By Noah Haglund and Scott North Herald Writers
EVERETT — State auditors said Tuesday they won’t be assisting Snohomish County in determining whether there is merit to claims that county prosecutors and others have conspired to harm Executive Aaron Reardon.
The state was asked to consider investigating allegations raised by Kevin Hulten, the Reardon aide who sought “whistle-blower” protection while alleging he has evidence that the county’s lawyers failed to represent his boss’ best interests.
Hulten filed the claim before being placed on leave while the King County Sheriff’s Office investigates whether he and any other members of Reardon’s staff broke laws in a campaign that targeted the executive’s political opponents with attack websites and a series of harassing public records requests.
Jan Jutte, deputy director of state and local audits, said Tuesday that her agency has decided against assisting the county in investigating the claims targeting prosecutors. Instead, they recommended that the county consider approaching prosecutors in another county, or hiring a lawyer with experience in legal ethics.
“We do not believe we are the best agency to do this investigation,” she said.
The advice was provided to Deputy County Executive Gary Haakenson, who is Hulten’s boss and the person under county policy who is responsible for managing whistle-blower investigations.
Haakenson on Tuesday said he had no comment and would be unable to say anything further until March 18. Under county policy, that’s his deadline for responding to the complaint he received late last month.
Nobody in county or state government has publicly identified Hulten as having made the complaint. However, he apparently did that himself Tuesday in an interview at his home with a King 5 news crew.
Hulten on Friday declined to be interviewed by Herald reporters who stopped by his house. He insists that evidence he’s gathered shows reporters from The Daily Herald and The Seattle Times talk too frequently with county prosecutors, and are, therefore, he said, complicit in a conspiracy against Reardon.
On Tuesday, the television station reported that Hulten said he filed multiple public records requests under an assumed name to gather information on people in county government, including Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe and County Councilman Dave Somers.
Hulten, according to the King 5 story, insisted he wasn’t harassing anyone, but was instead finding proof for his theory that people were trying to undermine Reardon’s authority.
The requests made last year under the name “Edmond Thomas” targeted not only elected officials, but also spouses who work in county government and other employees who were interviewed during a Washington State Patrol criminal investigation of Reardon. The patrol’s investigation into trips the married executive took with a county social worker, a woman he’d known since high school, ended with no criminal charges. Harassing witnesses in a criminal investigation is illegal.
The records requests also targeted Haakenson, who is responsible for day-to-day management of Hulten. Emails and other records show Hulten’s work performance hasn’t always impressed his direct supervisor.
Reardon on Feb. 21 announced that he intends to resign at the end of May. That decision is not considered formal until he sends a letter to the County Council.
Reardon’s announcement came after stories appeared in The Daily Herald connecting Reardon’s staff to the conduct that is now being investigated.
Hulten on Tuesday reportedly told the television station what he’d said earlier: that the records requests were made during personal time while he wasn’t performing county duties.
Reardon has defended his aides’ right to seek the information, but has never addressed the use of fake names, the staff time spent fulfilling the requests or the elaborate steps taken to avoid detection. In some of the requests, county officials were threatened with legal action if they did not comply.
Haakenson on Thursday placed Hulten, 33, and another Reardon aide, Jon Rudicil, 44, on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the King County Sheriff’s criminal investigation. Hulten is paid about $61,000 annually; Rudicil, about $76,000.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.