By Scott North and Noah Haglund
On election night one of the biggest stories was Aaron Reardon’s triumph in a hard-fought battle to determine who will be Snohomish County executive over the next four years.
By daybreak, though, the news already had turned from “Who won?” to “What’s next?”
Brace yourself. Fully answering the last question isn’t going to be pretty.
As of Friday, Reardon remained the focus of a Washington State Patrol investigation into allegations of official misconduct. From what’s been made public so far, it is clear the probe is focusing on Reardon’s use of public money while traveling on county business, to places such as Washington, D.C., and Chicago. State Patrol detectives are actively working the case.
Reardon and crew insist there’s nothing to the case, and suggest the investigation is the spawn of “slimy” politics.
For that to be true, though, public records suggest there would have had to be complicity from a number of people, including leaders from Reardon’s own political party.
Word of the investigation’s existence became public Nov. 3 with five days of voting remaining in the all-mail general election. People involved with the campaign of Reardon’s opponent, state Rep. Mike Hope, had been urging reporters to seek confirmation. Hope’s camp told us they learned of the probe when a potential witness told them she’d been questioned by detectives.
So what’s going on? And if The Herald knows more, why not just publish it all?
The Herald and many other news organizations already have filed multiple public records requests connected to the case. In keeping with state law that protects ongoing investigations, the agencies have denied access to information that detectives believe could compromise their ability to get at the truth if it were made public now.
Once the investigation is completed, however, the documents become fair game, regardless of whether charges are brought.
And that’s something savvy public officials well understand. As we reported earlier, the investigation into Reardon, one of the county’s most-visible Democrats, was launched in no small part by two leaders in his own party: County Councilman Dave Somers and Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe.
Some Reardon backers have been quick to point out that both Roe and Somers have had their dustups with the executive — a subtle variation on the “slimy” politics explanation for this flap. Both Roe and Somers knew that their actions would be closely scrutinized, however. And so far, the available paper trail supports what they’ve said about the case.
Somers contacted Roe’s office after a person — they won’t confirm gender, let alone provide a name — suggested there were reasons to investigate Reardon’s spending of public funds while traveling.
County meeting schedules released late this week under public records laws show that Somers had the first meeting with the tipster on Oct. 17 and was accompanied by his aide Eric Parks. He sought the advice of county attorneys. Another meeting was scheduled with the tipster two days later with a county attorney in attendance.
On Oct. 26, Roe met with Somers, Parks and Jason Cummings, the county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor. That same day, Roe wrote State Patrol Chief John Batiste and asked that detectives investigate what he described as “a highly sensitive situation” that could have “significant impacts” on county government.
On the morning of Oct. 28, Roe wrote Somers and Parks to say that the patrol had agreed to take the case and that detectives would be in touch.
“WSP Chief just called me and they are launching their investigation,” Roe wrote. “You should each expect calls shortly.”
Somers on Friday said he wasn’t motivated by politics in his handling of the case, but instead by a belief that what the tipster told him required investigation. He had a duty to report it, he said.
“There was no way I thought it was going to become public knowledge until the investigation is complete,” he said.
Somers continued to decline to identify the tipster or to discuss specifics of what he was told.
“It’ll all come out in the end,” he said.