Auditor agrees to transfer management of county tech system

EVERETT — Snohomish County Auditor Carolyn Weikel has agreed to hand over management of the county’s computer systems later this month, likely ending a dispute with County Executive John Lovick.

The County Council could authorize the transfer at a hearing set for 10:30 a.m. Sept. 24. The tech department had been scheduled to return to the executive’s authority next February.

“I had a plan to move IS (information services) forward, but I don’t have the future,” Weikel said last week. “It’s time for the IS folks to stop feeling like a ball being tossed back and forth.”

Leadership of the tech department became a point of contention among county leaders this year. Historically, tech workers have fallen under the authority of the county executive. In early 2013, however, the County Council snatched control of the department away from Lovick’s predecessor, Aaron Reardon. The emergency move came as Reardon’s aide, Kevin Hulten, was implicated in harassing his boss’ political enemies through an elaborate scheme of public records requests and social media sites.

The council entrusted the tech department to Weikel as a temporary safeguard with a sunset date in February 2015. In the meantime, Reardon resigned and Lovick was appointed to take his place.

The criminal investigation led to Hulten’s guilty plea in July to a charge of evidence tampering, a gross misdemeanor. He admitted downloading a program that wiped data from the hard drive of a county-owned computer he knew detectives wanted to examine. Hulten reported to a work crew in Skagit County last week to serve a five-day sentence.

Weikel said she wanted to retain control of the computer department to push through a series of reforms. Some changes involved making abundantly clear that county computers and phones are only provided for work purposes; others aimed to protect against future employees perpetrating mischief with county computer systems as Hulten did throughout his county tenure. Among other things, evidence surfaced that he used county computers to build Reardon’s campaign website and Web services to hide damning documents sought under public records requests. He resigned from his county job just ahead of being fired for using county computers to view and store pornography and sexually explicit images of himself and a former girlfriend.

In February, a 3-2 council majority agreed to let Weikel shepherd the tech department for nearly three additional years.

Lovick vetoed the council decision, arguing that it makes sense to return the management the way it was because the emergency circumstances under Reardon no longer exist.

Lovick’s administration plans to look at potential changes after it has control of the department.

“I’m not going to pre-determine anything right now because we haven’t had a chance to look over it with our own eyes,” Deputy County Executive Mark Ericks said. “I’m sure Carolyn has done a good job, but every manager or supervisor has their own style.”

Weikel said she tried to improve communication problems that plagued the tech department’s interactions with other county departments under Reardon. Finding ways to process public records requests more efficiently was another priority, she said.

Weikel had hoped to hire a new director, but that goal went unrealized. Recruiting someone proved tricky, she said, given the department’s imminent change in leadership.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; nhaglund@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @NWhaglund.

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