By Scott North and Noah Haglund Herald Writers
EVERETT — Top assistants to Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon kept quiet last year after hearing that leaders of a powerful building lobbying group were engaging in “damage control” — pressuring a woman not to complain about the county’s planning director after he allegedly pressed his bare genitals against her while on a Redmond-area golf course.
Former planning director Craig Ladiser told the county’s human resources director that leaders at the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties were trying to engineer a quiet resolution within days of the June 24 golf course incident.
Ladiser, who ultimately was fired, repeatedly said the builders’ group wanted him to continue overseeing development in the state’s third-largest county, newly released documents show.
“‘Don’t be rash about resigning,’” Ladiser recalled one male Master Builders lobbyist telling him.
The woman Ladiser allegedly accosted is a well-regarded land-use planner who also works as a lobbyist for the Master Builders. Her bosses engaged in what Ladiser described as “damage control,” including encouraging her to meet with Ladiser for a “reconciliation” meeting that would have been facilitated by her boss, Sam Anderson, the executive officer of the Bellevue-based builders’ group, according to the documents.
The meeting never happened.
Instead, the woman wrote Reardon to ask why Ladiser was allowed to go on paid leave and seek treatment for alcoholism. Days earlier, Ladiser had written her an apology and promised to resign.
The woman’s decision to make an on-the-record complaint to Reardon’s office eventually led to criminal charges for Ladiser. He now is awaiting a July trial in King County Superior Court, charged with indecent exposure and fourth-degree assault with sexual motivation. He’s pleaded not guilty.
Evidence of a behind-the-scenes effort to orchestrate a different result — and that some county officials knew about that effort — is found in notes taken by Bridget Clawson, the county’s human resources director, during two telephone conversations in July 2009.
Those notes also suggest a different scenario than the one county officials have repeatedly described about their reaction to word of Ladiser’s golf course misconduct.
One conversation happened on July 9 and involved Mark Soine, Reardon’s deputy executive. He’s since resigned from his post effective early next month.
Clawson took notes of what Soine said when he called the woman Ladiser allegedly accosted. They spoke about how the county would handle the case.
Notes taken on July 14 documented a phone call Clawson had with Ladiser, who then was in a treatment center seeking help for a drinking problem.
The Herald obtained the notes after filing a series of public records requests related to Ladiser, the investigation of the golf course incident and what county officials knew and when.
Among other things, Clawson’s notes indicate that Ladiser had previously spoken with his supervisor, Brian Parry, a Reardon executive director, and that Ladiser “told Brian about incident.”
Records previously released by the county indicate Parry spoke with Ladiser on June 29.
Reardon and others in his chain of command maintain that county officials had no idea that something improper apparently happened on the golf course — not until the woman wrote Reardon with her concerns, roughly two weeks after the event. Reardon said he’s confident Ladiser only disclosed an alcohol problem and asked for leave to seek treatment.
Reardon said Parry is among those who knew nothing about the golf course incident, and Parry did not pry into Ladiser’s reasons for seeking leave out of respect for the employee’s medical privacy.
Reardon last week again said he’s confident nobody from his office, including Parry, put pressure on the woman or attempted to resolve matters in some other fashion.
“I’ve known Brian Parry for 10 years,” said Reardon, who previously hired Parry as a campaign manager and legislative aide. “I’m very direct with Brian, and I asked him, point blank, face to face,” Reardon said.
Parry, 31, also is a former lobbyist for the Master Builders. His wife still works there as the director of information systems. On Wednesday Parry refused to answer questions about what he knew and when he knew it.
“It is my understanding that you spoke with Bridget Clawson yesterday for over an hour and a half about her notes of her conversation,” Parry said in an e-mail. “I’m certain I have nothing else to add.”
Clawson, interviewed Tuesday while a county deputy prosecutor sat in, said her July notes accurately reflect what Ladiser told her about speaking with Parry about the “incident,” but she can’t remember more details, only that it was in the context of his drinking problem and what had then become an investigation into his alleged misconduct on the golf course.
Clawson said she wasn’t attempting to conduct an investigative interview with Ladiser.
As human resources director, her focus at the time was to make sure Ladiser knew that the woman had approached the county and that the issue was being taken seriously by his employer.
It was important for that message to reach Ladiser while in treatment, Clawson said, so he would have caregivers on hand to assess his state of mind as he reacted to the information.
County officials didn’t acknowledge the existence of Clawson’s July 14 notes until Tuesday.
Clawson explained they hadn’t surfaced until now because she had simply forgotten about them. An assistant found them while checking files in response to the newspaper’s request for public records.
“Nobody has asked me to do anything wrong or bad or squirrel anything away or anything like that,” she said.
Clawson also took notes July 9 while listening to Soine speak with the woman Ladiser is accused of assaulting. Clawson wrote that Soine said he had no idea about the golf course incident and that he was “deeply, deeply disturbed” by the allegations.
Soine is quoted as telling the woman “Craig is probably not coming back.”
Clawson quoted Soine as also telling the woman that she should not be dissuaded from reporting activity she considered illegal or criminal.
“Anyone who would try to interfere with you or talk you out of your rights to file a charge regarding this event would be wrong,” Soine reportedly said.
Earlier in the same conversation Soine reportedly told the woman, “There is a process question. Craig may admit what he did, and resign. That may put an end to the story. What is your feeling about that?”
Reardon said he read the notes from that conversation, but has no idea what Soine was suggesting could happen with the case. “I’d have to ask Mark what he meant by that,” Reardon said.
Soine on Wednesday didn’t return phone calls.
When she spoke with Ladiser five days later, Clawson said she didn’t connect what he said his friends at the Master Builders were telling him with what Soine had told the woman about how wrong it would be for somebody to pressure her not to pursue the matter with law enforcement.
Her notes reflect Ladiser saying that Anderson told Master Builder lobbyist Mike Pattison “to handle” the situation.
Pattison did not return phone messages for comment this week. Last week, he said Master Builders staff was strongly supportive of the woman who brought the accusations against Ladiser.
“It’s mainly the kind of support that any friend would offer another friend,” he said.
Anderson on Tuesday said he did not try to facilitate any meeting between Ladiser and the woman who works for him. He also denied talking to anybody about “damage control.”
“I don’t know why this is relevant,” Anderson said. The criminal investigation will speak for itself when the case goes to trial, he added.
The Master Builders make no secret of their close relationship to Reardon and his staff.
Last summer, Anderson said his group gets no favors, even though Parry is a former Master Builder employee, and on paper supervised Ladiser. At the same time, he was not bashful about acknowledging access to Reardon.
“We can go above that,” he said of Parry. “We strongly supported his boss (getting) elected.”
Clawson said she didn’t share any details about her talk with Ladiser with county prosecutors or anyone else in Reardon’s office, in part because she believed others were investigating.
“I didn’t think I had any secret info that wasn’t out there,” she said.
Clawson said she has not been questioned by investigators — not the King County prosecutors or sheriff’s detectives handling the case against Ladiser, nor the special deputy prosecutor the county paid more than $12,000 at Reardon’s request to conduct a civil investigation of the incident.
Until her notes surfaced, she also had not shared what she heard with the county’s own deputy prosecutors.
As the county’s attorneys, they would represent the community in any litigation arising from the case.
So far, no claims against the county have been filed.
Beth Terrell, a Seattle attorney who represents the woman Ladiser allegedly assaulted, said her client was contacted by a deputy county prosecutor after her complaint reached Reardon’s office.
The prosecutor apologized on behalf of the community, she said.