Values of honesty, humility and judgment inform public service. A few outliers in political life, such as Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, unhook from these values, seemingly incapable of exhibiting right action.
We are poorer for it.
The erosion of trust in the integrity and leadership of Reardon and his staff was given dramatic expression on Wednesday when the County Council passed an emergency ordinance removing the Department of Information Services from Reardon’s authority, transferring control to County Auditor Carolyn Weikel. The unprecedented move by the bipartisan Council was in response to last week’s investigative series by The Herald’s Scott North and Noah Haglund. Evidence of online harassment and surveillance of Reardon’s political enemies — a list that extends to those who cooperated in the Washington State Patrol’s investigation of Reardon’s use of public money — has prompted Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe to call for an independent investigation into possible criminal misconduct.
In a press release, the Council declared, “This action preserves the status quo in an effort to ensure the integrity of public records.” (Read: We don’t trust Reardon and emergency action is required.) Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright was unequivocal. “Moving DIS under the direction of a separately elected county official will help preserve the public’s confidence that county records are being properly maintained.”
Reardon, inhabiting a circumscribed world of taxpayer-funded aides, has walled himself off from the media. Last Thursday, he issued a statement saying that his legislative analyst, Kevin Hulten, had apologized for online monkeying and that was that. Hulten’s unethical behavior met the work-for-me standard set by the executive. Early Friday, Hulten emailed a patronizing screed to The Herald’s publisher and editors, threatening a lawsuit and declaring that he had nothing to do with the ruse. That same day, he issued a statement to KING-TV saying he was responsible. Diagram the lies and ponder a line from “All the President’s Men.” As Deep Throat said to Woodward, “Despite what you think, these guys aren’t very smart.”
In the paranoid style of a last-legs politician, Reardon blasted out a statement that impugns the integrity of the County Council (!), saying that the ordinance raised “serious questions about Council’s intentions and the content of the records they question the need to release.” Enough.
Reardon, in the end, doesn’t matter. What matters is restoring the people’s faith, serving the public interest and learning from the executive’s (unvirtuous) example. The integrity vacuum will be filled. The people of Snohomish County demand it.