Political crisis
7:11 am
Thu February 23, 2012

Standoff in Snohomish County: Executive asked to stand down, refuses

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon appears unmoved by a call for him to stand down.

As allegations mount that he has abused his public office, the County Council voted unanimously to request he take a voluntary leave of absence. 

Councilmember Dave Somers brought the resolution before the council. He says for him, the tipping point came late last week.

In Everett, questions about Reardon's ethics have been in the headlines for months. But Somers says reporting in the Herald newspaper recently became so detailed that he felt it could no longer be ignored.

The paper documented "fairly clearly," Somers says, that Executive Reardon illegally used county phones and resources to support his re-election last fall. “Every elected official knows, that is not ok, and crosses a line,” Somers says.

Those allegations have been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Washington State Patrol.

But Somers says, regardless of the outcome, the Herald’s reporting has made them a big distraction from important county work.

And then, Reardon didn’t take part in the photo op with President Obama last Friday at the Snohomish County Airport.

“Mayor Stephanson from Everett was there to meet the president, Mayor McGinn from Seattle, Executive Constantine from King County. And our executive wasn’t there. And not invited,” Somers says. 

Reardon’s official line to reporters was that he was late.

But it was also the same week that the Seattle Times and King-5 News got exclusive interviews with a county social worker, detailing her 6 year affair with the executive.

Tamara Dutton said the affair is over now, but provided documents to the county and the state patrol, alleging that Reardon abused his office to entertain her.

Defenders say removal now unwarranted

Reardon has not denied the affair, but says he did not abuse his office.

Defenders say he is innocent until proven guilty and that it would run against core values of the U.S. justice system for him to cave to pressure from council members.

Moments after they requested that he stand down with a 4-0 vote, Reardon posted a video message on his Executive Facebook page.

“I’m focused on doing work that the people of Snohomish County care about. And doing the work that matters,” Reardon says in the video. 

His list of issues that make up the work he wants to get done sounds like it was torn straight from the pages of his re-election campaign: maintaining a balanced budget without raising taxes, creating jobs, supporting seniors. He concludes by leaving little doubt that he has no intention of stepping down.

“I stand ready to work with anyone – including the Snohomish County Council -- to get the job done,” he says. 

The council says they would prefer to work with Reardon’s deputy till the results are in of the Washington State Patrol’s investigation. But no one in the county has the power to require the executive to take a leave, except the man himself.

Questions 'cast a shadow'

Councilmember Dave Somers says bringing the resolution before the county was not a decision he took lightly. But he says questions and rumors about Reardon's ethics have cast a shadow over the whole county.

"It feeds the folks who don't care for government and think we waste money and that kind of thing. It's not true - but he has cast that shadow over county government," Somers says, adding that he can't even go to the grocery store anymore without hearing talk about it.

"And the only thing I can think of that would help a little bit is for him to step back. And that's why I called for him to do so," Somers says.  

The requested leave would be pending the outcome of an investigation by the Washington State Patrol.  

Reardon told the Seattle Times, the investigation has not been a distraction at all. 

That probe first became public during his re-election campaign last fall and has recently expanded to include allegations about Reardon’s affair with Dutton, the county social worker. She first brought her concerns to Somers, who handed the matter over to the police.  

He says any other county employee would be forced to take the leave the council has suggested Reardon impose on himself.