EVERETT – Citing a “profound lack of trust,” the Snohomish County Council voted unanimously Monday to permanently limit County Executive Aaron Reardon’s power to sign contracts.
All five council members said the move sends a message that they want better communication from Reardon.
The tiff is no longer about the costs of the county’s Boeing 787 rollout party, County Council chairman Dave Gossett said.
It’s about communication, he said.
“It has to do with relationships between the two branches of government,” Gossett said.
“The executive’s side needs to move past attempting to spin things, attempting to use misrepresentations, attempting to use half truths, and start dealing with us in an open and transparent manner the way, frankly, the citizens deserve,” he said.
As a result of the vote, hundreds of contracts a year are expected to come directly to the County Council for approval if they cost more than $5,000.
Since 1997, the county executive has had the power to sign contracts up to $50,000.
Gossett, a Democrat, voted along with fellow Democrats Dave Somers and Kirke Sievers, and Republicans John Koster and Gary Nelson.
Reardon said the decision is disappointing, unnecessary, not surprising and “politics as usual.”
The council has never questioned any contracts signed in the 42 months he has been executive, he said.
“They’ve spent a lot of time on this issue,” Reardon said. “In the end, they just wanted to take the action. They had their minds made up moving forward.”
There is no communication problem between the council and county executive, Reardon said.
“I have an open-door policy,” Reardon said. “They have never contacted me to express concerns or ask me any questions.”
Reardon retains power for some change orders for public works projects pre-approved by the council, and over contracts for some programs, including human services and emergency management.
Curtailing the county executive’s contract power doesn’t change how the county does business, Reardon said.
Republican County Councilman Gary Nelson agreed.
“This is all inside the ballpark stuff,” Nelson said. “It isn’t anything that has any bearing at all on the general public.”
Still, the vote still points to a problem.
“It says to the executive to get together with the leadership of the council and make sure that you’re developing a cooperative spirit,” Nelson said.
On Monday, deputy executive Mark Soine asked the council to allow Reardon to retain all of his contract signing power.
Soine wrote that the council was basing its action on a rumor that the county was planning a Boeing rollout party.
However, the county was planning rollout-related events. County e-mails obtained by The Herald through public records laws show a catered event and viewing party were being planned. Also, Reardon gave Gossett an outline of marketing plans connected to the Dreamliner rollout.
To refute Soine’s claim, before the vote Gossett pointed to documents provided by the executive’s office. “It involves eight separate activities the county was involved in,” he said.
Soine’s retelling of the facts differed from the council’s version, Gossett said.
“I had really hoped that we were going to start moving forward in a cooperative manner with good communication, with transparency,” Gossett said. “And the memo seems to just reinforce that it’s the same old spin game coming out of the executive’s shop.”
Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or email@example.com.