Indicted State Auditor Troy Kelley said in a statement that his leave of absence will be unpaid, and he is delegating duties to the office’s director of operations. The duration of his leave, to start May 4, is not known.
OLYMPIA — Indicted State Auditor Troy Kelley said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon that his leave of absence will be unpaid and his authority will be delegated to Jan Jutte, the office’s director of operations.
Jutte and other high-ranking Auditor’s Office staff are scheduled to hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday, according to a statement from the office.
In a separate statement, Kelley, who has been indicted on tax-evasion and other charges, said his leave would begin at 1 p.m. Monday. He had previously said the leave would start this Friday.
“During my leave of absence I will not accept pay or any benefits through the duration of my leave,” Kelley said in the statement, issued after Gov. Jay Inslee had instructed state officials not to pay the auditor during his planned leave.
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“During my leave of absence, I will not represent the Washington State Auditor’s Office in any capacity until I can put my legal matters to rest,” Kelley added later, “at which time I intend to resume my duties.”
Kelley, a Democrat who was elected in 2012, has resisted numerous calls to resign. He has insisted he is innocent and is taking a temporary leave while he fights the charges. His current salary is $116,950 a year.
Earlier in the day, Inslee — who has called for the auditor’s resignation — announced that he had directed officials to withhold pay from Kelley once he took leave.
Inslee also demanded that Kelley provide, in writing, his plan for how the office would operate while he is away.
Kelley’s statement appears to have cleared that up.
“He followed the governor’s direction here,” said David Postman, communications director for Inslee. “Other than resigning.”
Neither Postman nor Mark Firmani, Kelley’s personal spokesman, said they knew why Kelley moved his leave date from May 1 to May 4. It’s unclear how long the leave may be.
Jutte, a certified public accountant and graduate of Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Thurston County, has worked for the Auditor’s Office for three decades, according to the office. Among other roles, she oversees the office’s public records, human resources and financial services.
Jutte appeared before lawmakers at a committee hearing April 1, after Kelley declined an invitation to appear.
“I take very seriously the responsibilities that Auditor Kelley has delegated to me during his absence,” said Jutte in prepared remarks, “but it is important to understand that the successful operation of this agency is not the result of one person’s efforts.”
The Auditor’s Office is tasked with rooting out waste and fraud in state government.
Postman said early Tuesday that the governor’s letter was hand-delivered to the auditor Monday afternoon. Kelley called Inslee on Tuesday afternoon to speak about the letter, but the auditor’s announcement caught the governor’s office by surprise, Postman said.
Kelley was indicted earlier this month by a federal grand jury and pleaded not guilty to 10 felony counts.
The indictment charged him with filing false tax returns, attempting to obstruct a lawsuit and possessing more than $1 million in stolen property related to his former business.
The most serious charge carries a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. A felony conviction would automatically force Kelley from office, and some lawmakers have spoken about the possibility of impeaching him in light of the charges alone.
A petition to recall Kelley from office has also been filed with the secretary of state.
Inslee’s letter to Kelley notedthat he had directed the Department of Enterprise Services and Office of Financial Management to withhold Kelley’s compensation “as long as you are not performing the duties of the office you were elected to perform.”
Kelley in his statement said that the work of the Auditor’s Office would continue during his leave of absence.
“My decision to take this leave of absence affords those who call for my ouster with the confidence that a larger group of talented executives will oversee the work of the Auditor’s office,” Kelley said, “while allowing me to dedicate my time and efforts to my legal defense.”
Both Inslee’s office and the Auditor’s Office have received legal guidance from the state Attorney General’s Office regarding how a state elected official can take leave, and what that means for pay.
None of the offices has been willing to release a copy of the legal guidance.
The governor’s office generally doesn’t release communications between its attorneys and the Attorney General’s Office, according to Postman and Nicholas Brown, general counsel for Inslee.
Postman said the question over whether Inslee has authority to block pay of another elected official is “not 100 percent ironclad, because nobody’s ever tested this use.”
But, “based on the advice we have, we feel confident about it and I don’t expect an argument over it,” Postman said.
Two Republican state lawmakers have filed a bill that, if passed, would allow Inslee to replace Kelley when the auditor takes his leave of absence. would declare an elected official’s leave of absence as a vacancy in the office, according to its bill title.
The measure is sponsored by Reps. Drew Stokesbary of Auburn and Drew MacEwen of Union.