Kelley returns with legal authority, not moral authority

On Monday, a bipartisan group of legislators released an impeachment resolution against indicted State Auditor Troy Kelley. Today, Kelley announced he was returning from his self-imposed leave of absence and resuming his duties as state auditor.

Kelley is under indictment for 17 counts of money-laundering and theft related to his former business, a firm that tracked property “reconveyances” and was supposed to make sure county records were updated properly. Public radio’s Austin Jenkins has exhaustively reported the twists and turns that led to the charges against Kelley.

The embattled Auditor left no doubt that the timing of his return wasn’t a coincidence. The impeachment resolution is “why this decision was made,” Kelley told the Seattle Times. The resolution said Kelley “has willfully abandoned his statewide elected office, performed none of its duties, and provided no services to the people of the State of Washington since at least May 4, 2015.”

A convenient argument
Kelley must realize that his return is about as popular as a recurring staph infection. The Associated Press asked if his subordinates want him back in the office. “Tough question, actually. I think it was clear that the employees are professional,” he said. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.

What’s striking is Kelley’s rationale for returning. By his logic, he’s merely caught in some unfair catch-22:

“I had previously taken a leave of absence upon the request of the same legislators who are now attempting an impeachment based on the sole fact that I did what they asked me to do – take leave without pay. I believed that taking the unpaid leave struck a fair balance between succumbing to false claims and honoring my commitment to the public.”

What a crock. Let’s enumerate a few reasons.

  1. Most legislators didn’t ask Kelley to take a leave of absence. They asked him, repeatedly, to resign. One of the impeachment drafters, Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) said on Twitter (in Twitterese): “Patently false. Gov, AG, all 4 caucus ldrs, 29 House Dems, Rep. MacEwen & I said to resign.” It’s not a catch-22. Kelley just refuses to do the right thing.
  2. The leave of absence is not the “sole” basis for impeachment, as Kelley is claiming. The impeachment articles say that his “conduct has undermined his credibility and betrayed the public trust that is an essential part of any elected office, but is especially important to the Office of State Auditor, which serves as the chief executive overseer of whether governmental agencies are exercising good stewardship over public funds.”
  3. The impeachment articles filed Monday also noted that his long absence cannot be fixed merely by suddenly showing up to work again. “This gap in service is a dereliction of duty that cannot be cured even by his returning to office in the foreseeable future,” the drafters charged.

Many people believe that a man indicted on so many financial charges cannot effectively lead the State Auditor’s Office. Surely Kelley knows his convenient, half-baked rationale will not quell the doubts. Kelley’s return is merely a show to demonstrate that he has not “willfully abandoned” his office. For now, he retains the legal right to run his office, but he still lacks the moral authority to do so.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.