By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon has yet to give his most visible annual speech — one he usually delivers in the first two months of the year.
Instead of kicking off 2012 with a traditional State of the County address, the executive is now scheduled to give a mid-summer “county update” to business and government leaders.
Though Reardon has spent much of this year dogged by scandal, don’t jump to any conclusions about the months-long delay. The business group hosting the speech said scheduling hiccups — not Reardon’s ongoing legal troubles — are to blame.
“It was absolutely, 100 percent our fault and it had nothing to do with anything else going on,” said Patrick Pierce, an Economic Alliance Snohomish County spokesman.
The State of the County gives the executive a chance to draw a picture of the local economic and political landscape, then summarize how he plans to respond in the year ahead.
The speeches have been standard practice for county executives since before Reardon took office eight years ago.
For at least the past two years, Reardon’s address has stirred up controversy.
Last year, he trumpeted a water-bottling venture that was supposed to start building a 100,000-square-foot plant on Port of Everett property by mid-2011. In the months following Reardon’s announcement, no plans materialized for the plant and his economic development director, who was coordinating the project for his office, left her job to go into business with one of the water plant’s main backers — an energy drink entrepreneur whose Sea2O Reardon once pitched in an online video.
Port officials have heard nothing from the bottling company in a year, Port spokeswoman Lisa Lefeber said Thursday.
Reardon in his 2010 speech said he wanted to mend fences with other county leaders but may have further strained relations by highlighting their past conflicts.
From the get-go, any Reardon address in 2012 was bound to meet with distractions.
Since October, the executive has been under investigation by the Washington State Patrol for allegations that he’s engaged in official misconduct using public money. The probe began after Tami Dutton, a county social worker and high school classmate of Reardon’s, told a county councilman she had accompanied Reardon on county business trips as part of a long-running affair. Dutton alleged that the executive did little or no official work during those trips.
The investigation also has turned up evidence of potential violations of campaign laws.
Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe asked the patrol to investigate and for Island County Prosecuting Attorney Greg Banks to make a charging decision. Banks on May 4 received a 1,500-page report and 12,000 pages of supporting documentation from the State Patrol. The prosecutor has said he needs to review that information before determining how to proceed.
Since his election victory in November, Reardon has generally kept a low profile.
This month he started to pitch a 0.1 percent countywide sales tax for the Nov. 6 ballot. Money from the tax would support criminal justice functions and help patch up a projected $5.5 million shortfall in next year’s county budget.
Opposition has been overwhelming among other county leaders, who contend voters would not support raising the sales tax.
Other options to consider are budget cuts or increasing the property tax, according to a Reardon spokesman.
Reardon on Tuesday told some county elected leaders that any budget cuts would apply equally across all county departments. Earlier, he had presented the option of cutting disproportionately from criminal justice programs, then using the sales tax money to make up for the loss.
In a letter Friday, the auditor, assessor, treasurer, clerk, sheriff and prosecutor all objected to unequal budget cuts.
The budget challenges looming in 2013 could factor into Reardon’s “county update.” The breakfast meeting is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. July 25 at the Everett Golf &Country Club.
The Economic Alliance originally planned Reardon’s State of the County for March 28, Pierce said. They decided to reschedule after realizing that the date coincided with the Boy Scouts of America Mount Baker Council’s 2012 Snohomish County Good Scout Breakfast.
“It wasn’t appropriate to schedule another event the same morning that would draw from the same pool of Snohomish County leaders,” Pierce said.
The next convenient time to hold it was in July.
“That was the first opportunity we had available,” Pierce said. “The executive graciously agreed to get this on his calendar.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.