Reardon making no comment until investigation is complete, his deputy says

  • Fri Nov 4th, 2011 9:17pm
  • News

By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers

EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon’s sixth-floor office projected a business-as-usual image Friday, a day after the Washington State Patrol confirmed an ongoing criminal investigation into Reardon’s travel expenses.

The probe focuses on Reardon’s spending while on trips to other U.S. cities on county business.

Reardon’s deputy executive, Gary Haakenson, underscored a point made by the county prosecutor who requested troopers look into the matter — that the investigation, at this point, involves unproven allegations, nothing more.

“This doesn’t affect county business today,” Haakenson said Friday. “We’ll wait for the investigation to be done before we have anything to say from the executive side.”

A patrol spokesman on Thursday said troopers were looking into “a possible misappropriation or misuse of public funds.”

Reardon has called the allegations baseless, and the timing suspicious coming just days before Tuesday’s election to decide whether he’ll win a third term in office. Reardon, a Democrat, faces state Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens.

Voting already is under way in the mail-in election. By Friday morning, the Snohomish County Auditor had received about 22 percent of the ballots that had been mailed out in the general election. That’s a little more than 40 percent of the total expected turnout. Voting continues until 8 p.m. Tuesday.

Reardon and Hope have waged fierce campaigns likely to leave lasting scars for both men’s reputations, regardless of who’s the victor.

Heading down the final stretch, Reardon appeared to have the edge, having won August’s primary election with 52 percent of the votes.

Reardon on Friday referred questions about the probe to his spokesman, Christopher Schwarzen, who said investigators had yet to contact the office.

“We have no new information today,” Schwarzen wrote in an email.

Reardon’s political opponent doubted the State Patrol investigation would sway voters.

“Without knowing what these allegations really are, I don’t think it really changes anything,” Hope said.

Hope also said the investigation supports his idea to create an Office of Professional Integrity to examine workplace ethics. The office would be modeled after the Office of Professional Accountability at the Seattle Police Department, where Hope works.

The investigation into Reardon’s travel originated last month after a person contacted County Council Chairman Dave Somers with concerns. Somers, a fellow Democrat, said the only ethical way to handle the concerns was to notify county prosecutors.

That led Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe, also a Democrat, to make a formal written request to State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste for investigative assistance.

Roe’s Oct. 26 letter said the allegations involve a possible violation of the state law for official misconduct. That’s a gross misdemeanor that applies to public servants engaged in specific types of unlawful conduct. A conviction carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and fine of $5,000.

Roe said Friday he’s already lined up a prosecutor from another county to review the patrol detective’s findings if the investigators determine there is evidence to support a charge.

That keeps Snohomish County officials clear of the probe and any decision on what should happen with the case, he said.

Reardon earlier accused Hope or his supporters of being behind the recent allegations. Hope said the statements from Roe and Somers show his campaign’s not involved.

However, members of Hope’s campaign contacted reporters before Thursday with word that the investigation was under way.

Contrary to some news reports, the investigation is not focused on foreign trips that Reardon has made as county executive.

Reardon’s schedules and other documents, obtained by The Herald earlier under public records laws, show that since 2008 he’s made several trips to Washington, D.C., plus traveled to Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and New York.

He’s also participated in trade missions to the United Arab Emirates, China, France, Ireland, Australia and Finland.

Hope had made a campaign issue of Reardon’s travel.

In June, the state Public Disclosure Commission issued Reardon a $750 fine for failing to properly disclose some details about out-of-town trips, but cleared him of any deliberate attempt to conceal who paid for them. The violations involved failing to report that two 2009 trips were paid for by outside groups. The state suspended $500 of Reardon’s fine.

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