By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — The King County Sheriff’s Office has agreed to investigate a series of public records requests targeting nearly 20 people in Snohomish County government and related attack websites that went after rivals of Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon.
Skagit County Prosecuting Attorney Rich Weyrich has agreed to review the King County detectives’ findings to determine whether any laws were broken.
Snohomish County leaders requested the outside investigation following Herald stories that linked the anonymous records requests and websites to two staffers in Reardon’s office, analyst Kevin Hulten and aide Jon Rudicil. The requests, made under the name “Edmond Thomas,” focus on people who cooperated with a Washington State Patrol investigation of Reardon’s use of public money during county business trips. That investigation ended last year without any charges being filed.
Reardon opted not to go on leave while he was investigated.
That wasn’t an option for his staff.
“We put Kevin Hulten and Jon Rudicil on paid administrative leave until the investigation is over,” Deputy Executive Gary Haakenson said. “Everyone in our office is completely willing to cooperate with the King County Sheriff’s Office in anything they may need.”
Haakenson said he delivered the news in person to Hulten, who reacted calmly. He left Rudicil a message on voicemail.
“I am confident that King County will provide the independent and thorough review of all allegations that our citizens and employees deserve,” County Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright said.
Reardon last week announced that he plans to resign effective May 31. His resignation is not official until he submits a formal letter to the County Council, which had not received one as of Thursday morning.
In response to The Herald stories, Reardon issued a statement saying that Hulten sought county records during his own time. Reardon said he had no knowledge of what his staff was doing. He also called for an investigation.
The complicated inter-county review comes amid a tangle of potential legal conflicts since Reardon and his staff came under the renewed scrutiny.
King County prosecutors already had agreed to advise the County Council on how to respond to a “whistle-blower” complaint it received last week, accusing Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe and others in his office of engaging in government misconduct.
A similar complaint appears to have been made to state auditors. On Thursday, they decided against opening their own investigation because Snohomish County has its own protocols in place and those take precedence, Deputy State Auditor Matt Miller said.
While officials haven’t publicly identified Hulten as having made either complaint, those familiar with the allegations presented to the county say Hulten is seeking “whistle-blower” protection, alleging that he is investigating Roe, the media and others he claims are conspiring against Reardon.
Hulten has not returned phone calls and emails seeking comment.
The investigation by King County is necessary because the records requests have devoured a “pretty massive amount” of county resources, and detectives “may be able to tell whether they were done for the pure purpose of harassment or intimidation,” Roe said. “If so, that conceivably could be a crime.”
The prosecutor said he doesn’t know if the detectives have plans to look at his conduct. Being the subject of scrutiny is part of the job, Roe said.
“I’ve gotten complaints from robbers and rapists and murderers throughout my whole career. Nobody becomes a prosecutor because they want to be loved,” he said.
Haakenson said that he’s not had a chance to question Hulten about records requests submitted under the name “Edmond Thomas” that sought information about Haakenson, Hulten’s direct supervisor.
The requests to the city of Edmonds and the county demanded records about Haakenson’s involvement in a city park project during the time that he was Edmonds mayor, before joining the county in 2010.
“I will wait until the investigation is over to have that conversation,” Haakenson said.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.