By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — Weary of waiting for Aaron Reardon to submit paperwork formalizing his plans to resign as Snohomish County executive, the County Council voted 4-0 on Monday to start the process of identifying his replacement.
The council took the step to ensure a timely transition for the next executive to assume office, County Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright said.
The council hopes to begin interviewing candidates by June 3.
“I think that it’s important that we end the speculation and confusion about the process,” Councilman Dave Somers said.
“We have to do the business of the people of Snohomish County,” added Councilman Brian Sullivan. “We represent over 700,000 constituents.”
Reardon in late February announced plans to step down May 31, promising to assist in a smooth transition for his successor.
Aside from sending out a Feb. 21 press release containing the text of his resignation speech in front of business leaders in Everett, Reardon did not provide any other written notice.
That left other county leaders in limbo. By law the County Council is required to pick Reardon’s replacement. He never answered a May 2 letter from the council asking him to submit a more formal, written resignation.
The motion approved on Monday points to Reardon’s February speech as his notice to the council, noting Wright was in the audience that morning.
The county council “wishes to formally accept the Executive’s (Feb. 21) tendered resignation,” the motion reads.
Reardon’s spokesman, Christopher Schwarzen, said there was “nothing that has prevented the Democratic Party or the County Council from putting together a list of three names as required by law.
“There is nothing in the County Charter or state law that requires a letter of resignation,” Schwarzen wrote. “People want to suggest that this office has held up the process, but that is not true.”
That differs from what Reardon said in March, when asked about the uncertainty surrounding his resignation. “I plan on sending a letter as required,” he wrote in an email to The Herald.
Reardon’s resignation announcement came a day after the County Council voted to strip him of authority to manage the county’s public records and computer system. The council also called for an independent investigation, now being pursued by the King County Sheriff’s Office, into evidence linking two people then on Reardon’s staff to a series of anonymous public records requests, attack websites and other activities targeting people considered the executive’s political rivals.
As The Herald reported Feb. 14, those on the receiving end believed they were being subjected to attempts at harassment and surveillance.
Because Reardon is a Democrat in a partisan elected office, the law says it’s up to Snohomish County Democrats to pick three nominees to replace him. The county party’s central committee will forward the names to the County Council. The council then has 60 days to agree on a successor. If that proves impossible the choice would fall to Gov. Jay Inslee. In the meantime, the county charter says that the deputy executive under Reardon, Gary Haakenson, would assume the responsibilities of the county’s top elected job.
Some in the community had urged Reardon to leave office earlier, giving voters a chance this fall to weigh in on his replacement. With filing already closed for this fall election, that option has passed. That means the person appointed to be the next county executive will serve unchallenged at least into November 2014, when results are certified in a special election expected next year.
An election for a full, four-year term is expected in 2015.
Snohomish County Democratic party leaders have scheduled a formal vote to nominate three candidates for the executive appointment at the Everett Labor Temple on June 1.
“Clearly the council’s motion today expedites our process,” said Richard Wright, the chairman of Snohomish County Democrats and the husband of Stephanie Wright.
The likely nominees are: Sheriff John Lovick of Mill Creek; state Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip; and Everett attorney Todd Nichols, a longtime Democratic Party leader at the state and county level. Lovick is said to have locked up support from a majority of local Democrats.
“While clearly there’s a frontrunner in this group, I think this is a good group of nominees,” Richard Wright said.
County Councilman Dave Gossett was on vacation Monday and did not cast a vote in the Reardon resolution.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.