Reardon’s departure symbolic of broken trust in county

Here’s what I don’t care about: a government official’s personal life. What matters is how a leader does his or her job. That’s the bottom line.

If marital infidelity were cause to keep someone out of political office, Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy would top the list of leaders our country would have missed.

So it’s not about that. As a Snohomish County voter and taxpayer, County Executive Aaron Reardon’s personal life is not my concern.

Reardon announced Thursday he will resign. It’s been a long and very complicated saga leading up to that stunner. For this constituent, revelations that Reardon carried on an affair with a county worker are the least of the bizarre and vexing details that have come to light.

Over the past two years, Herald articles by Noah Haglund and Scott North have documented: Reardon’s use of county time and resources for work on his re-election campaign; results of a Washington State Patrol investigation regarding Reardon’s travels and spending related to his affair; and evidence linking members of Reardon’s staff to a maze of online attacks and anonymous public records requests, apparent efforts to harass Reardon’s political rivals who cooperated with the State Patrol investigation.

It’s all so complex I had to read the Feb. 14 front-page articles twice. They reveal that someone using the name “Edmond Thomas” demanded other county officials’ public records — including phone bills, emails and calendars. Some county leaders said officials were targeted for talking to investigators for the State Patrol’s probe.

The Herald articles link Reardon staff members Kevin Hulten and Jon Rudicil to the records requests, tracing them to websites and spoof email accounts. There’s also evidence a page was created on the Wikipedia website to disparage Anne Block, an attorney from Gold Bar who pushed for a recall of Reardon.

Even schoolchildren know what cyberbullying is. In 2010, the Legislature — of which Reardon was once a member — passed a bill prohibiting harassment, intimidation and bullying in the state’s schools. That law covers electronically transmitted messages. Trust me, the schools take cyberbullying seriously.

Going after enemies is no joke. An Eatonville boy was expelled from middle school and sent to juvenile detention earlier this month because of a hit list he is suspected of writing. According to The News Tribune of Tacoma, the 13-year-old was charged with four counts of felony harassment.

One would expect people working for the county executive, in jobs paid for by taxpayers, to exercise better judgment than a 13-year-boy in their use of communications.

Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe has said he wants an investigation to determine if any laws were broken with the furtive websites and records requests. Here’s what we know is broken: trust in county government.

Years of allegations, investigations and Reardon’s refusal to openly address questions about his administration have sullied not only his reputation, but Snohomish County’s.

Nationally, we face the prospect of drastic spending cuts if Congress and the White House don’t reach a deficit reduction deal. The automatic across-the-board government spending cuts, known as sequestration, could start March 1.

You hear it all the time, the notion that “government,” with all its bureaucrats, is just a big waste of money. Some people paint politicians with a broad brush, labeling them as power-hungry and corrupt. Reardon’s leadership has only fueled that perception.

With a diverse and growing population, the Boeing Co. and the U.S. Navy, Snohomish County is a dynamic place with real challenges. Passenger air service at Paine Field is just one of many issues likely to shape our future.

And what has occupied our county executive’s time and attention? What?

How baffling it has all been to watch. Young and polished, Reardon came into office with so much potential. How sad to see that promise squandered.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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