State elections agency may investigate Aaron Reardon but will wait for State Patrol report

EVERETT — The state Public Disclosure Commission may launch its own investigation of Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon’s campaign activities once state troopers wrap up their criminal probe.

The PDC received a citizen complaint last week alleging campaign-finance irregularities during Reardon’s successful re-election campaign last year. Rather than acting on that complaint, the commission plans to wait for evidence that State Patrol detectives —or anyone else— may turn up.

That approach owes mainly to limited staffing and an attempt to avoid duplicating work troopers are already doing, PDC spokeswoman Lori Anderson said Thursday.

“We’re going to look at their report,” Anderson said. “Based on their findings, we’ll decide what to do next and how to respond to the complaint. I don’t know that there will be an investigation.”

The PDC complaint came from a Gold Bar woman who cited articles from The Herald and King5.com, but provided no independent evidence.

Troopers have declined to provide a timeline for their investigation. Their work will depend in part on public records from Reardon’s office. More are due for release later this month.

As part of their work, detectives have requested bills for Reardon’s county-issued phone, official scheduling calendars and his county emails going back three years. The Herald and other news outlets have been receiving copies of that information under state records laws.

An analysis of those documents by The Herald found that Reardon set aside 124 work hours on his county schedule last year for campaign work. During those blocs, he made roughly 1,000 calls to campaign staff and to donors to his re-election campaign. That amounted to more than a full workweek of dialing for dollars from his county phone.

Bursts of calls to campaign donors occurred during periods marked on Reardon’s calendars as “in office staff meetings.”

Emails show that Reardon coordinated times for many of those staff meetings with his political fundraiser, Colby Underwood, whom Reardon paid $41,000 for work during the campaign.

Neither Reardon nor Underwood have returned calls or emails asking questions about the records.

Reardon in December claimed that his interactions with Underwood mostly involved an alternative energy venture, Blue Marble Biomaterials, where Underwood holds the title of chief business officer. The company, Reardon said, was exploring projects at the county’s closed Cathcart landfill.

Emails, however, provide no evidence of Underwood representing Blue Marble Biomaterials during his dealings with Reardon’s office. There also is no mention of energy projects.

What the emails do show is Underwood arranging dozens of meeting times with Reardon’s executive assistant from the fall of 2010 through the spring of 2011. The times almost perfectly coincide with times on Reardon’s schedule set aside for “in office staff meetings.”

The subject line for one email thread between Underwood and the assistant is “January call times.” Another, with the subject line “March requests,” declines one time period by noting, “No – That’s enough for that week.”

Office holders are prohibited from using any public resources for political campaigns. Doing so violates state elections law and can lead to steep fines, which the Public Disclosure Commission has the ability to impose.

County Council members cited The Herald’s finding and other news accounts on Feb. 22 when they voted 4-0 to urge Reardon to take paid administrative leave until the troopers’ investigation is over. Reardon made clear he’s going nowhere. Under the county’s charter, the council has no power to force his hand.

Councilman Dave Gossett and others have said that any other county employee in similar circumstances would have been required to go on leave. Snohomish County’s ethics code lists engaging in political activity while on duty as grounds for discipline, “up to and including termination” for any county worker.

Reardon’s only response to the council’s resolution so far has been to post a YouTube video. The executive didn’t directly address the council’s request, but said he intended to keep doing his job.

To date, the county has received one unsuccessful petition seeking to recall Reardon from office. Snohomish County attorneys declined to process the petition because the Kirkland man is not a Snohomish County voter.

Reardon, an Everett Democrat, beat Republican state Rep. Mike Hope of Lake Stevens on Nov. 8 with about 55 percent of the votes. Word of the patrol investigation became public just days earlier.

It started in October when a female county employee brought concerns about Reardon’s use of taxpayer resources to County Councilman Dave Somers.

Tami Dutton, a social worker in the Human Services Department, alleged that she accompanied Reardon on county business trips as part of a years-long affair. As part of the relationship, she also claimed to have met up with the executive during regular business hours. Reardon and Dutton have known each other since the 1980s, when they attended Mariner High School.

Somers relayed Dutton’s allegations to the county Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which asked state troopers to get involved to avoid potential conflicts of interest within county government. Reardon has denied wrongdoing.

Human Services director Ken Stark last week said Dutton remains in good standing at her county job because there is no evidence of her violating county policies. Dutton also has received whistle-blower protection from the County Council and the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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