By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon’s pending resignation has left a political puzzle for the county’s Democrats to solve.
Because Reardon is a Democrat, the process outlined in state law and the county charter says it’s up to Democratic precinct committee officers to select three nominees from their party as his potential replacement.
The County Council or Gov. Jay Inslee will make the final choice of who should lead the third-largest county in the state. They’ll pick from a list that’s likely to include Sheriff John Lovick, some state lawmakers and maybe a member of the County Council.
Whatever they do is likely to create a political vacancy elsewhere, and another party appointment.
“I’ve gotten a handful of calls from folks who are interested,” Richard Wright, chairman of the Snohomish County Democrats, said Friday. “There will be some announcements, both major and otherwise, in the next 24 to 48 hours.”
Reardon, who is in his third term in office, upended the county’s political status quo Thursday with the announcement of his resignation, effective May 31. It came after an annual speech to business leaders at the Everett Golf and Country Club.
A day earlier, the County Council took away Reardon’s authority to control the county’s computer and technology services, entrusting them to County Auditor Carolyn Weikel. Prompting the council’s decision was a Herald investigation linking Reardon’s staff to online attack sites and a series of public records requests made under the name “Edmond Thomas” targeting nearly 20 people on the county payroll. Those targeted included Reardon’s political rivals, their spouses and others who cooperated last year with the Washington State Patrol criminal investigation of Reardon’s use of public resources during an extramarital affair with a county social worker. Reardon was not charged with any crime.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe has called for another criminal investigation to determine whether any laws were broken in the harassment and surveillance of Reardon’s enemies. It’s against the law to intimidate witnesses.
Reardon said he, too, would welcome an investigation. He claimed he’s been the victim of “a concerted effort by groups that oppose” him since before his 2011 re-election.
The departing executive has refused to offer any explanation or accountability for the harassment and surveillance of his enemies, and evidence that connects it to Kevin Hulten, an executive analyst, and Jon Rudicil, an executive assistant.
Meanwhile, the state Public Disclosure Commission continues to look into evidence that Reardon used public resources to support his 2011 re-election campaign.
The county executive is the CEO of a government operation that serves more than 700,000 people living and working in the community. It builds roads, issues building permits and runs Paine Field, among many other functions. The executive oversees some 2,600 employees and a $213 million operating budget.
The process of filling Reardon’s job will be similar to the one used in 2009 to appoint Roe to his prosecutor job. He hung on to the appointment when elected the following year.
The work will get under way once the County Council receives a written resignation notice from Reardon, which had not happened as of Friday. Until that happens, the resignation is not official.
After that, the county’s approximately 190 Democratic precinct committee officers will make their top picks and send them to the council.
If the council is unable to pick a candidate within 60 days of the executive’s job becoming vacant, then the decision will go to the governor, who will have another 30 days to decide.
The executive appointee’s term will last until a winner is determined in a November 2014 special election. No election is possible this year because Reardon’s resignation is to take effect after candidate filing week ends, on May 17. An election for a full term is scheduled for 2015.
Reardon’s timing has generated controversy, including a demand from state Republicans that the resignation happen more quickly so voters can decide who will be executive during the final two years of the term.
Precisely who is eligible isn’t clear. County Council staff is researching whether a County Council member would first have to resign before being considered for the appointment. A 1985 state attorney general’s office opinion is raising questions for some about eligibility.
One council member says he’s unsure whether he’ll offer himself as a candidate.
“I’m trying to focus on my council race,” said County Councilman Dave Somers of Monroe, who is running for re-election this year. “I’m going to have to see how it works out with other candidates.”
A council colleague, Dave Gossett, said he won’t seek the nomination because there’s somebody else he’d rather see in the job.
“At this time, I don’t intend to because if John Lovick chooses to, I’m going to be supporting John Lovick,” Gossett said.
Lovick, who is well-liked by voters and county leaders, did not return calls Friday. A former state trooper, Lovick also served in the Legislature.
Another name that’s come up is state Sen. Steve Hobbs. The moderate Democrat from Lake Stevens is viewed by many as highly electable. However, he is close to some of the problems in the executive’s office. Hulten is his former Olympia aide who is accused of similar attacks from his time there, and Rudicil is his brother-in-law. Hobbs and Reardon also are political confidants. Reardon spent more time talking to Hobbs on his county cellphone than anyone else in 2011, according to county phone bills.
Hobbs said Friday he had not reached a decision, but did not rule out his candidacy.
“I have to talk to my wife and friends and family,” Hobbs said. “It’s best to have a caretaker, and to have the democratic process worked out during the elections. But that’s not really up to me.”
Former Edmonds Mayor and County Councilman Mike Cooper said he would be interested in being appointed to the executive’s job, only if it were understood he would be a caretaker who would not run for the position in 2014.
State Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, also showed interest, saying the county needs somebody who can restore public trust in the executive’s office. McCoy said he hopes he is among the three candidates chosen by his party. He said some other potential contenders he’s heard about are promising, as well.
“We need somebody who has integrity and credibility,” he said. “In this business, your integrity and credibility is all you’ve got. Once you lose that, you need to go find something else to do.”
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, firstname.lastname@example.org.