By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — The state auditor must decide whether a Snohomish County Executive aide linked to harassing public records requests and attack websites has raised any legitimate concerns about the conduct of others in county government.
The complaint from Kevin Hulten, an analyst for county Executive Aaron Reardon, alleges government misconduct by Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, according to people familiar with the issue.
Under county procedure, such concerns must be filed with the deputy executive, Gary Haakenson, who also is Hulten’s boss.
Given the lack of in-house expertise and the need for an outside investigation, Haakenson on Feb. 26 asked the state for help.
“I’m asking the state auditor to investigate,” he said Monday.
Officials haven’t publicly identified Hulten as having made the complaint.
Those familiar with the allegations presented to the county say Hulten has been seeking “whistle-blower” protection from the county, alleging that he is investigating Roe, deputy prosecutors, journalists and others he claims conspired against Reardon.
The King County Sheriff’s Office is conducting a separate investigation of Reardon’s staff to determine whether any laws were broken in a campaign that used online attack pages, spoof email accounts and public records requests to target the executive’s rivals.
Under Snohomish County’s “whistle blower” policy, Haakenson is required to provide a written response to the complaint he’s received, either summarizing the investigation’s findings or estimating how long an investigation would take. His deadline is next week.
Hulten sent a complaint to County Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright on Feb. 20. Six days later, county staff informed Hulten that he should have filed his complaint with the deputy executive, not with the County Council.
While state officials have been careful not to provide his name, it appears that Hulten filed the same information with the state auditor’s office, seeking state whistle-blower status.
On Feb. 28, the State Auditor’s Office declined to investigate the complaint it had received, ruling that the county’s “whistle blower” policy had precedence.
Now the agency is considering Haakenson’s request, which is separate and was not presented as a “whistle blower” action, Deputy State Auditor Matt Miller said Monday. No decision had been made.
The “whistle blower” complaints about Roe surfaced within hours of Reardon’s Feb. 21 announcement that he intends to resign at the end of May. That decision is not considered formal until he sends a letter to the County Council.
Reardon’s announcement came after investigative stories appeared in The Herald showing that Hulten and Reardon’s executive assistant, Jon Rudicil, were linked to public records requests targeting nearly 20 people in Snohomish County government, including Roe and Roe’s wife, a deputy criminal prosecutor. All of the people named in those requests cooperated last year with a Washington State Patrol criminal investigation of Reardon’s spending of public funds to support an extramarital affair. No charges were filed. Harrassing witnesses in a criminal investigation is illegal.
Public documents and online clues also tie Hulten and Rudicil to attack websites, including an unflattering Wikipedia entry about Anne Block, a Gold Bar attorney and blogger who has sought to get Reardon recalled from office.
Haakenson does not appear to have been involved in any of that activity. He also was targeted by record requests made by the person who called himself “Edmond Thomas,” and who threatened to sue the county if the documents he sought weren’t supplied.
Hulten has admitted involvement in those requests, according to a statement from Reardon, but neither the executive nor his aide have offered precise details. Instead, Reardon condoned the conduct, which he believes happened on personal time, according to his statement.
During his resignation announcement, Reardon said he welcomed an investigation of his staff’s conduct. He also called for an outside agency to investigate groups he insists have been trying to undermine his leadership since before his re-election in 2011.
To avoid potential conflicts of interest, the King County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to investigate Reardon’s staff. Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich agreed to review the findings and determine whether charges are warranted.
Haakenson on Thursday placed Hulten, 33, and Rudicil, 44, on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation. Hulten is paid about $61,000 annually; Rudicil, about $76,000.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.