To preserve the integrity of his office, state Auditor Troy Kelley must resign.

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STATE Auditor Troy Kelley, the apparent target of a federal fraud investigation, continues to avoid public accountability for questionable past business dealings. This week, he dodged reporters and the Legislature.

He avoids accountability, yet his office demands accountability from other public agencies.”

Patience with the state’s fraud-watchdog-in-chief — and his vanishing act — is gone. He avoids accountability, yet his office demands accountability from other public agencies. To preserve the integrity of this vital position, he should resign.

Kelley dug this hole for himself. After federal agents raided his home and subpoenaed his office in late March, Kelley had a choice. Prioritize his personal interests, which he has said require him to remain silent, or prioritize his elected office, which must be the ideal of transparency.

Kelley chose to put himself in a “self-imposed witness protection program,” as state Sen. Mark Miloscia, R-Federal Way, said this week. The auditor refused to testify before Miloscia’s legislative committee Wednesday.

Gov. Jay Inslee, equally exasperated, demanded answers to key questions in writing. Kelley, in a response, played dumb about the implications of his predicament. He suggested that his legal pinch wasn’t affecting his office. That response ignores the fact that he sent his staff to face questions from Miloscia’s committee, putting them in an untenable position.

Republican state Sen. Mark Miloscia speaks at a hearing he called to talk about issues surrounding the state Auditor’s Office in light of a federal investigation that involves Auditor Troy Kelley, April 1 in Olympia. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)
Republican state Sen. Mark Miloscia speaks at a hearing he called to talk about issues surrounding the state Auditor’s Office in light of a federal investigation that involves Auditor Troy Kelley, April 1 in Olympia. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

Kelley also wrote that there was only “anecdotal evidence of public disappointment that I am not able to speak to the media and the public.” He suggested his office hadn’t heard much angst.

Kelley is apparently living in a deep bunker. At least seven Washington newspaper editorial boards — The Seattle Times, The (Tacoma) News Tribune, The Olympian, The (Vancouver) Columbian, The Yakima Herald, The Wenatchee World and The (Spokane) Spokesman-Review — have criticized his avoidance strategy, urging him to come clean, take a leave or resign.

The auditor’s response indicates he needs to hear directly from the public. His email address is kelleyt@sao.wa.gov.

Kelley deserves the presumption of innocence in the ongoing criminal investigation, which centers on his past business practices in the mortgage industry and a former private-sector employee whom Kelley had the Auditor’s office hire for a dubious job he worked from his home in California.

Last week, this editorial page did not call for his resignation, calling for him to explain all he knows about the investigation. It is now clear that he won’t.

Kelley’s conduct since the subpoenas were served is the epitome of self-interest. He has lost the public’s trust. He should resign.

When he does, Inslee can appoint a temporary successor. Former Auditor Brian Sonntag, who served with honor for two decades before retiring in 2012, would be an excellent choice.