as Edmonds mayor. He earlier co-founded Lynnwood-based Zumiez, a national retail clothing chain with more than 500 stores.

Hired by Reardon in 2010 after management controversies came to a boil, Haakenson tried to calm the waters by cultivating productive relationships with other leaders and the public, even as his former boss’ popularity sunk.

“Through all of this he did a wonderful job. He’s dedicated to public service,” Ericks said.

Also staying on is executive director Peter Camp, whose past responsibilities have included Paine Field, county parks and the Medical Examiner’s Office.

“Peter is a workhorse. He and Gary together have shouldered a lot of the work here,” Ericks said.

Other key members of Reardon’s staff have left.

The messiest exit came before the transition. It involved Kevin Hulten, the aide at the center of recent turmoil in Reardon’s office. Hulten quit in May after an internal investigation determined he viewed pornography and stored sexually explicit photographs of himself and an ex-girlfriend on a county computer he was using in 2011.

Immediately terminated after Lovick assumed office was Reardon executive assistant Jon Rudicil, who helped Hulten with records requests targeting their boss’ rivals. Rudicil also is Hulten’s partner in a political consulting business.

Other members of the old regime will be gone after this week.

Brian Parry, a former Reardon campaign worker and building-industry lobbyist, had risen from a secretarial job to one of the highest management positions in county government.

As an executive director, Parry’s responsibilities included overseeing the county building department. He had authority over the permitting counter, even as his former employer, the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties, stood on the other side. Parry’s wife also worked for the builders group while he was managing the department responsible for regulating its members.

Parry’s role came under public scrutiny in 2009 after the former county planning director, Craig Ladiser, rubbed his bare genitals against a female Master Builders lobbyist during a golf tournament. Ladiser was later convicted of misdemeanor sexually motivated assault and indecent exposure, but claimed he had been too drunk to remember what happened.

Evidence surfaced that Reardon’s office knew and did nothing about the efforts by a top Master Builders official to apply pressure to keep Ladiser in his job.

Reardon spokesman Christopher Schwarzen is leaving, too. Taking over communications duties for Lovick’s office is his former sheriff’s spokeswoman, Rebecca Hover. Hover is a former Herald police reporter and, later, an editorial writer.

Schwarzen, a former Seattle Times reporter, helped craft Reardon’s image as a rising star. In a 2006 Times profile article, Schwarzen portrayed his future boss as indefatigable public servant who “blazes through a room like a fire.” Reardon hired him as spokesman a little over a year later.

Schwarzen’s glowing Reardon article hung in the executive office lobby for years. It came down as part of the transition of power.

Schwarzen and Parry have applied for jobs elsewhere in county government.

Lovick tried to meet face to face with as many county employees as possible after he took office. In the middle of his first week, he made the rounds at the planning department.

“We just wanted you guys to keep on doing the good work that you’re doing,” Lovick told employees, repeatedly.

Later, the executive poked fun at himself: “I just hope you don’t get tired of seeing me. ‘Oh, there he is again.’”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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