Let’s not pretend they’re fixed

Many families have a tug-of-war over computers. It’s the gamer vs. the Facebooker vs. the sports nut. In our county government, the computer tug-of-war is over an entire department.

Last year, the Snohomish County Council shifted control of information services from County Executive Aaron Reardon to County Auditor Carolyn Weikel. The current executive, John Lovick, now wants it back.

Our advice? Not so fast.

Let’s review the history. As Reardon became mired in controversies over personal and official integrity, the council decided he should not supervise county computers and the records they contained. One source of concern was the conduct of Kevin Hulten, a Reardon aide who used emails, Twitter accounts and deceptive web postings to harass his boss’s political foes and to badger investigators who were working on an ethics case against Reardon.

When this newspaper requested documents it had learned Hulten had created, the county’s information services director said no such documents existed. But in the year since Weikel assumed responsibility for the information services department, diligent searches have recovered a wealth of records from Hulten’s 30 months of dirty tricks, including a number of those supposedly “non-existent” documents.

Lovick seems to think this is water over the dam. His deputy executive, Mark Ericks, said “those were crazy days” when Reardon and Hulten were making headlines. Presumably, things should now return to the way they used to be.

Let us repeat: Not so fast.

This was an intervention. We can’t accept business-as-usual until what was broken has been fixed. The county needs to update or tighten policies in at least three areas:

First, it must provide some insulation. When citizens or agencies request computer records from the county executive, the matter must be handled by — or forwarded to — someone independent of the executive. We don’t want some future Aaron Reardon telling an underling how to handle such records.

Next, it needs broader prohibitions against misuse of computers. The county has a one-size-fits-all ban on using resources for political campaigning. But we have just endured a series of Nixonian payback schemes that stretched well beyond the campaign season.

Most essentially, it needs to keep pace with technology. Monitoring can’t be limited to what is done on office desktops and stored on county servers. Hulten made mischief with mobile and portable devices and used cloud storage. Data has been retrieved from one county laptop he had taken home and another he put into the recycling bin.

As computer users and abusers grow more sophisticated, so must the oversight efforts.

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