By Chris Hendrickson, special to the Monitor
Gold Bar activist Anne Block’s recall petition against Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon may have finally succeeded, albeit in a rather roundabout way.
It failed in court, but what the Everett Herald allege were subsequent attacks on her and others by Reardon aids came to light and proved to be the last straw for the Reardon administration. He has announced he will resign.
After a tumultuous year wrought with allegations of extramarital affairs, misuse of public funds and misconduct, Reardon has offered his resignation from office effective May 31, following allegations that two Reardon aides went after Block and others to retaliate against them for opposing their boss.
In his Feb. 21 State of the County Address, Reardon cited both great emotional difficulty and financial burden as reasons for his resignation.
“These false allegations have also taken a tremendous toll on my marriage and our family life,” stated Reardon in his speech.
Reardon’s resignation comes on the heels of the Snohomish County Council’s decision to deny him access to the county’s computers, relieving him of his control over the county’s Information Systems Department.
This decision was made soon after the discovery of what appear to be a tangled and complex web of websites, aliases, and Tumblr and Twitter accounts created by his two aides, John Rudicil and Kevin Hulten.
Through false email addresses, it appears that they initiated multiple public records requests intended to help monitor Reardon’s political adversaries.
Chief among those adversaries was Anne Block.
Block’s concerns about Reardon began in July or August of 2011 after Block received a tip through her political website, The Gold Bar Reporter, detailing specifics of Reardon engaging in an extramarital affair, and allegedly misusing county funds. The tip came to Block and her associate, Susan Forbes, anonymously through their tip hotline, during the hotly contested Mike Hope/Reardon race for the executive seat.
Block felt the tip was solid, so she decided to publish the information on her website.
“We assumed the tip came from the Hope campaign,” explained Block. “It may or may not have. It’s politics, and that kind of thing goes on.”
“We decided to publish it, not using any names,” continues Block.
Within less than two months, in Oct. 2011, a woman came forward and spoke with Snohomish County Councilmember Dave Somers, claiming a six-year affair with Reardon, offering confirmation such as text and Facebook messages, plane tickets, and telephone records.
She was not the same woman detailed in Block’s anonymous tip.
Forbes described what happened after the tip came in, detailing the extramarital affair being conducted by Reardon and a particular woman.
“We published an article, and then somebody completely different than who we were talking about started talking to the county about the affair they were having. A whole different person.”
Forbes further elaborated, “We were trying to figure out who in the world this person was and why they were coming forward. It was quite a surprise because it was not even who we were talking about.”
Says Block, “We were pretty shocked.”
Since then, 41-year old Tamara Dutton, the other “other woman,” has come forward and openly spoken with the press about her alleged affair.
The woman named in Block’s tip has remained silent.
Dutton’s claims sparked the investigation into Reardon’s alleged misuse of public funds during business trips he took with her, on behalf of the county. The investigation was conducted by the Washington State Patrol, who determined that there was insufficient evidence to proceed in charging Reardon with a crime. A statement was issued in June of 2012 clearing Reardon of the allegations of misusing county money to fund his affair.
The scope of the State Patrol’s investigation was deliberately narrow, and although the County Executive was cleared of misusing county funds, it was determined that campaign activities were definitely conducted on county time from his county phone.
Dutton maintains that the State Patrol’s investigation was far too limited.
In August of 2012, Block filed a complaint with the state Public Disclosure Commission, along with a recall petition against Reardon for his alleged misuse of county funds, and campaigning while on county time.
“The basis for the recall petition was the fact that he was using our taxpayer money for political purposes,” stated Block. “He was so blatant about it.”
Block’s first recall was dismissed on a technicality, and she immediately re-filed her petition, which was transferred to the Skagit County courthouse to avoid conflict of interest. The Skagit County judge decided to stay the recall petition pending the PDC investigation, which is ongoing.
Despite the fact that the recall attempt was temporarily stayed, the attempt, along with Block’s public records request on Reardon aide Kevin Hulten, may have incited some retaliation.
