The Herald of Everett, Washington
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Published: Thursday, July 11, 2013, 3:18 p.m.
Story tags » County executive

Reardon aide complained of no reward for dirty tricks

Story tags » County executive
EVERETT -- A newly released memo, found on the office computer assigned to a junior aide who worked for Aaron Reardon, describes a series of dirty tricks undertaken on behalf of the former Snohomish County executive, including "black hat jobs" targeting political rivals.
The memo, written in October when the aide, Kevin Hulten, was still on the former executive's payroll, details "special projects work," including attacks on other county officials, Washington State Patrol detectives who investigated Reardon, and state Rep. Mike Hope, Reardon's 2011 election opponent.
"Feel like I've done incredible work, but that it counts for nothing, won't be evaluated, and in fact is held against me," the memo reads. "I took down Mike Hope. I faced down the State Patrol. I spent thousands of dollars to create a series of shell companies so I can engage in battle with the (expletive) PA (prosecuting attorney) and the council on your behalf."
The memo may be important to a criminal investigation now under way by the King County Sheriff's Office, which aims to answer whether any laws were broken by Hulten or any other county staff on Reardon's behalf.
Hulten, 34, of Granite Falls, repeatedly has denied engaging in much of the activity discussed in the memo. The document, recovered in response to a public records request by The Herald, describes the former aide as feeling neglected by Reardon and "angry to the point of tears every day" that his efforts hadn't led to greater on-the-job rewards.
In particular, Hulten complained about being supervised by Gary Haakenson, who was then deputy county executive and had repeatedly confronted the aide over disregard for county rules and job duties.
The memo, titled "issues with GH.docx," says Hulten expected career advancement or some other reward for his work in support of Reardon.
"We won. We beat Mike Hope. We stuffed his blackmail and lies and accusations back in his face," the memo says. "We beat the State Patrol. Survived an investigation. Stuck together. Etc (sic)
"If we won, why haven't things improved? Shouldn't there be a benefit?
"Am I just a tool to be used for the black hat jobs, then put back behind a desk for Gary (Haakenson) to micromanage and harass (sic)," the memo asks.
"Neither I nor my former deputy executive, Gary Haakenson are familiar with the document or the context in which it was written," Reardon said in an email Thursday.
Hulten, reached via email, said the document did not match any of his records. He suggested that it was "a cut and paste someone put together," and a "fake." He offered no comment on the content.
King County detectives were asked to investigate after a series of anonymous public records requests and other activities were linked to Hulten and another former Reardon aide, Jon Rudicil.
Other investigations are being conducted by the state Public Disclosure Commission, which is exploring whether Reardon and Hulten improperly used public resources for political activity.
Public records officials say the memo was found in a digital folder on Hulten's county desktop computer. The memo surfaced after The Herald in February used open records laws to seek any documents related to Hulten's involvement in records requests made by somebody calling himself "Edmond Thomas," and representing a limited liability company called Rue des Blancs-Manteaux.
Metadata show that work on the memo began at noon on Oct. 19 using a computer and software the county assigned to Hulten. The file was last modified just before 6 p.m. on Oct. 30. Hulten's time cards show he reported working both those days.
The newspaper was provided an electronic copy of the document June 27. So far, no records have been released to show whether Hulten ever presented the memo to Reardon or anyone else then working in county government.
Hulten was hired in January 2011 to fill an analyst position in Reardon's office, to monitor state and national legislation and field concerns from county taxpayers. He resigned in early May after an internal investigation determined he viewed pornography and stored sexually explicit photographs of himself and an ex-girlfriend on a county-owned laptop computer he was using in 2011. That computer also contained files of background checks on County Council members.
Hulten was a key figure in an investigation by The Herald demonstrating how online clues and official documents connected him and Rudicil to public records requests made by "Edmond Thomas" and directed at about 20 people in county government. The week after the story broke in February, Reardon announced his own resignation, which became effective May 31.
Hulten at first made conflicting statements about whether he was behind the ruse, but eventually admitted responsibility. Reardon supported his actions, claiming they were all done on Hulten's own time, and without his knowledge.
The Herald's investigation found similarities between the records requests and a Wikipedia page attacking a Gold Bar political blogger who was trying to get Reardon recalled from office.
Many of those targeted in the records requests had cooperated with a Washington State Patrol investigation into Reardon's use of taxpayer money during out-of-state business trips with a mistress. The state investigation ended last year without charges against Reardon.
The recently released memo defends Hulten's actions as being on Reardon's behalf.
The first controversy involving the aide flared up during Democrat Reardon's 2011 re-election campaign. It happened when Hulten's address and phone number showed up on a state elections complaint filed against Hope, a Republican. As it turned out, the name on the original complaint was an acquaintance of Hulten.
Reardon defended Hulten when Hope confronted him about the connection.
Public records soon provided clues about the amount of work time Hulten devoted to digging up embarrassing documents for his boss's campaign. Those records, which described Hope's poor behavior as a passenger in a drunken driving stop more than a decade earlier, later factored into a TV hit piece that won an award in political advertising circles.
Hulten's memo argues that the damage inflicted on Hope's reputation was worthy of some reward. The memo contains a list.
"Hope DUI research," it says. "Found the documents after reviewing thousands of pages. Withstood his assault, accusations. Successfully got the material out into the media effectively. Led to top commercial in the nation."
The memo also outlines establishing a campaign website for Reardon and working with lawyers to file campaign complaints against Hope.
When confronted earlier with evidence -- phone bills, emails and other records of campaign-related activity during work hours -- Hulten argued that it was nobody's business and said he was allowed to take breaks from his county job whenever it suited him.
In regards to the State Patrol investigation, Hulten claimed he acted on his own in spring 2012 when he complained to the governor's office about the detectives. In emails to county officials, he later claimed that the lead detective was reassigned as a result of his vigorous attack on the man's professionalism. The detective actually took time off for a medical matter.
By last fall, there were growing suspicions that Hulten was behind the "Edmond Thomas" requests seeking records for county officials who had cooperated with the patrol's investigation.
Reardon, through a spokesman, denied any knowledge of who was behind it. He later condoned the activity after Hulten admitted responsibility, arguing that public records laws are there for county employees to use, too.
Hulten sought "whistle-blower" protection, claiming his actions were intended to reveal corruption in the county prosecutor's office. Taxpayers paid $35,000 to a lawyer who investigated Hulten's allegations and determined they were without merit.
Hulten clearly hoped to keep his "Edmond Thomas" activity secret. He started the October memo the same day The Herald sent "Edmond Thomas" an email and asked whether he was actually somebody on the county payroll.
In the memo, he complains to Reardon about media attention, saying it was easier "when I felt like there was a defined war -- whether it was the election or the investigation."
He lamented being kept at a distance from Reardon "like I'm a liability," and wrote that he was uncertain about his future.
"I expect a lot from you. I justified all the decision(sic) I've made over the last 18 months behind the fact that we were a team and that you would take care of your people."
Story tags » County executive

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