We tried to get Reardon to answer questions, and we’re still trying

Just how difficult is it to get an interview with an elected official who doesn’t want anything to do with the subject reporters want to ask about?

Here’s a chronological account of The Herald’s efforts to speak with Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon prior to publication, and since, of articles linking Reardon staffers to a campaign of harassment and surveillance against those perceived as his enemies.

One article describes how whoever masterminded the effort built a labyrinth of electronic personas who pursue their quarry, which included almost 20 county elected officials and employees, and Gold Bar political blogger Anne Block.

While a labyrinth is a good way for truth to get lost among twists, turns, blind alleys and trapdoors, difficult sources often employ different sorts of barriers.

Join us as we travel through one of those.

Note: In the interest of readers’ time we’ll cut out all formatted signatures and disclaimers from the bottoms of the emails. All of which are public records, BTW.

At 9 a.m. Wednesday, Herald Investigations Editor Scott North and our Snohomish County reporter Noah Haglund showed up in the foyer of Reardon’s sixth floor office. After asking to interview Reardon, Brian Parry, one of Reardon’s executive directors, greeted them to let them know Christopher Schwarzen, Reardon’s spokesman, was out of the office.

North explained to Parry that The Herald was working on a story about employees at the executive’s office. Parry asked if he could help, but the reporters and Parry agreed it was better if he wasn’t involved.

He scanned this letter, which reporters had prepared:

Aaron,

We need to speak with you as soon as possible for a story we are preparing that involves two members of your staff, Jon Rudicil and Kevin Hulten. We are on deadline with an expectation of publishing this afternoon. It is our preference to speak in person.

I can be reached at 425-339-3431 or through the city desk, 425-339-3428. Here are Noah’s numbers — cell: 425-268-9112 or desk: 425-339-3465

While riding the elevator back to the ground floor, North sent this email to Reardon. It was 9:05 a.m.:

From: Scott North

To: agr@co.snohomish.wa.us; reardon.aaron.g@gmail.com

Subject: The Herald needs to speak with you

Aaron,

We need to speak with you as soon as possible for a story we are preparing that involves two members of your staff, Jon Rudicil and Kevin Hulten. We are on deadline with an expectation of publishing this afternoon. It is our preference to speak in person.

I can be reached at 425-339-3431 or through the city desk, 425-339-3428. Here are Noah’s numbers — cell: 425-268-9112 or desk: 425-339-3465

10:34 a.m.

From: Schwarzen, Christopher

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 10:34 AM

To: Scott North

Cc: Noah Haglund

Subject: ???

Scott and Noah,

I understand you came by the office this morning hoping to speak with the Executive. I’d be glad to help if I can but I don’t know the issue.

What’s up?

CS

10:40 a.m.

From: Scott North

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 10:40 AM

To: ‘Schwarzen, Christopher’

Cc: Noah Haglund; Robert Frank

Subject: RE: ???

Christopher,

Thanks for the offer, but unless you supervise Jon Rudicil or Kevin Hulten you really aren’t in a position to answer our questions. You can be of greatest assistance in helping us get time with Reardon as soon as possible. As the note we dropped off this morning with Brian Parry says (and also emailed to Reardon) we are on deadline and plan to publish within the next few hours.

Best,

Scott North

P.S.: Brian led us to believe you were out of the office. In case you don’t have our contact information with you, my direct is 425-339-3431; Noah can be reached at 425-339-3465 or on his cell, 425-268-9112.

10:48 a.m.

From: Schwarzen, Christopher

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 10:48 AM

To: Scott North

Cc: Noah Haglund; Robert Frank

Subject: Re: ???

Scott,

This office has always had and used a PIO. I’ve handled that job for the Executive Office for five years. The Executive can’t answer any questions unless he knows what they are. I’m the one who gets them to him. Nothing has changed. So again, what’s up?

CS

11:16 a.m.

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 11:16 AM

To: ‘Schwarzen, Christopher’; Scott North

Cc: Noah Haglund

Subject: RE: ???

Christopher,

What we are requesting is an interview with the county executive. Will he be making himself available to us today? If he doesn’t, the story will reflect that he didn’t make himself available. The story is scheduled to run later today.

Best,

Robert Frank

City Editor

The Herald

11:28 a.m.

From: Schwarzen, Christopher

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 11:28 AM

To: Robert Frank

Cc: Scott North; Noah Haglund

Subject: Re: ???

