By Scott North and Noah Haglund
Here’s the latest: We learned Tuesday that the Washington State Auditor has been asked to investigate Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe and others in his office.
Pardon us for suspecting that the busy hands of Kevin Hulten, a legislative aide to County Executive Aaron Reardon, are somehow involved.
What’s happening fits a pattern we’ve come to recognize.
Deputy State Auditor Matt Miller said the office has received a request for an inquiry, but no decisions have been made on whether to open a file. He offered no specifics about the allegations, nor did he identify the person behind them.
Anyone want to take bets on what the complaint alleges and why?
On Monday we learned that Hulten brought a “whistle blower” complaint against Roe and others in the prosecutor’s office.
While we haven’t yet obtained access to Hulten’s complaint, he’s been pretty vocal on Twitter and elsewhere online alleging that county prosecutors have done his boss dirty.
In a statement sent to KING-TV, Hulten justified obscuring his identity to make a series of records requests targeting Roe, the prosecutor’s wife, and others as acts necessary to “potential future litigation and the possible exposure of improper dealings by some of those whose records I seek.”
Those targeted by somebody calling himself “Edmond Thomas” included many people interviewed as potential witnesses in the Washington State Patrol investigation of Reardon.
State policy, codified in RCW 42.41.030, says local governments are supposed to have their own programs to encourage “whistle blowers” to come forward.
The law also says that state auditors can be asked to take point if a claim is made that “the prosecuting attorney or an employee of the prosecuting attorney participated in the alleged improper government action.”
Reardon on Thursday announced he’s stepping down May 31, a move that came a week after The Herald reported how Hulten and another Reardon aide, Jon Rudicil, are linked to the “Edmond Thomas” records requests, spoof email accounts and online attack pages.
Neither Reardon or Hulten have described precisely what conduct Hulten has admitted. Both, however, have said it isn’t a problem, because the activity, according to them, occurred during Hulten’s personal time.
In other words, “Trust us.”
With urging from the County Council, Roe last week began contacting police agencies, looking for somebody willing to investigate whether Reardon’s staff broke any laws. In announcing his intention to resign, Reardon, too, said he wanted an independent investigation of himself, his staff “as well as any other issues suggesting misconduct by other Snohomish County government officials.”
Deputy County Executive Gary Haakenson on Tuesday said he was unaware of any request from his office asking state auditors to step in.
“I was told this morning that the Auditor’s Office has requested a copy of our ‘Reporting Improper Governmental Action’ policy but I am unaware of why,” he said.
We tried to get Hulten to talk with us Monday about his “whistle blower” claim. No dice. From his posts to Twitter, it appears he thinks Roe and others in his office were talking to reporters at The Daily Herald and elsewhere way more than he believes they should, and in his view, that must mean they were leaking details designed to hurt Reardon.
On Twitter Hulten has accused this newsroom of writing about the online shenanigans that contributed to his boss’ resignation because we were trying to hide a dark secret — not because his actions raise big questions. Among the questions he might not want to recognize are whether the state’s public records laws were intended to be used by government employees hiding their identities to harass witnesses in a criminal investigation, or for attempts at surveillance of those same people.
Claiming he’s a “whistle blower” is nothing new for Hutlen. Only referees blow whistles as often.
During the fall of 2011 he tried to convince attorneys for the City of Mill Creek not to release the records requests he’d made for documents about Reardon’s opponent, state Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens. According to what we were told at the time, his premise was that state “whistle blower” statutes somehow were in play, and that requesters’ names were exempt from disclosure under state laws that protect witnesses in active police investigations or shield the identities of some crime victims.
Later, our reporting showed Hulten was in close contact with Reardon during a work day while pressing city officials to release the records. The records wound up being used by the Reardon campaign in hit ads aimed at Hope.
Hulten also alleged Reardon was the victim of leaks throughout the State Patrol investigation into the executive’s use of public money during an affair.
Hulten also has left little doubt of his own animus for county prosecutors. He was outraged last spring when they didn’t agree with him, and said there was no legal reason to block release of the county phone bills detailing 25,000 Hulten calls and texts. The information, analyzed by The Herald, demonstrated that Hulten was commingling his work for the county with his campaign work for Reardon.
Hulten defended his activities, in part, by quoting from a dictionary the definition of the word “political.”
Funny, Reardon spokesman Christopher Schwarzen wanted us to do the same a couple of weeks ago before he’d consider arranging for his boss to answer our questions. We’re still waiting.