Not long after that, a meticulously detailed Wikipedia page on Anne Block went up, which painted a very unflattering picture of her history. The page was created in August of 2012, just weeks after Block filed her first recall petition against Reardon, and just days after she submitted a public records request on Hulten.
The page was created under the name Lain Coubert.
According to the Everett Herald, no registered voter exists in Snohomish County or anywhere else in Washington named Lain Coubert. The alias has since been traced back to Hulten, the Herald reported. The page was deemed an “attack page” and removed by Wikipedia’s editors.
At exactly the same time Block’s page appeared on Wikipedia, a complimentary page on Aaron Reardon was also created.
During that time, according to an exhaustive investigation by the Everett Herald, Kevin Hulten was attacking multiple Reardon enemies via such media as Twitter, Tumblr and email accounts with fake names.
The imaginative aliases included characters from literature such as The Count of Monte Cristo, and a series of mystery novels by Spanish author Carlos Ruiz Zafon.
Block thinks Reardon’s supporters’ activity extended beyond even what the Herald described.
In addition to the attack page on Wikipedia, Block was the subject of a scathing article featured in the online publication, the Sky Valley Chronicle, dated Sept. 10, 2012. The article, which has since been removed, referred to Block as, “A sensational example of American womanhood who also just might get a few laughs out of plucking the wings and legs off small birds while she is writing her latest expose…”
The article also featured a fictitious photo representation of Block.
The article ran without a byline, and the author remains unknown. Block has her suspects, and they reside within the Snohomish County Executive’s office. Or at least they did.
As of Thursday, Feb. 28, both Kevin Hulten and Jon Rudicil were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation of a series of public records requests initiated under many aliases. The investigation will be carried out by the King County Sheriff’s office, who will determine whether or not any laws were broken.
Among those laws could be campaign rules prohibiting people from undertaking campaign activity while on the clock in a government position.
In the 2011 election, according the the Everett Herald, Hulten, using a false name, dug up a decade-old traffic incident involving opponent Mark Hope, using it to attack Reardon’s Republican opponent from Lake Stevens. The information was accessed through public records requests filed with the Mill Creek Police Department, and phone and email records suggest Hulten engaged in these requests while on county time.
But Hulten continues to insist that the public records requests he initiated were all within his rights and done on his own personal time, without the knowledge of his boss, Aaron Reardon.
In a statement made to King 5 News on Feb. 15, Hulten declared, “I’m writing to clarify my role in requesting access to public documents from various Snohomish County officials.”
He continued, “As this question has been repeatedly raised by the media, let me first state unequivocally that Executive Reardon has no role in my efforts to access the aforementioned public records. My efforts were undertaken privately, outside of work, independent of and without support or direction from anyone affiliated with county government.”
Hulten has now filed a complaint against the Snohomish County Council, which has been turned over to the King County Prosecutor’s office for further investigation.
Moving forward in the Executive’s office, per state law, it will now be up to Democratic precinct committee officers to select three potential candidates to replace Reardon. If the county council is unable to make a decision within 60 days of May 31, Gov. Jay Inslee will make the final decision on who is to be the county executive.
The new appointee’s term will last until there can be a special election, in 2014.
Many names are being discussed at this time, including Snohomish County Sheriff John Lovick and County Councilman Dave Somers, who represents the Sky Valley.
Block couldn’t be happier about the Reardon resignation, and feels that he is doing the right thing by stepping down. Speaking of herself and Forbes, she said, “We’re very happy. We actually celebrated.”
“It saves me a lot of time and energy,” said Block. “People like Reardon are part of the problem.”
What’s next for Block?
A lawsuit against Snohomish County, which she wants to bring in front of the federal district court.
Her lawsuit will be based on allegations of harassment, civil rights violations, invasion of privacy and illegal searches via illegal background checks that were allegedly conducted on her and her partner, Noel Frederick.
“I’m sure I can find a couple more RCWs to toss in there,” she stated.