In a surprise move, the Snohomish County Council unanimously passed an 'emergency ordinance' to strip certain powers away from county executive Aaron Reardon.
Effective immediately, the Snohomish Information Services Department is removed from Reardon's control and put under the auspice of the county auditor's office.
The move comes as county council members and the county prosecutor Mark Roe consider an investigation into Reardon's conduct.
County council members suggest Reardon should not be able to control the department in any way during the investigation. The information services department handles all technology for the county, including email transactions.
The possibility of an investigation comes after the executive admitted his staff was involved in a series of broad public records requests targeting Reardon's political enemies. The records requests, which have consumed hundreds of hours of county staff time to fulfill, began last year during a Washington State Patrol criminal investigation into whether Reardon misused county funds to hide an affair.
Reardon was never charged.
Snohomish County Prosecutor Mark Roe says he is seeking an outside investigator but hasn't announced any formal plans.
Reardon released a statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying:
Today, the County Council took action to temporarily place control of the County’s Information Systems Department in the hands of the County Auditor. This action was taken without public notice or comment, without notification to employees within the department and with no analysis or discussion by the County Council. Per the Council’s statement to the media, it is understood that this action was taken to establish control over various electronic records that have been requested of numerous elected county officials.
A citizen of Snohomish County, albeit a member of my staff, has openly acknowledged seeking access to telephone, email and travel records pertaining to elected officials and staff members reporting to the offices of the Executive, the Auditor, the Prosecuting Attorney and the County Council.
State law does not limit who may seek public records nor for what purpose. Making such a public records request is unquestionably within the rights of any member of the public – including public employees.
The Executive Office has already fully complied with the request and turned over all relevant documents.
The highly unusual step taken today creates a distraction from county business while raising serious questions about Council’s intentions and the content of the records they question the need to release.