Evidence against Reardon aide troubles council leader

EVERETT — The chairman of the Snohomish County Council says he’s troubled by evidence suggesting campaign activity on the public dime by an aide to county Executive Aaron Reardon, but he wants to see what police and prosecutors do next in the case before diving in.

The Washington State Patrol on Friday sent Island County Prosecutor Greg Banks the results so far of a six-month investigation of Reardon focusing on alleged official misconduct involving misuse of public funds.

It’s Banks’ call what happens now: a decision on whether charges are warranted; a request for more investigation by detectives; or to release investigators’ findings under state public records laws.

Council Chairman Brian Sullivan said Monday that he needs to know more before taking any steps.

“It really would behoove us to know what the state patrol has,” Sullivan said. “I think it’s wise to be a little cautious, to not make any accusations that aren’t being backed up by a law enforcement agency.”

The councilman said he’s troubled by public records showing Reardon executive analyst Kevin Hulten digging for campaign dirt using county time and equipment.

Hulten insists he did nothing wrong. He and others in Reardon’s office say Hulten’s non-hourly work schedule was sufficiently flexible for him to take personal time for campaign activity as he saw fit, even while he was at his county desk.

That claim was hard for Councilman John Koster to swallow.

“I don’t know any other exempt employees who can figuratively flip a switch and say I’m off on my own time now and I can go do campaign work for somebody,” Koster said. “Usually if people are going to do that kind of activity, they should take the time off, period.”

Hulten, 33, started work as an analyst in Reardon’s office in January 2011, as Reardon was gearing up his campaign for a third term in office.

The Herald on Sunday reported how government phone bills and other public records show Hulten networked extensively last year with people who pressed for campaign sanctions against Reardon’s election opponent. In November, Reardon, a Democrat, defeated state Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, a Seattle police officer.

Combined, Hulten traded more than 200 phone calls and text messages with three people who filed complaints about Hope with the state Public Disclosure Commission and the Seattle Police Department. Hulten devoted at least four hours of time talking with them, close to half of that during work hours. Some calls were on Hulten’s county desk phone, others on a cellphone that was used to answer county and personal numbers.

The patrol investigation has been ongoing since October, when Tami Dutton, a county social worker, went to then-council chairman Dave Somers and reported having a years-long affair with Reardon. Dutton said she repeatedly accompanied Reardon on out-of-state county business trips during which he did little work but spent public funds. She said that as the election neared, she was being stalked and feared for her family’s safety and wanted county protection.

Reardon has denied breaking the law. He has not spoken with detectives, although John Wolfe, his Seattle attorney, said in a prepared statement that’s simply because the lawyer’s own schedule has been so busy.

Detectives also want to talk with Hulten. He’s filed a complaint against them.

In February, a 4-0 majority of the County Council passed a resolution urging Reardon to go on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the patrol’s investigation. He’s kept to his public schedule.

The council has no authority over Hulten, Sullivan said.

“We are limited, essentially,” the Democrat said. “The charter puts the executive in charge of enforcing the rules (for administrative staff). That’s the conundrum we’re in.”

Koster, a Republican, said Reardon needs to take responsibility for his staff.

“In the end, the buck stops with Aaron and he’s the one who needs to hold them accountable,” Koster said.

County Councilman Dave Gossett, a Democrat, said there’s no reason to address Hulten’s campaign activities by passing more laws. The ones already on the books should be enough to prohibit commingling of county work and electioneering.

“It’s clear that if that kind of work is going on, it’s not supposed to,” Gossett said. “As portrayed in your article, it seems way beyond anything I’ve ever seen.”

While the county charter makes clear that the council has no authority over day-to-day actions by executive branch employees, it does grant broad authority over legislative matters, including the ability to “make investigations into the affairs of the county and the conduct of any county department, office or agency.” The charter gives the council authority to subpoena people to appear for testimony.

Sullivan said he is aware of the council’s investigative authority. During past dustups with Reardon, the council has acted to limit the executive’s contract-signing authority.

Island County’s prosecutor is reviewing the patrol investigation to help Snohomish County prosecutors avoid a conflict of interest.

Banks’ office on Monday said he’s yet to begin reading the patrol’s reports.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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