Troy Kelley case: “Innocent until proven guilty” isn’t the point

The saga of Troy Kelley’s troubled tenure as elected State Auditor – and it has been a saga – needs to draw to a close. Kelley can do it himself by resigning. Barring that, the state House should impeach him.

With 17 criminal indictments hanging over him, Kelley has already taken a leave of absence and is not drawing a state salary. An Acting State Auditor is leading the office in his stead.

That’s good, but that’s not enough. Troy Kelley should resign because Troy Kelley was elected to do a job and can’t do it. He was elected to a position of trust, but the public can’t trust him. Those are reasons enough to resign.

Innocent until proven guilty?
Kelley’s attorney has pushed back on calls for Kelley to resign, saying “Federal prosecutors shouldn’t have the power to remove a public official from office simply by accusing them of a crime.” He’s right that accusations alone shouldn’t be sufficient to end Kelley’s tenure, but it’s an answer to the wrong question.

Is Kelley innocent until proven guilty? Absolutely, and in the end a jury will decide that outcome. But for an important public official, “innocent until proven guilty” isn’t the standard. The top questions focus on what’s fair to the public and what’s best for our system of government.

What’s fair to the public is to have a permanent State Auditor in place without an asterisk next to their name. What’s best for our system of government is to have this cloud, Kelley’s cloud, lifted from the State Auditor’s Office so it can do its job with full authority and no caveats.

The State Auditor’s Office is important to taxpayers. It performs financial and performance audits and ensures accountability. The State Auditor is supposed to be a leader pushing for fair conduct, financial controls, and respect for taxpayer dollars.

Kelley was not that leader. Even before his leave of absence, Kelley was frequently absent. The contrast between his leadership and that of our excellent previous State Auditor, Brian Sonntag, is striking.

How does it all end, anyway?
It’s unclear what Kelley’s strategy is in remaining in office – or as the News Tribune put it, “cling[ing] to the office like a barnacle to a pier.” Financially, Kelley isn’t receiving a state salary anyway. Legally, remaining in office isn’t protecting him from prosecution or shielding any info from prosecutors. Meanwhile, state legislators are seriously considering impeachment.

Politically, Kelley is likely finished. Of all the ways this could end, the least likely is that he will be found innocent of all 17 charges, file for re-election, win back the public’s trust, and emerge triumphant against all his doubters.

So the question for Kelley is, what’s the point? Resigning would save him an impeachment trial and remove a black cloud from an office that’s important to taxpayers. Clinging like a barnacle gains him…what? Not much, it seems. But that’s a question about what’s best for him. The better question is, what’s best for Washington?
-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.