By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — A month after Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon dropped his surprise announcement about leaving office this spring, speculation has swirled about whether he’ll follow through.
The continued absence of an official resignation letter has kept people guessing about when, or whether, the executive will submit written notice formalizing his plans.
Reardon on Wednesday said his official resignation is in the works.
“Yes, I plan on sending a letter as required,” he wrote in an email.
Over the past month, Reardon has been as visible as he’s ever been during nine years in office. He’s made appearances at meetings with political leaders inside and outside of county government. He said he’s kept busy tending to county business, including early preparations for next year’s budget, airport upgrades, transportation improvements and helping gear up for the $75 million overhaul of the county’s courthouse complex.
“All of this work is important internally to a future transition,” he said.
Reardon, throughout his political career, has rarely displayed any public sign of weakness. That changed a month ago when he declared he intended to step down at the end of May. His Feb. 21 bombshell came at the end of his annual economic speech to business leaders.
A week earlier, The Herald published a story detailing how anonymous public records requests, attack websites and spoof emails were traceable to Reardon’s staff. Those on the receiving end said they were being used to harass county employees and a Gold Bar woman who was seeking to recall Reardon from office.
Reardon has denied directing the activity and defended the right of his staff to seek public records. He has declined reporters’ repeated requests to discuss efforts employed by his staff to mask who was seeking the records, using the alias “Edmond Thomas.”
In delivering his resignation, Reardon said a series of scandals involving his administration, beginning in November 2011, has damaged his personal life and his ability to govern.
“These false allegations have also taken a tremendous toll on my marriage and our family life,” he told business leaders last month. “And, candidly, I don’t know how much a family can take or should take. And, the time I have had to spend addressing the myriad of false allegations has distracted me from doing my job as your county executive.”
A Washington State Patrol investigation into Reardon’s spending in pursuit of an extramarital affair with a county social worker ended last year without charges. The state Public Disclosure Commission, however, continues to examine whether Reardon improperly used county resources for his 2011 re-election campaign.
At the end of February, other Snohomish County leaders requested a criminal investigation from the King County Sheriff’s Office to determine whether any laws were broken in the “Edmond Thomas” records requests. Those targeted included nearly 20 people on the county payroll, many of them witnesses in last year’s state patrol investigation; harassing witnesses is a crime.
The two Reardon staffers linked to that activity, analyst Kevin Hulten and executive assistant Jon Rudicil, remain on administrative leave.
Hulten has issued contradictory statements about his involvement in the records requests. Rudicil has written the executive’s office that he’s been treated unfairly because he’s a friend and business partner of Hulten’s.
Separately, the county also has hired an attorney to investigate Hulten’s claim that he used the records requests to compile information that he contends show county civil attorneys failing to properly represent Reardon during the state patrol investigation. Hulten maintains he now should be granted “whistle-blower” protection for his digging.
When Reardon announced his resignation last month, he said the time before it took effect would allow the appointment process to move forward.
Because Reardon is a Democrat, the county charter says the Snohomish County Democratic Party gets to choose three nominees to replace him.
The County Council will have 60 days from the date of the vacancy to appoint one of the party nominees. If they cannot make a selection within that time, it will be up to Gov. Jay Inslee.
State law also requires the County Council to name an interim executive at its next meeting after the vacancy occurs. That could be a temporary fill-in who will serve until the party-driven nomination process is complete.
So far, Sheriff John Lovick appears to be the front runner for the appointment, with widespread support from the Democratic precinct committee officers whose votes will determine the nominees. State Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, also is interested.
Reardon’s resignation is to take effect after the official candidate filing week ends May 17. That means no election can take place this year. The appointed executive will serve until a winner is certified in a November 2014 special election for the final year remaining on Reardon’s term, which began in 2012. Another election for the full, four-year term would take place in 2015.
Reardon capped his resignation by stating, “I will be making no further comment.”
So far, he’s made good on that promise. He has declined repeated requests for in-person interviews and has refused to elaborate on his reasons for stepping down.
That’s added to the air of mystery at the county.
County Councilman Brian Sullivan and others said they’ve been repeatedly quizzed about Reardon’s resignation plans.
“When you go to Olympia, that’s always the question: Did you get the letter yet?” Sullivan said. “And in D.C., too,”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.