The collapse of integrity

The collapse of accountability and integrity in the office of County Executive Aaron Reardon does violence to the public trust.

Legislative aide Kevin Hulten, the operative behind the online harassment and surveillance of Reardon’s real or perceived enemies, continues to work and draw a county salary. Aide Jon Rudicil, who also participated in the ruse, remains at his desk. In Reardon’s office, consequences don’t seem to follow indefensible conduct.

As The Herald’s Scott North and Noah Haglund reported Monday, Hulten is not only on the job but is seeking “whistle blower” protection, demanding an investigation of county prosecutors. Hulten is the consummate example of someone seizing a law conceived in the public interest to sidestep accountability (see “collapse of integrity,” above.)

Reardon was more expansive last Thursday, calling for an investigation of misconduct by “other Snohomish County government officials.” Pray tell, who are these bad guys? Fill in the dreamed-up blank. Reardon, still a public official, doesn’t make himself available for interviews. Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe offered insight as he tried to explain the latest Hulten puzzle. “I’m not sure you need a law degree to figure this one out,” he said.

Maybe not a law degree, but a love of history is instructive. Paranoid politicos have their antecedents.

Sixty years ago, the late Erna Miller, a Congressional secretary and Everett native, sat in the audience during the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings. It was a primer on the abuse of power, on the twisting of institutions and privileges for political advantage. For years, Wisconsin Sen. Joe McCarthy trafficked in groundless accusations; then the senator pointed his finger at the Army. Army counsel John G. Adams recounted how McCarthy aide Roy Cohn had threatened to “wreck the Army.”

“We will start investigations,” Cohn said to Adams. “We have enough stuff on the Army to keep investigations going indefinitely, and if anything like such-and-such double-cross occurs, that is what we will do.”

At last McCarthy had crossed the gut-check line and outrage reached critical mass. Consistent with human nature, some things never change.

The county executive could side with right action and take responsibility. He could fire Hulten and Rudicil or, in the very least, put them on administrative leave and at a remove from public documents. The absence of trust is why the County Council passed an emergency ordinance last week to pull the Department of Information Services from the exec’s office.

When a vanquished Reardon announced his May resignation last Thursday, he said, “Enough is enough.” Apparently, for Reardon and company, it’s not.

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