Robert,

It’s certainly easier to interrupt his meetings with constituents and others if the office knows the reason. Hardly seems fair to those he’s meeting with, doesn’t it?

But if you do decide to print that “he didn’t make himself available” (which seems unfair and untrue) then your story should reflect the fact that you failed to tell the office what the story or interview request was about.

CS

12:10 p.m.

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 12:10 PM

To: ‘Schwarzen, Christopher’

Cc: Scott North; Noah Haglund

Subject: RE: ???

Christopher,

The printed email handed to Mr. Parry this morning, and the identical one sent to Mr. Reardon right after that, explains the subject of the interview.

Let me point out that Scott and Noah showed up at the executive’s office at the start of business today in an effort to speak with Mr. Reardon. He has the whole day to make himself available. And that seems very fair, doesn’t it?

Here is the email again, in the chance that it has not been shared with you:

(Dear NTK readers: I attached North’s 9:05 a.m. email after the colon. I’m editing it out from this recap because it’s needless duplication.)

12:15 p.m.

From: Schwarzen, Christopher

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 12:15 PM

To: Robert Frank

Subject: Re: ???

I’ll be happy to relay the message to him as I can. What about Mr. Hulten and Mr. Rudicil do you want to know?The email below does not say. Please clarify.

CS

12:36 p.m.

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 12:36 PM

To: ‘Schwarzen, Christopher’

Subject: RE: ???

Christopher,

The reporters would like to ask Mr. Reardon about political activities made on his behalf and what he knows about them.

Robert

1:08 p.m.

From: Schwarzen, Christopher

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 1:08 PM

To: Robert Frank

Subject: Re: ???

Robert,

I’m sorry. I’m not trying to be trite here. I appreciate your email. When you say “political activity,” what do you mean? Political activity can mean many things.

CS

2:34 p.m.

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 2:34 PM

To: ‘Schwarzen, Christopher’; Reardon, Aaron

Subject: Re: ???

Christopher,

I’m going to appeal to your sense of public service and ask that you do the right thing in the interests of the public, the paper and the county executive, by making Mr. Reardon available for an interview.

It has now been more than five hours since we first requested an interview. Your questions continue to delay and waste the ample time in which the executive could be answering reporters’ questions.

Robert

2:38 p.m.

From: Schwarzen, Christopher

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 2:38 PM

To: Robert Frank

Subject: Re: ???

When you say “political activity,” what do you mean? Political activity can mean many things.

CS

3:04 p.m.

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 3:04 PM

To: ‘Schwarzen, Christopher’; Reardon, Aaron

Subject: RE: ???

Christopher,

We have made six requests over the past six hours seeking an interview, and you continue to push us away.

Executive Editor Neal Pattison and I talked it over, and the county executive’s decision to make himself unavailable, as well as your work in deflecting inquiries over these past six hours, will have to be reported in the story.

Again, the reporters seek to interview Mr. Reardon regarding two of his executive staff (see 9 a.m. email), political activities made on his behalf, and what he knows about them.

Noah and Scott are available right now to meet with Mr. Reardon.

Robert

3:26 p.m.

From: Schwarzen, Christopher [mailto:Christopher.Schwarzen@co.snohomish.wa.us]

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 3:26 PM

To: Robert Frank; Reardon, Aaron

Cc: Neal Pattison

Subject: RE: ???

Robert,

I’ve simply asked you to clarify your question. You refuse to do so.

If you have a specific question for Executive Reardon, please ask it.

If you choose not to provide this office with information then I expect you to accurately represent the facts in your story.

This office has not denied your request nor has anyone delayed you or your reporters in any way.

You have leveled a very vague and general accusation about two Executive Office employees and when asked by me for clarification or specificity, you decline to answer. Instead, you threaten that you intend to misrepresent our communication in print in your paper.

CS

At 3:33 p.m., Herald Executive Editor Neal Pattison sent this:

From: Neal Pattison

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 3:33 PM

To: Schwarzen, Christopher; Robert Frank; Reardon, Aaron

Subject: RE: ???

Christopher,

Let me interject myself into this thread.

I have covered federal agencies and governor’s offices. Never have I encountered the sort of granular demands that you have made repeatedly today.

As a former reporter, I imagine youcan appreciate that my staff has given the executive a substantial window in which to make himself available — and have told you that the interview involves two specific staffers and it involves their activities in support of the executive as a office seeker.

