Snohomish County's mood mixed as leader faces inquiry
As the State Patrol investigates County Executive Aaron Reardon, some Snohomish County residents shrug and say "politics as usual," while others are incensed.
Seattle Times staff reporter
In a dark suit and a shirt as crisp as a county-issue envelope, Aaron Reardon presided over the meeting: resolutions, nominations, the annual budget. In a stark boardroom at Seattle's Union Station, the embattled Snohomish County executive was unflappable.
"Well-run meeting, Aaron," a Sound Transit board member said afterward as he shook the board chairman's hand.
And that was it.
But in Snohomish County — depending on where you go and whom you talk to — the reaction to Reardon isn't always so calm.
Some residents in outlying towns seem inclined to shrug their shoulders and say "politics as usual" when asked about the State Patrol investigation into Reardon, the county's top elected official.
But in Everett, it's more common to find people who are incensed over the allegations that he misused public funds for travel — something he denies — while having an affair with a county employee.
Reardon, a Democrat who won re-election last month, insists "nothing has changed," that he's not hearing from angry voters and not having difficulty concentrating on the job while the investigation is under way. He says he has no plans to step down.
"I'm focused on doing the job I was elected to do," he said. "My opinion of this hasn't changed since it was announced ... before the election."
At the time, Reardon said the investigation was connected to his campaign opponent, Republican state Rep. Mike Hope, which Hope has denied.
On a cold and sunny day at the Lowell Dog Park in Everett, the investigation is a topic of conversation.
"He's a public official. He's our county executive and deals with a huge budget," said Chuck Reed, who with his wife, Bonnie, a retired county employee, watched their border collie run.
"Maybe he should remove himself from office during the investigation," Reed suggested. "I did vote for him, but I didn't realize (the investigation was under way) until afterward. He shouldn't be in office."
The State Patrol, which has requested records from Reardon's office, said there is no time frame for completing the investigation.
News of the inquiry surfaced less than a week before the election.
The investigation began after a county employee, who says she has known Reardon for 20 years, went to County Council Chairman Dave Somers, also a Democrat. The woman told The Seattle Times last month that she went to Somers because she was afraid for her job and her safety.
Somers, in turn, went to Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe, who contacted the State Patrol.
The woman, who had no official reason to travel with Reardon, said she had a longtime affair with him and went to out-of-town conferences with him. She said that even though the trips were billed to the county, Reardon did little or no official business.
Reardon has refused to discuss the investigation, saying only that he's innocent of criminal wrongdoing. He has not commented on the allegation of an affair.
Back at the dog park, the talk goes on. So do the judgments and suppositions, even though the investigation isn't done.
Says Reed: "I think our public officials need to have more accountability than someone working at a sawmill."
At a time when unemployment is high and government programs have been cut for lack of funding, the allegations especially anger those on limited incomes.
"There's so much going on these days with public officials," said Harvey Buck, who like the Reeds is retired.
"If he's using taxpayer money for playing, he needs to repay," said Cecilia McKinsey, who is disabled and uses a service dog.
"He needs to be out of the office so fast, but especially in this economy," said Lisa Meier, who works in a downtown Everett print shop.
In Arlington, where citizens are more inclined to get fired up about their city's politics, Reardon's troubles seem more remote.
Among the lunch crowd gathered at the venerable Bluebird Cafe was Darrington's outgoing mayor, Joyce Jones. For Jones and some others, the investigation is part of the seamy side of politics.
"I'm really surprised," Jones said. "He's been in the office eight years." She said she wondered if the allegations didn't have some connection to the nasty campaign, which Reardon won with 55 percent of the vote.
"I don't like to see this happen," she said. "You just wonder if someone is trying to cast a shadow over him."
Jones' lunch companion agreed.
"There is an awful lot of mudslinging going on," said Sue Roberts. "Until they finish their investigation, I'm considering it mudslinging."
At the Magic Shears barbershop next door, the topic riles Randy Howell, who was waiting for a customer.
"Personally, I don't think he did anything that no other politician hasn't done. It's kind of interesting that they brought it up before the election," Howell said.
Then there's the increasingly familiar topic of politics and infidelity. In an antique store down the street, Mary Brooks was stacking glassware on a shelf.
"Isn't there anything more important than somebody's sex life?" she asked. "How about kids not eating? It's a shame that's all they've got to focus on."
Back in Everett, Somers, the council chairman, said when news first broke about the investigation, several Democrats contacted him, insisting the allegations were "a Republican plot," and a few others personally thanked him for passing the woman's concern on to the prosecutor's office for further investigation.
Since then, "it's been strangely quiet," Somers said. "Everybody is waiting to see what happens with the investigation."
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or email@example.com. On Twitter @BartleyNews.
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