By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — If all goes according to schedule this afternoon, an important chapter will come to a close in one of Snohomish County’s stranger political stories.
Kevin Hulten, 35, was expected to appear in Cascade District Court in Arlington to answer to a criminal charge of tampering with evidence. The aide to Aaron Reardon, who stepped down as county executive in May 2013, is expected to plead guilty, according to his attorney, Jim Johanson of Edmonds.
Hulten’s gross misdemeanor charge stems from misconduct in March 2013, after he became the focus of a King County Sheriff’s Office investigation into digital monkey business on Reardon’s behalf. Investigators reported finding evidence of him downloading a data-wiping program on a county laptop computer he had been using, just hours before it was to be surrendered for examination by detectives.
The investigation began after The Herald published stories linking Hulten to a number of online pseudonyms, including some with allusions to a classic revenge novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” The fake names were part of an elaborate ploy, much of it conducted from his county desk during work hours, to bedevil his boss’ political rivals with a series of records requests, spoof emails and disparaging web pages.
John Lovick, then sheriff, was appointed in Reardon’s place. In the year since, the county has grappled with other challenges, including the mudslide that swallowed 43 lives in Oso. There’s also been discord over what to do about an aging county courthouse.
Still, it has been “as close to political Nirvana as we can get,” County Councilman Brian Sullivan said last week.
It is all about trust, he said
“Being able to walk into somebody’s office to solve a problem is part of good government,” Sullivan said. “I could never get Aaron Reardon to return my phone calls. I could never get an appointment to meet with anyone.”
“I’m in their office every day. They gave me key-card access,” Sullivan said.
Hulten resigned from his $60,000-per-year county job a few weeks before Reardon left. He was in the process of being fired for using other county computers to view and store pornography, and sexually explicit images of himself and a former girlfriend. He’s since moved to the San Francisco area, where web pages promote him as a consultant for digital marketing, government affairs and public records.
The Hulten investigation also prompted the County Council to take emergency action, shifting authority over the county’s computer system from the executive’s office to County Auditor Carolyn Weikel.
The executive’s office is scheduled to regain authority over information systems by year’s end. Lovick vetoed a plan to keep the auditor in charge longer.
Weikel said she’s been using the time she’s got to shore up the county’s handling of public records.
Policies in place during the Reardon years should have prevented what Hulten did, or at least produced earlier documentation of what he was up to, she said last week.
Even so, she’s been working with county attorneys to redraft county records policy so “there is no misunderstanding by anybody if they read it” about what is allowed and what is not.
The Hulten investigation also showed the county had scant control over hardware and software.
Tech workers also have been developing a better system for tracking the computers used by county employees and recommendations for best practices to be used by county department heads.
Meanwhile, Reardon has virtually disappeared from his hometown.
He and his wife, former Everett city spokeswoman Kate Reardon, sold their rambler near Everett Community College in May. It had been about a year since they lived there.
Paperwork the Reardons signed when their home sold was notarized in Riverside County, California, where they own a house.
Some members of Reardon’s inner circle remain on the county payroll.
Brian Parry, a former Reardon campaign manager and building-industry lobbyist who was his most-loyal political ally, was forced out of a top executive’s office management job last year after Lovick took office.
Parry continues to work for the county, now as a special projects coordinator in the public works department. He draws an annual salary of $95,708, county spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said.
Former Reardon spokesman Christopher Schwarzen, who left a job as a Seattle Times reporter to spend years helping his former boss dodge questions, also remains on the county payroll. His current title and pay at the county are identical to Parry’s, Hover said.
Deputy County Executive Mark Ericks said both of the former Reardon employees got their current jobs by proving they were qualified.
“From my perspective, the day they left the executive’s office is when the story ended,” he said. “We had openings these guys applied to.”
Originally working temporary assignments, Parry and Schwarzen’s jobs are now “more permanent than temporary because they’re doing great work for me,” public works director Steve Thomsen said last week.
During his final year in office, Reardon was accompanied around the county campus by a burly man with a beard who could have been mistaken for his bodyguard.
In fact, Jon Rudicil was his executive assistant.
Hulten’s mischief was uncovered in part because he used an email address that tracked back to a political consulting company he’d founded with Rudicil. After the story broke, Rudicil denied any involvement in his business partner’s activities beyond helping Hulten arrange pickup of some public records. The King County Sheriff’s Office investigation turned up no evidence to the contrary.
Rudicil now works as an aide to state Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond, once a close political ally of Reardon’s.
Another figure from Reardon’s past was fired from her county job in May.
County social worker Tami Dutton knew Reardon from the days when they both attended Mariner High School in south Everett.
For several years while in office, Reardon carried on an affair with Dutton, who also was married.
In 2011, after their relationship ended, Dutton’s allegations about Reardon taking her along for out-of-town county business trips sparked a Washington State Patrol investigation of his use of public money. Detectives spent months on the case, which ended without charges being filed.
Dutton lost her job as a caseworker after repeated reprimands for showing up late and taking unauthorized breaks during the workday, documents show.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.