There should be no further impediment to your doing your job, serving the public and acting as a liaison with the media.

Neal Pattison

Executive Editor

The Daily Herald

3:54 p.m.

From: Schwarzen, Christopher

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 3:54 PM

To: Neal Pattison

Cc: Robert Frank; Reardon, Aaron

Subject: Re: ???

Neal,

I’ve asked for clarification not a minute breakdown of each point you want to make in your story. The clarification of what you mean by “political” is important and I don’t think it’s asking too much.

CS

4:05 p.m.

From: Neal Pattison

Sent: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 4:05 PM

To: Schwarzen, Christopher

Cc: Robert Frank; Reardon, Aaron

Subject: RE: ???

Chris —

I am out of the office at a medical appointment.

Please set up the interview with Scott or Robert.

Thanks for your cooperation on this.

Neal Pattison

Whew. OK, everyone can go take a coffee break. But please come back, there are a few more to go.

On Thursday, Schwarzen was sent the following. No one from the county executive’s office responded or even acknowledged receiving these emails.

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2013 10:07 AM

To: Schwarzen, Christopher

Subject: Interview sought with Mr. Reardon

Christopher,

We remain interested in talking with Aaron Reardon about the information we’ve developed regarding Kevin Hulten and Jon Rudicil. We trust you’ve read today’s articles. Here’s a link in case you or the county executive are away and haven’t seen them: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20130214/NEWS01/702149956#Online-attacks-linked-to-Reardon-staff-may-face-probe. Links within that article connect to a second one and relevant documents.

Scott North and Noah Haglund are on deadline preparing a followup story so we would be grateful for your assistance in arranging a meeting for them with your boss.

Again, I hope you will decide that the public’s interests would be served by Mr. Reardon allowing himself to be interviewed.

You can reach Scott directly at 425-339-3431 or Noah at 425-339-3465.

Best,

Robert Frank

City editor

The Herald

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2013 2:46 PM

To: ‘Schwarzen, Christopher’; Reardon, Aaron

Subject: FW: Interview sought with Mr. Reardon

Good afternoon gentlemen,

Resending this again in case you may have missed it. We remain interested in sitting down for an interview with Aaron.

Best,

Robert

The executive’s office released a statement attributed to Reardon a little bit before 6 p.m. You can read that in today’s story and in the comment threads or in our Facebook page, Heraldnet.com.

This morning, I sent this:

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Fri 2/15/2013 7:55 AM

To: Christopher.Schwarzen@co.snohomish.wa.us

Subject: Interview sought with Mr. Reardon, Day 3

Christopher,

The Herald remains interested in interviewing Aaron Reardon.

Mr. Reardon was entrusted to serve in the public’s interest. I ask that the executive, and yourself as a former journalist, please recognize that the 700,000 residents of Snohomish County would be served by Mr. Reardon allowing himself to answer reporters’ questions.

Scott North and Noah Haglund are available today, and we remain hopeful you will assist in making your boss available to them.

You can reach Scott directly at 425-339-3431 or Noah at 425-339-3465.

Best,

Robert Frank

City editor

The Herald

And a little while later, I sent this:

From: Robert Frank

Sent: Friday, February 15, 2013 12:45 PM

To: ‘Schwarzen, Christopher’

Cc: Scott North; Noah Haglund

Subject: Hulten denied Reardon’s statement in an email today

Christopher,

Early this morning Kevin Hulten sent The Herald an email denying the official statement you sent us last evening.

We need to resolve the differences between what Hulten claims and the statement you submitted on behalf of the county executive. It would be best to do this in conversation, preferably in person. When can you be available to speak with Scott North and Noah Haglund?

Also, is Hulten available to talk? He’s made it very clear in past emails to The Herald that we not contact him directly and let his bosses respond to our inquiries. If Aaron still refuses to discuss with North or Haglund anything involving this entire series of events, can the county executive at least appoint someone — you, as spokesman, are the most logical person — to address the contradictory information coming from the county executive and his legislative analyst? We’re trying to get to the truth.

Thank you for handling this with the urgency and seriousness that this new problem deserves, as the public’s trust depends on the veracity of Mr. Reardon’s statements.

Robert Frank

City Editor

For journalistic reasons, we won’t be sharing that email at this time.

Meanwhile, we’re still awaiting any kind of response.

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