By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon’s office released a statement Thursday night that condoned his staff’s involvement in anonymous public records requests targeting Reardon’s political enemies.
According to the statement attributed to Reardon, legislative analyst Kevin Hulten admitted to some sort of conduct, but the statement offered no specifics about what the conduct was. The statement also said Hulten did whatever he did on his own.
The statement did not address the deceptive nature of the requests, which were submitted under fictitious names, and defended Hulten’s right as a county employee to ask for public records.
“He informed me that his actions are private and did not interfere with his official responsibilities at the county. His motivations were his own,” according to the statement.
The release also said Hulten apologized to Reardon for any embarrassment, or any suggestion that Reardon may have been directing or even aware of his conduct.
The response came after nearly two days of silence from Reardon’s office. A few hours earlier, The Herald obtained a copy of a December records request made by “Edmond Thomas” at “Blancs-Manteaux.com” seeking emails and phone records of Hulten’s supervisor, Deputy County Executive Gary Haakenson.
As detailed in a Herald investigation published Thursday, a trail of clues, including records on file with the secretary of state, suggest the online persona of “Edmond Thomas” is associated with Hulten. “Blancs Manteaux” and other online clues link Reardon’s staff to records requests and attack web pages targeting nearly 20 county employees, and a private citizen seeking Reardon’s recall.
All five members of the Snohomish County Council said they expect an explanation from Reardon.
The response from the executive’s office released Thursday night doesn’t cut it, Councilman Dave Gossett said.
“It’s an apology to Aaron for embarrassing him. It justifies the actions and the actions are unjustifiable” Gossett said.
Earlier Thursday, County Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright said she is working with County Prosecutor Mark Roe to determine the best way to get clear answers.
“We would all like to hear what the exec’s office has to say,” she said.
Reardon on Thursday continued to fend off interview requests from The Herald, which has been seeking an explanation for the evidence suggesting Hulten and another member of his staff, Jon Rudicil, are behind the public records requests and online attacks.
Rudicil met with Reardon and Hulten, too, according to the statement. It offers no more details.
Haakenson, the former mayor of Edmonds, was tapped by Reardon in 2010 to serve as deputy executive after his predecessor resigned over failures to address workplace harassment and other management problems.
A former business executive and Republican, he is unique among the Democrat Reardon’s closest staff, who are mostly young and active in their boss’ party.
Unlike Reardon, Haakenson has been able to maintain a working relationship with most elected county leaders.
The records request from “Edmond Thomas” seeks any county documents about an expensive parks project in Edmonds that raised some questions when Haakenson was mayor.
Haakenson on Thursday said in an email that since the park was a city project, the county had no responsive documents. But under records laws, “Edmond Thomas” will get to see his phone records and read through his county email.
“It appears that someone has a recent grudge against me and they are fishing for things that never happened,” Haakenson said prior to Reardon’s statement acknowledging Hulten’s involvement in the records requests.
After reading the release, Haakenson, who is on vacation, said any further comment would have to wait until his return.
Meanwhile, it may have become clear Thursday evening how “Edmond Thomas” intended to use the records the county provided him.
A page appeared on Twitter containing spreadsheets that purported to detail phone calls between county prosecutors and journalists, including reporters at The Herald.
The AnonRegx tweets suggested that more than 270 calls were made during what it called during the “leak-plagued Reardon probe.”
Hulten was outraged and threatened litigation against The Herald in April 2012 when the newspaper obtained his county phone records and published articles detailing how he commingled his county job with digging for dirt used by Reardon’s re-election campaign the previous year.
In the Thursday statement, the executive is quoted as saying that the documents Hulten sought — phone records, emails, calendars — “are routinely requested of public officials by members of the public and/or the media.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, email@example.com.
Statement from County Executive Aaron Reardon
“Earlier today I met with Mr. Hulten and Mr. Rudicil regarding Thursday’s media account. Mr. Hulten apologized to me for any distraction and embarrassment caused by the article which ran in the Everett Herald suggesting that his outside and personal activities occurred at my direction. He informed me that his actions are private and did not interfere with his official responsibilities at the county. His motivations were his own. Any suggestion to the contrary is untrue. All county staff members have the same rights as any other citizen to request and review public documents – and they frequently do. The requests referenced in today’s media account are for documents that are routinely requested of public officials by members of the public and/or the media.”