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Tuesday, March 6, 2012 - Page updated at 07:30 p.m.
Reardon's calendar links campaign work, county time
By Emily Heffter
Seattle Times staff reporter
Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon often met once or twice a week last year with his campaign fundraiser when his calendar said he was holding hours-long staff meetings in his office.
Cellphone records during a sampling of those meetings with Colby Underwood show that Reardon, a Democrat, spent them talking on his taxpayer-paid cellphone to people who later gave money to his campaign.
He raised more than $300,000 for his race last year against state Rep. Mike Hope, R-Lake Stevens, state records show.
Reardon does not have an unlimited cellphone plan, so the county paid by the minute for some of the calls. Some of that was reimbursed by the county's pooled minutes.
It's illegal to use county time, money or resources for campaigning. A criminal investigation by the Washington State Patrol is examining Reardon's use of public money after a woman said she went on taxpayer-funded trips with Reardon as part of a six-year affair.
The State Patrol's investigation has broadened to include Reardon's campaign practices, as well.
Reardon declined to comment about whether the meetings were for fundraising. He said he labeled meetings with Underwood as "staff meetings" to keep the time flexible in case Underwood had to cancel last-minute. "Colby is famous for having other things that come up in his life," Reardon said.
The investigation has created political difficulties for Reardon, who has never lost an election and was widely expected to run for statewide office.
A law-enforcement source close to the State Patrol investigation says detectives have no doubt Reardon had an affair with Tamara Dutton, a county employee he's known for years. Interviews with Dutton as well as Facebook and text messages, telephone records, plane tickets and photographs suggest that Reardon used county funds and his position as county executive to carry out the affair.
There are no records of meetings with Snohomish County's federal delegation during a 2010 lobbying trip paid by taxpayers.
And Dutton says Reardon "did not leave me" during a 2007 trip to Washington, D.C. State Patrol investigators have found proof that Reardon used a county credit card on that trip to buy a hotel "intimacy kit," though the charge was later transferred to a personal account.
Reardon also used his county paid phone to talk for hours to Dutton and to a Tennessee campaign consultant.
Typically, campaign activity would be investigated by the state Public Disclosure Commission, but a commission spokeswoman said the commission won't duplicate the Patrol's work.
Underwood wouldn't comment on fundraising meetings he had with the executive. He said he sometimes has met with Reardon about a project at the county-owned Cathcart Landfill. As chief business officer for Blue Marble Biomaterials, Underwood said, he is working with Reardon on a deal to use the site for bioproduct manufacturing.
Reardon did not know the status of the Cathcart project and said it had been assigned to an employee in Public Works.
Underwood said he also has served as an adviser to the executive about other county issues.
"There are a lot of things that we work on," Underwood said.
Underwood has helped Reardon with his campaigns for years. As one of the state's premier fundraisers, Underwood has worked with more than 200 clients over the past 10 years, meeting to make fundraising calls while they're running for office.
Reardon paid him more than $41,000 to help with his 2011 campaign.
Records released under the state's public-records act show Underwood booked at least 117 hours with Reardon between November 2010 and June 1, 2011. Sometimes the meetings, confirmed via emails with Nancy Peinecke, Reardon's assistant, were not listed on Reardon's calendar at all. Some were designated "Dr. appt" or "stakeholders," but usually they were labeled "in-office staff meetings."
A review of Reardon's county-paid cellphone records during those hours show he placed hundreds of calls. It's impossible to know what was discussed in every case, but there are indications they were fundraising calls.
Seattle attorney Stan Barer, for example, spoke with Reardon for 13 minutes on March 23, in the middle of one of the scheduled meetings with Underwood. Barer doesn't remember the conversation, but he says he sometimes gives money to Democratic candidates.
Barer gave $1,600 to Reardon's campaign two days later, on March 25, according to state campaign-finance records.
Asked whether Barer had any business in Snohomish County or another reason to talk to the executive, he said, "Absolutely not. I live in Seattle."
The same day, Reardon called Jeff Bjornstad, a former chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. The two talked for a few minutes — Bjornstad said he doesn't remember the specific conversation — and Bjornstad contributed $500 to Reardon's campaign that day.
A representative for a major statewide trade organization took a call from Reardon on May 9 at 1:58 p.m. He didn't want to be named because he didn't have permission to speak to media, but he said the 10-minute conversation with the executive was campaign-related.
Reardon also placed calls to engineering and construction companies, landowners and unions.
Reardon said he has three cellphones: one billed to the county and two personal lines. Asked whether he uses his county-paid phone for campaign work, Reardon said he could not comment because of the ongoing investigation. In other interviews, he has denied criminal wrongdoing.
The Snohomish County Council voted Feb. 22 to ask Reardon to take a leave of absence while the Patrol completes its investigation. He refused.
Last week, a King County man filed a petition to recall the executive, who was elected to a third four-year term in November.
The petition was quickly dismissed because the filer is not a registered voter in Snohomish County.
Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.
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