By Scott North and Noah Haglund Herald Writers
EVERETT — Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon announced Thursday he will resign effective May 31, a move that came as he and his staff faced mounting calls for an investigation to determine whether laws were broken in a campaign that appears designed to harass and conduct surveillance on Reardon’s political rivals.
Reardon’s announcement came at the end of his 10th state-of-the county address before business leaders in Everett.
He also said he, too, supports an independent investigation, not only of himself and his staff, but of others in county government.
The executive alleged that since before his re-election in 2011, he has been the focus of “false and scurrilous accusations” leveled against him as part of “a concerted effort by groups that oppose” him intent on undermining his ability to lead.
He was investigated last year by the Washington State Patrol, and never charged, for allegations of misusing county money during an extramarital affair. He is the focus of a state Public Disclosure Commission investigation into using county resources on political campaigns, and he has been subject to repeated efforts by a Gold Bar blogger to recall him from office.
Reardon said that defending himself has taken a toll on his marriage, his ability to govern and has cost him “tens of thousands of dollars” in legal fees.
“Candidly, I don’t know how much a family can take or should take…” he told the crowd. “Enough is enough.”
Reardon’s announcement came the day after the County Council voted unanimously to remove his ability to oversee the county’s computers and records management system.
That step was taken in response to articles last week in The Herald, detailing evidence that members of his staff engaged in a campaign to harass Reardon’s political rivals using public records requests, spoof email addresses and attack Web pages. Many of those targeted were interviewed as part of the State Patrol investigation.
Reardon last week said that activity didn’t happen at his direction, but he condoned the conduct, reasoning it was OK because he was told it occurred outside the office.
County Councilman Dave Gossett, who attended Thursday morning’s speech, would say only that he was “totally surprised” by Reardon’s announcement.
Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright also appeared caught off guard, but said she appreciated signs that Reardon wants to focus on collaboration during what are likely to be his final two months at the helm of county government.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe was not at the gathering. In recent days he’s been talking with police agencies about staging an independent, outside investigation of conduct by Reardon’s staff.
Last year he asked the State Patrol to investigate after a county social worker came forward to County Councilman Dave Somers as a “whistle blower,” and reported that she had been traveling with Reardon for out-of-town rendezvous she believed were paid for using county money. Patrol detectives became the focus of a formal complaint by one of Reardon’s aides, and people involved in the investigation in any form, including witnesses, have been accused by Reardon and his backers of orchestrating a political smear.
Roe said that given that history, he’s encountered “understandable reluctance by people who have too much to do already to delve into Snohomish County’s laundry hamper.”
But Reardon’s resignation and his support for an investigation may change that, Roe said.
“Hopefully that will make for a compelling reason for an outside agency” to take the case, he said.
Reardon told the crowd Thursday that he planned to cooperate fully with the investigation he’s requested.
On the advice of his attorneys, he declined to speak with Patrol detectives last year.
Reardon’s resignation announcement came after he spent the better part of a half hour delivering a speech about government and economic growth.
He started by stating that it has been an honor and privilege to serve for a decade in the community where he was born and raised.
Reardon’s wife, Kate Reardon, a spokeswoman for the city of Everett, joined him after the speech. They left the Everett Golf and Country Club hand in hand.
Reardon did not acknowledge reporters’ questions except to say he had no comment.
Noah Haglund, 425-339-3465, email@example.com