By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
Editor’s note: This story has been restored to the Herald database. The publication date was May 24, 2012.
EVERETT — If you want to work for Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, knowing state Sen. Steve Hobbs might give you a leg up.
Reardon’s two most recent hires are closely tied to Hobbs, a political confidant of Reardon and candidate for Congress. They aren’t the only people from Hobbs’ orbit who have landed jobs with Reardon.
The new county staffers include Hobbs’ brother-in-law and an attorney who served with Hobbs in the Army. The attorney, who also contributed $5,000 to Hobbs’ congressional campaign, is being hired to help process a torrent of public records requests that increased during the Washington State Patrol’s ongoing criminal investigation of Reardon for alleged misuse of public funds.
“Our two recent additions to the Executive Office are exceptionally well qualified individuals and have been able to hit the ground running without delay,” Reardon wrote in an email Wednesday. “We are very fortunate to have such quality individuals on our team.”
There’s nothing unusual about the connections, said Hobbs, since the political world tends to be tight-knit, just like other professional circles.
“It just so happens that these folks had really good qualifications,” he said.
The friendship between Reardon and Hobbs, both Democrats, predates Hobbs’ election to the state senate in 2006. They have remained tight. Reardon spent more time talking to Hobbs on his county cell phone than anyone else in 2011 — more than 90 hours in all.
Earlier this year, Hobbs invoked his position as a state lawmaker to question the State Patrol and state auditor about the Reardon investigation.
In March, Reardon’s longtime executive assistant resigned. Reardon replaced Nancy Peinecke with Jon Rudicil , who is the brother of Hobbs’ wife. The job had been offered to a former Hobbs legislative aide, who opted not to take it.
Rudicil was a legislative aide for state Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, who died suddenly in October at age 41. Reardon knew Scott White and was able to hire Rudicil, Hobbs said.
Earlier this month, Reardon’s office had another vacancy to fill when the person handling payroll and public records requests for the executive left to work in another county department.
Reardon hired Jonathan S. Burr, a former Klickitat County deputy prosecutor who passed the bar in 2011.
Burr has been a political donor to Hobbs, including $5,000 given to his 2012 congressional campaign.
Hobbs said he and Burr served together in the Army, where Burr was an infantry officer and received glowing evaluations for his work in military intelligence.
“If he was running (for office), I’d give to him, too,” Hobbs said.
Deputy Snohomish County Executive Gary Haakenson said Reardon made the hiring decisions. Haakenson oversees all employees in the executive’s office, except for Rudicil’s executive assistant job.
The pay ranges from $60,000 to $84,000 for administrative positions in the executive’s office. All executive staff are “at will” employees, meaning that Reardon can hire or fire whomever he wants.
There is no requirement to advertise executive office jobs on the county website, Haakenson said. For the recent opening that involves handing public records, Reardon’s office sent an email to Olympia lawmakers asking if they were aware of any qualified candidates.
“In Aaron’s case, he likes to hire people with legislative experience,” Haakenson said.
Meanwhile, two other jobs under the executive have long remained vacant.
One is the economic development director, unfilled for more than a year since that county employee left to go work with entrepreneurs she’d been ad vising as they sought to build a water bottling plant in Everett.
The county’s community inclusion manager position has been vacant for several years. Haakenson said he’s waiting for direction from the County Council before hiring for those jobs.
One of Hobbs’ former legislative aides, Kevin Hulten, has been a source of controversy in Reardon’s office for commingling county business and work on Reardon’s re-election campaign.
Hulten denies doing campaign work on the public dime. Reardon hired Hulten in early 2011 to work as an executive analyst.
Reardon also used government phones and other resources in the campaign, records show.
The patrol’s investigation was launched after Reardon’s high school friend, TamiDutton, a county social worker, told a county councilman she went with Reardon on county-paid business trips as part of a long-running affair. Dutton alleged that the executive did little or no official work during those trips.
Prosecutors are reviewing thousands of pages of documents from investigators. There is no indication of when a charging decision will be made.