Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Democrat State Auditor Troy Kelley on 10 felony counts. Kelley has thus far refused to resign. Instead, he announced he would take a leave of absence beginning May 1st. His trial is scheduled to begin June 8th.
Notably, the deadline for candidates to file for a special election is May 11th. That means if Kelley resigns after May 11th, whomever Jay Inslee appoints as State Auditor would be in office—without the approval of voters—until the following election cycle.
Adding insult to injury, during his leave of absence, Kelley will continue to collect his taxpayer-funded paycheck. He receives an annual salary of $116,950.
Public trust in the State Auditor is essential to the office. Without trust, the office is ineffective and unreliable. Brian Sonntag, former 20-year State Auditor, had this to say of the importance of the public’s trust in the Office of State Auditor:
“The founders of Washington State didn’t like or trust government very much. They established several separate elected offices. As an example of their populist bent they created a very independent office of State Auditor. Tasked with the responsibility to audit the accounts and activities of every government agency in the state, the Auditor holds small boards and commissions as well as large state and local entities accountable to the citizens they serve. Currently there are nearly 2,700 different government agencies that come under the scrutiny of the State Auditor.
“The only real issue for the office of State Auditor is accountability. To make certain citizens have access to information so they can judge for themselves the performance of public officials and their conduct and decision making.
“To effectively meet this responsibility the Auditor’s office must be above any reproach. From frontline employees to the elected officeholder there cannot be a hint of impropriety. Citizens expect, demand and deserve nothing less. Credibility is lost if there are questions surrounding the ability to be objective.
“The Auditor’s Office (and Auditor) must be held to a higher standard because that is the office our state’s founders identified as the public guardian. The public’s watchdog that they can trust when it comes to transparency, accountability and openness.
“This public trust is fragile. And when broken it’s not easy to rebuild.
“The Auditor has a huge responsibility. But with that responsibility comes an opportunity to really make a difference. To act independently in the interest of the citizens who you work for. To put the public interest first. To make sure government’s doors are open. And to be worthy of this responsibility. That is how respect is earned. That is how the public trust is built.”
It’s clear that Kelley has stained the integrity of his office—an office that demands trustworthiness—and has lost the public’s trust. It’s time for Kelley to resign. News outlets across the state agree—here’s what editorial boards are saying:
- The Yakima Herald: “Troy Kelley needs to stop thinking about himself and start thinking about the public trust he has sworn to uphold. It’s quite simple: Troy Kelley needs to resign… What Kelley fails to grasp is that not only does he occupy a position of public trust, his office is specifically tasked with rooting out government fraud and waste. When the top man at one of the state’s most visible fraud-fighting offices is suspected of fraud, the function of the entire office is compromised — not to mention employee morale.”
- The Olympian: “Kelley insists he’s innocent of charges of filing false tax returns and obstruction — which is possible — but we thought a formal leave was appropriate before charges were filed…The office needs the public’s trust; to keep it he must step down and avoid the distractions that a criminal trial and defense will generate.”
- The Everett Herald: “The time for Kelley to take a leave of absence was earlier, before the indictment was returned. Kelley, of course, is presumed innocent until proved guilty, but the legal challenge he faces is certain to be lengthy and threatens to reflect poorly on the office for which he is responsible… That leaves the course of action to others: either recall or impeachment… Or Kelley could save everyone the time, money, effort and aggravation and resign.”
- The Wenatchee World:“How can an elected official so accused continue to occupy an office so reliant on integrity? The precious reputation of the office and the public’s trust will be lost… Kelley can no longer occupy the office without degrading it. He should resign immediately.”
- The Seattle Times:“Most important, [Kelley] has lost the trust of voters, who are stuck with a man facing federal fraud charges as the state’s lead investigator for public-sector fraud… He should resign… Kelley, in a statement, suggested that he thinks he can weather this storm. That is a breathtakingly foolish and self-interested decision for a public servant. And it is even more so because of Kelley’s job. His office must be a model of integrity in order to demand it from other public agencies.”
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