By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — The Aaron Reardon era is expected to end for Snohomish County government at 5 p.m. today.
Reardon, 42, was in the office Thursday, keeping a low profile but speaking with television reporters.
“I’m probably the most thoroughly vetted candidate in the United States of America,” he told King 5. For months Reardon has refused interview requests from The Herald.
In keeping with the county charter, Deputy County Executive Gary Haakenson said he expects to take over after midnight Friday and will serve as acting executive until a new executive is appointed and sworn in. That could happen early next week.
Reardon was 33 when he first took county office in 2004, then the youngest county executive in the nation. He was re-elected to a third and final term in 2011, despite word that he was the focus of a Washington State Patrol investigation into his use of public money in pursuit of an extramarital affair with a county worker.
Reardon emerged from the investigation claiming he’d been exonerated after Island County’s prosecutor determined there was insufficient evidence to bring charges. The probe documented Reardon’s affair and also turned up evidence that Reardon used public resources in his campaign. The state Public Disclosure Commission is investigating.
On Feb. 21, Reardon used his 10th State of the County speech to announce he was stepping down. His prepared remarks were slim on details but full of blame. Reardon claimed political enemies had peppered him for years with what he called “false and scurrilous allegations.” The cost of defending himself from the attacks, he said, had just become too high.
Reardon’s resignation announcement came the day after the County Council voted unanimously to remove his authority over the county’s public records and computer system.
That happened as the council called for an independent investigation into evidence that two people on Reardon’s staff were behind a series of anonymous public records requests, attack websites and other activities targeting people considered the executive’s political rivals.
As The Herald reported Feb. 14, those on the receiving end believed they’d been subjected to attempts at harassment, surveillance and retaliation. A number of those targeted had cooperated with the patrol’s investigation. It is against the law to harass witnesses in criminal cases.
The King County Sheriff’s Office is now investigating whether any laws were broken. Reardon’s legislative aide, Kevin Hulten, and his executive assistant, Jon Rudicil, were placed on administrative leave in March.
At least for now, Rudicil remains on the county payroll. Hulten resigned earlier this month after sexually explicit images, including homemade porn, were found on the hard drive of a county laptop computer he’d been assigned. The device, which was checked as part of the King County investigation, also contained “background check” files on County Council members, records show.
In his television interview, Reardon denied misusing any taxpayer money for campaigns or on an affair. He wasn’t asked to explain bills from his government phone showing hundreds of calls during business hours to his 2011 campaign staff and to people who contributed financially to his re-election effort.
Reardon was coy with the TV reporter about his future plans.
“I’m an elected official today, I’m a private citizen on Saturday,” he said. “I’m going to elect to keep that private.”
Reardon is a Democrat in a partisan elected office. In keeping with the law, Snohomish County Democrats on Saturday were scheduled to pick three nominees to replace him. The special caucus is open to the public, and is set for 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Everett Labor Temple’s Warren Rush Hall, 2812 Lombard Ave., Everett.
The party’s central committee will forward the names to the County Council, which then has 60 days to agree on a successor. The council has scheduled public interviews with the nominees for 8:30 a.m. Monday.
Whomever is picked to follow Reardon will serve unchallenged at least into November 2014, when results are certified in a special election expected next year.
An election for a full, four-year term is expected in 2015.
The likely nominees are: Sheriff John Lovick of Mill Creek; state Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip; and Everett attorney Todd Nichols, a longtime Democratic Party leader at the state and county level.
Lovick is said to have locked up support from a majority of local Democrats. On Wednesday evening, he was the opening speaker at “Humanity not hatred,” gathering sponsored by the Snohomish County Human Rights Commission. Lovick told the crowd he was asked to stand in for Reardon at the event.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465; firstname.lastname@example.org.