Thursday, April 2, 2020
April 2, 2020

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In Our View: Kelley Not Accountable

Auditor must stop ducking controversy and restore confidence in vital office

The Columbian
Published:

For somebody who is tasked with being the people’s watchdog, State Auditor Troy Kelley is doing little to inspire confidence.

Last week, the Democrat’s Tacoma home was raided by U.S. Treasury agents, an action reportedly related to a criminal tax-fraud investigation involving business dealings from before he took office. That is disturbing in itself, but Kelley’s actions since then might be more problematic. After the raid on his home, Kelley reportedly declined to cut short an out-of-state vacation; he has refused to answer questions from reporters; his office has been lax in responding to records requests from the media; and on Monday he apparently evaded the reporters staked out in his office lobby by slipping through a back entrance.

Kelley’s lack of transparency runs counter to the duties of his position, to which he was elected in 2012 after serving six years in the state House of Representatives. As the Washington State Auditor’s website says, “The State Auditor’s Office holds state and local government accountable for the use of public resources.” With “accountability” being the operative word there, Kelley should live up to the ideals of his office.

In a statement issued Monday, Kelley said all of his actions have been “lawful and appropriate.” He said he is fully cooperating with the investigation by federal agents but remains “puzzled by their interest.”

And, still, questions remain. Specifically, a federal subpoena sought records related to Jason Jerue, a former private-sector employee of Kelley’s who followed him to the auditor’s office. Jerue reportedly was allowed to perform his duties from California, and a report this week from the Associated Press noted: “A part-time employee of the state auditor’s office is so little known to colleagues that some said they were hard-pressed to recall seeing him or even emailing him.” Jerue works for the auditor’s office as a technical writer and was paid $22,884 last year.

Meanwhile, the latest revelations also have renewed interest in a 2011 legal settlement involving Kelley and one of his former businesses, which had been accused of hiding $3.8 million in an offshore account in Belize. Kelley paid an undisclosed amount to settle the dispute but has not publicly disclosed details of the case.

While legal questions and federal raids are disconcerting when they involve any government official, a quagmire involving the state auditor rises to the level of irony. The auditor’s office is sworn to shine a light on governmental fraud and financial abuse, a situation in which accountability is paramount. The auditor’s office must be a paragon of responsibility in order to demand similar responsibility from other government agencies.

All of that calls upon Kelley to answer the questions before him and to address the concerns of the public. His disappearing act since the allegations came to light does more to negatively impact public confidence than the brief statement offered by his office does to provide reassurance. If Kelley is going to retain any modicum of credibility, he must make a full accounting, release all relevant records, and do his best to assure the public that Jerue is the sole target of the investigation. Then Kelley should take a leave of absence until it is clear that he has not been involved in any wrongdoing.

While Kelley has expressed confidence that he always has acted within the parameters of the law, the needs of his office and the needs of the people must come first. Kelley must work to restore confidence in the auditor’s office.

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